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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Elementary: “Possibility Two”

Illustration for article titled Elementary: “Possibility Two”
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“Meet Holmes and Watson.”

With those words, the president of Watt Helix—the genetics lab at the heart of “Possibility Two”—helps usher in a new era for Elementary. In what is the first episode of Holmes and Watson’s official partnership, there is no talk of associates or assistants or anything else. They are now, and for the remainder of the series—barring any short term barriers constructed to create tension during important Sweeps periods or at the beginning or end of seasons—will be, Holmes and Watson: partners in deduction.

And yet to suggest that Elementary has changed dramatically as a result would be mistaken. Although their partnership is now formalized, the student/teacher dynamic featured in “Possibility Two” has been operating implicitly throughout the series. Even if Watson wasn’t Holmes’ student in an official capacity during the early episodes of the series, her gradual adoption of Holmes’ methods for solving mysteries in her own life were nonetheless a sign of his pedagogical potential. I wrote in a review of an early episode that Elementary works—like most crime procedurals—to teach the viewer how to spot clues, and Sherlock served much the same function for Joan as the series developed.

Of course, that relationship is now much more explicit, and “Possibility Two” is structured around Sherlock teaching Joan how to hone her deductive powers (and her skills with a singlestick, although Joan isn’t sure why she also has to share his hobby). He presents her with a seemingly routine task (dropping off the dry cleaning), and over the course of her visits, Joan pieces together that something isn’t right: The clothes rack doesn’t move, the security cameras seem too plentiful, and the employees seem incapable of properly cleaning clothing. She deduces that Sherlock sent her to the dry cleaners to solve the mystery, but he insists that he did no such thing. Joan eventually brings Bell in to search the place and confirm it’s a front for various illegal activities, which is when she passes Sherlock’s test; not by solving the mystery, of course, but by having faith in her own deductive abilities without needing Sherlock to confirm it for her (although even a layperson could have figured out that that was a front given how terrible they were at running it as a proper business, but I digress).

The episode isn’t particularly subtle with this takeaway, but Sherlock’s reasoning is that Joan needs to realize every interaction—even those with your dry cleaner—contains multitudes. It’s a lesson that makes sense for the character, but it’s also a convenient way to remind the viewer that Elementary is intended as a mystery for them as well. Brian Watt’s image appears briefly early in the episode, a figurehead for a company that isn’t part of the welcoming committee when Sherlock and Joan investigate its practices. His appearance in the episode is as impersonal as it is brief, but when it becomes clear that the case is not simply about who poisoned a specific person but rather who has poisoned multiple individuals with the same disease, Sherlock realizes that an interaction we thought was important for one reason—introducing Natasha before her tragic death at the hands of her fiancé—was in fact important for another.

Now, if we really wanted to break down the logic here, I do have a question: Isn’t Sherlock’s process thorough enough that the CEO’s absence could have been a research subject, which could have led him to conclude he also had CAA, which could have saved us the collection of red herrings that unfolded over the course of the episode? What I realized, though, was that “Possibility Two” is more purposeful in its structure relative to other episodes where Sherlock’s investigation seemed to get stretched out longer than was necessary. I missed 10 minutes of the episode when my cable box malfunctioned, and normally this wouldn’t be a big deal: Like all procedurals, Elementary tends to build a degree of recap into each sequence to ensure those who miss something can catch up. And yet when I found myself 10 minutes later in this episode, an entirely different person had died, the investigation had already burned through multiple potential suspects, and then that murder was solved in time to put the attention back on the previous crime. Although my detective skills were strong enough that I intuited all that had happened during that period—which I confirmed with people watching on Twitter—it still felt like a more chaotic and sprawling collection of crimes than usual.


Although I’m open to the argument that Sherlock could have solved this faster, the choice seems in line with the episode’s larger focus. In an episode rather obsessed with the notion of genes, Mark Goffman’s script explores how difficult it can be to map a crime when there are so many other lives intersecting with that crime. Natasha’s death seems like a part of a broader conspiracy, but it’s an unrelated act; Lyden’s son has reason to want his father out of the picture, but it turns out that his father is simply an innocent victim in someone else’s struggle against the disease. Although one isn’t normally solving a crime when they investigate a genetic disease or explore the human genome more broadly, the spirit of investigation is still nonetheless central to the process, and ties together Sherlock’s search for that elusive second possibility with the science featured so prominently within the episode. It’s a messy storyline, one that was perhaps too busy to resonate emotionally—with so many victims that it’s hard to focus our sympathies with one for long enough to allow the moment to sink in—but it contributes to the series’ broader goals of exploring the meaning of investigation.

And on that level, “Possibility Two” also gets to have a lot of fun. Although it lacks the big character moments of previous episodes, Sherlock’s “You’re a detective now, you tell me” is one of those brilliant little runners that keeps a script like this moving, ensuring a degree of levity and allowing the new formal relationship the two share to maintain a level of playfulness. Although the show is no longer threatening that this partnership is temporary, the writers are also not suggesting that the partnership has been fully formed. Their negotiation of their respective roles is still ongoing, and while Elementary might now have a more stable premise does not necessarily mean that it is safe from various sources of turmoil. While more lightweight that the show’s best episodes, “Possibility Two” nonetheless proves the value in a “Holmes and Watson” that are officially partners but still exploring the true nature of their relationship; we may be to the point where the show settles into a stable premise, but it doesn’t mean this has stopped being an origin story about the evolution of these characters.


Stray observations:

  • There were too many murders in this episode. There’s two dead bodies to start, two people who are inexplicably murdered within the course of the storyline (Crabtree and Natasha), and that’s all on top of the three people that Watt effectively killed by infecting them with CAA. I get why the red herrings were necessary to create the investigative chaos required, but I wonder if death is too quick a shorthand in those moments. I felt like the show got some good mileage out of Crabtree early on, and to see his death so quickly moved past was striking—in a bad way—for me.
  • Protective eyewear makes for a great prop: “You’re going to put the acid away before we answer the door, right?” It’s the pause and the goggles together that make Sherlock’s response perfect.
  • As noted above, I’m not sure Sherlock would really struggle to find another possibility, but “Possibility Two is stubbornly refusing to reveal itself” is a great line.
  • I have to presume that this story is likely based on real potentials for diseases to be recreated and transmitted in this way, but forgive me if I don’t Google further to avoid the nightmares it would cause. Diseases are on some level more terrifying than murder, and it’s part of why I wish we could have stuck with the threat of hereditary diseases being spread in I.V.’s instead of piling murder on top of it.
  • Please let me know if there is anything in the 10 minutes I missed that deserved to be pointing out in the stray observations or elsewhere—I think missing it actually made the episode a bit clearer in a weird way, but I still hate to miss the small details in a show full of them.
  • A quick search suggests Elementary is taking the next two weeks as February Sweeps come to a close. It may also simply be practical, given how production had to be ramped up to churn out three episodes over seven days to start the month. So this gives you time to catch up if you missed some episodes along the way.