Sherlock vs. Elementary: Symbiosis


by Noor Alnaqeeb (@nooralnaqeeb)

Warning: This article will include three episodes of Elementary, “Rat Race,” “Lesser Evils” and “Flight Risk,” in comparison to the BBC’s Sherlock

Finally! Elementary has made me believe that “Sherlock Holmes” is not just a recycled name borrowed from legendary literature to label their main character. Watching the past few episodes, I was astounded as to how Sherlockian the series has become. The most impressive feats the episode tackled were its investigation into the characters’ pasts, the exploration into Watson’s ex-career as a doctor and unraveling the reasons behind Sherlock’s road to addiction. The latest developments also emphasized the trust developing between the two characters and the obstacles they’ve overcome.

Rat Race

In “Rat Race,” we were shown Watson’s ability to be there for Holmes when his life literally depended on it. Their close-knitted relationship had facilitated Joan’s ability to realize that Holmes was in trouble. In the BBC’s Sherlock, Watson’s first opportunity to save Sherlock came with the first episode. Watson had shot a man who was threatening Sherlock’s life, bringing them closer together as friends and partners.

We were also presented with the idea of Sherlock’s past. In Sherlock, the episodes where Holmes was seen as a recovering addict were scarce. In Elementary, scenes referring to his addiction, or a character’s dependence on addictive substances, were apparent in every episode. In Rat Race, after Holmes’ disappearance, Watson suspected that after seeing a man die of a drug overdose, he would retreat to his previous lifestyle. The audience was given a realistic situation where the severity of Sherlock’s addiction was highlighted. This brutality has not been greatly explored in Sherlock, but subtle undertones have seeped through in episodes such as “A Scandal in Belgravia.” For the character’s main imperfection to be so blatant in Elementary, audiences are offered the notion that Sherlock Holmes, the genius with the flawless method, might in fact be flawed.

Lesser Evils

Dr. Joan Watson was the focal point of this episode, which took place in a hospital where the duo looked for an Angel of Death; a serial killer who murdered terminally-ill patients as an act of mercy. Although Elementary had chosen to delve into Joan’s past, we haven’t seen much of John’s past in Sherlock as an army doctor. His expertise had been used, but roots had never been explored. Another difference between the characters that was made apparent in this episode was the notion that Joan has started using the art of deduction more frequently than John has in the past and to her advantage.

In the opening scene, we are shown Sherlock choking a corpse in a morgue to observe the bruises formed while Joan waited. A sequence that is hopelessly reminiscent of Benedict Cumberbatch’s opening scene in “A Study in Pink,” where he is seen attacking a corpse with a riding crop for the same purpose. Although excruciatingly similar, both were effective in their own right. Sherlock conveyed Holmes as an eccentric mad scientist archetype where Elementary used the scene to highlight Watson’s immunity to Sherlock’s bizarre methods.

In “Lesser Evils,” the relationship between Joan and Sherlock seemed to be developing. Sherlock stated, “Your eyes are doing that thing you do which means you’re lying,” showing us that Sherlock’s deductions have now become specific to Joan’s movements and that their familiarity with each other has facilitated more honest conversations. Another moment where Sherlock’s trust in Joan seemed obvious was when she got him to reveal a half-formed theory before he was absolutely sure of it. This was mirrored by Joan’s trust in him when she took his advice about following her gut instinct about an ex-colleague’s medical patient. Their ability to lean on each other when things don’t go according to plan is indicative of the traditional Holmes-Watson friendship. Their relationship is symbiotic and may be seen as interdependent, but is effective nevertheless.

Flight Risk

By far, the best episode of Elementary to have aired, “Flight Risk” left me wanting to watch more and made me refer fellow nerds to the series. In this episode, we see the pieces of the puzzle fit together as Elementary becomes less of a crime-drama and more of a true interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.

While watching Elementary, I have found myself trying to place Sherlock’s mental state in a timeline that exists within Sherlock to pick up any clues as to where he has been or where he is heading. But as the creators of the show have promised, they are not alike in that sense. They exist in different worlds. Which begs the question; who was Sherlock’s Watson when he wasn’t in America? Did a Dr. Watson character even exist before New York? Although the questions about a previous Watson might not be answered in the near future, we are now getting a sense of where Sherlock has been.

The episode’s case involved a slow ‘work’ week followed by a crashed plane with dead people already on it, “A Scandal in Belgravia” anyone? Although vaguely reminiscent of the Sherlock episode, not much else was similar between the two interpretations this week. One major difference was the introduction of Sherlock’s father. Mind blown, by the way. Sherlock had introduced Mycroft, Holmes’ brother and Irene, his rumored lover, but never any parental figure. With good reason, too; judging by the way Elementary’s Sherlock reacted to the news of his father asking for a dinner date. “Dad never shows.” Who knew Sherlock Holmes had father issues? Describing his father as “a serial absentee” and a “pathological maker and breaker of promises” audiences were drawn in by the possibility of finally meeting this man.

Alas, instead Sherlock pulled a “harmless prank” and set Watson up with a friend/actor posing as his father.  With the dinner not a complete failure, Watson realized that there were elements of truth in the actor’s stories of Sherlock as a child, and in a very Sherlock-fashion tracked the actor down to talk. Previously, during a short confrontation with Sherlock, Joan stated that she didn’t trust him. We have all seen how Watson has opened up to Sherlock and to no avail tried to get him to do the same. Afterwards, Sherlock attempted to confide in Joan, but the information proved too trivial. Instead, after the conversation with Sherlock’s “friend,” she had one request. She had uncovered a name Sherlock had muttered in his delirious, drugged state at his all-time low and she said, “I know about Irene. I want you to tell me about her.”

It seems that we’re finally being introduced to Sherlock’s history. Similarly to the BBC’s Sherlock, his addiction, or return of an addiction, had stemmed from his relationship with Irene. Irene Adler, the character that periodically, and in every interpretation, intensely and emotionally affects Sherlock. This character trait is translated into Elementary, and I hope that the series continues down the path it has carved into his past. This episode is the episode to watch and the reason I will continue to watch Elementary after it has finally proved itself Sherlock-worthy.

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