[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week, Elementary wrapped up one its best arcs in recent memory. The episode served as the ending of a chapter in the development of Kitty Winter, but the circumstances with which that chapter closed also brought about the ostensible end of her partnership with Sherlock. It was a sensitive culmination to Kitty’s very personal storyline that had been building since the season premiere, one that eventually grew to emphasize the series’ oft-referenced notion of recovery, or the importance of the physical and emotional salvage that stems from the very personal violation suffered by Kitty as well as Sherlock’s own struggles with addiction.
Occasionally, when a series is as successful in concluding a significant storyline as Elementary was with ‘The One That Got Away‘, the episode that immediately follows can feel a little out of whack. But thankfully, that’s no the case with ‘Hemlock’, which has the distinct advantage of fully resuming the partnership between Holmes and Watson that had been altered at the end of last season/beginning of season 3.
The effect, then, is a feeling more along the lines of everything picking up where it left off, rather than adjusting to completely new circumstances. Of course, Sherlock’s relationship with Joan wasn’t really altered that much by the eight months he spent in London working for MI6, nor was their professional break-up unable to be mended – the Holmes-Watson partnership was rekindled far earlier than Joan’s reaction to Sherlock in the premiere initially indicated.
But the partnership isn’t completely back to normal just yet. After all, Joan still has her own apartment and an understandable need for space from Sherlock. And with Kitty out of pocket for the foreseeable future, Sherlock has been left to his own devices; which, as the scenes that open the episode demonstrate, means the world’s greatest detective is lacking an outlet for all his energy. Between spicing up a ménage a trois with a detailed discussion of the Black Dahlia murder investigation and examining the cases particulars further in a foreign language with an uninterested chess partner, the show makes a rather overt case for getting Joan back into the brownstone.
Curiously, though, it also inadvertently comments on Elementary‘s use of a murder as the driving element of every episode. One of the women in Sherlock’s company asks, “Can we do something besides talk about murder?” Which seems like a viable question. Still, despite including what is assumed to be an unintentional observation of its own routine, ‘Hemlock’ pushes forth with not one, but two murders a single television hour (well, to be fair the episode does leave the question of Andrew living or dying up to next week’s storyline, but it doesn’t look great for Joan’s beau).
For what it’s worth, the episode’s primary investigation begins as a missing persons case, which initially seems promising, and only later develops into a full-blown murder investigation. It’s mostly routine procedural stuff, but there are some nice character moments to be had, like Sherlock’s unlawful acquisition of an oil painting and the demonstration of Clyde’s artistic skills. As usual, these small character moments go a long way in making the usual back and forth of the classic whodunit formula feel more unique and, surprisingly, driven by character, even though in an episode like this, such elements usually come in much smaller doses.
Nevertheless, while Sherlock and Joan are busying themselves with solving the murder of Steven Horowitz, there is an ongoing discussion of how Joan’s relationship with Andrew is advancing past the stage she’s interested in.
An evening out to dinner with Andrew’s father, Santhosh Paek (Brian George), seems to seal the deal, as it were, when Joan comes to realize that her boyfriend’s intentions are far more serious than hers. This feels like an ancillary subplot, something to bring Joan’s character back to a more prominent position now that Kitty is gone. And although there are echoes of last season’s less-than-effective pairing of Joan and Mycroft – which seemed to undermine a great deal of the character’s agency – the twist at the end, in which Andrew appears to fall victim to a poisoning, effectively puts Joan back in the spotlight. It’s just unfortunate that it comes as the result of another romantic entanglement gone awry, especially since Joan’s story at the beginning of the season came so close to delivering a strong thread driven by her independence.
Stranger yet, ‘Hemlock’, the episode’s title, doesn’t actually come into play until the final moments (and even then, it’s only confirmed by the promo for next week’s installment). There’s nothing wrong with the move per se; in fact, it’s kind of an interesting one on the show’s part, as it demonstrates how Elementary is continually dropping more and more serialized elements into its storylines. Clearly, the next episode will deliver on the matter at hand – i.e., Andrew’s life hanging in the balance – which ostensibly makes ‘Hemlock’ the first part of a multi-episode storyline.
That kind of connection from one episode to the next feels rare for the average procedural. At the same time, though, it displays how the series is evolving into an atypical procedural – something that strives to put the personal lives of its characters before the crime of the week. So far, it seems to be working. But we’ll have to wait and see if putting the lives of the characters directly into the crime-of-the-week works as well, especially so soon after the series hit an emotional home run with the conclusion of Kitty’s story.
Elementary continues next Thursday with ‘The Female of the Species’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: