Recap and review for Elementary – Season 1 Episode 9 – You Do It Yourself
This week’s Elementary is significant for how it continues the process started several weeks back in developing Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) as her own character, independent of her sober companion relationship with Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller). For much of the show’s run so far, Joan has been a figure of exasperation, as she struggles to wrap her mind around the jumble of contradictions that is Sherlock Holmes. It’s apparent that she has a relatively thankless, and undoubtedly exhausting, task in tending to Holmes and ensuring his overall wellness. The ticking clock aspect of their relationship remains looming in the background, and on the periphery of each of their interactions from week-to-week, as we’re getting incrementally closer to the end of her six-week run as Holmes’s sober companion. I theorized in last week’s review about how the show is going to find a way around this eventuality, in order to keep Watson on, but while an answer still doesn’t appear forthcoming, I still enjoy the presence of that six-week end date as a future plot point around which we can orient the character development in the series, in that Holmes and Watson have made some pretty significant gains as a pair in the past several weeks. “You Do It Yourself” is as close as the series has come to actually portraying them as…well, friends.
For what feels like at least the second week in a row, and what could well be the third, the “case of the week” is a total non-starter, as it involves the murder of a professor at a local university, leading Holmes to use his damn-near supernatural powers of deduction to put all the pieces together. It’s problematic that many of the cases feel like such an afterthought each week, as there’s room for compelling drama here, along with moments that can help add nuance to the characters. As it stands, the episode provides a more substantive role for Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill), the fourth wheel in this four-person ensemble, with Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) making up the third. He gets to serve as a surrogate Watson for Holmes, who is working the case while battling mild, flu-like symptoms, completely ignoring Watson’s pleas to stay home and get rest, arguing that boredom is far more detrimental to his well-being than any actual illness. Detective Bell is an interesting character, in his own right, as he could very easily descend into a kind of parody of the disbelieving, stick-in-the-mud detective, who just can’t wrap his head around the concept of how this genius guy does it. Bell doesn’t bother with any of that. He just shrugs, takes Holmes’s information at face value, and moves on with his day. He does show an amusing bit of Watson-esque exasperation with how Holmes won’t stop recording his thoughts into a personal recorder, and unlike some cliches of the genre, Bell is shown to be rather intelligent himself, and more than capable at his job. I really do hope he gets a bigger role in future episodes, as I feel like an expanded ensemble will do wonders for this show.
That said, what works about “You Do It Yourself” has almost nothing to do with the case, as Watson’s ex-boyfriend, Liam (Adam Rothenberg), surfaces. He’s been arrested and accused of a hit-and-run, and he needs her help to get in with the D.A., in order to prove that he had nothing to do with the crime. Unfortunately, it turns out that Liam, a recovering addict, had fallen off the wagon just a short time before the crime was committed, compounding Watson’s doubts about his innocence. Watson confides in Holmes about the case, though she avoids giving him particulars, simply allowing Holmes to assume that Liam is one of her former charges as a sober companion. Of course, being Sherlock Holmes, he’s able to bring up an entire file on Liam just from her few scant hints, and offers to look into the matter for her, and it’s difficult to tell at this juncture in the episode whether Holmes is being sincere in his desire to help a friend, or if he’s merely intrigued by the prospect of solving an unsolvable puzzle. Watson eventually takes a look at Holmes’s file, bringing the information to Liam, hoping he’ll spot something in the photos that will provide a break in the case. His observation that the keychain Watson gave him is missing eventually leads Watson to the pawn store where the keychain was hawked by our perp, who stole Liam’s car and committed the hit-and-run.
Yet Watson isn’t really all that jazzed to have solved the case. We learn that Watson’s relationship with Liam wasn’t predicated on sober companionship. As she tells Holmes, she met Liam long before he started using, and Lucy Liu gives an understated performance that illustrates the pain and longing for a past (if not a person) that is irretrievably lost to her. It’s a dynamic portrayal from Liu, who’s very underrated as an actress, particularly on this series, and I often wonder if much of the antipathy to her is an ingrained distaste for the stunt-casting involved in making Watson a woman. Either way, I’d argue she deserves a second chance from many of her naysayers, particularly since she really sells the pathos of Watson’s experience with men ruined by their addictions.
As Watson explains, She tried to stage an intervention for Liam, but it simply didn’t take, and their relationship couldn’t survive the hardship. Watson goes to visit Liam in prison after solving the case, and though he apologizes for how he treated her when they were together, Watson tells him that he needs to be focusing on getting to a place in his life where he no longer needs to apologize. Liam is trapped in a vicious circle of self-abuse, and though he expresses the desire to get clean, Watson senses that he isn’t entirely sincere. He states that he wants to get clean for her, but Watson argues that you have to want to get clean for yourself first. No one gets clean for you, you do it yourself (not her exact words, but it’s more or less a summation of her argument, and it also somewhat reflects the significance of the episode’s title). She offers to get him set up at a treatment facility, though she states that she won’t be waiting there for him. Cue our finale, as Watson goes to the treatment facility anyway, waiting for Liam, who never shows. Holmes arrives out of his expressed desire to meet the ex, but when it becomes apparent that Liam isn’t going to show, and Watson excuses Holmes from having to wait with her, he responds, “I have nowhere else to be. Not tonight.” It’s a subtle display of his solidarity with Watson. He’s offering his support, but he’s not doing it in an overt fashion. It’s very Holmes. There’s a beautiful poignancy to the image of Watson and Holmes, sitting on that bench in the lobby, as if frozen in time, yet it’s evident from Watson’s body language that she’s glad to have Holmes there, as awkward as it might seem on the surface. It’s one of the show’s best moments, so far.
“You Do It Yourself” just misses the mark on the season’s best, due to the relatively ineffectual procedural case. But the character work is some of the most effective of the entire series, as Holmes and Watson are starting to feel like a real team. That partnership is going to be the anchor of the show, going forward, so it had damn well better be strong. Thankfully, with each passing week, Miller and Liu build on their chemistry to where their interactions feel almost effortless. Charting the development of this dynamic has been one of the more rewarding endeavors of the new TV season, and it really doesn’t surprise me that the show is a hit. Not after an episode like this.