**This post contains spoilers for episode 2.16 of Elementary, “The One Percent Solution.”**
Before I get into the nitty gritty of last night’s excellent Elementary, let’s take a moment to appreciate the Superior Lestrade.
Rupert Graves’ portrayal of Greg Lestrade is my favorite part of BBC’s Sherlock, and I occasionally like to imagine what it would be like if his version of Lestrade was on Elementary. Ultimately, I think he and Gregson are too similar for it to be terribly interesting after an episode or two, so I’m glad that this show has chosen to go in the opposite direction with its Lestrade (this one is named Gareth) and make him an insecure man with skewed moral compass, who is every bit as much of an addict as Sherlock himself.
We last saw Lestrade in the big two-hour season 2 premiere, in which he took credit for Sherlock’s big solve, much to Sherlock’s frustration and disappointment. Lestrade is now working as a Security Tsar for a bank, and a bombing at a restaurant brings him back into Sherlock’s orbit.
Sherlock spends the first half of the episode in frustration over Lestrade’s “ego.” He practically snarls as Lestrade swans around with his private helicopters, coconut water, and blonde assistant, while Lestrade seems incapable of shutting up about how great he’s doing since they last saw him. Sherlock’s so galled by Lestrade stealing his credit and his methods that he fails to recognize Lestrade’s actions for what they are: overcompensation.
That’s kind of the great thing about this Sherlock. His main flaw is that for all of his observations and deductions, he still sees the world through his own lens, and often that leads to him misinterpreting basic social cues simply because they are not cues he would make. He thinks Lestrade is bragging and gloating about having pulled one over on the great Sherlock Holmes, because it would never occur to Sherlock to fake smiles and sunshine just to hide his embarrassment. Joan usually helps in this respect, often just by having another point of view, but her focus is only on Sherlock and how it affects him. She calls him out on his irritation during the first night of the investigation, when Sherlock is irritably watching a conference at which Lestrade had spoken about deductive reasoning.
Joan: “Are you mad that he’s still stealing your act, or annoyed that he managed to pull it off?”
Sherlock: “What I do is not an act.”
It was an uncanny Joan moment, though, and it’s amazing that those are starting to slip by almost unnoticed. That Joan Watson is so advanced in her studies that she accurately reads the great Sherlock Holmes — that she forces him to deflect! — is huge. It’s the sort of thing that would drive Lestrade crazy to watch, because how does she do that?
That’s probably why Lestrade takes such a vested interest in Joan during the course of the episode, to the point that his overeager assistant feels threatened by her.
Joan’s not interested in working with Lestrade, it’s funny that he even thought she could be bought, and she even mildly suspects Lestrade is part of the bombing crime somehow.
Sherlock eventually wrestles the truth out of Lestrade: he’s a glorified pimp to his boss. He sets up romantic trysts for the CEO of the bank, and he was too embarrassed to tell Sherlock the truth. This ultimately just frustrates Sherlock, since it means he was working on a dead end for the better part of the episode, but he refocuses on a serial bomber who is claiming credit for the restaurant bombing. His name is Aurelius, a unabomber-type, and Joan flatly asks, “The FBI has had a task force looking for Aurelius for years, you think you’re just gonna look through a bunch of NYPD files and find him just like that?”
She wakes the next morning to find that Sherlock has done it. Awestruck, she says, “You found Aurelius!” But later, when Lestrade turns up at their bust, he’s less enthusiastic. “So, you decided to find Aurelius, and here we are.” Sherlock points out that this is supposed to be good news — hooray, we’re about to catch a serial bomber! — but Lestrade is still disgruntled. Sherlock points out that Watson was happy to hear he’d solved the case, and adds, “That’s the difference between you and her. You spend your time resenting my abilities, and she spends her time developing her own.”
And that is a fantastic observation. On the one hand you have Lestrade, riddled with insecurities and bitterness, who cringes and bears down (oh, still too soon) whenever Sherlock has a breakthrough. His solution is to steal, to mimic, to posture and pretend until the world believes that he is great, because his self-worth is so low that he doesn’t believe he can do it just by study and practice. How he must despise Joan, deep down! How he must resent Bell and Gregson, as well! What must it feel like to sit there with the great Sherlock Holmes, the master of deductive reasoning, and wonder what these other people do to earn his respect and admiration?
It’s a great observation of Watson herself, as well, because her uniqueness has long exceeded the thing that seemed like stunt casting at first: the fact that she is a woman. No one talks about that anymore, except perhaps for the “Joanlock” shippers. Instead, people talk about the partnership, the balance, the sharing of confidences, the teacher-student relationship that seems to come so naturally to them. Jude Law’s John Watson seems mostly exasperated and annoyed by his Sherlock’s abilities and antics. Martin Freeman’s John Watson, conversely, is constantly in awe of his Sherlock’s abilities, with no emphasis on learning how to deduce, which means he’s only ever capable of being Sherlock’s assistant, not partner. Lucy Liu’s portrayal is the first time (in recent retellings, mind you) that Holmes and Watson are on even footing. She can learn his version of deductive reasoning because she strikes that precarious balance between Law’s exasperation and Freeman’s hero-worshipping, but she’s still totally in control of her own agency because she doesn’t depend on Sherlock for approval or identity.
This Lestrade could’ve been written as an easy villain, because he’s a desperate man who wants notoriety, and we’ve already seen him thwart Sherlock in the past. Instead, this show has chosen to take a prominent canon character and turn him into a bit of a grey area. He’s no villain, but he’s no hero, either. He’s no Gregson, but he’s also no Moriarty: when the cards were on the table and a moral decision had to be made, Lestrade chose the high ground. Sherlock was clearly gratified when Lestrade chose to ruin his career and let his boss take the fall instead of letting a murderess go free. Lestrade undid some of the damage he caused back in the summer when he doublecrossed Sherlock and took credit for himself.
His appearance at the brownstone at the end of the episode was a bit of comedy. Sherlock, who was trying to tame two roosters who had been bred for cockfighting, is watching as Romulus and Remus meet again after their conditioning. Lestrade is babbling about needing a place to stay just for a short while and Sherlock snaps, “You can stay here, just be quiet!” Long story short, Joan and Sherlock are now the proud owners of Romulus, Remus, and Clyde the Tortoise.
Next week: ears! Aren’t you glad the Olympics are over?