“You live a life, Sherlock. If you’re not a fool, it changes you.”
“The Cost of Doing Business” felt a bit like shuffling cards; things shifting quickly with no certainty what will come up again or when. But a line like that one—as Morland tries desperately to reassure Sherlock of his good intentions in helping Sherlock track down a sniper—pins itself to the larger themes of the season. We know Sherlock is different this time around; in his recovery, in his partnership with Joan, in his approach to the police and to witnesses alike. The question is: Is Morland?
It’s no wonder Sherlock’s suspicious: This one-day case is almost nothing but a father and son in action, and it’s not always smooth sailing. Morland’s offer of help comes with the caveat that he be a direct participant, and he’s not nearly up to snuff; he doesn’t even know Sherlock’s pet names for his stable of anonymous sources. (“Irregulars,” Sherlock snips to correct Morland when he calls them Unusuals. The “God, Dad, you don’t even listen” is implied.)
The case itself is unremarkable, though the opening is sharp from a formal perspective. This isn’t a show that has a lot of songs on its soundtrack beyond the occasional end-of-episode tearjerker; in “The Cost Of Doing Business” (directed by series regular Aaron Lipstadt) the diegetic opener was doubly striking for the stylistic departure, and made the opening chaos more powerful. It’s also a case in which we see the murderer in action, which means that, the hiring reveal aside, this isn’t a whodunit. (I’m not sure the shooter even utters a word, he matters so little.) The case exists to be a litmus test for Sherlock and Morland. Morland’s first offer of intel to Sherlock is genuine because we know it’s true; we see occasional glimpses of the man Sherlock might become if he allowed himself the full advantage of the family connections. And the episode follows Morland wherever he goes—our first glimpses of him outside the watchful eye of Sherlock or Joan. (His face begins to swamp the frame as soon as they’re gone; if the show wants us to be sure he’s an antagonist, they’ve got it.)
Even under scrutiny, however, Morland seems freer in himself than we’ve seen him, the full stretch of his privilege and the immovable imperiousness that clearly launched Sherlock out of his orbit, years ago. It’s actually some fascinating character work; their methods are different only on the surface. Sherlock despises the sea of white male corporate faces, as per usual, and it becomes all the more obvious why after Morland starts casually throwing his weight around to get the results they need, but it’s the same disregard; just a different price tag. The conditional morality is at work in parallel—Sherlock is more than happy to set aside several qualms about Morland in the service of stopping a mass murderer who killed merely from professional greed—and it can’t be for nothing that both Holmes men cheerfully use threats as a first resort.
But the most interesting character work isn’t Morland, despite the helpful overtures running aground by design in the moustache-twisting denouement. It’s Sherlock fighting his own instincts and trying to accept his father back on some terms he can live with. His bedside manner improves, now that he’s the more compassionate half of a pair. He even becomes the Joan of exposition while trying to impress his father with his password skills—something that brings him up short mid-monologue—and, in a much bigger beat, defends him to Joan. And Joan is not having it.
Both Jonny Lee Miller and John Noble are doing excellent work as two nettled branches of the family tree, and this episode is a tidy a showcase for them, but honestly, Joan’s barely-contained loathing for Morland might turn out to be the most interesting thing about Holmes Sr.’s reappearance. The protective Joan of the first season had slipped into an orbit that often required some outside plot shenanigans to give her something significant to do. This is an organic conflict that has the promise to become something abrasive between them in a way that could affect the season in large and interesting ways. The spark of anger we see from her as she listens to Sherlock convincing himself Morland’s not that bad is palpable; the pivot from exposition to reaction suggests so much potential, echoed nicely when father and son are relaying information about the case as she stares them both down. (Not surprising; writer Jason Tracey has been responsible for several episodes that suggest that Joan’s trust isn’t easily won.)
But aside from some piercing looks in the evidence room, “The Cost Of Doing Business” feels like it’s skipping over some big moments—that same hyper-efficient glossing-over that made the first episode of the season slightly abrupt. It’s most noticeable in the total non-conflict after several episodes’ worth of buildup about Joan dealing with Morland on the side and the District Attorney’s bribe to get Sherlock off the hook. I accept that Sherlock guessed the District Attorney thing on his own, particularly after an episode that suggests so strongly why there’s a rift between father and son in the first place. But why is Watson so accepting that Sherlock avoids her in order to run around with his dad? And in a season that’s put so much weight on Joan keeping things from Sherlock (to the point that the previouslies reminded us exactly), how does Sherlock have so little reaction to the fact that Joan was keeping some secret accord with her father? If there’s one thing he hates, it’s being kept out of the decisions being made about his life—their beginnings were hostile because he resented his father assigning terms without his permission. It doesn’t seem of note to him that they’re going behind his back to decide what he should and shouldn’t know? Sure, father and son had a good day, but that seems…brisk, even in the service of the clean arc this episode clearly wants between the Holmeses. And in an episode that hints at a larger conspiracy for Morland, why is there no suggestion that Sherlock’s noticed Joan taking sides?
It’s going to matter, presumably. At the start of this episode, Sherlock tells his father not to confess a crime and expect Sherlock’s confidence. By the end of it, Sherlock’s warming up to his father despite himself (to Joan’s quiet dismay), while Morland is taking a nice private dinner because he hates threatening murder on an empty stomach. It’s the sort of reveal a fall finale is made of; whether Morland is a complex man whose amends are even partially in earnest or he’s this season’s supervillain will have to wait; “The Cost Of Doing Business” feels a little too distanced from its own stakes for the menace to sink in yet.
- I’m fascinated by the absence of Mrs. Fitzgerald from this episode. She’s married to a prime suspect and slept with the victim and the murderer-by-proxy; even allowing that Sherlock has to find the big connecting clue as detection demands, it’s oddly pointed that she’s missing. “He could have seen her as a soulmate, for all we know,” Watson posits at one point, as if guessing at the inner life of a murder victim. She’s alive! You could just ask her!
- You can say that Morland’s villainous streak comes out in the last scene, but honestly, the moment he called his assistant “Jessica, dear” we all knew he was the worst, right?
- A topic the Holmeses have yet to mention/pointedly refuse to mention: Mycroft. I’d understand Morland dodging the subject because of Nefarious Objectives, but it’s odd that Sherlock hasn’t made even a single barbed remark. Are we just calling a mulligan on that entire arc?
- This is one of the few times we’ve seen Sherlock bristle at what Everyone has asked him to do; normally he’s more than happy to handle whatever. It fits in nicely, though, if you consider the Masons just one more powerful organized entity Sherlock openly resents.
- “I myself can never get enough backslapping, but I’m afraid our time here is limited.” Jonny Lee Miller can be sublime.
- Aidan Quinn got to give an inspirational cop speech!
- Quinn also walks away with this week’s line delivery that’s better than it has any right to be, after Wellstone’s lawyer suggests someone must have smeared gun oil: “You can try that at trial, I guess.”
- Best unspoken line delivery of the week: Sherlock’s turtle-neck stretch of pained familiarity as his dad judges the hell out of a suspect for drinking.
- Of Joan backstory moments I was excited about this season, ‘Sitcom-y stereotypical mention of a French dude she dated once as a conversational opener about something entirely unrelated’ was not one I was waiting for.
- 1337? I guess I’ll take these possible Hackers references for as long as the show wants to hand them over.
- Definite reference: Reed Diamond asking if they’re in “The Box” is like being hit with a TV Nostalgia Bat.
- “Unless you’re dead, you’re starting to annoy me.” Joan Watson’s epitaph.