By virtue of diving headfirst into the Sherlock canon and being the first episode that’s not a mystery of the week, “M.” represents a graduation of sorts for Elementary. Up to this point, Elementary has been content to be a twist not only on the classic procedural, but of the Sherlock Holmes adaptation as we’ve come to know it. Having a full season order gave it the luxury of dropping in aspects of Holmes mythology like Easter eggs rather than as an avalanche of lore. And whenElementary does use parts of the Holmes canon, it eagerly subverts them. Sherlock’s trademark deductive reasoning took center stage with his police work, but it was his drug addiction was the catalyst for his relationship with Watson rather than his vocation. Joan Watson is a doctor, but rather than the trauma that comes with being a war veteran, she instead has a past riddled with others’ trauma that she shouldered as her own. Irene Adler was only mentioned as a specter of demons past. Sherlock played the violin a grand total of once. But even a brief introduction of Irene Adler made it clear the show was preparing us to dive in where every Sherlock Holmes adaptation has gone before, and where this ominously titled episode went with relish: Moriarty.
“M.,” as Sherlock explains to Watson and Captain Gregson at the crime scene, is a serial killer he chased through Britain only to end up with 37 pools of blood (M’s bonechilling calling card of choice) and nothing to show for it. As he later explains to Watson behind closed doors, one of those pools of blood was Irene Adler’s.
That Moriarty had a hand in Irene’s death (and subsequently Sherlock’s addiction problems) isn’t one of the episode’s bigger twists. In fact, the second Sherlock said Irene was dead, it only stood to reason that his canonically biggest adversary would have had something to do with it. But the predictability of this turn is irrelevant. After spending half a season with Sherlock (not to mention Jonny Lee Miller, who does stunning work in this episode), his rage at realizing Irene’s murderer chased him to New York is perfectly terrifying. At this point, we know Elementary’s Sherlock well enough to be frightened when he goes over the edge into revenge mode.
According to the Sherlock Holmes canon, Moriarty is a cunning, malicious, meticulously cruel puppetmaster. The difference here is that “M.” is all these things, but seems like he would rather be smashing the jagged end of a bottle over someone’s face in an alleyway than laying traps. The casting of British character actor Vinnie Jones as the titular “M.” subverts expectations before he even says a word. He takes up so much physical space that it’s impossible not to feel his presence even as we see only a gloved hand at work while his victims wriggle on the ground. If “Moriarty” is a silken word whispered behind closed doors, “M.” is a landmine that Elementary explodes with a smirk. “M.”’s an imposing bulldozer of a take on Moriarty that we haven’t seen before.
Needless to say, I fell right into this episode’s trap.
So no, “M.” doesn’t stand for “Moriarty.” It stands for Sebastian Moran, and he’s a hired hand for the real Moriarty, who at this point seems to fall in line exactly where every Moriarty before him does—in the shadows, pulling the strings of lesser men. At this point, I trust the series enough to do something interesting with the character, but I still found myself disappointed that M wasn’t our guy. Jones turns in a deliciously vicious performance, matching Miller’s repressed fury and anxiety in the pivotal warehouse scene beat for beat. It would have been fun to see him play with our expectations for Moriarty, but until we find out who does get to play that crucial role, I hope we see more of Jones’ M.
Sherlock’s startling descent also fuels Joan’s part of the story, which is thinner but no less significant. Her companionship has been a ticking clock all season, so it was just a matter of time before it ran out and the show found a reason to keep her there. Sherlock was certainly doing his best, between offering her an insulting “apprenticeship,” his increasing petulance with the bees and the garbage, and referring to the brownstone as “our home.” Watson certainly was reluctant to leave, despite her insistence to the contrary. But even though the show was signaling a shift toward Watson choosing to become an investigator, there were ultimately only a couple plausible ways to get Joan to stay: either Sherlock would pretend he needed more help, or he would actually relapse.
Joan was prepared for either of these scenarios. She was not, however, prepared for Sherlock to inform her that he would be torturing and murdering M, so if you could just step aside and let me do that it would be lovely, thank you. This isn’t relapsing in the strictest sense seeing as there were no drugs involved, but the obsessive, eerily cold bloodlust in Sherlock’s eyes suggests a no less powerful rush. Joan had seen more horror with Sherlock than she had ever known, but as she stared at Sherlock in his focused rage, it was clear that this version of him scared her most.
It’s no surprise that Joan decides to stay with Sherlock (defying the wishes of his father, to boot), but having Moriarty break Sherlock of his spirit rather than his sobriety was a satisfying way to get there. After weeks of watching Joan and Sherlock stoically dance around each other, acknowledging their respect but not their affection, we got a single episode with Sherlock opening up about Irene, Joan furiously demanding answers about his security cameras, Sherlock informing her of his murderous intentions, and both acknowledging their companionship with the same heartfelt speech. It’s a credit to the show’s meticulous pacing of their relationship that it all made sense.
In general, “M.” feels a lot more explicit than the straightforward episodes we’ve gotten used to with Elementary: M(oriarty)’s “you’re the mouse chasing a lion” letter, Sherlock repeatedly referring to the brownstone as “our home,” Joan telling Gregson that she goes “where he goes.” It made much of the subtext text. What happens with Moriarty remains to be seen, Sherlock and Joan’s sudden burst of mutual appreciation has been a long time coming. Every nod of approval and fond glance contributed to the slow but steady crumbling of their pride, so they could get to the point where they could tell each other, “I think what you do is amazing.” If Elementary keeps delivering on buildup like that, it won’t be a twist on a procedural anymore—it’ll be an appointment viewing drama. So as both Elementary and Sherlock look to a future with a more traditional Moriarty, let’s hope they remember they remember the singular character work they did to get there.
- Not only does Sherlock fail to realize M’s an assassin but he gets it completely wrong with the notes. He thinks M’s delusional, driven to refer to himself as “another,” when it’s of course Moriarty sending the letters. It’s almost like he doesn’t recognize an ego when he sees one.
- Gregson telling Sherlock not to blame himself for M going stateside was a quick scene, but well played. “He’s the twist, not you.”
- Love that Teddy the sunglasses peddler isn’t a drive-by cameo, but an “associate” of Holmes (as the peddler says to convince Joan, “he doesn’t have any friends”).
- The scene with Watson’s therapist seemed superfluous in such a packed episode, especially since her only purpose seemed to be telling Joan she likes Sherlock’s work, again. Still, nice to see Linda Edmond, who you may know from The Good Wife or Law and Order: SVU (I, of course, know her asGossip Girl’s Headmistress Queller).
- Does Moriarty send M where he knows he can catch Arsenal matches on the nether regions of US cable television?
- Joan was on point, but whither Alfredo, Sherlock’s sponsor? You’d think we’d have heard from him in an episode where Sherlock completely loses it, but notsomuch.
- “You made me a shambles of a man. Now I’m simply returning the favor.”
- “I’m going to miss this. Not…this. But you know. This.”