Everyone ready for a real, meaty, plot-driven episode? I sure am! Quick recap: last week’s episode ended with Hannah Gregson, the captain’s daughter, finding her roommate, Maddie, murdered in their home. Coincidentally (but probably not) this happened shortly after the two women met Sherlock’s creepy new friend Michael.
This week, even though Sherlock is struggling with a bad headache, he and Joan dive right into the investigation. Maddie was a teacher, well-liked, and didn’t have a boyfriend, so no obvious suspects there. But both Hannah and Sherlock think the body has been posed. None of her clothes match or look like the kind of thing Maddie usually wore. There’s blood on some of the clothes even though Maddie was bloodlessly strangled, and the earrings she’s wearing were forced into her ears even though she didn’t have piercings. Sherlock believes each item of clothing comes from a separate murder victim. It’s a serial killer’s announcement of his existence.
Based on the clothing, the detectives are able to identify all but a few of the original victims. The clothes are linked to murders and missing persons across state lines and several years. No one had realized until now that the murders were linked and unfortunately none of the cops on the cases had a primary suspect. But Bell finds something interesting. Most of the cases linked to the clothes are still open, but the watch that Maddie was wearing has DNA that links it to a closed murder case. A woman named Ashley Jenkins was strangled, much like Maddie, and her husband was charged with the case despite his insistence that he saw another man running away from his wife’s body. Gregson has Joan and Bell track down the few remaining unidentified clothing articles as he and Sherlock meet with Ashley Jenkins’s husband.
As Gregson and Sherlock wait in the prison to meet with Jenkins, Sherlock asks after Hannah and warns Gregson that a trauma like this could be a trigger for her alcoholism. Gregson, in turn, asks after Sherlock, noting that he looks sick, but Sherlock brushes it off.
Jenkins does his best to be helpful, but doesn’t have much new information. He thinks the man he saw running from his wife’s crime scene was tall and white, but it was such a traumatic moment and he’s since thought about it so much that he is no longer sure. That’s a small detail, but I appreciated the acknowledgement there that memory is tricky, especially in tense moments like that. Jenkins wants to know if Maddie’s murder and its link to his wife’s case is enough to reopen his case, and Gregson promises to do what he can. There’s one more significant thing. A few years after he was arrested, Jenkins received an anonymous letter from the killer apologizing for Jenkins taking the fall.
Meanwhile, Joan and Bell try to track down the earrings forced onto Maddie’s body. That leads them to a small boutique jewelry store. On the positive side, the store has a small staff and only sold a few pairs of the earrings around Thanksgiving time. The bad news is that the store is so small it doesn’t keep detailed records and doesn’t have security footage.
Joan returns home to find that Sherlock has set up a proverbial, and also, in this case, literal serial killer wall. Unfortunately, he has yet to see a pattern in the information. The victim profile is all female but otherwise all over the place. Jenkins’s letter was too mishandled to have forensic evidence, although, interestingly enough, it’s postmarked from Vietnam. Joan doesn’t have much else to add, except that a bank down the street from the jewelry store had exterior footage. Maybe the purchaser of the earrings walked by. Sherlock looks exhausted and Joan sternly demands he go rest in the sensory deprivation chamber.
She wakes up a short while later to find Sherlock, still dressed in the same clothes, watching the security footage. She’s angry he’d waste time like that when he could be resting, but it turns out it was no waste. He’s found the victim in the security footage and he recognizes her. It’s Polly Kenner, the young woman that Michael asked him to look for several episodes ago. You know, the woman that we saw Michael bury out in the woods.
Sherlock visits Michael at his home to break the news about Polly. When previously working on her case, Sherlock had assumed that she was simply in hiding after a relapse, and he’s visibly shamed as he explains he was mistaken. Michael plays shocked and grief stricken, but asks totally innocent questions like if they have a suspect and if they can keep him updated on the investigation.
But don’t worry. Sherlock isn’t fooled. As he leaves Michael’s home, Joan joins him and Sherlock says confidently that Michael is the killer.
Unfortunately, as they explain to an angry Gregson, they have no evidence. Michael is tangentially connected to two of the victims but he also has no history of violence, so it’s doubtful they can get a warrant on him. Joan has a file of basic information on Michael and when she hands it over, Gregson recognizes Michael’s car as being the one that clipped Hannah’s in the previous episode.
The next step is to bring Hannah in to interview her about the incident. A disturbing new detail comes out. The day after the “accident,” Michael called her and asked her out on a date to get coffee. Hannah had gone, only to receive a text that he couldn’t make it after all. She returned home to find Maddie dead. Michael had lured her out of their house to kill Maddie.
That’s still not enough for a warrant, sadly. But Sherlock has his own methods and he reaches out to Everyone, the hacker collective he’s dealt with in the past, for information on Michael, including credit and phone records. This proves Michael was in Vietnam when the note to Jenkins was mailed. Too bad it’s illegally obtained evidence.
But other evidence has to exist. Michael collected trophies from his victims and he probably didn’t leave it all on Maddie’s body. There might be more trophies in his house, so Joan and Sherlock decide it’s time for a stakeout. As they wait outside his home, Joan notes that Sherlock looks terrible and asks if he’s been taking his meds. No, it turns out he hasn’t; in fact, he threw them all out because he thought they were interfering with his work. Sherlock feels as if Michael took advantage of his vulnerability and blames himself for the resulting deaths. Joan leaves then and there to refill his script.
