When I learnt that “Rip Off” was an episode without Joan, I was disappointed. It is understandable that the writers needed to build the plot so that Lucy Liu could spend some time behind the camera, but removing one of the show’s protagonists for a whole episode had me questioning how well it would hang together.
In reality, the episode does good work. With the introduction of Kitty this series, the secondary characters have fallen by the wayside, and Joan’s absence gives them some space to breathe. The writers also make the smart decision to build Joan’s absence into the plot, using it to inform the character development of both Sherlock and Kitty. The central mystery of “Rip Off”– an elaborate framing involving diamond smugglers, severed hands, and slang words – felt rather forced, and as though it had too many elements jostling for position. However, the episode still allows for some interesting character moments.
The character best served by being allowed more space is Gregson, who has only been on the fringes of the plots so far. His storyline here is, it must be said, far too abrupt; we have no real context for this sudden conflict. I admit that I had forgotten that Gregson even had a daughter, never mind that she was a cop, and her reintroduction – and the sensitive topic of domestic abuse – would have been much more successful had hints of it been woven into earlier episodes. That said, once the episode has cleared the hurdle of introducing all the facts, the story is a welcome one: it was about time we revisited Gregson’s, and Aidan Quinn finally has some material he can get is teeth into. Tying it back in with Kitty’s story, and the theme of victims being allowed agency over their own lives, works well, particularly in that it gives Kitty a drive and focus outside of her work with Sherlock. She takes control of a difficult situation, has an honest conversation with Gregson about the reality of being an abuse victim, and uses both her personal understanding and her developing skills to resolve things.
Kitty’s relationship with Sherlock is also given some more time, with Joan’s “Danish sabbatical / sexcapade” the touchstone for how things develop here. We learn that Sherlock has discovered Joan’s manuscript of “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes” (when did we last see Joan writing this? Bringing it up again feels very sudden), and that its existence has made him paranoid. Held within the document is, as he sees it, Joan’s judgement of him, and his fear of this leads him to make assumptions and demands of Kitty. His new protégé, however, is quick to stand up to him, recognising that his demands come from insecurity. There is a sense that Sherlock hasn’t quite figured Kitty out just yet; she takes matters into her own hands in ways he cannot predict (pouring her drink over the laptop, therefore destroying the document), and refuses to allow him to dictate the terms of their relationship because of unresolved issues he has with Joan.
By the episode’s end, Sherlock admits that Joan has the right to tell her own stories, a nice little aside to the canon, where Holmes often bemoaned Watson’s fanciful retellings, but nonetheless seemed happy to let him write and publish them. The theme of autonomy and of taking ownership of one’s past is a crucial one to Elementary, but so too is the importance of giving up control. Sherlock has had to learn to be wrong, has had to learn to accept others, and now he’s had to accept that he cannot control either Joan or Kitty’s opinions of him. The previous episode left Sherlock vulnerable, trying to choose between pursuing justice and harming an innocent person. By the end of this episode, he is opening himself up to a different vulnerability: he is opening himself up to judgement.
Elementary certainly works better with Joan, and she is sorely missed. Her absence permeates Sherlock and Kitty’s interactions, and it will be a welcome relief to have her back. However, despite a flat case and some awkward, abrupt pieces of storytelling, “Rip Off” does some excellent character work.
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.