My Favorite Scene: 'Elementary' Boss Reveals the Pivotal Moment in Season 1 That Changed Everything
By Philiana Ng
No one loves a great scene more than the person who first dreamed it up: the writer. That’s why we’re asking shows' creators and writers to tell ET all about getting to see their most cherished moment on their series make it from script to screen.
Creating another version of the beloved crime-solving duo, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, is no small task. Rob Doherty, executive producer and showrunner of CBS’ Elementary, felt the weight of such an assignment in 2012, when he put a modern twist on the pair, making Watson -- primarily a male character -- a woman, Joan, played brilliantly by Lucy Liu. Early on, Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) -- a recovering addict -- and Joan’s relationship was on unequal footing, the latter hired to be a sober companion. That would change midway through the first season.
In the show’s 12th episode, “M.,” a mysterious foe from Sherlock’s London past -- revealed to be Sebastian Moran (guest star Vinnie Jones), a loyal lieutenant of Moriarty -- begins to consume him as Sherlock vows to exact revenge, believing “M” murdered his true love, Irene Adler. With Joan’s tenure as Sherlock’s sober companion coming to an end, he chooses not to deal with the forthcoming change. As Elementary celebrates its 100th episode on Sunday, Doherty looks back at a quiet moment between Sherlock and Joan from the episode that became the detective drama’s most pivotal.
At the midpoint of our first season, “M” appears in New York and Sherlock begins to pursue him, but it happens around the same time Joan’s time as his sober companion is coming to an end. He’s preoccupied with the hunt for “M” and seemingly not tuned into the fact that their time together is coming to a close. Over the course of the episode, however, you learn that it’s something he has very quietly been dreading.
When we see him early, he is looking forward to the freedom that he’ll have again. But Joan, who’s a professional, is checking all the boxes that a sober companion does as they wrap up a service assignment. She takes the time to talk to Sherlock in a morgue as he’s examining a body, saying, “I’m going to miss this.” She clarifies that she won’t miss this exactly, but this, meaning the partnership and the work they’ve done together -- and that what he does it amazing. He doesn’t give much of a response – it’s just something he clocks and absorbs before he resumes his work.
Sherlock discovers that “M,” aka Moran, isn’t the one who killed Irene. It’s that revelation that saves him from doing something he can’t undo, and his decision to keep Moran alive so he can learn vital intel on Moriarty tears him apart.
At the end of the episode, Sherlock is as shaken as we’ve ever seen him. He had committed to this plan to do away with “M” and relieve himself of a ton of psychological baggage. He was carrying a lot of guilt over what happened to Irene and carrying a lot of shame for the spiral he went into after she died. Joan happens to catch him in this vulnerable moment where he shares some of this with her, and there’s this lovely, quiet moment in Gregson’s office. After a beat, he echoes what she said to him in the morgue: “I’m going to miss this, not this, but this. I think what you do is amazing.”
To that point, he had mostly mocked her work and the profession in general. He thought she was a glorified babysitter, when in fact, he had gotten a lot out of it.
Joan stands as she crosses the room, sits next to him and puts her hand on his. The first time I saw it in the editing bay, I was surprised how moved I was, considering I knew all the words, I knew all the dialogue. I had played that scene in my head, and yet, I didn’t have it in me to imagine everything Jonny and Lucy would bring to it. It was something I really got to enjoy as a fan. Every little element in that scene, in my humble estimation, is perfect. I was grateful to Jonny and Lucy and John [Polson], the director, for showing me what the show could do at its very best.
We were just 12 episodes into this experiment. We were still trying to get to know each other and the characters. I had a strong sense of what Jonny and Lucy could do as Holmes and Watson, but it was early. Looking back, there were small things: Jonny looked crumpled and utterly defeated -- everything about his physicality in the scene suggested broken glass. The moment in which Lucy crosses the room to sit with him and rests a hand on his, that came from the actors. [There was] something about closing that gap [that] helped make that scene -- literally closing that space between them and seeing a literal connection made it very powerful.
It was a tipping point for the two of them. It’s the point where we made the turn from companionship into partnership. Nothing was official for having played that moment out, but Sherlock was forced to acknowledge Joan in a way he hadn’t before. It gave us a new trajectory heading into the second half of that season. We had built that relationship up to this point, and now we could show our Holmes and Watson becoming the partners that they are meant to be. They’re in this together now.