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"Dead Man's Switch"

Season 1, Episode 20

Dead Man's Switch 2
Air Date 25 April, 2013
Writer Christopher Silber (story & teleplay)
Liz Friedman (teleplay)
Director Larry Teng
Viewers 10.07 million (U.S.)[1]
Previous "Snow Angels"
Next "A Landmark Story"
"Dead Man's Switch" is the twentieth episode of season one of Elementary. It first aired on CBS on 25 April, 2013.

Summary

Joan and Sherlock attempt to catch Charles Augustus Milverton, a blackmailer who has been shaking down the families of rape victims, threatening to make videos of the assault public if they don't pay up. While discreetly searching Milverton's house for clues, Sherlock witnesses a masked man break in and shoot the blackmailer dead. Unfortunately, Milverton had a fail-safe in place - an accomplice tasked with making all of the blackmail material public should anything ever happen to him. If Sherlock and Joan want to prevent the sexual assault videos from going public online, they'll have to figure out who the accomplice is before he gets wind of Milverton's untimely death. Meanwhile, Alfredo attempts to get Sherlock to celebrate his first full year of sobriety with an AA chip, something Holmes is against.

Plot

Part One

Watson comes downstairs to see Holmes touching up a tattoo on his left biceps. She remarks that she had no idea he owned a needle, much less that several of his tats were etched by his own hand. She mentions that his next group support meeting will mark the one-year anniversary of his sobriety, and he will be receiving a commemoration chip from Alfredo. Holmes says he has no intention of accepting it, since he regards the chip as a meaningless gesture that is not worth his time. Moreover, he wonders aloud why Watson cares, since she is no longer his sober companion.

They are interrupted by a call from Alfredo himself, who says a friend needs their help. A short time later, Holmes and Watson ring the doorbell of an upscale New York home, hearing the sounds of cello playing from inside. A shy teenage girl, Eva, answers the door. Holmes notices her instrument set aside and, being a violinist himself, compliments her on her technique.

In the living room, Alfredo introduces them to his own sponsor, Ken Whitman. Whitman explains that, two years ago, Eva used a false I.D. to gain entry into a Manhattan nightclub, where she was drugged by a man named Brent Garvey, who took her back to his apartment and raped her. Courageously, Eva told her parents and the police, and helped identify Garvey when he was arrested. Garvey's indictment provoked two of his other victims to speak out, and Garvey pleaded guilty in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.

Eva's recovery was a slow process; for a while, she cut off contact with her friends, stopped practicing her cello, and even attempted suicide. With the help of a therapist, she gradually got better, and Ken was hopeful that she'd be ready to attend college next year. But a few months ago, Ken received a DVD and an anonymous note in the mail, with a video recording of Eva's rape by Garvey. Watson reads the note aloud: the writer orders Whitman to transfer $10,000 to a numbered account, or else the video will be released on the Internet; furthermore, the note warns Whitman not to call the police or try to identify the blackmailer, who has a "fail-safe" in place: an accomplice who will release the video for him if the blackmailer is arrested or harmed.

Ken was so worried for his daughter's mental health that he paid, without telling Eva or his wife, but a few weeks later, a second demand came. Ken paid that as well, but then a third arrived a few days ago. Ken almost relapsed back to using drugs, and, because his own sponsor was out of town, reached out to Alfredo, who told them about Holmes and Watson.

Holmes solemnly returns the DVD and the note to its envelope, confiding that, in a way, he considers blackmailers even more despicable criminals than murderers. He pledges that he and Watson will find the blackmailer and his accomplice, and destroy every copy of the video.

A short time later, Holmes and Watson are parked on a street corner, watching the home of Charles Augustus Milverton, who Holmes's tech expert in London traced the account number to. Watson is surprised that it was so easy to track Milverton down, and Holmes says the blackmailer must be very confident in the protection afforded by his "fail-safe." Seeing Milverton leave his house, Holmes fits a Bluetooth into his ear and says he will enter the home and see if he can identify Milverton's accomplice, so they can destroy their stores of incriminating material simultaneously.

