[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]

After a brief break for the holidays, Elementary returns with a strong episode that surprises with its emotional intensity, as it deviates away from the procedural entanglements of the weekly mystery to focus on the loosening grip Sherlock has on his sobriety. It takes an otherwise engaging episode dealing with a strange, almost outlandish time-dilating drug and manages to deliver the kind of deeply personal, human story the series is not given enough credit for excelling at. Like ‘Bella‘, the sci-fi angle allows the murder of the week to take on a slightly new, speculative shape. And, like ‘Bella’, the results are engaging in a way unexpected for a series otherwise so grounded in reality ( Sherlock’s intellect and uncanny powers of deduction aside).

What’s interesting about the ‘The Eternity Injection’ isn’t necessarily the creation of a drug capable of making hours feel like days and weeks feel like months (with horrible, brain-damaging side effects, of course), but the way the episode uses the introduction of a missing woman named Marissa Ledbetter to build into the larger reveal of an illegal drug trial where the recipients have gone mad, killed others, and eventually died or been killed themselves. There’s even a small conspiracy that links back to a scientist (played by Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and his wealthy benefactor that makes the drug seem all the more fantastical and compelling.

But rather than let the entire hour run around drug trials and the many, many possible uses for time-dilating drugs, Elementary choses to gradually push its procedural self to the sidelines, to once again focus on Sherlock’s emotional state, and his relationship with Joan.

While this season has gone in a different direction than was hinted at in the premiere – that is: the status quo wasn’t shaken nearly as much as it seemed to have been when Sherlock returned from a brief stint with MI6 – the writers have still managed to wring some compellingly emotional elements out of the small schism keeping the partners apart. Now that Kitty’s given Joan a key to the brownstone (and is increasingly off screen handling small jobs for Sherlock), season 3 feels like the more familiar Sherlock-Watson dynamic is stronger than it has ever been. Which isn’t what was promised, but is still great, considering it affords the episode a chance to explore what brought them together in the first place: Sherlock’s sobriety.

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui in Elementary Season 3 Epiosde 9 Elementary Experiences The Grind

It would be too easy to have Sherlock just slip into a relapse and begin using drugs again. And though that storyline may very well happen somewhere down the line, and it has the potential to be both gripping and emotionally intense, that’s not what’s on tap for ‘The Eternity Injection’. Instead, the writers have chosen something a little more interesting for those in the audience who have grown attached to these characters: the threat of a relapse, or, more precisely, Sherlock’s awareness that his status as a recovering addict is something of a “grind.”

His confession to Joan that working to stay sober is like mending a leaky faucet (and all he gets in return is a sink that doesn’t drip) quietly explores where Sherlock’s mind is at without resorting to a spectacle of some form or another. The reveal also ties into the invasion of privacy Sherlock experienced when his thoughts at meetings were reprinted online without his permission. It’s a minor thing, but that sort of continuity goes a long way in making Sherlock’s admission of his struggles with the repetitive, relentless, and tedious aspects of staying sober (and how that battle tends to exacerbate his thoughts on the meaninglessness of existence) become the entire focus of the episode.

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock in Elementary Season 3 Epiosde 9 Elementary Experiences The Grind

As usual, Miller is great, portraying Sherlock in the midst of an existential crisis. Like the best elements of the episode, his performance is quiet and understated; he conveys a tremendous amount of emotion with something as simple as settling into an armchair. And once Joan is made aware of Sherlock’s state, Liu responds in kind, as the rest of the episode wordlessly plumbs the depths of their relationship until she offers to move back in.

Thankfully, Sherlock declines. Although Holmes and Watson are basically back together again, there’s plenty to be gained from Joan’s (partial) autonomy – which was explored in the first few episodes of the season, and will hopefully be explored further as the season moves on – and Kitty has proven to be a strong character, even though she’s been somewhat underutilized as of late. Besides, with Joan out of the brownstone, that opens the writers up to invite Alfredo (Ato Essandoh) in more often, which results not only in another angle from which to survey Sherlock’s wellbeing, but it also provides a fun distraction like the ED-209-sounding Odin security system that became a recurring joke throughout the episode.

Episodes like ‘The Eternity Injection’ have become increasingly common on Elementary; and as the show continues to grow and to examine its characters, these installments that balance out the peculiar crimes with more introspective elements provide the series with the foundation it needs to remain on such a satisfying path.

Elementary continues next Thursday with ‘Seed Money’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgSgznv1vOQ

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