Elementary: Just a Regular “Irregular” (03×03)
Synopsis: Mathematicians playing a math game are being murdered and one of Sherlock’s consultants is in the middle of it all. Meanwhile, Joan reaches out to Kitty.
Math is definitely not my favorite subject, but Elementary managed to keep my attention anyway in this week’s episode. The best part? Somehow the writers managed to create an extremely humanistic storyline while simultaneously exploring a subject that is seen to be completely without humanity. They used math to explore human nature and that’s just one of the reasons I’m starting to love this show more with each passing episode.
This week’s episode reintroduced us to Harlan, a mathematics consultant that Sherlock utilized in a previous episode. He’s best known for doing math without a shirt on. This time around he ended up being in the middle of a crime instead of simply consulting and Sherlock had to work to try and protect him as his life was put on the line.
Harlan, while playing a math game, ends up stumbling upon a dead body. The math game is one similar to what was in a recent Person of Interest episode. Pretty much someone posts the first challenge online which usually consists of a math problem to be solved. Once the problem is solved, the answer produces GPS coordinates to the location of the next problem. Then the player goes to that location, texts the phone number found there, and is given another problem to solve. The game continues on like that, where they solve the problem, text, and get another problem that will lead them to another destination with yet another phone number to text.
However, one of the contestants ended up dead and Harlan is initially accused of killing him. Once proven innocent, it becomes a case of figuring out why people are dying playing this supposedly harmless math game.
In the background, while Sherlock puzzles over the math case, Joan works on a case of her own. The interesting part was that she offered Kitty a chance to help out with it in return for sharing her fee. Since they’d been on pretty shaky ground, it was a bit out of character for Joan to extend this particular olive branch. Of course Sherlock picked up on it and confronted Joan about it, though expressed his approval. Kitty, in his opinion, could learn a lot from Joan, just as she could learn from him.
Joan thinks it needs to be more than that, though, and when it comes to Kitty she believes the young woman needs more help than just becoming Sherlock’s mentee. She’s a trauma victim, having been kidnapped, raped, and held captive for a prolonged period of time. There’s more that she needs other than someone to teach her how to be a detective. She needs other supports, and it isn’t a surprise that Joan is the one suggesting Sherlock push her to pursue them. If there’s one thing this show doesn’t do, it is glorify trauma and illness. It is probably one of the things I love most about Elementary. It isn’t cool to have gone through trauma, it isn’t trendy or angsty to be a drug user, and it isn’t appropriate to pull the victim card in order to excuse questionable or maladaptive behavior.
Rather, Elementary as a show has encouraged and continues to encourage the pursuit of a better life. More simply, it encourages the pursuit of healing through relationships and reaching out. We don’t have to watch the angsty, “set-apart,” brooding main character continue to take a shit on everything around them only to use their issues as an excuse to destroy instead of build up. Special gifts don’t excuse anti-social behavior. Instead, the show pushes its characters to continue to seek out healing. It promotes surviving and thriving, not living in distress and using it as an excuse.
As another body is discovered at the site of the next GPS coordinates, the case becomes all the more serious. Sherlock, with Harlan’s help, began to track down all of the mathematicians playing the game. They find them at someone’s penthouse, a guy named Paul, attempting to decipher the identity of the infamous Mo Shellshocker. Apparently Paul is convinced Mo is the one who set up the game and is killing the players. Harlan insisted that wasn’t the case, that Mo Shellshocker simply did what he did in order to try to stop people who abused math in order to take advantage of others.
When they left, Sherlock confronted Harlan who then admitted to being Mo. Apparently Sherlock was tipped off when he realized Mo Shellshocker was an anagram for Sherlock Holmes. They realize that the game isn’t about finding random mathematicians and killing them. It isn’t just some serial killer getting a high from trapping people and murdering them. Whoever is doing the killing is someone who wants to trap Mo Shellshocker because they want him dead.
In an earlier scene, Harlan and Kitty had a moment wherein Kitty revealed that Sherlock hadn’t been using Harlan for every case that involved math. They’d recently pursued a case and used the services of a different mathematician, which led Harlan to claim he’d been fired without knowing it. After it is revealed that he was Mo Shellshocker, he confronted Sherlock about being fired. He’d considered Sherlock a friend, someone he admired and someone he could then emulate when it came to taking down bad guys who misused mathematics to cheat people. Sherlock was startled by this revelation and quite honestly seemed offended and perturbed. He pointed out that they were not friends, Harlan was an employee.
Harlan, however, pointed out that Sherlock had made him feel like he wasn’t a loser. The appreciation Sherlock had for what he did gave him the confidence he needed to branch out. Yet in light of Sherlock looking to cut ties, Harlan pointed out that if even someone like Sherlock thought he was a loser, he was quite certain there would be no hope for him.
I think this scene was important, especially given that shortly afterward Sherlock is talking with Joan and then encourages Kitty to seek out therapy again. In this universe, the Elementary writers have created a Sherlock who is rediscovering his own potential. For a long time he was the victim. He was ensnared in his addiction, bitter about his upbringing, and altogether alone. Then Joan was introduced into his life and helped him move forward from that place of self loathing. As he grew, his capability for relationships grew, and I believe the Sherlock we see in this third season is actively coming to terms with the fact that he can influence and make a difference in people’s lives.
Since he’s reached a place of healing within himself, he can now branch out and encourages other downs a similar path. It is the concept behind mentor and mentee, or sponsor and sponsee. Our goal in life shouldn’t merely be to improve ourselves and become self actualized, but to share the wisdom that we’ve gathered with others to help them on their journey. He can be a positive influence, and with that comes a profound sense of responsibility that pushes him to bring up the issue of therapy or support groups one more time with Kitty.
He also called Paul and told him where Harlan, or Mo Shellshocker, lived knowing very well he’d go and kill him. In the end, Sherlock gave Paul the wrong apartment and while he was being arrested, spent time with Harlan and made amends. Apparently Paul had been exploiting lottery tickets to amass a small fortune. Harlan had figured out that the lottery tickets could be exploited, therefore leading to those tickets being pulled. Since there were no tickets to be exploited, Paul’s income source suddenly dropped, which led him to try and catch the infamous Mo Shellshocker to discredit and kill him.
In the end, the case was complex but altogether uninteresting as it just came down to pure and simple greed. The case seemed so pale compared to the rich interpersonal dynamics explored in this week’s episode. The heart of this show is in the characters and the cases are merely a vehicle through which all of these beautiful people get to interact.
This week’s episode earned five out of five stars without question.