Elementary "The Man With the Twisted Lip" Review: Divide and Conquer

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Apr 25, 2014

Elementary S02E21: "The Man With the Twisted Lip"

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"?

  • Comments (59)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • rlghtrnsplnt May 17, 2014

    Watched the show three times - never was able to figure out why the girl was killed.

  • bluemorphotat Apr 29, 2014

    So mosquito drones, eh? I though they were cute as hell. I immediately had a flash back about a spy novel where some Russians killed double agents and such by poisoning them using needles... so yes mosquito drones makes a lot of sense.

    Say Noel, I really enjoyed your analysis this week!

  • nullnull2654 Apr 27, 2014

    By the way:

    has just won the

    PRISM Award 2014
    in the category

    Drama Multi-Episode Storyline – Substance Use


    They really deserved it!

  • ConnieTaylor1 Apr 26, 2014

    Joan and Mycroft is ridiculous!

  • bluemorphotat Apr 29, 2014

    Well, since I did not see them in bed, I cannot tell... LOL!
    Joan is very discreet and low key... so if she says she has had fun with Mycroft...

  • ConnieTaylor1 Apr 29, 2014

    Lol.....my brain doesn't want to go there...

  • ElisaDiaz Apr 26, 2014

    The review explained very well every important point in the episode. Good point to identify the AA fellows as equivalent to Sherlock's network of informants too.

    I wasn't very impressed by the episode, though. Pushing Sherlocks towards the drugs is not adding any interest for me, and it feels a bit lazy. Although it is true that it gives a good frame to hear his thoughts in those brief meeting moments. That part works. But I don't like the constant threat of him falling into drugs again. I hope the threat stops when Joan moves out and he finds a new balance of his own, instead of having a grave finale with Sherlock in overdose in the hospital.

    I hope Mycroft motivations turn out to be interesting. I hate it when the characters make out complicated plots for very silly purposes.

  • nullnull2654 Apr 26, 2014

    I don't know if William Cullen Bryant is of any significance for the show, but I like that Elementary quotes and refers to classic literature like "Waiting for Godot" or D.H. Lawrence.
    So here an example for the works of William Cullen Bryant which I think also fits for Elementary:


    They talk of short-lived pleasure—be it so—
    Pain dies as quickly: stern, hard-featured pain
    Expires, and lets her weary prisoner go.
    The fiercest agonies have shortest reign;
    And after dreams of horror, comes again
    The welcome morning with its rays of peace;
    Oblivion, softly wiping out the stain,
    Makes the strong secret pangs of shame to cease:
    Remorse is virtue's root; its fair increase
    Are fruits of innocence and blessedness:
    Thus joy, o'erborne and bound, doth still release
    His young limbs from the chains that round him press.
    Weep not that the world changes—did it keep
    A stable, changeless state, 'twere cause indeed to weep.“
    William Cullen Bryant

  • JenMo73 Apr 26, 2014

    Oh man. Why did he take a packet if heroin and hide it? Weakness? Can we wait until middle of season 3 for that? I'm not ready for a relapse. I'm sure Joan being in danger and Sherlock being on his own will test his limits but this seems a step back for him. Over the course of this season he has been growing (as Noel pointed out above) he said so in his meeting. I just wonder if he took it to prove to himself that he can avoid it. Like a challenge. He was wants a challenge, an experiment. He stated this in the beginning when asking Joan about the case. So maybe it's that, but either way it puts his sobriety and growth in jeopardy. When Joan finds out (and she will) I think that will be the straw to break the camel's back. Not being in danger because Joan has always known the risks involved.
    As for Mycroft.....did anyone notice that he seemed a little disheveled? Sure he charmed the pants off Joan but he seemed different. Regardless of whoever is involved in taking Joan, and the hopes of the result of that, I've got a feeling it may backfire. Mycroft might just need to be honest with Sherlock.

  • bluemorphotat Apr 29, 2014

    Mmm temptation... as Wilde used to say "I can resist everything but temptation" LOL

  • nullnull2654 Apr 26, 2014

    I think it is a challenge for him. With having a packet of heroin right under his nose and not using it he can proof to himself that he is really strong. Over the last few episodes he has had so many selfdoubts that this might be a way for Sherlock to regain a little bit of confidence. It is quite risky though.

  • Grumpyclown Apr 26, 2014

    I am getting a funny feeling that when MyCrofts plot gets exposed, Lestrades fall from grace will be tied into it.
    Reminding him of his roots.
    It just seems like they are trying to maneuver Sherlock back to London for some reason.
    I could be wrong - I'm very tired

  • MarlboroMagpi Apr 25, 2014

    I agreed this week's case is razzle dazzle ! Very fun to watch ! Mosquito drones are the best :-) !

    I highly suspect Mycroft wanting to be with Joan is sincere. There is an end game though I am still unsure if whether the show will actually made Mycroft a villain.

  • fleur-de-lune Apr 25, 2014

    This French mob stuff sounds like BS. It's obvious that who ever Mycroft is working with, or for wants Sherlock back in London. The only thing keeping Sherlock from going back, is Joan. So she has to be dealt with in some way.

    I highly doubt they'll kill her, so more likely she'll be used some how to make Sherlock do or give up something, which in turn will make him want to move back to London...I'm assuming.

    With the next two titles being about paint and art, I'm really, REALLY hoping they'll bring back Moriarty. I just love her. So much. I don't know what Mycroft's end game is, but I hope that for some reason Sherlock turns to Moriarty to out smarty pants Mycroft. THAT would be freaking awesome.

    Especially because of all of his talk about not having a peer... Jamie/Irene is his peer, she is his equal.

  • nullnull2654 Apr 27, 2014

    I forgot something. I think the title of next weeks episode may refer to the song "Paint it Black" by The Rolling Stones. It is a song about depression. and sadness.

    I look inside myself and see my heart is black
    I see my red door and I must have it painted black
    Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
    It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black

    As much as I would have preferred the Art thing I fear it might refer to Sherlock's state of mind in the next episode.

  • nullnull2654 Apr 25, 2014

    She might be his peer in intelligence but otherwise there are huge differences between the two.
    Moriarty killed two people with her own hands and ordered the murder of numerous others. She is a psychopath not able to feel empathy. She will never really be able to love someone other than herself.
    Sherlock detests violence and devotes his life to justice and the right for everybody to live unharmed. He has a lot of compassion for other people. He was even able to say something to comfort Ian ("you made him very happy") in last weeks episode although he was devastated himself.

  • fleur-de-lune Apr 25, 2014

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, ... I still love her though.
    There's a reason they say opposites attract.
    I think the big question regarding her is: is she capable of redemption? That's something we've seen Sherlock wondering and could be a good story line to explore. Can her powers be used for good???

  • nullnull2654 Apr 25, 2014

    This comment has been removed.

  • See More Comments (18)