After picking the lock, Holmes enters Milverton's home and wrinkles his nose at encountering the man's cat. He sees a laptop on the dining room table and opens it, finding videos of not only Eva Whitman, but also Brent Garvey's two other teenage victims, plus numerous other videos, photographs, and sound recordings. Holmes distastefully reports that Milverton appears to be a "professional" blackmailer, with dozens of targets.

Watching from the car, Watson sees Milverton round the corner, and warns Sherlock that he's coming back. Sherlock closes the laptop and heads for the back door, only to see someone else coming in that way. Caught between the two, Holmes quickly ducks into Milverton's bathroom and shuts the door. Holmes prepares to wait as he watches Milverton open a beer and sit down at the table, petting his cat and opening his laptop. But he doesn't have to wait long: hearing the sound of a gun being cocked, Milverton spins around, and barely has time to say, "please..." before he is shot three times. The shooter, a man in a mask, then slings Milverton's corpse over his shoulder and takes the laptop and escapes.

Part Two

Holmes enters the precinct just as Captain Gregson is about to leave for the night. Holmes hands him the DVD, and asks Gregson to meet him in the conference room after watching it.

Gregson stalks into the conference room, demanding to know why Holmes would ask him to watch a teenage girl being raped. Holmes says it is important for Gregson to understand what is at stake, before Holmes asks his advice. Holmes has a tricky problem, and he respects Gregson's counsel: hypothetically, the parents of that unfortunate girl were being blackmailed, along with many others; hypothetically, Holmes identified the blackmailer and entered his home that night; and hypothetically, Holmes witnessed the man's murder. Holmes knows that the law requires him to report the crime, but in this case, there would be consequences - "the hypothetical blackmailer had a hypothetical accomplice" who will release the damaging materials as soon as he learns of his partner's death. If, however, they can keep the murder a secret for the time being, Holmes may have enough time to find the accomplice first. Gregson chews on that for a few moments, and asks, suppose the killer and the accomplice are the same person? Holmes says that would actually be the most convenient scenario, allowing them to thwart a blackmailer and catch a murderer at once.

Gregson continues to mull, and Holmes, pressing the nerve ever so slightly, asks, "you have daughters, do you not, Captain?"

Holmes returns to The Brownstone and reports to Watson that he has bought them the leeway they need. She confirms that there are no reports of Milverton's death on the police scanner. She has also been examining the papers that Holmes removed from Milverton's home, and most of them are useless, but there is a ledger, reporting the payoffs from his various victims.

Watson asks if Holmes could offer any clues as to the killer's identity. Holmes says no, only the man's approximate height and build; he was wearing a mask, and the scents of cat urine and cat litter in Milverton's home obscured any other useful clues. Holmes says it is more than likely that the killer was one of Milverton's victims, though Gregson's speculation that it was the accomplice is equally possible. Watson is curious why, if the killer was a victim, he wouldn't be worried about Milverton's fail-safe. Holmes says the victim may well have solved whatever compromising situation Milverton was taking advantage of. Unfortunately, several other persons have good cause to be worried about the fail-safe, foremost among them Ken Whitman and the parents of Brent Garvey's two other victims. Holmes says their next step is to interview Garvey, who may be Milverton's accomplice, or at least be able to tell them who is. Watson is disbelieving, but Holmes points out that even a prison inmate can gain access to a smartphone or a computer, which is all Milverton's accomplice would need.

The next morning, Holmes and Watson are admitted to the prison hospital, where Brent Garvey is laid up with a broken leg and several nasty bruises on his face. Holmes cheerfully says it is quite heartening to see it's "not just a rumor" that child molesters are frequently victimized by their fellow inmates. Garvey asks what they want, and Holmes says they are there to ask about Charles Milverton - who, they just confirmed with the warden, visited Garvey a month ago. Garvey says he doesn't know what they are talking about, and Holmes leans in, whispering that he has one of Garvey's "rape tapes" and is seriously considering sharing its contents with Garvey's fellow inmates. They might get angry enough to visit Garvey in his sick bed, while he is asleep.

