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A Severed Head in a Bag Leads to an Exciting Adventure on Elementary

We’re thrown right into the action this week with Joan and Bell backstage of a musical performance of our old superhero pal, The Midnight Ranger. They’re speaking to the producer of the show, accusing him of murdering and burning the body of a critic, Victoria Garvey. But the producer can explain away his guilt, giving us some exposition without solving the case yet.

Joan heads home and updates Sherlock on the case. But he doesn’t seem as if he’s listening to her. There’s a bag sitting on the table before him. Sherlock can’t remember the last six hours. He brought this bag home with him, but has no idea why or where it came from. That’s kind of a big deal, because inside the bag is a severed head.

Neither of them recognizes the face. But Sherlock was working on Garvey’s case when he blanked out, so the head may be related. The head isn’t recently dead and smells of embalming fluid, so, phew, Sherlock probably didn’t kill him. But Sherlock and Joan agree they have to speak to the police about this. It’s time for Sherlock to come clean to Gregson about his PCS.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to tell your boss that you have possession of a head thanks to your serious illness that you concealed from them, but it’s not a smooth conversation. Gregson is furious and feels lied to and Sherlock puts his foot in his mouth. Typical. Gregson benches Sherlock and won’t let him come back to work until an NYPD doctor clears him.

Meanwhile, Joan brought the John Doe’s head to the ME for examination. The head was surgically removed from the body and that, with other clues, suggest the body was an organ donor. This means something to Sherlock. A few weeks before her death, Victoria Garvey was involved in a serious accident and needed a skin tissue donation. Perhaps that’s the connection.

We were all thinking it, so I’ll just say it. WHAT’S IN THE BAAAAAG?

Bell and Joan investigate the surgical center where Garvey received her donation. On the way, there’s a small, sweet moment of Bell asking after Sherlock with genuine concern. He’s so great. When will there be a Bell-centric episode this season?

The two speak with a receptionist only to find that Sherlock was already there the previous day. They’re on the right track. The receptionist had shared Garvey’s medical files with Sherlock and he had found something in them, especially the files on the donated tissue. The name of the donor isn’t included in the files. But the tissue bank’s name is there and Sherlock had asked for other files from the same donor bank. Joan quickly spots what had drawn Sherlock’s attention.

The donor bank should do individual contamination testing for each donor. But the paperwork for the test is exactly the same in each file; they’re photocopies. The bank was skimping on contamination tests. Among the files they also find another patient, Kareem Ludlow, who received tissue from a donor with the same ID number. A quick google search reveals that Ludlow recently died in a fire, just like Victoria Garvey. That’s what we call a Clue, kids.

Next stop is the tissue bank. Voth, the head of the bank, disdainfully mentions that Sherlock was also there the day before. He took something while there…a head. That was wrapped up faster than I expected.

Joan and Bell theorize that Voth or one of his employee’s realized that the donor that the head belonged to was contaminated but only after the tissue was already donated. A mistake like that could destroy the bank. Now Voth is killing recipients to cover it up. But Voth denies it all and refuses to give them anything without a warrant. They don’t have enough proof for a warrant yet.

Joan finds Sherlock at home, attempting to break the land speed record on a treadmill. She updates him on the case and worries he’s pushing himself too hard. Sherlock’s meeting with the NYPD doctor was inconclusive. But before they can discuss more, the doorbell rings. It’s Michael.

Which is weird, because Sherlock has never told Michael where he lives. Michael has a shady explanation of how he knows and distracts Sherlock by bringing up his emotional vulnerability. That makes me mad.

But when Michael starts pressuring Sherlock on the Polly Kenner case and his other work, Sherlock is firm. He’s changed his stance: it’s not his work that keeps him sober, but the program. There’s no leads in Kenner’s case, which Sherlock admits is worrying, but he still thinks that Polly just ran away and will show up again. Michael is displeased.

The next day, Joan and Bell visit a Department of Health lab and speak to a Dr. Selsky who works there. Shortly before Kareem Ludlow’s death, he had shown flu-like symptoms. His doctor had sent a sample of his bacteria to the lab. But Selsky doesn’t think the lab’s tests will be helpful. The sample had tested for a rare and deadly strain of bird flu. It must have been cross-contaminated in the lab. This particular strain originates in China and there’s only ever been one case of it in New York, a family of Chinese women. The three women all died and the DOH hadn’t found any evidence that anyone caught the bird flu strain from them.

But Bell has a theory. The three women were from a traditional family. If the youngest of the women, Meili, had been dating a white man, she might have kept it secret from her family. Maybe the owner of the severed head was that man and he caught the bird flu from her. It’s not just a theory, either. Bell can tie Meili to her now-missing ESL teacher, an Eric Russo, and he looks just like the head. That’s proof enough for a warrant.

The police bring Voth in for interrogation. Here’s where I get a little confused.The DOH had alerted the tissue bank that they possibly had a contaminated donor. The police theorize that Voth tested for the infection and once he found it, he embalmed the body to destroy evidence of the bird flu and then killed and burned Garvey and Ludlow. Voth confesses to destroying evidence but says that he never tested it, which they should be able to see in the paperwork seized from his tissue bank. He argues that once he embalmed the body, there would be no way to prove it was the source of the bird flu and thus he wouldn’t need to kill Garvey and Ludlow.

