But without faith it is impossible to please him…he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. - Hebrews 11:6
“Evidence Of Things Not Seen” put me in the oddly enjoyable position of wondering how many beats in this episode were secretly deep cuts into Hebrews 11.
On the surface, this is a thematic umbrella: A religious passage that’s essentially a piece of propaganda about the supernatural power of faith, with enough snappy prose to be personal. Turns out there’s a lot of that going around this episode! There’s even a case that examines the ways that propaganda fails or succeeds, and comes to the conclusion that direct propaganda is less effective than a well-worded letter when it comes to changing the world. But the opening of the quote that makes the title of this episode (written by frequent contributor Jason Tracey) is: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.” And wouldn’t you know it, everybody in this episode is hard-pressed for it.
“I lost faith in you,” one Holmes admits to another, so reciprocal a sentiment that father and son might as well have uttered it simultaneously. (The distance between them is so prickly it seems to be forcing the kitchen walls farther apart.) That faith, or lack of it, comes up repeatedly this episode: Joan’s faith that she and Sherlock can find work outside the NYPD; Sherlock’s faith that his father has ulterior motives; the FBI’s faith (or lack of it) in their ability; Sherlock’s faith that Joan might know best after all; and Joan’s faith that she can protect Sherlock from a ghost of his past they’ve yet to conquer. That last is a leap, but we, too, have faith: When it comes to Sherlock, especially in the wake of his relapse, Joan’s kind of done playing around.
But the more I looked at Hebrews 11, the more interesting parallels to this episode there are—an experiment, sure, but one of the things this show does best is to riff on a small reference to give it new life. In this case, that Testament undertone means that the various aspect of this family reunion become weighted with more than just a lifetime of resentment; whenever any of these two are gathered to discuss the third, it feels like there are deeper things at stake.
It’s present in the theatrical reunion, when Holmes Sr. says, “I want to thank her for saving my son’s life.”(“By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death”.) Much is made of Sherlock’s move from London to New York, and the support system which Dad thinks was so beneficial to Sherlock’s recovery that he’s willing to pull strings to put Sherlock back on the team. (“By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations”.) And Joan’s confrontation with Holmes Sr. is so fraught that it reads less like a scene about Joan’s detective work or Morland’s good intentions than it does like the moment Joan slammed a similar commandment down on Sherlock’s ex-dealer Rhys. (“Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.”)
Even better, this weight is borne out in small moments between Sherlock and Joan, so that final meeting feels like something she was driven to do, rather than just a sharp wrap to the episode. The moments of playfulness they share in this episode—as when he offers her some illegally-obtained scientific data and she barely hesitates before wanting in—is a nice counterpoint to the quiet, building stress of Morland’s presence in their lives: Sherlock’s carefully neutral “Do I seem otherwise?” when Joan asks if he’s all right; the oddly ego-less admission that “I tend to be a distraction when I’m around Father,” which sounds more like the repetition of a childhood mantra than anything else the acerbic dad-hater has ever said about his father. And by the end of the episode, he’s even ready to accept his father’s help and hope for the best, which is so far a backslide from Sherlock’s usual paternal stance that it’s no wonder Joan feels like she has to lay down the law.
Naturally, the family wariness is reciprocated. It’s worth noting how hard Morland tries to get himself cast as their adversary, casting himself as the “enemy,” then “antagonist.” But Joan—who’s been watching Sherlock in a limbo between faith and disappointment at the merest idea that his father might want to help—knows exactly how to get control of the conversation: “No, I think he just thinks you’re a terrible father.” It’s such a great beat, so subtly threaded through the episode and so perfectly delivered by Liu, you can practically hear Holmes Sr. swiftly adjusting his opinion of her.
On the practical side of things, we get the reason those charges disappeared before Sherlock had to face facts: Dad had pull with the district attorney, and solved the problem. Though it still feels like we skipped past that too quickly for this to be either a big reveal or a big relief, at least now we know that yes, Sherlock’s specialness saved him, just from an unseen angle. Joan looks less than thrilled about it, which suggests that this might be another chance to see some consequences. (That Noble/Miller kitchen-off is a sampler platter of defensive posture, but the Liu/Noble finale is shot like the moment of a political drama where she yanks the presidency out from under him. After The Mycroft Arc I was wary of introducing another Holmes as a season regular, and even now we see the events of the season rearranging to keep a tight focus on the Holmes family, but this setup still has a lot of promise.)
The case this week reflected the shifting family politics, as the episode’s red herrings turned out to have been foiled before the murders ever occurred, because the grand experiment failed. (Turns out those exploding watermelons didn’t change anybody’s mind.) The Chinese spy who had been wooing the doctor realized his mission was over when the value of that propaganda app zeroed out; the stalker ex who had been hoping to spread the good word about Tudor-style monarchies lost his dream of influencing the masses; even the killer might have saved herself a prison sentence by waiting until the failure was announced and maneuvering a subtler scandal to get her boss out of the way. But “Evidence Of Things Not Seen” makes a point of following the way in which a story gets out of hand—of the consequences of a failure on the trajectories of everyone around it. If this is being laid out in parallel to Sherlock by suggesting that we have yet to see the full fallout of last season as his father starts arranging the pieces, it’s a great setup. Let’s hope it is; for now we’ll take it on faith.
“These…confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.”
- Lest you think the whole episode was only alluding to Hebrews 11, Sherlock got into a quote-off with the owner of the Henry IX “Tudor-style monarchy” restoration-agitation blog. He cites Plato: “There will be no end to the troubles of humanity until philosophers become kings.” Sherlock counters with Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
- The overstimulation testing was a great cold open; this show rarely uses such recognizable musical cues, but I appreciate that bombast alongside that hilarious exploding-watermelon #unpopularopinion montage.
- “I can’t speak for her,” says Sherlock about a joint decision. Later, Joan brings him a drink! You kids and your slow-burn character development; keep it up.
- Sherlock line of the week: “Thank you for the invitation,” uttered as if memorized phonetically and pushed out past a billiard ball in his throat.
- It’s a fleeting moment, but I appreciated it enough to make a note in the “small things matter” column: Despite Sherlock knowing the character he showed Joan, the show let Joan give us the meaning.
- “They don’t break a lot of national news in Trenton, but.” Wow, did New Jersey do something? That’s two for two in dings so far this season.
- “My son was born with a malignant sense of self-righteousness.” Sure, it’s stone cold, but it’s not wrong.
- Joan, whose style is one of TV’s quiet standouts, generally has the air of having just been interrupted during an executive presentation to a punk cooperative. Occasionally the clothes serve direct character function (her x-ray dress in “Solve for X” was a perfect expression of that moment), which is always worth noting when it happens. Her Ginger-Rogers-as-magazine-editor pantsuit is beautiful, but an outlier to her usual, until you realize she wears it during what she straight-up admits is an “audition.” Her outfit after the audition is a tailored shirtdress sharp enough to give you paper cuts; she’s done pretending. The coat she wore to threaten Holmes Sr. in his office is also an outlier – she very rarely goes for such an accessorized neck. Another audition, then. Let’s hope he gets the part.