Sherlock versus Elementary: Heroes, Habits and Heroin


by Noor Alnaqeeb (@nooralnaqeeb)

Spoilers! Elementary: “The Red Team,” “The Deductionist” and “A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs.”

So far, after Elementary’s hiatus we have been presented with three really good episodes. The plotlines were solid, the acting was excellent and the writing was enthralling. But the question I have always asked, and the question I will ask today is: How true to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character is this representation? And I’ve found three things that keep cropping up. Habits. Heroes. And heroin.

The Red Team

There are Sherlock’s simple habits, like sleeping for two days straight, listening to static or making seven eggs for breakfast. Then there are his obvious habits like his addiction to heroin and an assortment of drugs. In both Sherlock and Elementary, he has his quirks. And with lines in Elementary such as “It’s a fact that I am smarter than everyone I have ever met,” and lines in Sherlock that read, “What is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring,” his modesty also takes centre stage.

This week’s plot was predictable to say the least. The format was expected. But that gave the characters room to be examined. Watson’s character seems to find a gravitational pull to being examined… by psychiatrists. John Watson in Sherlock had regularly seen a counselor. The conversation between him and his therapist in “The Reichenbach Fall” facilitated the most emotional exchange Watson had exhibited in the series. Joan Watson has also found herself in a therapist’s company for a few episodes. The similarity between the two is that they both find themselves mostly talking about Sherlock.

Both Watsons concern themselves with Sherlock’s life to a great extent. Gregson couldn’t have said it better, after punching Sherlock in the stomach. People in Sherlock’s life are constantly worrying about him. What he’s going to do next, if he’s going to do something reckless or destructive. Something worth mentioning is that Gregson doesn’t take nearly half as much of Sherlock’s antics as Lestrade does in Sherlock. Hence the gut-punching. Also, making Gregson the hero of this episode. The ability to shake Sherlock’s hold on the NYPD to show that murder is never the most viable option was the story to beat. But then again, Sherlock is self-annihilating.

The Deductionist

Speaking of his self-destructive nature, another Sherlockian habit is to run off with a serial killer without involving the police. Benedict Cumberbatch as Mr. Holmes got straight into the serial killer’s car in “A Study in Pink,” all the while knowing the danger he was in. The chase, the curiosity and the need to deduct are facilitators of Sherlock’s behavior in both Sherlock and Elementary. In “A Study in Pink,” Sherlock does not need to be held at gunpoint to follow the serial killer. In “The Deductionist,” Sherlock lets himself in to the killer’s temporary, yet humble abode. Sherlock Holmes, regardless of his platform, will always put the importance of knowledge over the safety of his own life.

The profiler, Ms. Drummond, had the incentive to write a profile on Sherlock years before the episode was set. And in character for Mr. Holmes in both Sherlock and Elementary, exploiting an acquaintanceship for the sole purpose of trying to get inside Sherlock’s head is not advisable and was not well received. One habit I have found in Elementary’s Sherlock that I don’t quite agree with is his line “I was wrong.” It is said far too often.

In Elementary Watson’s primary habit is her interference with not only Sherlock’s personal life, but also his professional one, using her own professional and medical knowledge. This is something that is lacking in Sherlock. Dr. John Watson’s medical knowledge is put to use far less than Joan’s. Her knowledge seems to facilitate cases; such as the recognition that someone with kidney failure would steer away from specific foods leading to the prognosis that it was intentional. Watson’s constant intervention made her the hero of this episode.

One major flaw with Watson’s involvement in Sherlock’s life in Elementary is that she has violated his trust (although a part of me thinks he won’t mind, or already knows) by continuing to be his sober companion after her contract expired. This means that she is not paid. And as she was kicked out of her apartment this episode, this means that Watson finally lives with Sherlock on a permanent basis. In Sherlock, the ‘roommate agreement’ was met from the get go. It’s nice to see it become official in Elementary as well.

A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs

In this instance, Sherlock had two prominent habits in Elementary. One in itself was heroin. The other was avoiding emotional confrontations about his addiction to heroin. With the line “a giant gun filled with drugs pointed right at your head,” this episode proved itself to be one of the best-written episodes to date. Throughout “The Red Team” and “The Deductionist,” his use of drugs was mentioned, but it was not until this episode that it was directly addressed. Although the series has made constant references to his drug problem, maybe too many references, this episode made it true to the character challenging his determination to stay clean.

In Sherlock, the most prominent moment of vulnerability Holmes displayed was during “The Hounds of Baskerville.” It’s also the same episode Holmes calls Watson his only ‘friend.’ Holmes was scared and helpless and he let Watson see that. In Elementary, Holmes had his most vulnerable moment after an episode filled with reasons and opportunities to get high. Including his ex-dealer throwing a bag of cocaine in his face urging him to take it so that he can be better at his job. After he refuses to succumb to temptation, Sherlock tells Watson about it and they both go to a group meeting. Sherlock even tells her that he wants her there. Now if that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is. This episode he was his own hero, much like when Holmes did not turn to drugs after Irene’s supposed death in BBC’s Sherlock. This episode and these comparisons come to show that a mere substance will not control Sherlock Holmes, whether it’s Sherlock or Elementary. Not because of his intellect or ability to deduce who killed who or what you had for lunch, but because of Watson. His friend. So the main storyline for both series is the friendship shared between two people who care for each other and want to be cared for.

Here, this pretty much sums it up:


  1. HollyApril 6th, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    the moments when Joan’s medical knowledge help solve the case feel forced like they are trying to find a reason for her to be there are show that she’s competent. Sherlock on the BBC show probably would have figured out the kidney thing as well as it hardly takes a medical expert to know junk food isn’t the best thing for someone with kidney trouble. The title “Elementary” shows that the entire show is on the superficial side and the creators have a superficial understanding of Sherlock Holmes. “Elementary, my dear Watson” was never used in the ACD stories. It’s like they didn’t even do any research, they just reference things that other TV shows have referenced. It’s like that crappy Red Riding Hood movie where they named her boyfriend “Peter” because, get it? Peter and the Wolf.

  2. TMJune 19th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    @Holly, the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” may not have been used by ACD, but the word “elementary” itself was used on many occasions by ACD’s Holmes. And last I checked, the series is not called “Elementary, my dear Watson”, it’s called “Elementary”.

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