[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 16. There will be SPOILERS.]
The exploration of Sherlock’s continuing recovery from substance abuse has afforded Elementary many of its best episodes. And in ‘For All You Know,’ the series combines that tried and true examination of the series’ co-lead with the element that drives each and every storyline: the investigation of a murder. This time, though, the investigation is a little different, as Sherlock becomes the primary suspect in the 2011 killing of Maria Gutierrez. But rather than become a race to prove Sherlock’s innocence, the episode approaches the crime from a different perspective: that of Sherlock racing to discover whether or not he could actually have been capable of the crime in question.
The doubt cast early on affects Sherlock throughout the entire episode, allowing the narrative to evolve past the typical procedural elements, into a more intimate investigation of the man Sherlock fears becoming once more. That man, at one point, is illustrated by a blurry photograph pinned above the fireplace, instead of the case files and suspect photographs that typically litter the space during any given episode. The focus on the out-of-focus image of his former self offers intriguing insight into how Sherlock perceives his addictions – and certainly, how he manages to distinguish his sober self from the drug-addled one from just a few years ago.
That distinction underlines the struggle at the center of the episode’s primary question: Was Sherlock such a different person on drugs that he would be capable of committing a murder? Furthermore, was the grip that narcotics had on Sherlock so great that not only could he be driven to kill another person, but that he would retain absolutely no recollection of the crime whatsoever?
These are intriguing questions that the episode aims to answer by offering two opposing viewpoints of Sherlock from individuals with the rare opportunity to actually get to know the man. On one hand, there’s Joan, arguably the one person who knows Sherlock better than anyone else on the planet. And on the other hand, there’s Oscar (Michael Weston), another addict who, unlike Sherlock, is still in the throws of addiction.
Naturally, Joan is of the opinion that, no matter what kind of untoward behavior narcotics might have led Sherlock to, his innate goodness would not allow him to commit murder. Meanwhile, Oscar is firmly in the camp that, considering the things he’d seen and experienced firsthand – like waking up to a paranoid Sherlock holding a knife to his throat – and being in possession of a bag of bloody clothing that he assumes belongs to the detective, there’s little doubt as to who is responsible for the death of Maria. The opposing viewpoints make an interesting conundrum, as Joan’s belief that her partner is incapable of being a killer holds about as much water as the incomplete picture Oscar paints of the time in question.
What makes it compelling, though, is the way ‘For All You Know’ pinpoints Sherlock’s doubts in a way that raises the stakes for the story beyond the question of his guilt or innocence. Sherlock is in full penitent mode throughout the episode, taking a savage beating from the decedent’s brother before offering the same man another opportunity to inflict physical harm, in exchange for some information. His willingness to suffer leads to a conversation between Sherlock and Joan about his level of self-pity – a talk that Sherlock then turns into a pointed examination of the man in the blurry photograph.
The threat of what that man represents is the specter hanging over the entire episode – and, to be honest, the series itself. While the investigation into Maria’s death eventually uncovers the person responsible, the impact of the crime is made greater by the questions it generates about who Sherlock was and what he’s capable of. But those questions aren’t entirely relegated to his culpability in the death of one person. Instead, there’s a larger question being asked that has to do with the essence of who Sherlock Holmes really is, and how he continues to struggle to answer that, even while maintaining his sobriety.
While the episode could have used Joan in more gripping fashion, these sobriety-centric episodes are a large part of what distinguishes Elementary from the many other versions of the character out there. They define the series beyond the character’s powers of deduction and his relationship with Watson. The examination of his struggles with addiction humanizes Sherlock; it affords the audience more insight into his motivations as well as his fears. It also balances Sherlock by turning him into a character whose past self is often times his own foil, making his incredible deductions only one of the many aspects about Sherlock Holmes worth investigating.
Elementary continues next Thursday with ‘T-Bone and the Iceman’ @10/9c on CBS. Check out a preview below: