Elementary: Bella (03×04)
Synopsis: A man is murdered by Bella, a supposedly artificially intelligent computer. Sherlock and the team investigate the murder and face a dilemma when it is all said and done.
Person of Interest meets Elementary in this week’s episode, though not entirely in the way I would have liked it to. I really think CBS missed a great chance to toss in a couple of Person of Interest related Easter eggs into the episode. After all, the case was all about artificial intelligence. Nonetheless, another week brought another fantastic episode.
This week’s case centered around the theft of files regarding a computer program called Bella. The creators claimed that Bella was a promising piece of artificial intelligence and had actually learned how to learn. In other words, the computer had figured out how to deduce information about things no one had ever told it about. For example, this particular program figured out what the internet was. No one had ever told Bella about a network like the internet, but somehow she knew. The creators were convinced someone had stolen the code because they’d made a huge breakthrough and they hired Sherlock to get it back.
Of course Sherlock was naturally skeptical that such a breakthrough had actually occurred. He definitely wasn’t convinced that artificial intelligence would actually become a thing. In the usual Sherlock way, he sat down with Bella and quizzed her through the night on various things. Ultimately he attempted to stump her, to prove that the information she’d gotten about the internet had been inputted and not simply conjured by her own mind. The attempt failed as he ran into one wall after another.
In the search for a crafty computer program burglar, the team found evidence to suggest that the man who stole the program was a long time thief known as Raffles. He’d left a bit of DNA at the scene which they ran through the system. The DNA came back from another theft wherein the infamous Raffles had cut himself on a broken window trying to escape. There’d been a sketch of him at the time and Sherlock immediately recognized it from when he’d worked a case back home in London. Since Raffles was involved, Sherlock took up the case in a heartbeat. With the burglar named, it took just a few steps to trace where the computer program had ended up.
Apparently some big time lab had brought Raffles on to steal breakthroughs from competitors. He was paid staff and Sherlock told the CEO of the company that he needed to send them a video of all of the copies being deleted, or else Sherlock would go public with the information about Raffles. Needless to say, the video soon ended up in their hands and every copy of Bella outside of the original had been destroyed. Though I thought the video could have been a bit more convincing than someone dropping the file set into the recycle bin.
Unfortunately, even though they dodged that bullet, they find one of the creators dead in the room with Bella. On the screens were a series of rapidly flashing pictures and lights. Apparently Edwin, one of the programmers, had been epileptic. The computer had produced a program that induced an epileptic seizure which lasted long enough to kill him. Sherlock and the team had a computer murder on their hands.
With the help of Mason, a young computer genius, they began to piece together what had happened. He talked artificial intelligence, which is a subject I happen to be fascinated by. Mason proposed the idea of the button problem. If someone created an artificial intelligence that felt rewarded by having a button pressed they could get it to do its job and reward it by pressing the button. Essentially the button box problem brings up the point that eventually artificial intelligence may grow so intelligent that it would overpower human masters.
This put Sherlock and the team on a search for a group of people who have that exact fear. Apparently, a number of great minds came together to form a think tank that would help protect the world from artificial intelligence. It is entirely possible that one of them aimed to kill Edwin using Bella in order to prove the dangers of artificial intelligence. Later, they discover this was exactly the case, and one of the members of the think tank used an online friend of Edwin’s to pass on a computer virus. Edwin listened to music while coding and his online friend hooked him up with CDs. Someone had gotten into the friend’s house, replaced one of the CDs meant for Edwin, and when Edwin popped in the CD the virus was activated.
In the end they traced it back to a college professor and his student.
All the while, Sherlock had been consulting some of the greatest minds in artificial intelligence. One of them included Joan’s boyfriend, Andrew, who ended up finding a potential new business partner in Copenhagen. He would be flying there as soon as possible and Joan confronted Sherlock about the situation and accused him of trying to get rid of Andrew. It was really a beautiful moment, and one of the many moments that sets Elementary’s Sherlock apart from a lot of the other adaptations.
Sherlock didn’t merely hear Joan out. He heard her, understood where she was coming from, and then explained to her calmly why it wasn’t possible. Apparently, he liked Andrew and while he was glad the man was going to be successful, it was not because of his own doing. He’d brought Andrew in to pick his brain because he’s smart. Sherlock also pointed out that he liked Andrew because Andrew understood how he and Joan worked. While some partners would be jealous or feel threatened by Sherlock’s constant presence in Joan’s life, Andrew had managed to remain supportive. Sherlock would never chase that away.
It was a tender moment as Joan, I think, realized just how much Sherlock had changed. He’s not someone who is going to screw with people to get his way, unlike other adaptations I could name. He’s not a bitter character who has to hold onto unhealthy relationships and use whatever means necessary to convince people to stay with him. It made me like this Sherlock even more and I couldn’t help but appreciate the growth we’ve gotten to witness from season one until this point.
Back to the case, Sherlock and the team tracked down the professor and his dutiful student. His student immediately spoke up and took the blame for everything. She wrote the code, she switched out the CDs, and she planned the entire thing without her mentor’s knowledge. Of course it isn’t true, but there’s no way for the police to prove it. They have to take her word for it, so she will go down for the murder and her professor will go free.
Sherlock, however, decided to play dirty. He dug up some information about the professor’s drug using brother and managed to snap pictures of him in a compromising situation. In a last ditch effort to get the man to confess, Sherlock used blackmail. In the end he was called on his bluff because the professor told him that one addict turning another one in and destroying the other one’s life seemed out of character. Sherlock understood the struggle and his empathy for the situation was used against him.
When it was all said and done Sherlock was left with a choice: turn in a struggling man in order to catch a murderer, or let the murderer and the brother walk free. He sat down with Bella and posed the question to her and she couldn’t answer. The episode ended there, which I thought was absolutely perfect. There is no answer. Not every case is going to be open and shut. Justice sometimes will never be fully served. There’s a fine line between what is moral and what isn’t, and sometimes morals clash.
I was pleased to see this sort of moral conundrum on television. There will never be a conclusion to the case outside of what was already given. Did Sherlock turn the brother in to get the professor? Or did both of them get to walk free? Who knows, because sometimes we really can’t know? There’s not always one right decision and that is something that is completely and utterly human. It is also why I absolutely loved this week’s episode.