Bell and Joan discuss Voth’s story outside the interrogation room and Bell reveals he’s found some new information. A mere two days before Russo’s death, witnesses confirm that Russo was active and healthy. But if he had the bird flu strain, he should have been on death’s bed. This suggests that Russo wasn’t sick after all. The police and Joan thinks this clears Voth.

But like I said, I’m confused. It doesn’t actually matter whether Russo had the flu or whether or not Voth tested for it. What really matters is what Voth thought. If he thought that Russo had the flu – and we know he did think that, thanks to the DOH – then he had motive to kill to cover everything up. Bit of a plot hole there, in my opinion.

But regardless, the detectives now think that Voth is innocent and that Russo potentially never had the flu, leaving them with no suspect and no apparent motive. Back at the brownstone, Sherlock maps out the connection between the various bodies that have piled up in this case. Meili had bird flu and so did Ludlow. The only known connection between the two of them is Russo. But days before his death, Russo was healthy. The only way the case makes sense is if he simultaneously did and did not have the flu. Sherlock wonders if he was immune, but according to Joan, this particular strain is one hundred percent fatal.

Regardless, Voth had to get Russo’s body from somewhere. The tissue bank obtained their bodies from a body broker who retrieved bodies from hospitals. Russo’s organ donor forms were forged, so the broker was shady, possibly even someone who killed to obtain bodies. If Russo’s body was contaminated, that could have drawn attention to his illegal actions. Maybe the whole thing is a cover up after all and they were looking at the wrong link in the chain.

Speaking of shadiness, Joan thinks that Sherlock should apologize to Gregson. Not because Sherlock lied to his boss, but because he lied to his friend.

The body broker is indeed suspicious, but he didn’t murder to obtain bodies. Instead, he bribed funeral homes to give him unwanted bodies and then forged the paperwork. More importantly, he has an alibi for Ludlow and Garvey’s murders. He agrees to give the police a list of all the places he obtained bodies from so they can try to figure out where Russo’s corpse came from. At this point, I’m wondering why no one has mentioned yet how Russo died. It seems relevant.

We cut to a scene of Michael at a meeting. Sherlock is not there and Michael begins to speak of him in coded terms. It is super creepy. Michael says that he’s been trying to save Sherlock as well as draw his attention, and that if Michael’s actions so far haven’t been enough, he’ll just have to try harder. Not good.

The next day, Joan has a new theory of the case. She’s been thinking about what Sherlock said about Russo being immune. No one has ever survived this strain before, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Joan has found out that Russo was in China before and survived a bad flu there. If he survived this strain in the past, he would have developed antibodies. That means he could catch the flu now and carry it to others, but show no symptoms himself. If Russo is immune, that would be a big deal. His immunity could be used to develop a vaccine, maybe not just to this strain but to all strains of flu. A vaccine like that would be big money. Someone who had the know-how to develop such a vaccine might think it was easier to kill Russo rather than ask him for blood and share the glory and money with him. Joan thinks she’s met just such a person in the course of the case.

As always, I won’t spoil it. But they genuinely surprised me. Best of all, it cleared up a plot hole (not the one about Voth) that I noticed earlier. I love when plot holes turn out to not really be holes but just to be something they haven’t explained yet.

The episode closes with Sherlock attempting to apologize to Gregson. But he can’t even get a word in edgewise. Gregson says that the NYPD cleared Sherlock to work. But if Gregson had his preference, Sherlock would still be benched. Maybe permanently. Sherlock better keep it on the up and up if he doesn’t want that to happen.

Thoughts:

  • Bits and Pieces is the episode title this week. Eh, not your best pun, writers.
  • Micheal’s actor deserves props for managing to just ooze creepiness even when he’s not actively doing anything wrong. I was intrigued by the new information this week. I had thought that Michael became fascinated with Sherlock because Michael is a killer. Now I wonder if it’s the other way around; he killed because of his fixation on Sherlock.
  • I’m conflicted about the issue of Sherlock concealing his illness from Gregson. I agree with Gregson people working in the legal system need to be held to a high standard of behavior. But I also agree with Sherlock that until now, his illness hasn’t conflicted with his work and thus wasn’t relevant. His PCS doesn’t seriously affect his mood and his hallucinations have been mostly harmless. It doesn’t even seem like he has hallucinated since last season. I’m a really private person too, and I believe that matters like illness and disability are something that a person should be able to keep to themselves as much as possible, especially because chronically ill people and the disabled are often discriminated against. Sherlock wasn’t lying about his PCS until now, he was protecting his privacy. I don’t agree with the implication that he was doing something wrong in that.
  • There was absolutely no mention of Joan’s new adoption plans in this episode. We aren’t just going to drop that storyline, right?
  • A lot of episodes of Elementary spend the first ten minutes or more floundering with false leads. That may be an accurate representation of how investigation really works, but it was nice to skip that this week and begin in media res. Yeah, that’s right, I’ve taken creative writing classes, I know fancy terms.

Images courtesy of CBS

Veronica
Written By

Veronica is an English graduate who likes to spend her time reading way too deeply into science fiction, murder mysteries, and children's cartoons.

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