Elementary "The Man With the Twisted Lip" Review: Divide and Conquer
Throughout the first half of Elementary's second season, I focused a great deal on Sherlock's developing sense of empathy, as he was routinely establishing connections beyond himself and also beyond Joan. After the winter and Olympic breaks, the show didn't devote too much attention to this particular issue; the highlights were Sherlock maybe helping Lestrade get his groove back and then Bell and Sherlock making up with decidedly little fanfare, which serviced Sherlock as a character more than it did Bell. For the most part, though, the show was content to let that particular point slide away—and possibly to its detriment, considering its recent run of bad cases and lackluster character beats.
So it was nice to see "The Man With the Twisted Lip" rectify all of that with a topical and interesting case and a return to the issue of empathy, itself so well timed with Mycroft's own return to stir up trouble by declaring his intentions for Joan.
One of the things I continue to love about Elementary is the way it uses Sherlock's sobriety to force Sherlock to talk about himself. AA meetings are a natural setting for that, so when Sherlock made that small speech at the start of the episode, it didn't feel dramatically inert—or like lazy writing on the show's behalf—because of its context. More importantly, however, it demonstrated a degree of self-awareness from Sherlock with regard to his potential limitations, a key thing for an addict to understand and work through. For Sherlock to say, "I can only extend so much of myself to a non-peer, which means I can only extend so much of myself to anyone. I've made progress, of course, but I don’t know how much more growth there is within me. If I can never value a relationship properly, then, at what point do I stop trying to maintain them?" and then to identify this very issue as the primary threat to his sobriety helped to drive home the loneliness that Sherlock feels, and how much Joan has come to stabilize him.
The challenge is that Sherlock's sense of his recovery is very much like an addiction: It is inherently selfish and demanding, with a focus on one's own gratification, whether through getting high or, as in Sherlock's case, not getting high. The onus is on him to stay clean, but he relies on Joan's constant presence and lack of boundaries to keep him aware of that onus. As Alistair's death in "No Lack of Void" reminded Sherlock, it's very easy to slip, and for no knowable reason. Joan is the string around his finger reminding him not to use again, and the loosening of that string, represented by Mycroft's return to New York, is terrifying for him.
So while I disagree with Mycroft that Sherlock doesn't "care a whit about [Joan's] happiness," Sherlock does place his own security and stability ahead of her happiness. That's the key difference between Mycroft's diagnosis and Joan's spot-on rebuttal to his proclamation that he values Joan and is sorry for meddling in her life. Sherlock's needs come first. His and Joan's partnership was never an equal one given their roles of teacher and student, client and sober companion—but their friendship being not quite equal, even though it should be, provides the tension that Mycroft is able to exploit.
Of course, the ends to which Mycroft is using these divisive means remains a mystery. He's selling it all very well, though. Rhys Ifans laid on just the right amount of British-y stammering to be charming and adorable while Mycroft subtly pushed the idea that Joan wouldn't be receptive to his declaration of attraction because of Sherlock's many issues. It's a bit of reverse psychology on Mycroft's part, calling attention to Joan's occasional desire for a life outside of being Sherlock's ever-present stability anchor, including the freedom to wake up whenever she wants in the morning, even if Sherlock does occasionally bring her breakfast in bed.
On the other side of the equation, Mycroft pushed Sherlock's buttons regarding whether Sherlock could actually do something to demonstrate to Joan that he would put her needs before his, something Sherlock clearly isn't prepared to do. It was a nice little bit of manipulation that allowed for some believable tensions between the duo, even if those tensions don't really exist on the show when Mycroft isn't around. Elementary can give Joan all the single-episode friends and single-episode guilt trips its wants, but the challenge with a character-based procedural in the standard broadcast episode model is to ensure that there's a cumulative effect for these sorts of emotional fractures. As such, Elementary is a pretty lucky that Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have such a solid chemistry, because even after a break of minimal strife between the two of them, it felt like there'd been more build-up than there probably had been.
Which brings us to the whole kidnapping of Joan thing. This was a little eye roll-inducing for me (it seems a touch melodramatic for this show), and the idea that these French mobsters may have some ties to Mycroft was the only thing that prevented me from writing it off completely. Certainly it'll be one of those instances where both Joan and Sherlock will end up reevaluating their roles in one another's lives because of a crisis, and with Joan actually gone, Sherlock will have to rely on himself—as well as Mycroft, judging from the promo for next week's episode—to keep himself together and rescue Joan (even if I'd rather see Joan rescue herself).
Right! The case with the drones! It's always so easy to get caught up in the character aspect of the character-driven procedural, and for obvious reasons. After a smattering of lousy cases, this week's had enough razzle dazzle—mosquito-sized drones that carry poison! Offscreen jobbers armed with shotguns!—that it rather made up for the lack of novelty in the previous episodes. Connecting it to the AA group seemed a touch unnecessary; someone would've found Piller's body eventually, and the weirdness of the shotgun pellets would've been enough to draw in Sherlock, yes? But it was really just there for Sherlock to obtain possession of that heroin from the drug delivery service, a temptation trigger that I imagine will be pulled in sooner rather than later.
– It took me until this week to realize that Elementary has turned Everyone, its ersatz Anonymous, into a replacement for the Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes' network of street-urchin informers. It's not a bad update of the concept, and Elementary employs Everyone in the same way that Doyle used the Irregulars: as a narrative shortcut, to conduct offscreen/off-page information-gathering. Elementary may just be leaning on them a little too often.
– Ms. Hudson! So nice of you to swing by for a quick appearance! Feel free to visit more often! Always happy to see Candice Cayne getting work.
– The book Sherlock hid the packet of heroin from the drug delivery service in? A Library of Poetry and Song by Williams Cullen Bryant. Anyone want to propose the significance for that?
What did you think of "The Man With the Twisted Lip"?
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