Recap: Elementary, “The Eternity Injection” (3×09)

The combination of the monotony of life and its ceaseless demands upon us has the potential to wear almost anyone down. Crushing debts, debilitating illness, the responsibility to care for loved ones, and the view of a future made up of much of the same can erode at hope until it’s a kernel too small to see, and our dreams disappear along with it. As Joan pointed out, a broken hip often marks the beginning of the end for elderly people, not because of medical complications but because they lose the will to keep going into a future bereft of independence and mobility. The ceaseless drip, drip, drip of an eternity of small struggles and indignities hurts too much to bear.

And yet, many people still cling to that life, taking wild risks to prolong it in hopes that more time may paradoxically be the answer to its insufferable rigors. Purgatorium, the name of the shell corporation formed to fund the production of the time dilating drug EZM, is an apt one. EZM doesn’t extend life, but only the perception of it. It’s a virtual prolonging, and it’s unsurprising that the slightest miscalculation in dosage has the ability to drive someone mad.

Elementary is at its best when the case of the week and the characters internal lives have a sense of thematic unity, and “The Eternity Injection” manages an elegant synthesis of the purpose of EZM and what Sherlock calls his temporary malaise. Elementary‘s writers have been carefully progressing Sherlock’s growing introspection and search for meaning in life this season, and while he still has unwavering confidence in his intellectual prowess, everything else is in flux. Sherlock’s been missing meetings, and Joan, not without compassion, believes it to an aftereffect of the violation of anonymity he suffered. Yet in reality, it’s something much more horrifying: the banality of the future.

Sherlock’s self-searching has forced him to confront a paradox that he’s unable to reconcile: his commitment to his sobriety demands that he embrace the repetitiveness, the relentlessness, the tediousness of maintaining it every day even as all Sherlock thrives upon is in direct opposition to that sort of deliberate monotony. “My sobriety is simply a grind,” he says, a leaky faucet that requires constant attention yet only yields a reward of not dripping. Can the baseline of normality be considered a reward? Certainly not for Sherlock. Now even failure has lost its spectacular luster: “I used to imagine that a relapse would be the climax to some grand drama. Now I think that if I were to use drugs again, it would in fact be an anti-climax. It would be a surrender to the incessant drip, drip, drip.” To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.

Typing the worlds of Sherlock’s devastating monologue does it no justice, nor does it come anywhere close to capturing Jonny Lee Miller’s weary, desolate delivery. The stark emptiness of a life in purgatory ahead is reflected in his half-downcast eyes and thousand-yard stare, his quivering frown, his slow collapse into a chair. Miller is spectacular, and although it’s fully Sherlock’s scene, Lucy Liu’s quiet dismay and bewilderment as she takes in Sherlock’s misery is a perfect match. Elementary‘s actors don’t get the recognition they’re due, as a scene like this one so deftly proves. Any hope Sherlock has of winning his grapple with life’s redundancy will come from the emotional connections he’s forged with Joan, with Kitty, even with his sponsor Alfredo. After all, when Sherlock agrees to return to meetings, it’s out of respect for Alfredo. Grounding his motivation in personal human connections rather than the utility of the act itself is a better motivator for Sherlock now, definitive proof of how much he’s grown.

The case of the week, where two murdered people turn out to be connected by a mysterious unknown chemical, is no slouch itself. It unfolds like a techno-medical thriller, where the steady race against time to find a living subject lends the more typical investigative beats a sense of horror-film style urgency. As for the people involved in the illegal EZM trial, those who knew them laud their personalities and actions in the most benevolent terms. Joan knew murdered nurse Marissa as a “sweet” woman, murdered subject Chris’ wife describes him as a “kind” and “good” man, and surviving subject Louis got into financial trouble paying for his mother’s cancer treatments. These fundamentally admirable individuals were driven to participate in something they knew was not on the up-and-up by the indignities of their lives – debt, a lost job, medical expenses. As Louis tells Captain Gregson and Detective Bell, good people are capable of living with shady if they’re desperate enough. Shady may get them out of purgatory, but in this case, shady got them killed when everything went wrong.

Even Dr. Dwyer Kirke (played by The Wire and The Walking Dead alum Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), the brilliant neurochemist who devised the drug, is at heart a good man. He goes into hiding to evade the police, but remains devoted to the elderly aunt who raised him at the expense of getting caught. Dr. Kirke implore the NYPD to be careful with his research, and steadfastly refuses to reveal the source of his funding. The source turns out not to be a sterile, faceless corporation, but the chipper, ailing old philanthropist Jack Connaughton, who funded Dr. Kirke’s education, and is now dying. Jack, now at the end the tunnel rather than staring down its seemingly endless length, now is terrified by the opposite of purgatory; he’s terrified by his lack of time, and wants more, in perception if not in reality. His ruthlessness in eliminating the drug trial’s “loose ends” is the one overly simplistic note in an otherwise stellar episode.

The episode’s chilling final scene is a masterful stroke: Jack lies in bed, unconscious as his eyeballs flutter back and forth frenetically under his eyelids, having taken the imperfect EZM in an effort to live out the rest of his life in his mind rather than in police custody. As Joan and Sherlock stand over him, watching as the drug presumably eats away as his brain and sanity, Sherlock refuses Joan’s offer to move back in by assuring her that his existential crisis will pass. “I’ll will be fine,” he says. But sobriety has dilated time for him and Sherlock, hater of imprecision, never defines what fine is.

Odds and Ends

– I don’t mean to give the impression that all the wonderful existential angst crowded out the humor – it didn’t. In particular, Joan and Sherlock’s backseat lock-picking of Kitty was an amusingly parental moment that would never happen elsewhere in the world.

– Sherlock, having just learned how to play the bugle in an hour to rouse Joan, who is sleeping on the couch: “Cold feet on the warm deck, Watson. It’s a wonderful morning to be preoccupied by the meaninglessness of existence.”

– Alfredo returns to encourage Sherlock to return to meetings, but barring that, to provide him with a seemingly impossible problem to fix: a gratingly annoying, undefeatable talking car alarm. Alfredo understands the power of distraction.

– In order to get Everyone (Elementary‘s version of Anonymous) to help with the case, Sherlock has to write and publicly read a treatise on why Twilight‘s Bella should have ended up with Jacob and not Edward. His notes on the love triangle are predictably thorough and academic.

– Background things about this episode were fantastic: the way that a railing divided Sherlock and Joan as they descended a staircase in the park, the use of slightly slower version of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major as Sherlock delivers his crushing monologue. When Elementary is good, it’s good.