Saturday, March 1, 2014

ELEMENTARY: "The One Percent Solution" and the Symbolic Cocks

It's finally happened. Let it be known that in Season 2, episode 16 entitled "The One Percent Solution," Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) are talking birds and bees together. 

Okay, so the bees are just the ones Sherlock keeps on the roof and the birds are a pair of angry roosters he's rescued from a cockfighting ring. But still, all the cock talk was exciting.

Sure, at first glance, the cocks just seem like a comic bit -- as Joan sidesteps saying "the c word" and Sherlock humorously sets one outside Watson's door as a living alarm clock.

But on a deeper level, those cocks are symbolic.

They serve to mirror the antagonistic relationship that developed between Sherlock and the returning Gareth Lestrade (Sean Pertwee) in the season 2 premiere episode, "Step Nine."

You see, Lestrade has left London and set up shop as a consulting detective in Sherlock's NYC arena. And contrary to Sherlock's prediction that Lestrade would fail without his assistance, Lestrade appears to be thriving. So much so that he's successful enough to afford a helicopter to transport him a mere eight blocks.

To top things off, Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) informs Sherlock and Watson that they must give Lestrade full access to the investigation.

Within the first three minutes, this episode has been primed to stage a territorial cockfight between Sherlock and Lestrade. The audience expects the pair to engage in a race for clues and access to witnesses, even the withholding of evidence.

Thankfully this trope does not unfold -- at least on Sherlock's end. Although Lestrade throws down a challenge for the pair to match wits, Sherlock doesn't pick up the gauntlet. Instead, Watson and Sherlock willingly share leads with Lestrade and give him advanced notice when they intend to interview Lestrade's employer as part of the investigation.

Sherlock's playing a different game, curtailing his normally acerbic sarcasm and manipulating Lestrade into cooperating with their investigation just when it appears Lestrade may have some involvement in the crime.

However, the crime and its investigation are secondary to the symbolic cocks. This episode is really about whether or not Lestrade can be weaned from putting his own wealth and personal glory ahead of all else and stealing credit for Sherlock's work. 

This theme is mirrored in Sherlock's attempts to wean his roosters from their aggressive tendencies. But just how important are those cocks to the telling of this story?

As an experiment, watch the episode again, but fast forward through any moment that includes cock talk.

You'll find that Sherlock doesn't seem quite like himself throughout much of the episode. He doesn't lash out over being forced to cooperate with with an inferior investigator who has the audacity to refer to himself as a "security czar." He bites his tongue rather than stinging Lestrade with his acidic wit, even though Lestrade gives him ample opportunity. He even seemingly steps aside to give Lestrade the opportunity to involve himself in the investigation.

True, Sherlock briefly fixates on Lestrade's success and we see him baking Yorkshire Puddings (something he only does when he needs to calm down), but there are none of the extreme outbursts we're used to seeing from Sherlock when he's incensed by another's incompetence and idiocy -- both of which Lestrade exhibits throughout the story.

Without the presence of the symbolic cocks to put Sherlock's actions into context, he appears to take a back seat in the first half of the story. He's almost passive. 

Sherlock steps back when Lestrade takes over a witness interview. It's Watson, not Sherlock, who takes the initiative to steal Lestrade's phone. He offers no objection when Lestrade has him and Watson thrown out of another interview. 

Without the symbolism that the roosters add, Sherlock's reactions and behaviors in regards to Lestrade would've been entirely frustrating to watch.

Instead, the idea of reconditioning the aggressive roosters give a new, albeit subtle, meaning to Sherlock's actions. Just as he's reconditioning the cocks, he's reconditioning the cocky Lestrade, too.

In the end, he succeeds in both endeavors. The formerly-aggressive cocks can now live together harmoniously, and the recognition-obsessed Lestrade willingly and publicly gives Sherlock credit for his work instead of accepting the glory all for himself.

Thankfully, the writers felt no need to include a heavy-handed scene for Sherlock to spell out his intentions to recondition Lestrade. That plot arc was simply there, serving to balance the story whether viewers noticed the work it was doing or not.

Therein lies the beauty of this show. Along with the intriguing, atypical relationships and the unexpected plot twists, there's the brilliant story construction.

Elementary respects the intelligence of its audience.

Let's hope these qualities continue next week in episode 17, "Ears to You."

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