Science fiction and Sherlock Holmes are things that have kept my interest since childhood. So the current situation – with two recent movies and two current television programs focused on the Great Detective – has been enjoyable. While most of the attention has focused on Sherlock (the BBC adaptation that drops three episodes every couple of years), the American program Elementary has prompted me to post. Not about the methods of this modern-day Holmes and Watson, but of the motivations of the criminals they seek.
In the second season, currently running on the CBS network, there have been four episodes (so far) involving science or technology. I am not talking about the use of science and technology as devices to advance the plot (or to kill in new ways). They happen most every episode. But four times this season crimes were committed over stakes dependent on science or math. While the following list is technically spoilers, there is no disclosure of who did what
In “Solve For X” a possible solution to the mathematical challenge of P versus NP (worth at least $1 million to whomever can develop a solid proof) drove the crimes involved.
In “Tremors” a case discussed during the episode focused on a woman who was participating in a clinical trial.
In “Dead Clade Walking” the crimes revolve around a museum and the discovery of a fossil that could strengthen a theory about how organisms did (or rather didn’t) survive mass extinctions. Brian Switek at Laelaps offers a helpful history of the title phrase, even if he throws cold water on the plausibility of it as a motivation for murder.
In “Hound of the Cancer Cells” a scientist is conducting research on a device that was supposed to be able to detect cancer via breath. If that wasn’t enough to qualify for this list, the scientist’s research is subject to a fraud claim by an anonymous whistleblower. I suspect, but have not been able to confirm, that the recent case of Clare Francis inspired that part of the story.
In it’s first season, there weren’t any epsiodes of Elementary that used science and/or technology as motivation (rather than mechanism) for crime. Whether season two is an aberration or part of a shift in focus is unclear. Though there will be plenty of data coming to test that question. The show has been renewed for a third season, and there are six episodes left in season two.