Holmes and Watson not only have to deal with Sherlock's father and his shady deals, but also a potential case of brainwashing
You’d be excused for expecting the return of Morland Holmes to cause a lot of chaos. After all, Sherlock’s father has always been a dark cloud looming in the distance, so to expect rain when he rolls into town is totally understandable. But as we learn at the start of “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” Morland may not be bringing bad news or shady deals. Rather, he tells Sherlock that if he and Watson would like to be reinstated as consultants with the NYPD, he can make it happen.
Of course, Sherlock is hesitant because every deal with his father comes with some sort of hidden agenda. But maybe this time is different, as Morland expresses pride in his son and the operation he’s set up with Watson. Plus, he has great gratitude for Watson. “She saved my son’s life,” he says in a moment of vulnerability.
With that in the back of Sherlock’s mind, he seems poised to sit around and contemplate his next move. That is, until Watson comes to him with a new case for the FBI, what she’s calling a “trial run” of sorts with Agent Gary Burke. If they can prove themselves to be useful, perhaps they can join the FBI on more cases in the future. Either way, it’s work, and that’s what they do best.
And boy do they have quite the case to solve. The episode’s open sees a man going through an experiment ripped straight from A Clockwork Orange. While undergoing the experiment, the scientists doing the research are murdered, each shot point-blank. A number of hard drives are stolen along with the security footage, meaning there are very few leads in the case.
In order to figure out where to start, Holmes and Watson need to determine just what was stolen. It turns out that the experiment was part of a test for an algorithm that could potentially sway people’s thoughts and emotions. Or as Sherlock plainly calls it, brainwashing.
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While Holmes determines that the killer must have known the researchers, as it looks like they were invited into the room, he isn’t exactly pleased with how the FBI is treating their insights. He doesn’t like how little room they have to explore leads with the FBI refusing to let them off a tight leash. That’s hindering their investigation, or as Holmes puts it, “a murder investigation is not a three-legged race.”
Back at the brownstone Sherlock tells Watson about the deal his father has offered. He tells her all about how the deal is too good to be true but wants to ultimately make a decision as a team. Is it best for them to go back to the NYPD and hope Morland doesn’t ask for a favor in the future or to forge their own new path?
It’s a tough question, especially when your mind is occupied with tracking down a brainwashing algorithm that may have fallen into the hands of a Chinese spy. Dr. Zheng is the initial suspect, a man who worked closely with the team but could be a spy for the Chinese. As Holmes points out, the Chinese would be threatened by such a brainwashing technology but also potentially have their own use for it.
NEXT: Whatever makes you happy
While Holmes and Watson eventually find the apartment that Zheng was renting and a few clues as to his whereabouts, it’s all for naught because he turns himself in. He proclaims that he’s innocent and that the media frenzy surrounding him is ridiculous.
When Holmes then finds one of the stolen laptops in the garbage at Zheng’s apartment, which Zheng’s lawyer says could have been planted there considering his face and name have been all over the news, he takes it upon himself to make copies of all of the researcher’s files.
When poring over them, he sees that the algorithm was in fact a failure and that the researchers were looking to pull their funding. That’s right: No brainwashing was happening at all. Thus, Sherlock concludes, Zheng might be a spy, but he ultimately would have lost interest in the algorithm and reported back to China that there was nothing to worry about. That means he doesn’t have a motive to murder the researchers.
So who does? The next realistic suspect is Maurice Antonov, a man whom one of the researchers divorced just six months earlier. Perhaps he covered up the true motive of the murder by stealing the research? When Holmes and Watson visit him, though, it’s clear he’s harmless, if a little excited to try and overthrow the American government and return it to a feudal state. But hey, no brainwashing at least!
The question for Holmes and Watson then becomes this: Who would most benefit from murdering three scientists and stealing research that wasn’t even proving to be useful? That question leads them to the researcher’s patron, Samuel Meher, the DARPA leader funding the project. But that doesn’t make much sense either, as it’s clearly a PR disaster for DARPA and, specifically, Meher.
That leads Holmes and Watson to question Alta Von See, the next in line for the head position at DARPA. The murder and PR scandal would cause Meher to lose his job, leaving it wide open for Von See to take. But how could she kill three people in the professional way the researchers were murdered? Did she have an accomplice?
It turns out, she kind of did, but that accomplice isn’t a person. Rather, she used a sonic-pressure shield that the lab was working on, a device that sends out sonic pulses and affects the breathing of anyone it’s directed at. The technology was being developed to deal with protesters, but as Holmes notes, it could be used to debilitate three people, therefore making it easier to shoot them.
That’s flimsy evidence, but thankfully a rat (seriously!) saves the day. While there’s no way to prove that the sonic pressure shield affected the victims, it is possible to prove that a dead lab rat in the same room was affected. Add to that the fact that rubber found on the baseboards of the closet where the shield is stored matches with the rubber on the bottom of Von See’s cane, and you have a cold-blooded scientist murderer.
NEXT: Morland makes his presence felt
With that taken care of, all that’s left is for Holmes and Watson to decide what to do about Morland and his NYPD offer. Holmes decides that he wants to accept his father’s help, not because he buys into the idea that he needs it to keep his recovery on track, but rather that working for the NYPD will make him happy.
It would be a touching, vulnerable moment to end on, but Elementary isn’t ready to do that. Instead, Watson remains unsure about the deal and asks for more time to think. Sherlock thinks nothing of it, but it’s clear she’s hesitant for a reason. At the end of the episode she goes to see Morland and reveals what she’s dug up on him. Namely, that he sold his mansion for $3 million under the market value to the head of a super PAC that has significant influence over the DA. Or, to put it more plainly, he bribed the DA to get the criminal charges against Sherlock dropped.
That’s an interesting wrench to throw into the story, especially considering it looked like the notion of the criminal charges was firmly in the past. But here’s Morland, stirring things up like he tends to do, even if his intentions seem good. As things change for Watson and Holmes, it’s clear that this transition period isn’t going to be smooth.