Liss and Ana Talk About Elementary

[Content Note: Spoilers for the most recent three episodes of Elementary.]

image of Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes, pictured on the stand in a courtroom, scowling
This is just a perfect scowl face.

Liss: Okay, I have finally caught up on all three episodes! I am sorry (to you and to everyone!) that I was so remiss in my Elementary duties!

Ana: I only just got caught up myself!

Liss: Bad Liss and Ana! (Ha ha just kidding. Bad Elementary, amirite? ZING!) Well, here we are now, to discuss the last three episodes, which I like to call the "Sherlock Has to Be Nice to People" arc. In case you didn't know, Sherlock should be nicer to people! Here are three episodes to hammer it home, in case you didn't get the point in only one episode. Or two.

Ana: Let's start with Episode 8: "Blood Is Thicker." Lady! I hate Mycroft. I HATE MYCROFT. I want him to be put on a bus as soon as possible. I want him to go upstairs with his basketball and never come down again. I hate Mycroft. I hate how Mycroft pressures Sherlock relentlessly to FORM A CLOSER BOND NOW, like his whole I Am A Changed Man thing has to be adhered to by every other person in the room and like that's not monumentally selfish and ego-centric.

Liss: Yep. And it's not even honest. Because, as we saw at the end of the episode, Mycroft is just trying to manipulate Sherlock somehow. Which somehow Sherlock doesn't know, even though he can deduct that Joan slept with Mycroft because BODY LANGUAGE, and deduct that a suspect is gaming a lie detector test because BODY LANGUAGE, but somehow Mycroft's sinister motives are eluding him. Or are they? I did like when he delivered the devastating insult of telling Mycroft he hadn't changed at all. But if Sherlock is onto him, he's sure going along with a lot of bullshit in a convincingly ignorant way.

Ana: Yes! I also hate how Sherlock, who doesn't suffer fools gladly, is basically going along with all this even though it clearly makes him uncomfortable and unhappy. And I hate how Joan, WHO SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS STUFF BECAUSE TRAINING, doesn't for a moment indicate that this relationship might be pressuring Sherlock in a bad way.

Liss: Yeah—since when does Joan advise Sherlock to engage with unhealthy dynamics using trite, empty platitudes about family? But then also quite rightly say, "Screw him" about his manipulative dad. It's inconsistent that she admonishes Sherlock to capitulate to Mycroft, but not to his father. I don't think it's intentional, but that inconsistency nonetheless inadvertently suggests that she's compromised because she slept with Mycroft. Which: Gross.

Ana: I also STRONGLY felt like Elementary could give The Walking Dead a run for its money in the patriarchal bullshit genre, when Mycroft started going all "but you're responsible for TWO PEOPLE NOW" like JOAN IS A FUCKING INFANT NOW?? REALLY?!? Because that is a thing that I only ever hear in the context of infants, so apparently her being a woman is making her an infant in the eyes of the Menz. Because I really did not hear Sherlock say, UM, I think Joan is an adult, Mycroft, MMKAY?

Liss: For real. I kept thinking, "Wait—Joan has a place of her own that she's renting out. She's actually the one with another place to live." And, not for nothing, but she's got another really lucrative career and a second, less lucrative to fall back on. I know that she doesn't want to be a surgeon anymore, nor a sober companion, but the point is that she has more than enough means to be totally self-reliant without Sherlock, so that whole thing was stupid. Not her worry about losing a home and job she loves, but his worry about being responsible for her survival.

Ana: Also-also, I have ambivalent feelings about the terrible tragedy that Sherlock might have to take money for his work, considering that he can basically set his rates and his hours and pick his jobs and also he finishes everything in less than a week. But now I'm just being one of those ungenerous 99-percenters, I KNOW. I just… I totally see where he is coming from and I think a perfect world would let people pursue their passions without The Sordid Topic of Coin, but… HE HAS A TRUST FUND AND A FREE HOUSE IN NEW YORK, I'M JUST SAYING.

Liss: Yeah.

Ana: Speaking of Joan: Things I liked! I perked so high up when Joan said to screw Sherlock's father because THANK YOU. (Carry that thought, Joan, to its logical conclusion! Tell Mycroft to fuck off, too! Recognize his passive-aggressive pseudo-threatening bullshit and tell him where he can stuff it! I BELIEVE IN YOU, JOAN.) I loved the way she solved the location of the case via the potted plant, which felt natural and awesome. I liked her bringing medical knowledge to bear again, which I have missed SO MUCH. That stuff felt great. Yes. Good. More. More Joan, please. Maybe let Joan catch a male crook next time. JUST FOR VARIETY.

