[This is a review of Elementary season 2, episode 17. There will be SPOILERS.]

After last week’s double entendre-laden episode, which brought Gareth Lestrade (Sean Pertwee) back with somewhat middling results, Elementary takes another swing at the character’s reemergence in the U.S. by focusing on his supposedly short-term living arrangement with Holmes and Watson. This time around, Lestrade’s presence isn’t directly tied to the plot of the episode’s central investigation, allowing the show a chance to handle each narrative element separately, rather than trying to do both at the same time. The result, then, is a much-improved storyline that gleefully wallows in its cringe-inducing title.

Splitting up the investigation and Lestrade’s 19-day stay as a guest in their home offers Sherlock and Joan more opportunities to be of service to the narrative, without the writers feeling compelled to tack on extraneous backstory or give one the short end of the stick. Unlike last week, which all but forgot Joan is an interesting character with something to offer, ‘Ears to You,’ grants her a chance to spend some time with Lestrade, where the circumstances aren’t so contentious. Doing so not only occupies Joan for much of the episode, it also demonstrates how differently she and Lestrade view their time with Sherlock, and, more importantly, how Sherlock views their contributions to the world of investigation. As was made clear all the way back in the season premiere, Lestrade saw Sherlock as a way to fast track his career, and a chance to propel him into the spotlight. For Joan, Holmes is something far more valuable: he is her partner and, to an increasingly lesser degree, her teacher.

These distinctions speak volumes about Gareth and Joan’s current situations: one is slowly drifting toward rock bottom, while the other is on a precipitous rise to the top of the investigating world. After the former Scotland Yard investigator lost his job at the end of ‘The One Percent Solution,’ his time has apparently been spent watching football matches in Sherlock’s den, sneaking nips of scotch in the backyard, and generally attempting to avoid making a decision on where life will take him next.

For his part, Sherlock claims he’s only too happy to stand back and allow Lestrade to hit rock bottom; it’s the best thing for him, apparently. And so, Holmes spends much of the episode diffusing increasingly dangerous “practice” bombs, while investigating the disappearance of Sarah Cushing (Cara Buono), who had gone missing four years prior, leaving her husband Gordon to be ostensibly convicted in the court of public opinion for the unsolved crime. It turns out, her disappearance was little more than a clever ruse for money, which then turns incredibly bizarre once Sherlock deduces the titular bloody ears used in the latest ransom demand were actually grown on Sarah’s back with the aid of her new husband (a plastic surgeon).

The outlandishness of the central investigation actually works to give the Lestrade thread more weight – deliberately shifting the focus from a harebrained and gaudy crime, to something with clear emotional value and resonance. ‘Ears to You’ winds up being a more satisfying episode than last week’s, but it also comes away being a mulligan for Lestrade, and a mulligan for Elementary‘s handling of Lestrade.

Elementary continues next Thursday with ‘The Hound of the Cancer Cells’ @10pm on CBS.