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'Elementary' recap: Rise of the machines

Season 3 | Episode 4 | “Bella” | Aired Nov 20, 2014

On this week’s Elementary, Sherlock comes face-to-face with a self-aware (maybe?) computer framed for murder in a plot to postpone the inevitable robot apocalypse.

But first, we learn that Holmes and Watson have entered into a joint custody agreement for their pet turtle Clyde, who spends the weekends with Sherlock before heading home to Joan for weekdays.

I admit, I’ve wondered about Clyde’s status since the season 3 premiere and it’s nice to have that question answered, especially considering how few answers we get during this week’s episode.

A man named Edwin Borstein (Orange Is the New Black‘s Michael Chernus) believes he has created an artificially intelligent computer program, which is nicknamed Bella and personified by a somewhat (read: very) creepy doll. He enlists Sherlock’s help in tracking down a man who broke into the lab and copied Bella’s program.

Sherlock is skeptical of Bella’s intelligence but is so vexed by its answers to his questions (particularly “Is love real?”) that he takes the case for free out of a desire to prove that the computer’s brain is nothing more than preprogrammed ones and zeros.

He rounds up a gang of experts (including Joan’s new boyfriend, Andrew from 6D) to figure out how to best Bella, while leaving the nitty-gritty of catching the burglar to Joan and Kitty.

To keep things short, they find the burglar and eradicate the pilfered copy of Bella’s program.

Case solved, right?

Wrong. As they go to tell Edwin the good news, they find him dead on the floor, the result of an epileptic seizure brought on by flashing images on Bella’s computer screens. A program error wouldn’t have caused that, and Edwin’s partner swears that she was the only other person with access to the program. That just leaves Bella, who may have seen her creator as a threat and killed him.

“Bella was, at the very least, displaying signs of actual intelligence,” the programmer says. “It’s possible that she deduced that the one variable keeping her from getting what she wanted was the person operating her.”

Note the use of the word “deduce” in that statement. No so unlike our favorite misanthropic detective, no?

Sherlock doesn’t buy it, but he confiscates the Bella computer and has a college student named Mason look through the coding. There’s no evidence of a computer virus or tampering, so Mason borrows a monologue from The Terminator (“a prescient movie in a lot of ways”) and asks Bella point-blank if it killed Edwin Borstein.

“No,” it says.

Well, okay then.

But if the doll ex machina didn’t murder Edwin, then it was framed. And who would want to frame a computer for a murder? Well, how about Isaac Pike, the foremost voice of warning about the end of the human race at the hands of our highly evolved machine overlords?

Edwin may have been a whiz at computers, but he was dumb enough to upload the contents of a death metal CD (“Death” metal. Get it? Rim shot!) onto Bella’s computer. The CD came from a friend—but not before being intercepted by one of Pike’s students, who slipped the seizure slide show between the tracks of cacophonous music.

Obviously, it was Pike’s plan to create the appearance of a sentient, murderous computer, thus creating the smoking gun needed to draw attention to the pending robo-pocalpyse. But his student, Erin, falls on her sword by confessing and taking full blame for the crime in order to protect her mentor. “His work is too important,” she says. “None of us can afford to interrupt it.”

Holmes isn’t fooled, and attempts to blackmail Pike into confessing by threatening to expose the drug crimes of Pike’s younger brother.

But Pike calls his bluff. He did some research on his own and learned that Holmes spent time in rehab. Unlikely then, he figures, that a recovering addict would send another troubled soul to prison.

“You might want the world to believe that you’re an automaton, a calculating machine,” Pike says. “You and I know better.”

Holmes returns home, seemingly at a dead end and once again interrogating Bella. He presents the problem of the Edwin Bersein murder to the computer and asks whether he should allow a killer to go free. Bella’s oft-repeated response of confusion is the last we hear for this week’s episode.

“I don’t understand the question,” she says. “Can I have more information?”

Is Bella the sentient harbinger of human extinction? Does Isaac Pike face justice for his crime? We don’t know. And since the plot synopsis of next week’s episode has nothing to do with computers, robot dolls,or artificial intelligence, we may never know.

Stray thoughts:

  • I could spend a whole post talking about the brilliant way this episode presented Holmes and Bella as mirror images of each other: he the human who acts like a machine, and Bella the machine that acts like a human.
  • This week was catnip for Holmes-Watson shippers, with Sherlock saying that he loved Watson “to a fashion” and a kitchen monologue about how important they are to each other. “My return to New York was driven, in large part, by a desire to repair our relationship,” he tells Joan. “And I think even though we might draw further or nearer to each other, depending on circumstance, you and I are bound somehow.”
  • Andrew earns the approval of Sherlock, and how about that high praise? “His comments were quite salient,” Sherlock says. “He is not an unintelligent man.” Sherlock swears he didn’t have a hand in shipping Andrew off to Denmark on a new business venture, but I have my doubts.

Elementary airs Thursdays at 10/9C on CBS.