Sherlock and Joan not only contend with a case of poisonous fungi, but also a noisy neighbor
This week’s Elementary begins with Sherlock in a straight jacket. No, he hasn’t been hospitalized because he keeps a turtle in his fridge, but rather he likes to use most people’s natural sleep time to push himself and try new things, like escaping from a straight jacket. Joan is less than impressed, mostly because she has to deal with the loud neighbors every night while Sherlock is… well, being Sherlock.
Elsewhere, Joseph Ballantine, professor and botanist, is hosting one of his famous “experience” parties. That means he’s serving some sort of weird mushroom tea that will get all his guests high. It seems harmless enough, if a little creepy, until everyone, including Ballantine, ends up convulsing and dead within minutes.
Things get progressively more hilarious from there; seriously, “A Study in Charlotte” is one of the funnier episodes in quite some time, despite all the murder and such. Anyway, Sherlock just shows up at the crime scene and sits in a corner, having heard about the crime over his police scanner. He’s nothing if not endlessly curious.
When he’s given two minutes to examine the scene, he notices that the mushrooms used in the tea are Blue Angels, a rare kind of mushroom that would certainly be hard to come by. Thus, he posits that whoever sold the mushrooms to Ballantine for his “experience” probably knew him and wanted to kill him.
But how? The toxicology reports suggest that the non-poisonous Blue Angels were infused with a poison from a different mushroom, which is why Ballantine hadn’t noticed any difference. That leads the detectives to question another professor, Mr. Harper, who wrote a few books with Ballantine on the subject of psychedelic drugs. Harper insists that he didn’t murder Ballantine though, that despite their issues, including a falling out over Ballantine’s dangerous theories, they were on amicable terms.
That leads the detectives to search Ballantine’s office, which is where Sherlock finds his stash of mushrooms stored in a safe in his couch. Attached to the bottle of Blue Angels is a note signed C.K. Looking around the office, Joan notices a paper by one of Ballantine’s students, Charlotte Konig, and assumes she must be the dealer, and therefore the prime murder suspect.
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It doesn’t take long to rule her out though. When they show up at her house to question her, Sherlock breaks in because he “smells mushrooms.” When they get into the basement they find Charlotte’s body, killed by something known as death cap poison, with mushrooms starting to grow on her body. It’s gross, but you already knew that.
Charlotte’s death changes things. As Sherlock suggests, perhaps she was the target, the poison-infused mushrooms given to her with no knowledge that she’d then share them with Ballantine. The fact that she has a tattoo on her back that says “R.A.C.H.E.,” apparently the German word for revenge, also suggests that she might have had some enemies.
NEXT: Tattoos and counterfeit pills
The lead suspect in Charlotte’s murder is actually a company, Zarachem, who Charlotte was suing for stealing her research that involved turning algae into bio-fuel. The representative for the company says they were going to win the suit, so there was no reason to kill Charlotte, but she can help them find labs in the area that would be able to synthesize death cap poison, perhaps revealing a lead of some sort.
Sherlock and Joan narrow down the list of labs and find one that Charlotte worked at. They question an employee there who had a relationship with her, but he says he’d lost contact with her and that he’d never hurt her. However, she had a new love interest, someone she was ready to settle down with, named Griffin.
After checking the files at the tattoo shop where Charlotte reportedly took Griffin to get their love confirmed in ink, the detectives find Griffin and question him. While he doesn’t give up anything on Charlotte, saying that she was prone to slipping into old drug habits and would often disappear for days at a time, Sherlock finds a drug lab in Griffin’s garage.
Back at the station, Griffin admits that he and Charlotte were making and selling counterfeit pills to treat erectile dysfunction. And yet, their finances hadn’t changed, forcing Griffin to speculate that perhaps Charlotte had gotten tough with her distributor for late payments and had then been killed.
That leads the detectives to an online pharmacy. The lead pharmacist admits to selling Charlotte’s counterfeit product, but says he was paying her, just not in cash. Instead, he was buying up real estate for her and paying the interest on the loans in exchange for more product.
As it turns out, Zarachem would need those properties to use as a loophole to expand their operation, meaning that Charlotte was going to get back at them by putting those properties in a trust and selling them to Zarachem for $15 million above their actual worth. When the company’s representative hands over a ton of files for the detective to look through though, they can’t find anything shady. No one even knew it was Charlotte who owned the properties.
That leads Joan back to Austin Harper, who she feels they didn’t look at closely enough. Maybe Charlotte wasn’t the real target; maybe they had dismissed Ballantine as the target too easily. When Sherlock looks at the book published by Harper, he notices that his initials are A.C.H. Then, he puts together that the tattoo on Charlotte’s back had two fresh letters, two letters darker than the others. Thus, her original tattoo wasn’t R.A.C.H.E., but rather A.C.H.
That gives the detective all they need to search Harper’s lab and dig into his background. He was actually legally married to Charlotte, having impulsively tied the knot when they were working with Ballantine. He tried for years to get a divorce. but she wouldn’t allow it — when she was about to get rich through the Zarachem property deal, she finally offered a clean break, and Harper wanted revenge for the years of her resisting. He synthesized the poison and killed her, while inadvertently killing Ballantine and his followers as well.
“A Study in Charlotte” is mostly a fun episode, even if it spends a lot of time on a dull subplot involving the brownstone next door to Sherlock and Joan. When not focusing on that, the episode delivers twisty, funny, engaging material, the type that Elementary excels at.