In the original stories, Sherlock Holmes often dealt with some odd cases: “The Speckled Band” comes to mind, as well as the most bizarre of all, “The Creeping Man” (the first rule of “The Creeping Man” is do not talk about “The Creeping Man”). Elementary has often steered away from the stranger side of Sherlock Holmes’s caseload, but it seems to embrace that side of the canon a little more in “Bella”.
The show does seem to move back into its usual territory when the creator of the AI programme “Bella” is found murdered. Gregson and Bell arrive to do some of their usual investigative work, there are suspects to be questioned, motives to be considered, and for a long while the premise of the discovery of real artificial intelligence seems to fall by the wayside. The actual conclusion of the episode, however, is much more interesting: the professor who believes that the rise of artificial intelligence will make way for the apocalypse is just as strange as milk-drinking snakes. However, what is really interesting about “Bella”, and what raises it above a lot of the cases that Elementary deals with, is that it doesn’t resolve everything. The episode never tells us whether Bella is real artificial intelligence. It doesn’t answer all the questions the case poses. And it doesn’t tell us what Sherlock ultimately decides to do.
“Bella” is concerned with Sherlock and his humanity. It’s a little too on the nose at times in comparing Sherlock directly with Bella, but the way it plays out through Sherlock’s characterisation across the episode is satisfying. After being pulled into Sherlock’s network of experts, Joan’s boyfriend Andrew begins talking with another of these experts and they decide to go into business together – in Denmark. Joan believes that Sherlock deliberately orchestrated this to get what he wants – in this case, Joan refocusing her time and resources on him – and that this is another example of Sherlock’s lack of concern for other human beings. It’s a reasonable conclusion considering what we know of Sherlock, and so he must convince her that this is not the case and that he is, in fact, capable of more human thoughts and feelings.
Sherlock’s humanity and concern for others is questioned in two ways in this episode. Firstly in his relationship with Joan (who, he admits to Bella, is one of only three people he has ever loved) and whether he is manipulating people with no consideration for her feelings. Secondly, in his compassion for a fellow addict he has never met. Convinced that Isaac Pike is the perpetrator of the murder, Sherlock tries to blackmail him by threatening his drug addict brother. Sherlock Holmes is famous for despising blackmail above all other crimes, and Pike calls his bluff. He doesn’t believe that Sherlock is so heartless as to turn in a fellow addict. He believes, in short, that Sherlock Holmes is human.
The episode, then, remains unresolved. The murder has been solved, after a fashion; somebody has confessed, and both Sherlock and the audience strongly suspect who ‘really’ did it. However, we don’t know what Sherlock ultimately decided to do. Sherlock Holmes wants answers, and he wants justice, and he doesn’t like uncertainties. Sherlock Holmes is also a human being with a capacity for love and caring. We close the episode with Sherlock alone, ruminating over his thoughts with Bella, trying to choose between letting a murderer go free and causing harm to an innocent person. There is a vulnerability to him in this scene; all his certainty has been stripped away. He’s proven to Joan and Kitty that he is capable of empathy and care, but now those very qualities are hampering his sense of justice. The question posed at the end of “Bella”, then, is which will win out.
Fran is a longtime fangirl with a degree in Film and Literature. She works in publishing and is trying to learn to knit, make digital art, and how to cram as many books as possible into one inadequate bookcase.