That’s a mistake, of course. Sherlock momentarily dozes and wakes to find Michael beside the car. Joan returns moments later to find no car and no Sherlock.
Sherlock wakes in a hospital bed, but looks unharmed. Michael is there and tells him that Sherlock tried to attack Michael in the car and instead passed out. Now, kids, gather around as its time for Scary Serial Killer Story Time!
Michael did not, as I theorized in a previous episode, start killing solely to attract Sherlock’s attention. He has had murderous urges his whole life, and in fact began using drugs as a way to try and self-medicate. When that failed, he entered recovery, where he heard Sherlock speak on the importance of using one’s work to help recover. Michael decided to do exactly that, although I found it a little unclear whether or not he had already started killing at that point or if Sherlock was the inspiration for him to begin.
However, when he re-encountered Sherlock and heard he was struggling, he really did pass on the Polly Kenner case in an effort to try and “help” Sherlock. In fact, he thinks they can help each other. Lately the high of killing hasn’t been enough for Michael and he’s felt tempted to use again. He wants to spice things up and thinks that having the police on his tail will do just that. Michael believes that he and Sherlock can help each other stay sober. You’re a real creepy dude, Michael.
Once Scary Story Time is over, Michael leaves without hurting Sherlock. Joan uses her pull at the hospital to check Sherlock out, but she’s not happy about it. He’s physically fatigued and in bad shape. But he still refuses to rest, because he thinks there’s a clue in something Michael said to him. He mentioned that the first time Sherlock called him, he had his “hands full” with Polly Kenner. Sherlock obtained Michael’s phone records from Everyone and Joan and Sherlock are able to use that to geo track where Michael was at the time.
The police, along with body sniffing dogs, check out the location. They almost instantly find Polly Kenner’s burial site. But she’s not there anymore. Instead, a creepy wooden mannequin is unearthed. Michael knew they were coming.
Sherlock, clearly upset, tells Joan he’s heading home to finally rest. Instead, he heads to some sort of club and meets with a shady dude. Everyone knows that anyone with an Eastern European accent in a crime tv show is shady. That’s definitely not a negative stereotype! Sherlock gives the man money and the man hands over—pause for me to yell angrily—heroin.
But don’t worry. It’s not for Sherlock after all. Joan returns to the brownstone to find Sherlock waiting with the heroin, untouched. He wants to dose Michael. After all, it’s not often that you know your enemy’s greatest weakness. It’s a horrific idea, and they both acknowledge that, but Joan is in.
The two stakeout Michael’s place once again, this time carefully checking to make the house is empty before Joan heads in. But as Sherlock keeps watch, he receives a call from Michael. He knows they’re breaking it, but it doesn’t matter. Michael has left New York. He wants to give Sherlock time to rest and get better before they resume their game of cat-and-mouse. Michael promises not to hurt anyone else until Sherlock is ready, and Sherlock vows to put Michael in prison. As Joan searches Michael’s home, she finds it completely empty except for a camera. He’s really gone.
The episode ends with Sherlock leaving the brownstone, bag in hand. He’s finally taking his doctor’s advice and taking a rest to try and get better…although he doesn’t seem optimistic about it working.
- It felt good to sink into a very plot heavy episode this week. I think episodes like this prove that Elementary doesn’t have to completely follow a procedure format of murder > investigation > solution each week. It can sustain an episode that creates tension and story without necessarily having the clear cut solution of catching the villain in the end! I wish we could see that more often. I like a good filler episode too, but these plot heavy episodes are always the best.
- Sherlock tells Joan at one point, “I’ll sleep well knowing you’re on the case.” That’s the good stuff, man, that’s what keeps me coming back!
- Sometimes I think that Michael is too creepy and that surely someone in his life would think to themselves, “This dude is so creepy, he’s probably murdering people, right?” But you know what, actually, I think Michael is a great casting choice. He does ooze creepiness, but he’s also such a quiet, bland, soft-mannered white dude that in real life, no one would ever suspect him. No one would even look at him twice. Before this episode, even in this episode, I had moments where I wondered if it would turn out it was a misunderstanding and he wasn’t really the killer. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to think.
- The idea of serial killer and detective playing cat-and-mouse is a little cliche. Elementary has actually dismissed the idea of the ingenious serial before, way back in the early seasons. And yet, I’m still excited and curious to see where this goes. Sometimes, it’s not about doing something new, it’s doing something old in a fresh, new way.
Images courtesy of CBS
Sherlock Sacrifices For Love In Elementary Finale
Finale time! Will my wild theories turn out absolutely right or tragically wrong? Who knows! But wrong. Definitely completely I was wrong.
Last episode ended with the dramatic revelation that the season baddie, Michael the Vaguely Creepy Serial Killer, was beaten to death. The lead suspect is Joan. The episode begins with FBI Agent Mallick interviewing Joan. She hasn’t been arrested yet, but the FBI has questions.
Joan doesn’t have a reliable alibi. That would be too easy. She was alone with her mom, who has dementia. Mallick thinks that Joan fixated on Michael. She wanted revenge on him for the way that Michael hurt Sherlock, his victims, and Joan herself. But Mallick has more than just motive to back up her suspicions.
