This week’s episode was unsettling, and in more ways than one. The first was the case itself.
For once, it isn’t all about the mystery. In fact, we find out whodunnit before the opening sequence even rolls. Six years after a man named Lucas Bundsch murdered her sister, Aly, Samantha Waubash kills herself and frames him for it. Sherlock quickly rules the death as a suicide, and exonerates Bundsch, but then later realizes that while he wasn’t responsible for Samantha’s death, he is responsible for Aly’s, and likely more. The rest of the episode is spent playing cat-and-mouse with Bundsch, who taunts Sherlock and Joan by visiting the brownstone, issuing veiled threats, pushing Sherlock’s buttons, and giving them a runaround.
A few things that seem a little odd about this case was the fact that it takes pretty much the whole episode for Sherlock and Joan to start wondering where Bundsch was keeping the women he abducted, and that Bundsch decides to kidnap another woman so soon after realizing the police have their eyes on him.
It’s stated near the beginning that many of Bundsch’s victims were kept alive for weeks, or even months before he murdered them, and I immediately thought he must have access to a secure, inconspicuous hidey-hole, where he could easily get them food and monitor them. The easiest way to prove Bundsch was the killer would be to find where he was keeping the women, but no one thinks to follow that angle until nearly the end of the episode.
And then, for some weird reason, Bundsch conveniently abducts another woman, alerting Sherlock and Joan that he has to be keeping them somewhere, and prompting them to finally start digging into all the properties he owns and catching him. The writers try to sell Bundsch’s illogical decision as a one made to continue goading Sherlock and further get under his skin, but if Bundsch is really as smart, cool, and calculating as he seems to be, you would think he would wait for the heat from the police to die down a bit before grabbing another woman.
In any case, Bundsch is brilliantly written and played, and makes a pretty good foil for Sherlock. His eerie and utter calm through all of his and Sherlock’s exchanges is highlighted by Sherlock’s anger and almost manic desperation to catch him, and the fact that he is able to goad Sherlock into punching him (giving him the opportunity to slap a restraining order against the two consulting detectives and hamper the investigation), points to a skill level of emotional manipulation that Sherlock seems to be determined to prove he doesn’t have, particularly in this episode.
Intertwined with the case is the issue which Joan and Sherlock are arguing over. While investigating Bundsch, Sherlock makes it a point to belittle and aggravate Detective Coventry, who had previously worked on the Aly Waubash case and dismissed Bundsch as a suspect. Joan also reveals that she found drawings of herself and Sherlock urinating on a NY police badge. Clearly not everyone on the force is enamored with them, which makes sense, as Sherlock’s temper has certainly given them no reason to be.
Joan suggests that Sherlock try to be more polite and respectful towards people other than her, Detective Bell, and Captain Gregson, pointing out that getting people mad at him often creates more problems than it solves, especially when he needs their help with a case or is trying to gather evidence about them. The episode tackles one of the root problems with all incarnations of the character of Sherlock Holmes: the trope of , the ‘Lone, Insufferable Genius’.
More than once, Bell has wondered how Joan puts up with Sherlock’s aggravating, arrogant behavior, and the show, through its characters, often excuses it because Sherlock is so incredibly smart and, paraphrasing Captain Gregson, “he closes cases faster than anyone else on the force.” But being a genius certainly should not give Sherlock license to be disrespectful to anyone.
When confronted by Joan about it at the end of the episode, he claims he is “not a nice man,” and even uses the word “cruel” to describe himself. This was the other disturbing thing. Usually, when Joan and Sherlock argue, it’s a real, explosive row, an outpouring of emotions and frustration, followed later by a tender moment where they apologize to each other and share quiet moment of understanding. What we get at the end of this episode is nothing like their normal arguments. It’s a statement of two points of view that are irreconcilable, a drawing of two separate lines in the sand that will lead to an eventual breakdown of Joan and Sherlock’s partnership, and there is no making up afterwards. The episode ends with them on very unstable ground.
Sherlock says he doesn’t want to be a part of the “cult of Nice,” which argues that “nice” people want to avoid offending others so much that they end up not contributing to the discussion at hand, not moving the group towards a solution, and even worse, creating obstacles for people who do want to get things done. He values catching the killer more than any individual’s feelings and includes Joan, Detective Bell, and Captain Gregson in his “zone of courtesy” because they are ‘exceptions’ to the rule that everyone is a moron.
That is something I think Joan, with her experiences as a doctor and as a sober companion, fundamentally disagrees with. As a doctor, she would have treated anyone who came into the hospital needing help, no matter how they treated her or what she thought of them as a person. As a sober companion, she would have done her very best to help her clients transition back into as normal a life as possible, not judge them for their past addictions. And as Sherlock’s partner, I don’t think she will be able to continue living with him if he is going to continue treating everyone but a select few people like they’re worthless. Her argument isn’t that Sherlock should expend more energy “playing nice” with everyone, softening his words, and sparing people’s feelings. Her argument is that everyone deserves to be treated like a human being. She’s not asking that Sherlock like everyone. She’s asking him to respect them.
In the long run, the trope of the “Lone, Insufferable Genius” is not sustainable. No one is going to care that you are ridiculously smart if you think your intelligence makes you better than everyone else. Eventually, the lone genius is going to end up actually alone, and for Sherlock, who just last week admitted that the “structure” of New York is what’s been helping him stay away from drugs, that means his support will be gone, and he’ll have no one but his ego and his personal demons to keep him company. And from what we’ve seen of Sherlock’s demons, that would be a disaster.