Liss: I knew as soon as I saw Margaret Colin as The Wife that she would be the killer, because you don't cast Margaret Colin to be a random side character! Because Margaret Colin is terrific! Even though another evil lady murderer is not!

Ana: I totally hated how the killer was a horrible wife who killed her husband rather than divorcing him. I forget, lady, is that the fifth one this season or the one millionth?

Liss: Definitely somewhere between five and one million.

Ana: So, moving on to Episode 9: "On the Line." I thought this one had some funny lines in it. (I loved "The walls are thin; it wouldn't hold back our blood-curdling screams. But we call it home." Because that was a really tense scene there.) And I thought the overall mystery was interesting enough, even if we started out with a Woman Framing a Man which I think has only been used 50 times this season. But at least he was guilty.

Though I am increasingly furious that this show has women as Evil and women as Victims and then Joan. Did this episode even pass Bechdel? (And that scene at the end, where Gregson lectures his staff, were there any women in that room? The full shots of the station rarely seem to have good gender ratios and that frustrates me.) Like, Joan literally has become the Exceptional Woman in this show and then AT THE END HE ACTUALLY SAYS THAT. Elementary is trolling me.

Liss: HA HA OMG I nearly did a spit-take when Sherlock tells Joan that she's exceptional. HE DID NOT JUST TELL HER THAT SHE'S AN EXCEPTIONAL WOMAN. No. Nope. No.

But, of course, he did! He really did! And obviously the Exceptional Woman narrative is garbage in any case, but it feels like an extra special sort of super garbage when it's directed at a female character who's based on a famous male character! Whoooooops.

Still, I realize that Sherlock was saying, quite literally, that she's an exceptional person to him, and it was ultimately kind of a sweet scene, in terms of visiting that spot that made Season One so terrific, where the characters explore how a partnership and friendship can change you for the better. I miss that. I miss it a lot.

I especially miss when the writers were capable of writing scenes like that which didn't tumble headlong ass-over-teakettle into misogynist tropes like Exceptional Womanhood!

Ana: Me, too. I had two other very big issues with this episode. One, I'm really unhappy that we're continuing this idea that Sherlock is "responsible for two now," like Joan is his infant. I don't like that a judge granted a restraining order against HER when she wasn't even in the room. I don't like that her career is tied like this to Sherlock. I really feel like the show (and the writers and Gregson) are falling down on the job by failing to establish her as a separate entity from Sherlock. And that's not only patriarchal bullshit, it's a real shame for the show because it means she could SOLVE CASES that Sherlock has been barred from. Fancy that.

Liss: Totally. Her whole life is so inextricably tied to him and his whims. It's also a shame because the more she looks like his dependent and less like his equal, any great scenes that talk about the importance of their partnership will increasingly ring hollow. It's gutting the very thing that made the show special.

Ana: And, hey, you know what? Watson being Sherlock's live-in pet isn't canon. (HAHA WATCH ME USE MY CANON-POWERS FOR GOOD.) Watson moves out really early on in the stories and has a wife and a life and just consults with Sherlock on a regular basis and for exceptional cases. So, HEY, there's actually good reasons (besides all the other ones) to establish Joan as a separate being who has a home and furniture and people and loved ones and things other than her owner Sherlock who takes her to the station for walkies because what the fuck this show I don't even.

Liss: LOL!

Ana: The second thing, uggggggggggggh the Broken Aesop in this episode. I mean, I agree that Sherlock should be nicer. But he should be nicer because people deserve a basic modicum of respect and kindness. (Also: Didn't we solve this in Season 1 when Joan taught him to listen in group? Apparently not, because we never, ever reference Season 1. Who needs continuity??) What I do NOT agree with is this ridiculous strawman that Sherlock Holmes is GOD ALMIGHTY and is responsible for the actions of everyone else on earth.

Liss: I haaaaaate that. I hate the entire framing that Sherlock has to be "nicer," as opposed to "more sensitive." And, yes, a failure to be sensitive can have consequences—but no nope no the way to demonstrate that wee morality tale isn't to imperil other people's lives because Sherlock was rude. Christ. And not because it's egregiously hyperbolic (although it is), but because rudeness isn't a justification for abuse.

Ana: Right! Detective "True Blood" Coventry should have been slapped with all kinds of repercussions for handing out the home address of a consultant without their knowledge or approval. That he did so (and got away with it!) does not magically become Sherlock's fault for being an asshole. Like, seriously???? THAT IS ABUSER LOGIC. That is abuser logic that Joan should know better than to spout OMG IS SHE JUST NOT A COUNSELOR ANYMORE? Did we retcon that out of existence because people complained it wasn't canon?

