I have a confession, I found this episode a bit lackluster and indicative of a problem I’ve been having with the show for much of the season; mainly, Joan Watson has become more of a device for the male characters to work out their man-pain.
Gareth Lestrade is still hanging around the brownstone. He’s that friend who just needs to crash on your couch for a “few days” and stays for months, eating your food and clogging your DVR. He’s had several job offers, but is waffling on accepting one of them. He’s also in a turf war with Romulus (or is it Remus) over furniture. I think the rooster is a metaphorical stand-in for Holmes, who is handling Lestrade’s presence as if he’s an annoying spectre (the opening scene has him ignoring Lestrade in favor of defusing a fake bomb.) Lestrade, for his part, is trying to elicit sympathy from Watson and is generally acting like a sad sack. I also think Sean Pertwee is playing Lestrade like he has a crush on Watson, which makes his ploy to “steal” Watson away from Holmes a little more pathetic.
The case is an odd one. A man named Gordon Cushing is an infamous murder suspect. His wife, Sarah, disappeared and the media and general public assumed he had killed her, though her body was never found and he was never charged. Mrs. Cushing was a party girl and the marriage was on the rocks. Cushing arrived home to find a box containing severed ears that DNA tests concluded came from his wife. There was also a ransom note. So, there’s proof that she is alive, which is good for Cushing, since he had claimed that he received a ransom demand before. Instead of going to the police, he claims he paid the ransom, but the “kidnappers” didn’t free his wife. Now it looks like he’s exonerated.
As the pair are talking about the case with Gregson and Bell, Watson gets a call from Lestrade saying he’s been locked out of the brownstone. Holmes is derisive of course, but when Watson shows up, she finds out Lestrade had been mugged. She also notices that he’s been drinking, which is a HUGE no-no while living with a recovering addict. Lestrade tries to excuse his actions, saying that he got so used to his success with Sherlock, he forgot how to be a detective and now he’s been abandoned in favor of Watson. He warns her that she could end up with a similar fate. God, Lestrade sounds like a friend-zoned, “Nice Guy.” In order to get Lestrade out of the brownstone, Watson gets the case files for other muggings in the area and tells Lestrade to find his mugger to prove he’s still a good detective and then accept a job and move out by the weekend. Yes!
Cushing is making a ransom drop on a subway platform while being monitored by Gregson and the NYPD. A man in sunglasses picks up the case, tells Cushing he’ll contact him later and then jumps down onto the tracks. Cushing pursues despite Gregson’s orders and when he catches up with Cushing, he finds that he has killed the other man when he wouldn’t say where his wife was located. Smart.
An examination of the body and personal belongings revealed that the ransom collector most likely lived on Long Island and was a recovering addict or alcoholic. Holmes also concluded he was not the mastermind of the plot, just an errand boy. Holmes and Watson head out to AA meetings in the area, but Holmes finds questioning addicts distasteful as it is meant to be anonymous. However, the trip does prove fruitful as Holmes spots Sarah Cushing, alive and well, albeit with some plastic surgery to hide her identity. Mrs. Cushing (or Allison Drake now.) She fled because she feared for her life and never reached out to police because she feared retribution. She now has a new life; she got sober and married a doctor. He’s a plastic surgeon, which is convenient. The man Cushing killed also attended the meetings and recognized Sarah. He began blackmailing her.
What about the DNA match for the severed ears? Sarah tells Holmes and Watson that the brush found in her old apartment wasn’t hers and that Gordon was having an affair at the time. The ears must belong to the other woman. Well, that seems plausible (not really.) Cushing says he was seeing an escort when his marriage fell apart and the brush could have belonged to her. He only had her first name, Kendra and the contact info for her agency. After he gained notoriety, Kendra disappeared. So the ears must belong to her, meaning she was killed after she disappeared. Also sounds plausible (also not really.) This is confirmed later when Bell finds out Kendra died in a car accident some years earlier and was cremated.
For his part, Lestrade is pursuing his mugger and contacts the other victims. One of them has video of the mugging, but it shows nothing until one of the other victims mentions the presence of a yellow bicycle chained to a tree. That same yellow bicycle is in the video. He finds the mugger and goes to confront him, finding his wallet. After knocking the guy out, Lestrade notices a feather, one that looks like it came from Romulus (or Remus.) Lestrade concludes that Holmes was going behind Watson’s back, trying to manipulate him in order to make him leave faster. He doctored the files so that Lestrade called him and disguised his voice (and the “Previously On” segment at the beginning show reminds us that he’s good at it.) Ironically, that strategy worked as Lestrade thinks he was able to sniff out Holmes’ plot. He’s accepted a position with the Irish National Police. He gives Holmes one last chance to come clean, but Holmes continues to deny everything. When Watson asks for the truth after Lestrade leaves, he continues to demur. The ambiguity would have been better served had they not included Holmes’ voice disguising in the beginning.
As far as the case goes, Cushing’s marriage to a plastic surgeon was helpful. He was somehow able to GROW a pair of ears on Sarah’s back. That is why there was a DNA match. Her husband is known for this kind of work. Seems implausible, but I’m not sure about the actual science of this. So the woman everyone thought was murdered is going to jail for blackmail.
Finally, we find see Holmes trying to defuse another bomb, but instead of spraying him with water or paint, it will actually explode. Watson continues making a salad and when Holmes asks, if she’s staying, she tells him that she trusts him.
Which brings me to something that has been bugging me most of the season: Watson went from a dynamic character with her own storyline to a passive player who is there to help Sherlock through his man-pain. I know that it does the story good to focus on Holmes’ past and motivations, but Watson’s own character and story has been sidelined in favor of Sherlock’s. She’s been nothing more than a sounding board for many episodes. Granted, there may be something ahead later in the season or in season three that will take Watson in a new direction. I hope that’s the case because Lucy Liu is way too talented to be a bit player and is equal to Jonny Lee Miller’s acting prowess.