The FBI has a tape. Michael called his friend from the last episode, Bazemore, to try and explain his actions. That puzzled me, because last episode, Michael said that Bazemore ODed. I assumed that Bazemore died and that was why Michael attacked Joan rather than continuing the cat-and-mouse game. I can’t figure out whether this was a continuity error, my misunderstanding, or somewhere in between.
Anyway. Michael called Bazemore and they have it on tape. As he’s talking, he’s interrupted mid-sentence. He says Joan’s name, and then there’s the sound of a beating. That sure sounds suspicious. Joan can’t explain it.
So back at the brownstone, she and Sherlock meet with a defense lawyer. She warns them that Mallick is a dangerous opponent. Then she literally doesn’t show up again for the rest of the episode, making the whole scene supremely unnecessary.
Alone at last, Sherlock asks Joan if she killed Michael. If she did, he’ll help her get away with it. But Joan insists she didn’t and in turn asks Sherlock if he did. Also no. Thus, they are left with finding the real killer. They can’t expect much, if any, help from the police, who will be under pressure from the FBI.
Nonetheless, Sherlock asks Gregson for the files on Michael’s murder. Gregson refuses. He says that if Joan is innocent, the evidence will prove it.
Sherlock isn’t willing to wait for that. He breaks into the morgue and steals the autopsy report on Michael. He also performs his own autopsy and takes pictures of the corpse to show to Joan.
There’s severe head wounds caused by a blunt object. That could explain why he said Joan’s name on the tape; maybe he was just confused. Also of note is that someone neatly stitched up his stab wound from Joan. Joan doesn’t think it was done in a hospital. It reminds her of emergency medicine of the kind that would have been performed in the Vietnam War. Wow, that’s a really specific thing to just know off the top of your head, but okay. It gives Sherlock an idea.
He goes to an NA meeting and sidles up to an older man named Denny. They met before at a meeting. Denny was a combat medic in the Vietnam War and he too knew Michael. When Sherlock starts asking questions, the guy gets shifty, but with some pressure he agrees to talk to Sherlock privately.
Denny hadn’t known that Michael was a killer. Michael had simply shown up on his doorstep, bleeding, with a story about an altercation with a drug dealer. Denny obligingly stitched Michael up and let him crash on the couch. He was still there in the morning, gone by the evening, and shortly later Denny heard on the news that Michael was a) dead and b) a serial killer. He was scared of getting in trouble himself so he didn’t go to the police. Sherlock promises to keep him out of trouble if he’ll just help Sherlock in return.
The dynamic duo investigates Denny’s house. It’s the last place Michael was alive…and maybe dead too. Sherlock finds traces of a lot of blood that was cleaned up in a hurry. This could be the scene of the murder. When they spray Luminol they find traces of footprints. A woman’s footprints, the same size as Joan’s shoes.
So now they know where Michael was killed. But once again, the clues point to Joan. How did the killer even know where to find Michael? Sherlock proposes a theory. Agent Mallick is the real murderer. Perhaps she was afraid that she would never catch Michael. Killing him was the only way of stopping him. Now she’s pinning it all on Joan. That would mean that our two detectives can’t go to the FBI with this new crime scene. It would only be used to further frame Joan.
That is, if the crime scene was even still there. But it isn’t. Sherlock persuaded Denny to burn his house down and gave him money in exchange. Joan is furious but Sherlock angrily stands his ground. He’ll do what he has to in order to protect her.
Meanwhile, the FBI is still chasing Joan. Mallick and some other agents interview Bell. He staunchly defends his friend, even when Mallick threatens to use the case to torpedo his chances with the Marshals.
Bell doesn’t like to be threatened. Shortly after the interview, he meets with Sherlock privately and hands over the police’s files on Michael. The two men share a tense moment of friendship and wordlessly shake hands.
Michael’s body was lying in a pile of trash. When murder victims are found in landfills or dumpsters, the trash around their body is cataloged for clues. In Michael’s case, that trash is interesting. Joan and Sherlock know the murder was in Queens. Yet, his body was among trash from Harlem. How does that happen?
Joan and Sherlock check out a facility for garbage trucks and chat with a particular sanitation worker there. When the two first began investigating Michael’s case, you may remember that they discovered a man who had been convicted of one of Michael’s murder. With Sherlock and Joan’s help, he went free. This sanitation worker, a mechanic for the trucks, is the father of that man.
Sherlock thinks that fact is important. Obviously the mechanic has no reason to be fond of Michael. Maybe Michael’s killer recruited his help in disposing of the body. The mechanic could have stolen one of the trucks, driven out to Queens, picked up the body, then dumped it. That could explain why the trash was from Harlem.
The mechanic angrily denies it. First of all, the truck facility is guarded and all the trucks are GPS tracked. There’s no way that anyone could steal one. Secondly, if someone did kill Michael, he thinks that person is a hero. He isn’t going to help anyone, even the people that saved his son, catch Michael’s killer.
As the detectives continue to explore the facility, Joan wonders if maybe it was the other way around. Rather than taking a truck to Michael, maybe the killer brought Michael to the truck. It would be easier to sneak a body in than a truck out. If so, there facility has security footage. Her face would be on camera.
But nothing’s ever that easy. When Sherlock and Joan ask the guards for the security footage, they discover someone beat them to it. A law enforcement officer came to the facility and took the tapes, leaving behind no copies. Sherlock suspiciously asks if the agent was Mallick.
But it wasn’t Mallick. The cop was a man named Gregson. Are you thinking, “ohh nooo” yet?
Captain Gregson returns to his home to find it tossed. Sherlock is waiting in the dining room. He was looking for the tape but couldn’t find a copy. Gregson must have destroyed it.
Why would he do that? For one simple reason. Hannah killed Michael. After all, he killed her roommate, her best friend. In the time since then, she became fixated on revenge. She investigated his life, learned who all his friends were, so she knew he’d go to Denny after Joan hurt him.
It was never supposed to be pinned on Joan. Hannah didn’t even know that Michael was recording when she killed him, nor did she hear him say Joan’s name. (As for why he did that, we never really get an explanation.) She disposed of his body.
Gregson never knew of any of it until afterward. But eventually she came clean to him and he realized that her one vulnerability would be the security footage at the sanitation facility. She’s his daughter. He did what he had to in order to protect her.
Now they’re at an impasse. Sherlock demands he come clean to the FBI. Gregson refuses. He insists it will all blow over and the lack of evidence will vindicate Joan. Sherlock points out that regardless, her career and reputation will suffer. Gregson blames Sherlock for Michael’s involvement in their lives in the first place.
It’s Gregson’s daughter. It’s Sherlock’s best friend. Neither is willing to budge and they part in anger.
Sherlock returns to the brownstone and updates Joan. He thinks that they should tell the FBI anyway. They don’t have proof, but if the FBI is doing their due diligence, they should at least investigate the Gregsons. That could be enough.
But Joan understands why Hannah did what she did. She doesn’t want Hannah to go to jail or for the captain to get in trouble. She agrees with Gregson; maybe it’ll just blow over. They should wait things out. It could make her adoption chances harder, maybe impossible. But she’s willing to take that risk. Sherlock still wants to protect her, but Joan says that if he’s her partner, he should support her.
At this point, Sherlock does what he always does. He takes things into his own hands and goes to meet with Hannah Gregson herself. She too never wanted Joan to be a suspect. Sherlock tells her to confess, to admit where the murder weapon is.
The FBI come for Joan. But not to arrest her. Mallick has news for her. She’s no longer a suspect. Someone else confessed to the murder of Michael and even provided the murder weapon. But it wasn’t Hannah. It was Sherlock.
Well, not Sherlock himself. He turned himself over to the British consulate, struck up some sort of deal with MI6, and they sent a messenger with Sherlock’s confession. Britain is refusing to extradite him to the US and if Sherlock ever steps foot in the US again, he’ll be arrested.
Joan returns home in shock and finds Sherlock there. He’s not supposed to be in the country anymore, but he had to see her before he left. This was the only way he could think of to extract all of them from this situation without anyone going to jail for it. Joan is angry he didn’t try harder to fight, but for him it was worth it to protect Joan. She saved his life and taught him his life was worth saving. They emotionally say good-bye and finally admit they aren’t just partners; they love each other.
For the final scene, we see Sherlock in England, in the famous 221B, consulting with a client. But he isn’t really paying attention to the man’s story of a runaway bride. His neighbor next door is distracting him with a tremendous noise. He storms next door and knocks. The door opens to reveal, of course, Joan.
They walk down the street together. They have work to do.
- I predicted that Moriarty killed Michael. Hoo boy, I was wrong! I absolutely did not see it coming that Hannah was the killer! That was a deft twist. It made sense but surprised me.
- That being said, why was there so much storyline this season about Moriarty if she wasn’t going to actually do anything?
- The scene where Sherlock and Joan said goodbye was very emotional and touching but a little silly considering that obviously they weren’t going to really part. I was sitting there tearful, but also thinking to myself, “But why doesn’t Joan just move to England too.” And she did! I was worried, though, that the line about them loving each other was going to lead into a kiss or something, especially with all that romantic crap a few episodes ago. I’m very glad it didn’t.
- It’s intriguing that the shots of them in England felt like a natural end to the show. Except…season 7 is already in the works. Hm.
- So wait, is this the last we’re going to see of the rest of the American cast? No more Bell? We know he’s going to the Marshals, so he’ll be okay, but no goodbye scene? That’s sad. Farewell, Bell. I’ll miss you!
- This is our season finale, so see you all next season!
Images courtesy of CBS
The End Arrives for Jimmy and Kim on Better Call Saul
Surely this comes as no surprise. After all, the previous two episodes of Better Call Saul made it rather clear how different their goals had become. Jimmy and Kim are two very different people on a fundamental, moral level, and however they may have fun together, the relationship was unsustainable. They simply disagree too strongly about life. I love them both, but I’m not sad to see it end here. Mainly because Kim needs to get away from Jimmy before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, she looks to be in for one last caper, and I hope she avoids running everything in the process.
For the third straight week, Better Call Saul started with a brilliant opening scene perfectly setting the table for the episode to come. It’s been clear since Jimmy’s blank, unfeeling reaction to Chuck’s death that his relationship with Kim would end. As the season went on it became clear the end would likely occur this season.
Most people likely expected a big blowout argument. Jimmy’s friendly relationship with Chuck ended with one. Considering Jimmy’s current side business, I assume most expected Kim to find out and lash into him about it. Or perhaps Jimmy would push further or do something “for” Kim that triggered the confrontation. It felt like a short fuse was lit between them and the explosion was inevitable.
Instead the opening scene showed us something worse; the slow, cruel death of communication and love between two people who just slowly drifted apart over the long months spanning Jimmy’s suspension. Two people who gradually stopped talking to each other, who lost the easy synchronization they once had. Two people who barely even see each other despite living in the same apartment.
It genuinely hurt to see just how distant they were in this episode. The company party at Schweikart and Cokely was every bit the equivalent of Walt’s infamous drunken rants or the horrible gym speech he gives after season 2’s plane collision. You could tell how cold and distant things had become between Jimmy and Kim. Jimmy’s escalating humiliation of himself and the genuinely nice company trip ideas Schweikart put forth was a clear misreading of the room and perhaps even an intentional one. It felt to me like he thought embarrassing Kim’s boss would somehow convince Kim of something.
By the end of the episode, they spoke to each other like old acquaintances rather than romantic partners. They barely sounded like friends. However Jimmy thought Kim would react to his ideas for Huell’s legal defense, she clearly did not react that way. Instead you had two people with very different ideas.
When Kim found out about Jimmy’s side business, she barely reacted. She clearly gave up long before then. Why bother reacting emotionally when she gave up that emotional detachment long ago?
And yet, this is Kim Wexler. She does not give up. She puts in the effort no matter how hard it looks. I don’t know what plan she wants to put in motion to end the episode, but it’s clear she’s trying one more time to rediscover what she and Jimmy lost. This stubborn refusal to give up is what worries people about Kim’s fate. She sure worries me. As Jimmy keeps moving further and further into the criminal world, will he drag a stubborn Kim along with him? Can she cut him off in time?
I think she will. I think this new scheme is a last ditch “have a baby for the marriage” kind of move, whatever it is. In the end, it won’t work. By the end of the season the relationship will be over and they’ll convince themselves they’ll stay friends. This “friendship” will consist of a few shared words at the courthouse when Jimmy’s defending drug dealers and Kim’s doing PD work. By some point next season it will be over for good.
But first we have the latest Jimmy/Kim caper.
Let’s be clear about one thing; Kim’s not involving herself in anything illegal. Let’s kill that notion. If this episode made anything clear, it’s that Kim is not willing to put her law career in any serious jeopardy for Jimmy. Especially not for Jimmy’s bodyguard.
So what exactly is her plan? I’ve seen a few good theories, but by far the most compelling one to me was protesting. She’s planning to make a racial issue of the prosecution’s insistence of a max sentence for Huell. This is Kim’s Atticus Finch moment. She sees a chance to make a real name for herself using a real case striking at a larger societal issue. It’s everything the judge told her should would never get earlier this season.
Would that work? I suppose Kim would have reason to think so or she wouldn’t do it. Saul Goodman would do this, but not Kim. So why did it come to mind? Did she notice that all the reduced sentences she mentioned to the prosecutor involved white people? Did she find some questionable history in the cop’s record? I guess we’ll find out.
Then again, maybe that’s not her plan at all. I’m curious what others think her plan will be. Considering how many markers she bought, some kind of public demonstration must be involved. Why else would she buy all that?
Whatever her idea, I imagine it will be a huge stretch. Huell attacked a cop and has a criminal record. This cop specifically arrested him before. This is a loser case with a ton of downside. Kim’s good, but is she that good? I assume that no matter her plan, she does have ideas of making a name off of it. But will that name be good?
I suppose knowing the inevitable destination of Jimmy’s life makes me nervous to see Kim partner with him one more time. We’ve seen time and again how Jimmy causes destruction for those closest to him. Has Kim’s loyalty pushed her into something she thinks will make her famous but will instead make her infamous? Is it possible this ruins her new gig at Schweikart and Cokely?
Kim’s idealism is one of her most admirable traits, yet I worry it will cost her dearly now. Or maybe not. Maybe this will be the kind of landmark case like Chuck has. After all, it seemed to have been Chuck’s death and eulogy that inspired her towards this new direction in her law career. It’s possible she now sees a chance to make her name just like she hoped, and to truly become a champion of the greater Albuquerque community now. That lure may be enough to override her common sense regarding Jimmy and his schemes.
If there’s one thing I’m sure about, it’s that Jimmy will take an immoral, possibly illegal slant to Kim’s plan. No matter how she protests, he’ll do it. And when it blows up in his face, he’ll learn nothing.
- Gus discontinuing Hector’s treatment so that he’ll stay in his current state of disability is the most cold-blooded thing anyone on Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad has ever done. Honestly, it’s borderline if not outright cartoonish. I’m not sure I actually like this development at all.
- To be honest, there’s something a bit sick and exploitative about the Hector subplot at this point. Gus’s need for revenge is fine, it’s not like anyone considers him a good guy in the story, but there’s no counterbalance for Hector’s mindset here. He’s the equivalent of an overly abused voodoo doll at this point, and it’s getting problematic.
- Don’t mind me, I’m just stuck over here in season 2 when Jimmy and Kim brushing their teeth together was the most adorable scene on the show.
- Mesa Verde opened a Nebraska branch. I wonder if it will come into play for the Gene subplot.
