Elementary – Recap: Hack Swan
Recap and review of Elementary – Season 2 Episode 15 – Corpse de Ballet:
Elementary takes a fairly novel approach this week, as “Corpse de Ballet” presents a scenario that is less about Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) attempting to prove a suspect’s guilt than it is about Sherlock setting out to prove a person’s innocence. This seems to go against the primary standard of deduction Sherlock sets out, which is to allow the evidence to inform one’s theories and not vice-versa. But Sherlock has a peculiar blind spot in this week’s case, as he’s an ardent admirer of the suspect, a world-class ballerina renowned far and wide for her exceptional gifts…as well as her diva attitude. But “Corpse de Ballet” isn’t just Sherlock’s episode, as we get two cases this week. The second is the most effective from a character-building perspective, given that it provides us a window into the reasons why Joan (Lucy Liu) does the things she does, and is altruistic as she is. It’s a solid episode from top-to-bottom, with a strong case on one side, and a compelling character study on the other.
The murder of Nell Solange (Kimberly Faure) has the ballet community in an uproar, and with good reason: her death shocked the entire ballet company when her bisected corpse dropped from the scaffolding, having been released by a pulley. It’s a curious case right from the get-go, as Sherlock, Joan, and Gregson (Aidan Quinn) discover that Solange was actually killed from having her throat slit, and it doesn’t take long for Bell (Jon Michael Hill) and the others to realize that the murder weapon was the personalized box-cutter of the internationally-acclaimed Iris Lanzer (Aleksa Palladino). But right away, Sherlock is not only quick to offer an explanation for why Iris has a box-cutter at all (it’s common practice for a ballerina to alter her slippers using the tool), he also gushes with admiration, recalling having seen her onstage, and adding that she’s a master of her craft. It’s strange to see Sherlock in such awe, and even stranger to hear him making excuses for a potential suspect, as he vows that Iris couldn’t have killed Nell — not because of any particular evidence that’s been discovered, but rather because she would have had no reason to. Sherlock declares that there’s no way a master like Iris would have felt threatened by a dancer like Nell taking a part away from her. In a succinct comparison, Sherlock claims it would be like him suddenly murdering the world’s second-best detective. It just wouldn’t make any sense.
But Sherlock still reserves a certain curiosity about Iris, and so he does the only sensible thing — he sleeps with her. One of the great things about Jonny Lee Miller’s work as Sherlock is that he’s able to believably reconcile the contradictions of the character through his performance: “Would Sherlock really jeopardize an investigation to sleep with a suspect? Seems out of character.” And the answer would be, “Well, it may be out of character, but of course Sherlock would sleep with a suspect to figure her out! His methods are sound!” Were a lesser actor in the role, these inherent contradictions of character would be irreconcilable and distracting, yet Miller makes every choice feel like an organic extension of Sherlock’s character. And so it is with Iris, whom Sherlock deduces couldn’t have killed Nell, since the murderer would have needed to operate the pulley, which Iris couldn’t have done since she has a torn rotator cuff (something he noticed at the precinct, and later confirmed during sex; and how great was that “Coitus in progress” post-it note on his door? It’s a rather direct solution to the old “tie around the doorknob” solution).
However, while Sherlock believes Iris to be innocent, the police aren’t as convinced. Nor does the media, which has taken her arrest at the hands of Gregson to be an indication of guilt. And so Sherlock continues his investigation, which takes him in a variety of different directions, from the paparazzo who’d sued Iris but was ruined in the process, to the lawyer whom Iris has entrusted her entire brand, one Nolan Sharp (Scott Cohen). Both leads seem promising enough, but the case takes a turn when a voicemail leaks to the media that reveals Iris threatening Nell over a quarrel of some sort. Eventually, Nell confesses…but not to murder. Instead, she confesses to having an affair with Nell, who discovered that their tryst was a ploy to keep her from focusing on taking the lead role in the company’s production. When Nell discovered that she was hardly the first person Iris had done this to, she ended things completely, yet Iris tried her best to mend things — as it turns out, she had developed genuine feelings for Nell, hence the pained, almost desperate voicemail. But that’s not all: Iris basically reveals that the affair was inspired by her fear that Nell would surpass her in the company. In essence, Sherlock’s initial presumption that it would be impossible for someone like Iris to feel threatened by someone like Nell is proven false. Yet this doesn’t prompt him to reevaluate his other deductions, since he’s already made up his mind about Iris. I really can’t stress how peculiar this was, yet, like I mentioned above, Miller’s performance is attuned to who Sherlock Holmes is, in such a way that this didn’t necessarily feel like a contradiction. It just felt like a departure from the norm. But I suppose everyone has his or her blind spot.
