[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
If anything, season 3 of Elementary has been marked by its attempts to examine the relationship between Holmes and Watson through the lens of their separation. For the most part it has been successful, despite the fact that the majority of that separation took place off screen, during the relatively short span of time when Sherlock was back in London working for MI6. That means most of the exploration has been done in terms of the partners' reconciliation – which, oddly, has been hastened by the arrival (and continued participation) of Kitty.
In many ways, then, 'Seed Money', for all its discussion of Joan's career opportunities with an insurance company, and Sherlock's decision to promote his protégé to full partner, is really just an opening for the next two episodes to focus on Kitty's recent history, by introducing the person responsible for the horrific abuse she suffered back in London. And while the episode feels like a great deal of set up for the what comes next – which may or may not determine the future of Ophelia Lovibond's role on the show – there's still a compelling and suitably twisty mystery on hand. One that, mixed with Sherlock and Joan's ongoing attempts to define their working relationship, acts as a suitable segue to the season's next major storyline.
After a few weeks of Kitty operating in the background (running various errands for Sherlock while he and Joan solve cases), it's a welcome change to see the character take on her own storyline. When Kitty was first introduced, she came with a certain amount of trepidation. Her first interaction with Joan didn't exactly go well, and it seemed she was poised to act as a wedge between Holmes and Watson. That would have worn thin rather quickly. So, in what has proven to be a smart move, the writers have discovered a way to balance Kitty's storyline with that the two main leads, making Lovibond less of the "guest star" that appears before her name in the credits, and more of an actual player within the context of the season's focus: the interpersonal aspects that drive the primary relationship.
Although Kitty's investigation into the disappearance of Tess (a teenage girl who recently learned she was the product of rape) doesn't get as much screen time as maybe it deserves, it still manages to deliver some convincing beats that help establish where the season is headed. Allowing Kitty to act on her own, to handle witnesses and even lead the questioning of a suspect with Gregson is a major step forward in the character's maturation. And even though the significance of revisiting Kitty's past remains unclear until the final moments of the episode, the payoff doesn’t completely determine the thread's value. There is a wait-and-see approach to how the uncomfortable and painful confrontational aspects of a victim's healing process will translate into a more far-reaching storyline (now that it seems Kitty's attacker has made his way stateside), but the edges that are explored here have exhibited considerable weight.
The structure of the episode being what it is, however, there is still a considerable procedural account that has to be handled before Elementary can dive into the substantial storyline that lies ahead.
In this case, Sherlock uncovers what appears to be a murder by members of a drug cartel, who typically leave a calling card in the form of death by "necklacing" – which concerns the burning of a tire that's been placed around the victim's neck. As with most cases on Elementary, all is not what it first appears to be. Taking a cue from recent excursions that border on spectacle, 'Seed Money' moves from what looks like a murder motivated by drugs, to one that is motivated by the appearance of an extremely rare (and recently stolen) orchid... only to reverse itself again.
The back and forth that's on display - as Sherlock and Joan attempt to discover who was truly responsible for the death of a young man smart enough to clone the orchid and create strands of marijuana plants valuable enough to kill over - is another example of how the writers have developed a flair for increasingly unusual murders that still feel grounded in reality. There is a sheen to the usual grittiness in these procedurals that can sometimes come off as flippant, but not here. Perhaps that's because Elementary isn't your average cop show. For one thing,the main characters aren't actually cops, but also there's something more substantial going on in the background. Whether it is the continual assessment of Sherlock's sobriety or Joan's ventures with new means of employment and romance, the procedural account generally feels secondary to the inner workings of the characters' lives.
The murder of the botanist is solved as most of these cases are, but even as the story works to wrap up that plotline, the most interesting aspects of the episode are unfolding around it. For the simplicity of what transpires here, the table has been set for a potentially interesting (and emotionally harrowing) arc that will hopefully afford more insight into the surprisingly successful character Kitty has become. If the prep work here pays off with the next two episodes, then it will make the otherwise rudimentary portions of 'Seed Money' seem much more worthwhile.
Elementary continues next Thursday with 'The Illustrious Client' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: