“Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell.”
- Sherlock Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia”
In the middle of “Turn It Upside Down,” Sherlock offers Joan a ring.
The context isn’t romantic; their conversation about Morland’s cruelty and Sherlock’s struggle with addiction is the opposite of pillow talk. But the image is deliberate. He’s low to the ground, offering the ring to a standing Joan, and that framing is deeply recognizable regardless of context—it’s an offer. It’s an offer here, too, though not of marriage: marriage is a product of passion. It’s something even rarer for Sherlock: an offer of intimacy.
Quite a few secrets come to light in this episode, as the season gears up to the big finale. It does great things for the show; these longer arcs often do. There’s always a sense of the show stretching to inhabit the new space, spreading out and somehow still ending up with more energy. The Byzantine plotting benefits from not having to wrap up in forty minutes, and gives us more time for character beats. And after four years together, the real engine of this episode isn’t the murder. It’s one of the slowest-burning, most satisfying ideas in Elementary—that you’re stronger when you have people to trust. It’s also one of the earliest dynamics that separated Elementary from other adaptations of the canon. His journey has been to trust Joan as an equal; to confide in Gregson; to admit that he’s not always right.
This episode’s a veritable ticker-tape parade of Sherlock’s progress. During Sherlock and Gregson’s precinct heart-to-heart about Morland, Gregson’s body language is so paternal he might as well be handing Sherlock a football in the middle of a Land’s End spread. (It only gets more paternal during Gregson’s visit to Morland, when Morland’s attempts to play Kindly Father Figure utterly backfire in the face of Gregson’s calm surety that Sherlock has the right of it this time.) Sherlock admits fairly early in the proceedings that Joan was right to keep the Kurtz Affair to herself until she had a handle on Morland’s intentions. And the rest of the episode quietly leans on his relationship with Joan.
The dynamic is a lot less declarative than it could be, and that’s all to the good. This show’s fear of leaving viewers behind often means that people explain exactly what they mean rather than trust a moment to sell itself. It’s partially thanks to Bob Goodman’s script and partially thanks to Lucy Liu’s directing that Sherlock and Joan have time to breathe in this episode. Their initial argument—following from unsteady, off-kilter camera angles in the diner to a faceoff on either side of a doorway in the brownstone—pulls up genuine anger and frustration on both sides and lets the friction carry for a while. It’s much more satisfying than the Sherlock-knew-all-along this season’s pulled more than once, and it gives welcome shadowing to the rest of their screen time.
If the partnership between Joan and Sherlock has a fault at this point, it’s that Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have things so well in hand that a small scene often suffices for the showrunners, and their layered dynamic has become so reliable that it’s lost the spark that made it so rewarding in the first season. “Turn It Upside Down” gives them great character work on both sides. Joan’s generally-aghast reactions to Sherlock’s shenanigans can feel, at worst, pat. The extra time this episode finds for them gives them depth both as a team and as individuals: Sherlock watching Joan’s reactions in the diner as Joan can’t help but give the game away out of a need to know; the grim joy behind Sherlock’s admission that the DANTE quiz “is a little macabre.” (It’s the same tone as the moment he realizes Joan’s thought ahead of him: “Taxidermists!”) And Sherlock’s never angrier in this episode than when he’s fishing for information about just why his father felt so comfortable intimidating Joan; that, as much as possible complicity in murder, shuts Morland out of Sherlock’s good graces.
Joan and Sherlock’s relationship—all that hard-won intimacy—is easy to dismiss amid busy procedurals, and in doling out character beats it often favors Sherlock over Joan. But it’s also easy to remember how far they’ve come. “Turn It Upside Down” reminds us that while Sherlock can confide to Gregson things he knows, he admits to Joan the things he fears, and the difference is enormous. Of all the episode’s callbacks from earlier in the season—Morland’s shady business tactics, Kurtz’s double-agent act, an old villain reappearing sidelong—Sherlock and Joan’s quiet scene with the ring is by far the most narratively satisfying.
Sherlock started this season on the edge of serious trouble after his breakdown and relapse, and has managed to sidestep nearly every major punishment for it; he doesn’t even stand in his father’s debt any more. Alone with Joan, who he trusts most in the world, he quietly realizes that the most lingering effect of his relapse is the knowledge that his mother was fallible in the same ways he is; that his mother fought and failed. The difference between Sherlock and his mother goes unsaid, with Liu trusting their eye contact to carry it all, and it does. Having Joan in the room with him, sharing the ring and his mother’s secret and preparing for whatever trouble they find themselves in with Moriarty, is evidence enough. Sherlock has someone he can trust; things might well turn out differently for him.
One of the more interesting undertones of this episode is that, while lack of trust keeps a relationship from progressing, it doesn’t preclude familiarity. We see this when Joan clearly knows better than to give Sherlock any ammunition for his show and tell: “My gut is telling me very loudly not to play this game.” We see it when Morland finally cuts the crap with Gregson and delivers a truth bomb disguised as a threat: “He also has a knack for self-destruction. Those close to him must always take care not to follow suit.” We even see it as Joan and Morland coolly stare each other down in the brownstone. They knew the other one was on to them; it’s all just business. (It’s the last glimpse of Joan’s vigilantism we see in this episode, though one hopes that with Moriarty back in the picture, that “race you to the bottom” nihilism we saw earlier in the season comes back with a vengeance.)
On a deeper level, though, knowing your enemies is framed as an intimacy of its own. Sherlock doesn’t trust his father, and they end the episode at the same weary detente where they began the season. But the show suggests this is more than a third-act plot twist—it’s necessary self-defense from Sherlock. “You did not commit these murders,” Sherlock admits, but without even pausing for breath he clarifies, “Your general nature is not in dispute.”
And despite the breadcrumbs of plot throughout, it’s that same familiarity that wakes him up to Moriarty’s hand in it all: a single nickname does the trick. He’s so agitated he almost touches Joan’s arm as he draws her inside their separate room (there’s a limit to trust, and for this he trusts only Joan) to admit he knows who’s pulling the strings. It’s a neat cliffhanger: not that Moriarty is back, but that we realize the stakes before Sherlock does. The challenge for Moriarty is: Joan and Sherlock trust each other. The question is: What won’t Moriarty do to break it?
- The title of this episode is a crime against diegetic music and song lyrics everywhere.
- “And a triple murderer would never risk a violation from the Health Department?” Ah, Sherlock, tonight it is you who must sell the back-footed exposition interjections!
- Angela Lee, who gets a survivable gunshot wound and dies of an allergic reaction to a taxidermy mountain lion while waiting for the ambulance, is Edward Gorey levels of unfortunate.
- When putting actors of wildly differing styles in the same scene, there’s a certain negotiation of tenor to smooth out the scene and make the fourth wall as unobtrusive as possible. Pitting someone as casually understated as Aidan Quinn opposite a veteran scenery-chewer like John Noble is probably going to feel slightly off-kilter, especially for a scene in which Noble is barely managing not to twirl his mustache. Liu smartly positions them as far apart as the furniture allows and makes sure the entire scene is a disconnect. Aside from establishing shots, they don’t even share the frame, instead getting stylized close-ups next to plaster molding. That interview might as well have been conducted from different wings of Versailles.
- “Wealth and race presently pay a far larger role in the sentencing process than anyone would like to admit.” It isn’t a surprise that this comes up; Elementary has supported this stance in the past. But overall, one of its CBS-isms seems to be that those who are guilty (or who have to admit something else to absolve themselves of the Big Crime) deserve whatever they get, and those who are innocent are always vindicated. I would be very interested in seeing the show dwell more on this.
- Related: Absolutely amazing delivery of, “It’s not like I’m going to go away any longer for four bodies than three. You guys wanna hear about the first one or not?”
- I’m disappointed we don’t find out how Sherlock did on Dr. Naylor’s criminal moral-relativism quiz. Given his bold stance on crime a few episodes ago, I’d have loved to see his hypothetical-drain-hair admissions.
- Related, from Gregson’s breathtaking Protective Stepdad routine in Morland’s office: “If anything happens to them, the next time you see me, I won’t be a cop.” (Hopefully related: Joan’s race to the bottom.)
- Canon hat-tip! “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” (Bonus Countess and carbuncle.)
- “I didn’t realize your father used our house for storage.” This…feels like a thing that should have come up at some point in the three or so years she’s been living there, doesn’t it? (I recognize we all accept that the brownstone has about fifty secret rooms with chemistry supplies and leftover chicken feed in them, but still.)
- Line that’s better than it has any right to be of the week: “I’ll have Elizabeth give you the information.” John Noble was instructed to sound suspicious, and he proceeds to make himself, Elizabeth, and Kurtz’s home address sound as if they have each murdered six people. This week.
- Runner up: “You also better have a gallon of bleach in that box.”/“You forgot your drain hair!”
- Morland Holmes has an assistant to carry his briefcase up stairs.
- Costume note: Joan’s upper body this week was a sea of black, white, and gray. What I’m saying is: This morally-conflicted vigilante color story is going somewhere, right? Please tell me it is.