In fact, Sherlock’s insistence on Iris’ innocence is what had me thinking she’d turn out to be the killer, just to prove that there are limits to Sherlock’s deductive powers. But it turns out Iris is in the clear. After looking deeper into the voicemail, Sherlock discovers that it was Nolan Sharp who’d leaked it to the media, as the ambient noise in the background reveals that the message was secretly recorded from Sharp’s office. Ultimately, his motive his brought out into the open: apparently, Nell had approached Sharp for help with a restraining order after Iris referred her. With two dancers/lovers as clients, Sharp saw a way he could play the situation to create a scandal that would make him famous. By killing Nell and framing Iris, he would be brought on board to defend his client from the murder charges. Since he was the killer himself, he would be able to provide evidence documenting Iris’ innocence, such as a surveillance video he took of himself actually committing the murder, a last-ditch bit of evidence to create reasonable doubt among the jury, should it ever get to that point. It’s a bit convoluted, as a scheme, since he’d still need to answer for why the masked killer in the film appeared to be his exact height, age, and weight. But the plan never gets that far, as Sherlock, Gregson, and Bell haul Sharp in.
It’s a satisfying case from a pure entertainment standpoint, but it’s not nearly as substantive as the other case of the night. Joan is tasked with helping a homeless veteran at the shelter at which she volunteers: when Morris Gilroy (Curtis McClaren) suffers a schizophrenic episode, he’s taken to the hospital. But while he’s there, he shouts on and on about a man named “Frebo” who was abducted right out from under his nose. And so Joan takes the case when the police refuse to look for his missing, “imaginary” friend. And it’s a good thing Joan accepted the case. “Frebo” is actually Zeke Frebo, a fellow homeless veteran, who disappeared after being grabbed by a white man in a van. Joan tracks down leads, including Frebo’s sister, who claims not to have seen him. But it isn’t until Morris has gotten back on his meds and calmed down that she is able to meet with him and talk about Zeke in detail. When Morris hands over Zeke’s bag, it includes a family photo: and the sister is not the same sister with whom she’d met. So Joan gets a search warrant to investigate the home of the “sister”, whose husband is incredulous at the police snooping around, and we learn he has good reason to be afraid. Zeke is being held prisoner along with two other homeless veterans in a cellar in their house, being kept alive so the woman could continue to cash their veterans benefits checks by claiming to be a relative. It’s a real victory for Joan, of whom Sherlock is immensely proud, as she’s managed to tackle a case that would never have been solved had she not deigned to give it her attention.
But it’s the reasons she gave it her attention that make Joan’s side of the episode the more poignant. She reveals that her birth father was schizophrenic, having first become sick while her mother was pregnant. He disappeared from her life by the time she was three. He’s now homeless and living in New York, and despite her best attempts at helping him over the years, Joan’s father has refused to go to a halfway home or a treatment facility. Thus, Joan has forced herself to come to grips with her lack of agency over her father’s life, instead choosing to assert her agency by helping out at the homeless shelter. And she even runs into her father from time-to-time. Whether he recognizes her or not depends on the day and whether he’s been taking his meds, but for a few years, they’d been able to have something close to an actual relationship. But, unfortunately, Joan hasn’t seen him in two years, and so she continues to volunteer not only from altruistic impulse, but with the hopes that her father will turn up again.
It’s a story that borders on the melodramatic, but Lucy Liu does such a wonderful job in her scene in which Joan recounts the entire saga to Sherlock, fighting through years of barely-restrained emotion. Sherlock’s attentiveness also says a lot about his and Joan’s relationship, since sometimes lending a person your strength doesn’t require more than lending an ear. But with Sherlock, it goes a fair bit farther than just hearing her out, as he approaches her the next day with a pile of blankets he no longer needs. As he explains, it’s supposed to get pretty cold soon, and so he suggests heading to the park to hand out the blankets to those in need, to which Joan cheerily agrees. It’s a lovely little moment that further emphasizes the familiarity and bond between the two. There’s an uncomplicated understanding between the two, and though their relationship is occasionally fraught with back-and-forthery and angry concern, these are two people who understand one another better than anyone else in their lives do (short of Moriarty, for Sherlock). Liu and Miller remain utterly winning in the roles.
“Corpse de Ballet” is a terrific hour of TV, providing two separately compelling cases united by the connective tissue of character. The show excels when it relies more on character than plot, and since character over plot tends to be the M.O. more often than not, Elementary remains a hard procedural to top.