- Jimmy’s Saul Goodman cards are quite similar to his eventual lawyer cards. It’s a nice touch.
Images courtesy of AMC
Six Degrees of Rebecca Sugar: The Long Road to Bubbline and Beyond
The emotional, weird, and beautiful Adventure Time finale has come and gone, and with it (finally!) came the long-awaited confirmation that Bubbline is indeed a thing. The relationship, consisting of Princess Bonibel Bubblegum and her on-again, off-again companion Marceline, the Vampire Queen, has been a shipper favorite for years. Many of us assumed they were together already; how could you not after “Broke His Crown?”
Still, we lacked the official confirmation and had no idea if we would ever get it. Boy did we, and then some. We got confirmation in the form of a long, loud, make out session. It was absolutely glorious.
The long road from angsty songs about failed relationships to the Bubbline kiss saw a lot change in the world around Adventure Time, and it was this considerable transformation that took the relationship from a shipper favorite to canon. How did we get here? Well, this is The Fandomentals and you only need read my Steven Universe reviews to know I worship at the feet of Queen Rebecca Sugar. To say she played a considerable role in making Bubbline happen is an understatement.
While so many creators (understandably) played safe and carefully knocked on the doors regarding queer relationships in animation, she took up her sledgehammer to knock the damn doors down. I imagine very few people are happier than Sugar to see Bubbline happen. After all, she was there from the beginning. Without her, the relationship probably wouldn’t exist, and the TV world may never have changed enough to allow it.
Why Did You Eat My Fries?
It all started with Adventure Time and its rock-star vampire queen.
Rebecca Sugar joined Adventure Time as a storyboard revisionist during its first season which aired in early 2010. She received a promotion to storyboard artist for the second season. Her very first episode (alongside seasons 2 and 3 partner Adam Muto) was the seminal Marceline episode, “It Came From the Nightosphere,” airing in October 2010. Besides signaling the vast improvement of Adventure Time as a whole over its zany but awkward first season, and nabbing Sugar one of her two Emmy nominations during her work on the show, this was the episode that laid the groundwork for Marceline as a character.
It still stands tall, in my opinion, as her defining episode. Her love for music, its function as an outlet for her repressed emotions, and her strained relationship with her father are all core aspects of her character. “It Came From the Nightosphere” was the episode that established who Marceline is and who she would be moving forward. Rebecca Sugar also wrote the iconic “Fry Song” featured in the episode, the first of many songs she wrote for the show, many for Marceline.
From here, Sugar would storyboard and write songs for pivotal Marceline episodes such as “Daddy’s Little Monster,” “I Remember You,” and “Simon and Marcy,” the last nabbing her a second Emmy nomination. Damn near every defining episode for Marcy had her hands in it.
To say Rebecca Sugar heavily influenced Marceline is an understatement. She still talks glowingly about her experience working on Adventure Time, and how the storyboarder freedom on the show inspired the way she now runs Steven Universe. This freedom encouraged those working on the show to gravitate towards certain characters and really imprint themselves on them. For Sugar, this was Marceline. She has mentioned never putting so much of herself in to a character before:
“We all connected with different characters and were given a lot of room to flesh them out. I loved to write for Marceline. It was eye opening to see her resonate with audiences. I’d never had the chance to put myself into a character in that way. That’s something I couldn’t help but carry with me into my work on Steven.”
And if you ever doubt how much of the character was personal pizza for her, well, take a listen to the full “Fry Song” demo she pitched. Or consider how she came back for the Stakes miniseries to VOICE MARCELINE’S MOM. And write another song for the show. She basically is Marcy’s mom. This was the start of something much bigger. Rebecca Sugar found her outlet. Damn if she didn’t use it to pick out just the right tool to start knocking doors down.
I’m Just Your Problem
You probably noticed a pretty key episode missing from that list of Sugar-storyboarded episodes above. No, I didn’t forget it. Yes, she worked on and wrote the songs for it. And yes, it was THE episode putting the Bubbline ship out to sea.
“What Was Missing” isn’t a Marceline episode per se. She’s in it, but as part of a group of characters who have their personal belongings stolen by a Door Lord. The Door Lord forces our heroes to play an appropriately personal and good song in order to open the door it hides behind. They eventually do and in the end it turns out Marceline had nothing stolen. I could spend a 2,000 words commenting on Bubblegum being the thing Marceline considers “missing,” but let’s stay on track. For now.
As the most musically-inclined member of the group, Marceline takes the first crack at the song to open the door. She starts off talking about sucking Princess Bubblegum’s face until Peebles objects to the tastelessness of the song. How does Marcy respond? Well…
(P.S., you should listen to the demo for this one, too.)
To say fans ran with the romantic implications of this song is an understatement. It seems clear as day; Marcy and Bubblegum used to be in a relationship. It ended badly. The breakup still haunts Marceline and she wants PB back. This song gave birth to Bubbline and the fandom never looked back.
Of course, the episode did not pass by without controversy over whether the song actually confirmed a past romance or not. Marceline’s voice actor, Olivia Olsen, confirmed as such before kinda-sorta taking it back later. Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward’s public position was basically to stay out of it. Ward’s position basically became the “company line” regarding the episode. They let fans read into it how they wished without making a final judgment.
