Not to bias you, dear readers, before I even begin, but I hate this episode. I’ll try to control my saltiness and not be too biased. But I hate it.
We begin promisingly, with a scene of Sherlock waking Joan up. Well, sort of. He’s hired a surrogate wearing a tablet displaying a video chat of his face. Sherlock can’t be there in person because he’s hanging out with Athena, his friends-with-benefit who helps him solve cold cases. There’s a quick reference to one of my favorite Arthur Conan Doyle stories.
But Sherlock isn’t calling about that. There’s a new case from Harlan Emple. That’s Sherlock’s mathematician friend, the awkward one who likes to work in the nude. He wants to hire Joan and Sherlock.
One of Harlan’s grad students, a Lily Zavala, has gone missing. She hasn’t been gone for very long, but Harlan has a bad feeling that something happened to her. He’s also afraid that he’ll be a suspect. Although Zavala is his student, Harlan is in love with her. They aren’t dating because there’s rules against it, but he hasn’t exactly been subtle about his feelings. There have been complaints, although not from her. Hm, gross!
Joan is skeptical of the whole thing. Zavala hasn’t been gone long, so Joan doubts anything has happened or that Harlan would be an expert. But no sooner has she professed this belief than there is a knock on the door. Waiting on the other side is the FBI. Lily Zavala has been kidnapped and they very much do suspect Harlan. (Weirdly, Joan is extremely wrong a lot in this episode. This is strike one.)
Lily Zavala vanished on her way home from the library. Shortly after, her family received a ransom demand. Her family is wealthy and willing and able to pay the demands. In the meantime, the FBI is canvassing the area. Joan and Sherlock decide to split up; he’ll stay with Harland and try to get info from the G-men and Joan will check out the area where Zavala was last seen.
As Joan tracks Zavala’s last steps, she notices a man who seems to be living out of his car. Instead, it turns out he rents his car as a sleeping space, like Airbnb but with…a car. Huh. Luckily, there was a guest staying at the time of the kidnapping. He saw a man forcing Zavala into a distinctive blue Toyota.
Back at the brownstone, Sherlock and Joan compare notes. Joan notices that Sherlock is frustrated with Harlan. Apparently, Harlan has been pining after Lily for a long time now and badgering Sherlock with the details, but hasn’t had the nerve to either tell her how he feels or get over his crush. Sherlock is of the opinion that Harlan specifically chose a woman who is unavailable to him so that he didn’t have to deal with the risk of falling in love with someone.
Bell texts to say they found the blue Toyota outside an abandoned school. By the time the FBI and the police arrive, there’s nobody left alive inside the building. But there is evidence that Lily Zavala was there. There’s also a dead body.
The corpse was formerly one Jimmy Cantrell and matches the description of the man that kidnapped Lily. His head was smashed with a fire extinguisher, suggesting it was an impromptu murder. He must have had a partner or accomplice and things went south. In a nearby room, they find Lily’s broken glasses. She was there.
Sherlock also finds a few odd items. Empty cans of energy drink and the wrapper for a calculator. According to Harlan, the energy drink was Lily’s go-to item for solving a hard math problem. This leads Sherlock to a new theory; Lily wasn’t kidnapped for ransom but to solve a math problem. That also means its a lot more likely she’ll be killed when they’re done with her in order to clean up loose ends.
On the other hand, as Sherlock tells Harlan, it makes it less likely that Harlan is the kidnapper. He’s a math genius in his own right. Sherlock asks if Harlan had heard of Jimmy Cantrell, but he had not. He’s puzzled about how the whole ransom thing plays in and Sherlock proposes the following theory. Originally, the kidnapping was solely about the mysterious math problem. Then Cantrell found out Lily’s family was wealthy and called in the ransom demand. That put the operation at risk and his partner, enraged, murdered him.
Joan and Bell meet up with Cantrell’s parole officer. Cantrell hadn’t been up to anything. He also wasn’t exactly known for his brains, so the parole officer is pretty sure that the partner came up with the whole idea. But he has no clue who that person might be. He directs the detectives to Cantrell’s landlord, Marvin Hathaway, who lets them into Cantrell’s apartment.
There, they find evidence that Cantrell liked to gamble but wasn’t very good at it. He must have owned his bookie big money. Hey, bookies use a lot of math, right? Maybe that’s Cantrell’s partner. Bell even has an idea who the bookie might be, based on his days in Vice.
Bell leads them to a nefarious “Bingo Queen.” I would like to know why we don’t have a whole episode about this corrupt and violent bingo hall owner. Anyway, she admits that she was Cantrell’s bookie and he did owe her money. Operative word, “did.” He paid it all off recently using the advance from a mysterious job. But who hired him? We still don’t know.
The detectives are at an impasse. Joan brings up the thing Sherlock said about Harlan choosing an unattainable woman to avoid risk. She thinks Sherlock is doing the same thing with Moriarty. So long as he’s in love with her, he doesn’t have to risk another romance. Joan thinks he’s lonely and needs, and I quote, a “real” relationship. I personally had no idea that a relationship wasn’t real unless you’re in Romantic Love™. Guess that means that Sherlock’s relationships with Bell, Alfredo, Kitty, Harlan, and, you know, Joan aren’t real. SAD! (Strike two for Joan.)