Watson takes over, saying they know Garvey gave his recordings to Milverton, and all they want to know is if Garvey has access to anything else. Garvey surprises them by saying he is not Milverton's accomplice, but he knows about the fail-safe because Milverton was blackmailing him as well. Garvey didn't give his videos to Milverton, he had them in a storage unit, but couldn't make the payments after he was arrested. Milverton bought the contents at auction, and threatened to release them before Garvey's next parole hearing. Garvey swears that he is not the blackmailer's accomplice, just another one of his victims.

Part Three

At the Brownstone, Holmes and Watson compare notes, and Holmes confirms that Garvey's story checks out: after Milverton's visit, Garvey sent a series of emails to his parents, begging for loans, which coincide with the dates of payments in Milverton's ledger. Watson asks whether it is their duty to tell the parole board about the recordings before Garvey's next hearing, and Holmes says that is a side issue, and besides, the decision should rest with the parents of Garvey's victims.

For now, their focus is finding Milverton's accomplice. As to that, Holmes says he may have found a clue in Milverton's ledger, which shows regular payments, equal to 10% of Milverton's monthly take, to a person named in the ledger only as "HENRY8".

Alfredo, who has been keeping watch on Milverton's home, texts them to say someone knocked on Milverton's door. When they meet him in Staten Island, Alfredo confesses that he tried to follow the man, but lost him in traffic. Alfredo can only give a general description - tall, middle-aged, heavyset, wearing a suit and cowboy boots - the odd thing is, Alfredo is sure he has seen him before somewhere. Holmes says that should be easy to resolve, using hypnotic regression techniques. In the absence of a sensory deprivation tank, Holmes pops the trunk of Alfredo's car and invites him to climb inside. Fortunately for Alfredo, his description of the man ticked something in Watson's memory, and she shows him her smartphone, playing a late-night TV commercial advertising the services of attorney Duke "The Sheriff" Landers.

Holmes and Watson confront Landers at his office, but the interview is unsatisfactory at first. Landers claims not to know any Charles Milverton, denies being at his home that morning, and adds that, even if Milverton was his client, Landers would be legally prohibited from discussing any of his particulars. Holmes decides to move the interview along by taking Landers's law school diploma down from the wall and smashing the glass open. Removing the diploma, he quickly points out that the paper stock is of an inferior grade, and the signatures of the dean and board president are forgeries. Holmes offers to apply the same examination to Landers's certificate from the Unified Court System, followed by a call to the System itself, to check if Landers is actually a licensed attorney. Landers quickly admits to knowing Charles Milverton, but the man is not his client, rather the reverse is true: a few years ago, Landers defended Milverton on a DWI charge, and Milverton said he could make good use of any sensitive information about Landers's other clients. Landers admits to this much, but swears he is not Milverton's "fail-safe", that is someone else. Holmes demands everything in Landers's files relating to Milverton.

That evening, Watson has finished reviewing her share of Landers's files, and says she is no closer to finding Milverton's accomplice. When she comes downstairs, she is surprised to see Holmes playing quarters with a set of sobriety chips. He says he ordered a set online, wanting to see what all the fuss was about.

Holmes says he may have a lead: in the course of their acquaintance, Milverton referred one, and only one, client to Duke Landers: a morbidly obese man named Abraham Zelner, who sued an airline for removing him from a flight. In that context, the code name "HENRY8" becomes highly suggestive - Milverton's private joke on Zelner's weight, calling to mind the fattest monarch in British history.