As the song’s writer, Sugar surprisingly attributed the influence of the song to friendship. In the DVD commentary for the episode, she mentions how she wrote the song based on her experience with a former roommate she fell out with. So maybe the song itself wasn’t written with romantic connotations in mind.
Still…come on. It’s not just the song. Bubblegum’s stolen possession was a shirt entirely outside her style that she kept just because Marcy gave it to her. A shirt Bubblgegum later wakes and take a big whiff of. You know, like you do with clothes belonging to a partner. Their arguments throughout the episode include an exchange about whether Marcy needed to be perfect or not. Is friendship outside interpretation here? No, but just barely.
Whatever the case, this was big episode setting Bubbline on the path towards canon kisses. Much like “It Came From the Nightosphere” established Marceline’s solo traits, “What Was Missing” established the dynamic between her and Bubblegum that informed every interaction the two had moving forward.
And whatever Sugar’s intent with her song and the rest of the episode, I would be surprised if the emergent Bubbline fandom didn’t drive her to want the two in a canon relationship. Adam Muto, her storyboard jam bud and future Adventure Time showrunner, has given Sugar considerable credit for the eventual canonization in the show’s finale. He gives her credit for laying the foundation for them by “building and nurturing that connection” between the two.
Honestly, can anyone be surprised? All you need look at is the show she left Adventure Time to make.
Made of Love
Let me just start off by saying I don’t want to dismiss the pitch Rebecca Sugar gave for Steven Universe or the greater themes outside of its triumphs regarding representation. It has purposes far beyond letting its gay space rocks exist on screen so that kids and adults have characters they relate to on screen. Rebecca Sugar will always be the first to talk about using the show to capture a feeling of her childhood and the sibling dynamic with her brother, Steven. There’s also no question how Steven Universe tackles a variety of important themes having nothing to do with the gender or sexual interests of its characters.
On the other hand, Steven Universe is clearly a vehicle meant to break down barriers preventing representation in children’s animation. It’s Rebecca Sugar’s tanker truck, and she’s Imperator Furiosa driving it and everyone aboard to freedom.
Sugar’s increased interview presence in the past year has seen her admit as much. She conceived the gems as non-binary from the beginning. Garnet was always going to be the fusion of two female-coded gems who felt romantic love for each other. Pearl and Rose always had a romantic history. From the start, Rebecca Sugar and everyone helping her intended for Steven Universe to push every boundary it could regarding LGBTQ representation. If that representation cost her the show, she was willing to pay the price:
“Ultimately, I said, ‘If this is going to cost me my show that’s fine because this is a huge injustice and I need to be able to represent myself and my team through this show and anything less would be unfair to my audience.’ This was around 2016 and that’s when I began to speak openly about what we were doing.”
Slowly but surely, and with an unrelenting insistence, Steven Universe has smashed through barriers you would never dream could be broken back when Adventure Time first aired “What Was Missing” and gave birth to the Bubbline ship. Ruby and Sapphire went from kissing noses in their first appearance to necking in their next to an eventual wedding featuring a legit kiss. Pearl’s relationship with Rose went from innuendo and subtext to outright stating its romantic love. Stevonnie’s design went from strongly resembling a feminine form to complete non-binary Stubbonie.
Steven Universe broke so many barriers that no one even blinks an eye anymore. When Flourite debuted, a permafusion of six different gems in a polyamorous relationship, she barely registered with people. Of course she was polyamorous. That’s what Steven Universe does.
However, they had to earn this every step of the way. As effortless as it may seem on TV, and as supportive as Cartoon Network must be for it to air at all, there have been barriers. Sometimes the barriers come in the form of international censors. Sometimes they come from Cartoon Network, who must always consider potential PR backlash. Some of these barriers have come in the form of personal hesitation.
Rebecca Sugar has increasingly talked about the way her amazing show has served as a sort of personal examination of her life. In recent years she has come out publicly as bisexual and then non-binary. She has talked about growing up loving Disney movies while realizing none of the princesses truly represented her. Steven Universe is a personal project allowing her and her storyboarders to examine themselves and the stories they feel need to be told. There’s the same kind of personal pizza involved that she infused into Marceline’s character on Adventure Time:
“For me, Ruby in a dress is how I feel when I’m in a dress. I think the show has been a chance for me to become a little more comfortable with exploring my own relationship to gender, and, of all the characters, Ruby is my most direct vessel of a character. There are drawings from 2014 of Ruby in that dress. That was a long, long dream, and I really couldn’t imagine it any other way. Ruby and Sapphire have always been meant to represent me and my partner and so that always felt natural to me.”
The result is a show that could not exist without smashing barriers. Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch calls Rebecca Sugar “the Moses parting the waves” regarding representation. Adam Muto gave lots of credit to SU for making it easier for Bubbline to exist. There’s no question what show currently leads the way in making queer content more accepted in children’s television. The world has increasingly accepted openly queer characters, and they’ve filled these new available spaces with gusto.
Yet there’s no doubt Steven Universe leads the way. Without it, Bubbline may have remained relegated to subtext and fandom arguments rather than making out in the Adventure Time finale. In fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t happen if Marceline’s mom hadn’t left to make her amazing show. Maybe Rebecca Sugar wasn’t the one who storyboarded that kiss. She wasn’t in the writer’s room conversation about the relationship which eventually made it a reality. However, when the head honcho of Adventure Time says that Sugar made Bubbline happen, I’m inclined to listen to him.