Harlan, bless him, interrupts this conversation by calling. Lily Zavala is no longer kidnapped. He knows that because she’s with him at that very moment. She escaped.
At the precinct, Zavala tells her dramatic story. She never saw her kidnappers’ faces, but she could tell one was older than the other. After the abandoned school, the older guy took her to a basement where she finished the math problem he gave her. Once she completed it, he threw her into his trunk. When she found a shovel there, she knew he was going to kill her. She cut the tape with the edge of the shovel, opened the trunk at a stoplight, and ran away. Street Smarts! She was afraid to go home so she went straight to Harlan.
Why him, you ask? Zavala feared that he might be the next target. As she was working on the kidnappers’ math, she realized that the original equation was Harlan’s own work. Gasp!
Of all the things, the math that the kidnappers’ gave her had to do with the creation of flood maps. These are maps created by FEMA to calculate which areas are at most risk of flooding. Due to climate change, FEMA is in the process of updating the maps. Harlan consulted on the project. The kidnappers wanted Zavala to change the equation so that the high risk zone would cover a different area.
But Harlan’s involvement in the process shouldn’t be public knowledge. So the two questions are, why would anyone want to change the maps, and why would they involve Zavala and potentially Harlan?
Zavala thinks she can answer that question. Harlan had talked about his involvement with FEMA in class. Curious, she went to their offices to examine his work. Someone must have seen or heard her there.
As to why, Joan has a theory too. The flood maps help determine who needs to buy flood insurance. The high-risk zone that Zavala’s forced math created includes an area of hot real estate. Anyone in the business of selling insurance could massively profit.
Except when they investigate that theory in a scene that doesn’t really go anywhere, that theory immediately turns out to be wrong (strike three). So I’m not quite sure why it was necessary.
Harlan, bursting with joy, comes to see Sherlock. He confessed his feelings to Lily Zavala and she reciprocated. Sherlock is unsurprised but not excited. Harlan thanks Sherlock and hugs him, but, you know, their relationship isn’t real so no wonder Sherlock isn’t happy.
If no one is profiting from Zavala’s map marking areas as being in danger, maybe the focus is instead on neighborhoods being out of danger. Sherlock looks up what people and businesses might profit from that. As they wait, he and Joan have a conversation which I will summarize with no commentary.
Sherlock admits that he is lonely. However, he feels that no other relationship could compare to Moriarty. Joan says that he should just try because she remembers him being much happier when he was with Fiona than he is alone. Then they receive the information about business owners that might profit from the map and Joan recognizes a name.
As always, no spoilers. But basically it was a random person from earlier in the episode, but not the random person I expected. Intriguing.
For our final scene, Sherlock takes Joan’s words to heart. He visits Athena and asks her out on a date. Maybe, he says —wait for iiiiitttttttt — they could be more than friends.
I hate this episode.
- I recently started watching Mad Men and I didn’t realize that Harry Crane and Harlan Emple are the same person. He has a real gift for being slightly sleazy.
- Hey uhhh what’s up with Michael? Hello? Serial killer stalking our protagonist?
- Let’s talk about the whole…romance storyline thing. Clearly I hated it. I understand that others might not agree or feel the same. It’s very much based on my own subjective feelings and biases. But let me try to explain.
- First of all, I actually do like romantic storylines. But it frustrates me that they make up so much of Western media. Why does every single story have to have romance? That makes it feel like a person has to have ~love~ in order to be happy and fulfilled. But up till now, Elementary didn’t do that! This was a show about two adults who are single and are content in a platonic, committed relationship. It felt to me like this show was saying that actually, friendship could be just as important as romance and a person could be happy like that. I loved that. I needed that.
- And it’s not that they decided to include a storyline about Sherlock dating, because whatever. It’s how they went about it. For one thing, it’s badly written. It’s lazy to tell the audience a character is lonely rather than showing it. Sure, he’s been lonely in other seasons, but since Sherlock recovered from his PCS he’s been pretty emotionally stable. Plus, Sherlock has always said that romance is something he doesn’t care about or want. What changed? I don’t know, because they didn’t tell or show us! It came out of nowhere. Finally, the phrasing was so callous. In a show that has always prized friendship and partnership, suddenly, romance is a “real” relationship and is “more” than friendship and without it, a person is lonely and unhappy. Also, Joan is mad at him over it? She’s practically shaming him for being single (also out of character). Chill out, it’s none of your beeswax, pun intended.
- But hey, your mileage may vary! I do think the storyline was badly written but, if that aside, you like the idea of Sherlock dating, no problem! But for me, a person who particularly valued this show for the emphasis on friendship, this episode felt like a slap in the face. It was honestly hard for me to watch the whole episode. I’ll cross my fingers that next week will be about serial killers rather than love. #notkidding