They are interrupted by a call from Gregson, who has bad news: the police arrested a man trying to dump a corpse at a construction site; the man admitted to the killing, claiming he did it because he was being blackmailed, and "some hypothetical bells went off" in Gregson's head. The corpse has already been identified as Milverton's. Holmes asks, hoping against hope, that the killer also confessed to being Milverton's accomplice. Gregson says no, the man's name is Anthony Pistone, the father of Karen Pistone, one of Brent Garvey's other victims. Pistone's lawyer is already spinning his story to the media, which means the news of Milverton's death is out, and there is nothing Gregson or Holmes can do about it.

Part Four

In the interrogation room, Anthony Pistone tells a story much like Ken Whitman's: his daughter's rape by Garvey, Milverton's first blackmail demand, then the second, and so on. Gregson asks how Pistone tracked Milverton down, and Pistone explains that he made his last payment to Milverton in cash, claiming to have borrowed it from a shady acquaintance and that he couldn't deposit it in a bank. Pistone left the cash in an envelope under a park bench, then watched Milverton retrieve it and followed him home. A few days later, Pistone broke into Milverton's house and killed him.

Gregson asks about Milverton's laptop, and Pistone says he smashed it and threw it in a dumpster. Gregson also mentions some post-mortem damage to Milverton's face, and Pistone confesses that he snapped when he was caught at the construction site, and hallucinated that Milverton's dead face was "looking back at me... laughing at me."

Holmes has watched the interrogation from behind the glass, and, when Gregson emerges, cheerlessly confirms that Pistone is the same height and build as the killer Holmes saw. Gregson says its hard not to sympathize with Pistone, and Holmes angrily says Pistone is an idiot - by killing Milverton without first eliminating his fail-safe, Pistone has put all of Milverton's victims at risk, including his own daughter. Gregson says they may disagree with his actions, but they can still sympathize with his motives, and likely the District Attorney will as well - if Pistone "plays his cards right," he will likely be charged with simple manslaughter, and serve only a few years in prison.

Detective Bell approaches Holmes with more bad news: the home address in Duke Landers's files for "Abraham Zelner" was a butcher shop in Chinatown, and there is no record of the man in the DMV or NCIC databases, meaning the name is likely a fake. Holmes takes a call on his cell from Watson, asking her how the evening can possibly get any worse. Watson says she isn't sure if this is good news or bad news, but Alfredo is at the Brownstone to tell them that Ken Whitman just received a new blackmail demand - from Charles Milverton.

At the Brownstone, Holmes examines the email message, containing a fresh demand to transfer money to a numbered account. Holmes says the answer is simple: HENRY8, whoever he is, has decided to use Milverton's compromising materials to "take over the business" rather than fulfill his role as Milverton's fail-safe. Holmes surprises Alfredo by saying this is the best possible news under the circumstances: as long as HENRY8 prefers to continue squeezing Milverton's victims, their secrets are safe, at least for the moment.

Since they still have time to find HENRY8, Holmes declares that he is going to reexamine Duke Landers's files: Abraham Zelner may be a pseudonym, but Holmes is still convinced that the obese man Landers represented is HENRY8.

Holmes thanks Alfredo for his assistance, then starts to prepare tea for the long night ahead. Alfredo follows him into the kitchen and asks if Holmes is still coming to the sobriety meeting the next day. Holmes says no, and the reason is simple, even if he didn't confess it to Watson before: most recovering addicts see their sobriety chips as cause for celebration, as if they had achieved something; to Holmes, however, it is just a painful reminder of the sorry state he was in a year ago, and his original "failure" by becoming addicted in the first place. It is nothing he wants to remind himself of.

Alfredo, normally patient, becomes angry himself, telling Holmes that the point of the anniversary meeting is not about Holmes, it is about the other addicts in the group. Holmes, and other addicts who make it a year without using, serve as examples to addicts who still have a ways to go, and those examples are badly needed. With that, Alfredo leaves.