And it feels like…by pursuing this "be nice to people to get X," we're falling into the same trap as "don't frame people for crimes if you don't want to suffer Y." Like, I understand that there is value (for some people) to moral systems which take into account cause-and-effect reactions, but at the same time I really do not understand this show's obsession with everyone (including Joan!!) suddenly buying into that morality. Like, "treat people with respect because your fellow humans deserve a modicum of courtesy" and "don't frame criminals because you're here to uphold the law, not to become judge, jury, and executioner." I'm not saying Sherlock has to be convinced by these arguments, but someone should SAY them. They don't. And it feels like that's sort of the thing Joan would have said once, to reframe Sherlock, rather than buy in part-and-parcel with his moral system because thinking outside his box is boo-hiss-bad.

Liss: One of the best things about Sherlock being an imperfect character is that it provides all kinds of room in the story to challenge his failures—which tend to be the failures entrained by privilege. So, yeah, I want those things said. I want to see those challenges.

I love it when Sherlock has a moment of self-realization and growth; it is one of the most beautiful parts of this show. The scene in the previous episode where he says he wants to stay in New York because he has built a support network that he doesn't want to abandon was lovely and powerful. But its ability to move me is because I've seen him building this life that now means so much to him.

I want to see him challenged; I want to identify with his being challenged and growing as a result.

That's part of the failure of this whole "be nice" arc—it's not an organic or authentic challenge to him. It's overwrought and manufactured and abusive. It's not cleverly challenging him to be more sensitive, but making him responsible for other people's cruelty. Yuck.

Ana: Which brings us to Episode 10: "Tremors." Mmph. So, I'm glad that the guy with schizophrenia wasn't actually guilty. And I am genuinely glad that Sherlock was able to help him. (Just like I'm glad he saved the women in the previous episode.) But again we're back to this ridiculous bullshit that Sherlock is to blame for the actions of every person in the world. STELLAR. You know who I blame for Detective Bell getting shot?

Liss: Is it by any chance the guy who shot him?

Ana: I blame the guy who pulled the trigger. I blame the system that makes guns readily available, including to convicted felons whose parole has just been revoked. I blame the world we live in where shooting someone is portrayed as a crackerjack way to work out your issues with them. I do NOT blame Sherlock because blaming Sherlock for Detective Bell getting shot is a steaming pile of victim-blaming BULLSHIT. Like, seriously? Are we really going to go down the road where if a gunshot victim was ever sarcastic, then they clearly had it coming? Oookay, Elementary.

Liss: Hated that forever. HATED IT. And, not for nothing, but it's not like a bullet aimed squarely at Sherlock ricocheted off a steel pole—Bell inserted himself to save Sherlock. So not only are we saying that Sherlock is responsible for the guy showing up with a gun with the intent to kill him, but somehow Sherlock is responsible for obliging Bell to save his life?! Um, okay.

Ana: Also: I was really disappointed (and sort of surprised) by Bell's reaction at the end. I thought Sherlock saved his life and his career and kept him from being framed in Season 1. (SEASON 1 DIDN'T HAPPEN, STOP MENTIONING IT.) I also thought they had a lot of rapport, and that Bell had accepted that Sherlock is brusque. So it felt really jarring for Bell to say he didn't want favors from Sherlock—like, that ship has SAILED. Ahem. And since the audience (probably) won't agree with Bell, then it feels like a cheap way to make him wrong in service to easy-drama. Not something I like seeing done to one of my favorite characters who is also the only regularly-featured black man on the show. (Tangentially: Has Alfredo appeared in this season? At all?)

Liss: I felt like this was a perfect episode to bring back Detective Bell's brother, who was such a great character and the exploration of their relationship made for one of my favorite episodes last season. I wanted to see him at the hospital, sitting at his brother's bedside, in a mirror image of that episode last season.

And, yeah, Bell's reaction was…odd. Iain made the point that he thought Bell was just miffed because Sherlock failed to give him the common courtesy of showing up, to say thank you and acknowledge what he'd did, in a timely fashion. And that makes sense. It makes sense to me that Bell, based on everything we know about him and about human nature, would be hurt and angry by that. But then it also seems as though once Sherlock did show up, and was accountable for that failure, that Bell's reaction would not have been so harsh.

It felt like he was blaming Sherlock for the potential loss of use of his arm, and, again, that's not Sherlock's fault, even if he piqued some jackass' ire; it's the fault of the jackass who shows up with a gun to remedy his problems.

Ana: Yes. Sherlock SHOULD BE NICER, as much as he is able. But he should NOT be blamed for nearly being shot by someone who didn't like his attitude. That's bullshit.

Liss: I still want to like this show so hard, lady. I want it to get back to all the things I loved in Season One. I am still rooting for it! And I expect more. Especially because the writers have already shown they are capable of more.

Ana: Ditto.

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