“I know about Irene.” Watson (Lucy Liu) has finally gotten her hands on a couple of significant pieces of the puzzle that is Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), not the least of which is some insight into what happened in London to set Holmes off the rails. In this week’s Elementary “Flight Risk,” Sherlock investigates a small plane crash, believing that one of the victims was actually murdered before the plane went down–and that the murderer sabotaged to plane to conceal it.
Slicing through the case’s red herrings, Sherlock ultimately identifies the murderer after his prime suspect, a pilot moonlighting as a cocaine smuggler turns up missing. While Holmes is deeply engaged in solving the murder mystery, Watson receives an invitation to dinner with Sherlock’s father, something that Sherlock wants nothing to do with. Arguing that his father is a habitual absentee with a long list of no shows throughout his son’s life, the deductive genius is confident that Dad is unlikely to show, so why bother?
Holmes is quite bitter about his father, his analysis painting him in the harshest light, distant in the extreme. His interest in his son is purely out of “familial obligation,” Holmes tells his sober companion, and not out of any sense of caring or love.
Watson doesn’t quite buy it, and goes to meet Dad for dinner, but Sherlock, quite certain of the outcome hires an actor to play the elder Holmes as a prank; Watson is not pleased–with Sherlock. But when the actor intimates a bit of Sherlock’s early history, Watson suspects he knows more than he’s letting on.
Using her newly refined deductive skills, Watson tracks down the actor, a bookseller named Allistair (Roger Rees). He and Holmes, it appears have a bit of a history–and as much of a friendship as Holmes can manage. For Watson, Allistair is a significant find in her quest to understand the enigmatic Holmes. (Interesting bit of trivia: Alistair Duncan is a real life Holmes expert, and I have to wonder if the name of Watson’s expert on Holmes’ backstory is a shout out to him, or pure coincidence, despite the different spellings of the name.) I also wonder if Allistair might become a recurring character in the series, and fount of Holmes’ knowledge for his inquisitive companion as the series goes on.
Allistair describes to Watson the state Sherlock had been in after events in London. Landing on Allistair’s doorstep, Holmes was out of control–”addled”–and so high he was barely conscious. But the most significan reveal is the name Sherlock kept calling out during this hellish time, “Irene.” Fans of the Holmes canon are aware that Irene Adler is “the one who got away,” and the only woman in the original novels that was even remotely interesting to Sherlock.
Who is Irene, and what has she to do with whatever happened in London? At the end of the episode, Watson asks Holmes exactly that. “I know about Irene,” she states simply. The words freeze Sherlock in his tracks, speechless, which is where the story is left until next week.
But perhaps we’ve gotten another piece of the puzzle as well. The Holmes we know from literature and from other interpretations of the iconic detective paint him as nearly superhuman, with his only real vulnerability, his boredom. But in Elementary, the creators are trying to crack through his facade, asking what fears someone like Sherlock might harbor with his hyper-awareness of everything around him–like flying on an airplane. Watson picks up on Holmes discomfort around planes. Why is he so uncomfortable about them? Is he afraid of flying?
Fear of flying is too irrational for Holmes; his fear is based on having too much information about those responsible for flying the plane safely: Is the ill mechanic not aware enough to have done a proper safety check? How many drinks had the pilot consumed before takeoff? Holmes observes too much, hence, knows too much. And those bits of comprehension lead to very tangible worry.
It’s the second week in a row in which we’ve learned some of the consequences of being Sherlock Holmes, unable to switch off his unique observational skills even when he might want wish it. Elementary‘s Holmes views this gift as a burden–a burden sometimes too difficult to bear. How that relates to Irene, London, and his addiction issues are parts of the story yet to be revealed.