The next morning, Watson is woken suddenly by the sight of Holmes sitting opposite her. Excitedly, he tells her he thinks he has discovered HENRY8's true identity. According to Landers's files, "Abraham Zelner"'s lawsuit against the airline had all the earmarks of a classic "nuisance" suit: after filing, "Zelner" immediately accepted the airline's first, low-ball settlement offer and abandoned the suit, probably because he knew his false identity would not stand up to scrutiny. This led to Holmes wondering if "Zelner" had done this before, and he looked up similar lawsuits on the East Coast, by obese men alleging discrimination and resulting in quick, "go-away payoffs." Holmes compiled a list of plaintiffs, whose names all match the same pattern: a single man chose a first name beginning with A, and moving forwards, and a last name beginning with Z, and working backwards. But one name did not match the pattern, a man named Stuart Bloom, even though news photos proved that he is the same man as one of the "pattern" plaintiffs Watson understands what Holmes is getting at: the man code-named HENRY8 used his real name to file his first lawsuit. Triumphantly, Holmes produces a DMV record, showing that Stuart Bloom, unlike the fictitious Abraham Zelner, has a real home address.

When no one answers the door to Bloom's home in Staten Island, Holmes and Watson enter, noticing that all the blinds have been drawn, and there is cat litter spread all over the floor, but no sign of a cat. Entering deeper into the house, they start to cough, and Holmes grimly surmises that the cat litter was put down to absorb odors, rather than for cats. By the time they reach the bathroom, they are both covering their mouths and noses, when they find Bloom's putrefying corpse lying in the bathtub.

Part Five

While the crime scene techs photograph the scene, Holmes "introduces" Gregson to Bloom, a.k.a. HENRY8. He also directs Gregson's attention to a boot-shaped bruise on Bloom's chest, where his killer, most likely Charles Milverton, forced him underwater. Gregson, surprised, asks why Anthony Pistone wouldn't be the killer, since he had the same motive. Holmes and Watson point out that the boot print is a match for Milverton, but too small for Pistone, plus the cat litter is the same brand in Milverton's home. Holmes guesses that, after Bloom was dead, his body was too large to move, so Milverton spread "a decade's worth of cat litter" around the house to obscure the smell of his decay.

Gregson asks why Milverton would kill his own accomplice, and Watson can only guess that Bloom demanded a bigger cut of the operation. For Holmes, though, the more pressing question is this: Bloom has been dead for at least a week, so who is the new "HENRY8" who has taken over Milverton's business?

That evening, Holmes is seated in front of the fire, staring at the bare wall. Watson asks where his "evidence wall" is, and Holmes irritably says he took it down, put it up, then took it down again. There is simply nowhere for his mind to go without new data. Watson starts to excuse herself, saying she will go over her share of the files again before going to bed, when Holmes makes a surprising confession.

The true reason he refuses to accept his sobriety chip is that it would not mark his first full year of sobriety, it would mark his 364th day of sobriety. The day he was admitted to Hendale, he had accepted that he needed rehabilitation, but his addiction was so acute that he broke out of the facility, found a dealer, and "used" before returning. He has been sober for exactly one day less than everyone has been led to believe. Holmes says he knows what Watson will say, that a single day shouldn't be such a big deal, but to Holmes, as she well knows, the small details make all the difference. Moreover, he wasn't lying to Alfredo when he said he was ashamed: his last day of addiction was proof that that addiction was stronger than his rational mind, and his ability to control himself. Watson points out that losing control for one day doesn't change the fact that he kept it for the next 364. Holmes nods in acceptance, and further preempts Watson's advice that he share all this with Alfredo, and says he will do so, when he feels ready.

Holmes's tablet beeps, and he picks it up, only to drop it in disgust: the coroner has emailed Milverton's autopsy report, which Holmes would consider new data, except that Holmes was on the scene when the man was shot. But Watson picks up the laptop and remarks on an odd detail: from his and Gregson's description, she'd assumed that Pistone went berserk and stomped all over Milverton's face, but the bruises and abrasions are only on the left side of his head.