Rebecca Sugar made increased representation her mission, and it’s a mission she’s succeeding at.
The Elephant Koi in the Room
Now I know what some of you are thinking. Surely I’m forgetting something big? Some important moment on a separate network that broke through the barrier before anyone else? Something involving a show we talk about a lot around here and still haven’t gotten over?
No, I have not forgotten about Korrasami. I never will.
I’m also not here to denigrate Korrasami in any way. LGBTQ content on TV has increased so exponentially in recent years that it’s easy to look back on the comparably chaste handholding that ended The Legend of Korra as somehow lesser. Natural rivalries pop up among the community that inevitably compare relationships and result in talking one or the other down.
I’m not here to do that. Any such argument involves ignoring the social climate when Korrasami aired. They also ignore what it meant for so many people. 2014 was a remarkably different time for queer characters on TV. Korrasami also maintains a special place for the importance of its wlw relationship. It’s still a special show that created a special connection between two bisexual women of color, including the main character.
Korrasami broke barriers for more than existing. It broke barriers by creating the relationship as a perfect thematic cap on the entire show. It was more than “these two are together now.” Korrasami was the perfect ending to the evolution of Korra’s character. There is no denying how important it was to representation across the TV landscape. There’s no denying how much Korra and Asami still mean to fans and how they continue to be idols through Turf Wars.
What I hope I’ve established at this point, though, is how Rebecca Sugar was pushing the boundaries making Bubbline possible well before Korrasami came about. The Legend of Korra cracked the door open for others to slip in behind it. Rebecca Sugar and Steven Universe broke the door so everyone could rush inside. She always had every intention of doing so.
The timing alone goes a long way in negating Korrasami’s impact on Rebecca Sugar’s intentions. Korrasami did air first, in December 2014, but the reveal of Garnet as a romantic fusion between Ruby and Sapphire aired a mere 3 months later in March 2015. Considering production schedules, “Jail Break” was almost certainly ready to air well before Korra’s finale could be of any influence. Steven Universe’s first season had also well-established its boundary-pushing intentions through Stevonnie, Pearl and Rose, and other various relationships.
Steven Universe was always going to push these boundaries regardless of whether Korrasami existed. Considering the extremes to which it continues to push boundaries, I think it’s safe to say that Sugar and her show would have made their own goals, and eventually Bubbline, a reality, no matter what happened in the TV world around them.
Does this mean Korrasami had no impact on Steven Universe? Of course not. The overwhelmingly positive reaction to The Legend of Korra’s finale proved a larger point about the readiness of children’s television to accept same-sex relationships. Korrasami most certainly made it easier for Cartoon Network to see what Sugar wanted from her show and allow her more freedom to make it happen than they otherwise might have.
We can’t say for sure that the Ruby/Sapphire wedding happens in 2018 if not for Korrasami in 2014. Maybe it would have taken another year pushing boundaries to get Steven Universe there. Ultimately, though, it would have gotten there. Rebecca Sugar would have had it no other way.
In the end, it was her long, determined journey from those early days imprinting herself onto Marceline to the extravagant Rupphire wedding that made Bubbline happen. She was directly involved at just about every level. She wrote and storyboarded the episodes that established Marceline and her dynamic with Princess Bubblegum. Sugar pushed every boundary she was allowed both on Adventure Time and with Steven Universe. She pushed within the shows and with the executives holding the power to squash them.
Bubbline came about as a result of one person’s stunningly successful mission to make relationships like theirs a reality. I doubt anyone was happier than Rebecca Sugar to see Marcy and Peebs kiss.
In many ways, Bubbline is a lot like Korrasami. It started out as a crack ship based off limited interaction between the two most prominent women on their respective shows. A conscious effort began to slow build it through friendship. Fans constantly debated the legitimacy of romantic subtext. Some shippers never lost faith in the dream of romantic canonization. The more skeptical among us rationalized the inevitability of forever viewing it through subtext so obvious you could barely call it subtext.
Then the finales rolled around. The big moments happened, the ships officially set sail, and the world was better for it.
Korrasami and Bubbline also serve as significant bookends for the era of breakthrough LGBTQ representation in children’s animation. Korrasami was the first breakthrough moment beginning the era, with Steven Universe hot on its heels. Gravity Falls revealed a gay relationship between two cops. The Loud House has a character whose parents are an interracial gay couple. Danger and Eggs was created by a trans woman and features numerous queer characters.
Then Bubbline, after 7 years of speculation, got their canon kiss. It proved of the sweeping change that has come to television since “What Was Missing” first aired. Something fans once thought nothing more than a pipe dream came to life with a nice explicit makeout session.
A lot of people helped create an environment for Bubbline to happen. None, in my own humble opinion, mattered more than Rebecca Sugar. Between her direct involvement in the characters themselves and the considerable influence Steven Universe has had towards LGBTQ representation, she has wreaked havoc on the limitations which once labeled anything queer as “adult content” not suitable for children. In many ways, Bubbline was a personal victory for her, just as it was for the LGBTQ community as a whole.
I can’t wait to see how she continues pushing these boundaries. I also can’t wait to see what the next group of amazing creators to can do by following her lead and pushing even further.