The next morning, Pistone (with a tracking bracelet on his ankle) and his attorney are waiting in Gregson's office when Holmes and Watson enter. Holmes "congratulates" Pistone on making bail, then mock-apologizes, because he's about to screw up Pistone's future plans. When Holmes saw Milverton, moments before he was shot, Holmes noticed a series of cross-shaped scars on the left side of his head, which were effaced by Pistone's stomping, almost as if Pistone was targeting them.

The police have confirmed that, six months ago, Milverton was admitted to the emergency room, claiming he had been assaulted by a mugger. Photos from the hospital show fresh bruises and abrasions on Milverton's face, from a man wearing a cross-shaped ring - identical to the one Pistone wears. The police have also asked around Pistone's neighborhood, and learned that Karen is actually Pistone's stepdaughter, not his biological daughter, and the two are not on the best of terms.

Holmes theorizes that Pistone, contrary to what he told the police, actually identified Milverton as his blackmailer six months ago, and attacked him on the street. Milverton, desperate to save his own life, offered to make Pistone his new partner in the blackmail scheme, and Pistone accepted. Since Milverton was unwilling to pay two partners, he eliminated Stuart Bloom. Later, Pistone, not willing to settle for a 50% cut, killed Milverton to take over the business. When he was found at the construction site, he stomped on Milverton's face in a deliberate effort to obscure the scars from his ring.

Pistone's attorney demands proof, and Gregson produces Milverton's laptop in an evidence bag - the same laptop that Pistone claimed he smashed and threw in a dumpster. With the aid of a search warrant, the police just found it in the office of Pistone's contracting business, inside the desk of his brother - who has already confessed to being the accomplice who sent Ken Whitman the fresh blackmail demand while Pistone was in jail.

Holmes says that, while the district attorney, the media, and the public at large were sure to sympathize with a blackmail victim turning the tables on his blackmailer to protect his daughter, they are less likely to sympathize with a cold-blooded killer turning on his own accomplice for the sake of greed. Pistone is silent.

While Alfredo is setting up chairs at the rehab center, Holmes appears, saying he is not attending that night's meeting, but would like a few minutes with Alfredo in private.

That evening, Holmes is touching up his tattoos again, when Watson comes over and asks how things went with Alfredo. Holmes admits that he told Alfredo the truth, that it was "liberating", as Watson predicted, and Holmes is lucky to have Alfredo as his sponsor. Despite this, he still has no interest in accepting a sobriety chip. Watson looks at the clock, sees it is midnight, and congratulates Holmes on his "real" anniversary. Even if he won't accept a chip, she has a commemorative present for him: a small framed passage from Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening": "I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep."

Notes

This episode is based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. Executive producer Robert Doherty said: "We took the original ending and made that our teaser. Sherlock is hired to recover some blackmail material, infiltrate Milverton's home and is present when somebody else breaks in behind him and kills Milverton." This leaves Sherlock in "a bit of a bind in that if he reports the murder [and] comes forward as a witness, Milverton's accomplice will realise his partner is dead and will release all of the blackmail materials into the world. And yet, it is wrong to not step forward and tell the police you've seen somebody killed. We liked that quandary for Sherlock".[2]

Cast

Regular

Guest stars

Allusions

Season One navigation

Season One
#01 Pilot#09 You Do It To Yourself#17 Possibility Two
#02 While You Were Sleeping#10 The Leviathan#18 Déjà Vu All Over Again
#03 Child Predator#11 Dirty Laundry#19 Snow Angels
#04 The Rat Race#12 M.#20 Dead Man's Switch
#05 Lesser Evils#13 The Red Team#21 A Landmark Story
#06 Flight Risk#14 The Deductionist#22 Risk Management
#07 One Way to Get Off#15 A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs#23 The Woman
#08 The Long Fuse#16 Details#24 Heroine

References

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