[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 15. There will be SPOILERS.]
It isn't unusual for an episode of Elementary to feature one or more homicides as part of its weekly storyline. In fact, one or more homicides are part of the show's SOP. What is unusual, however, is for the episode to spend as much time following the perpetrator of the homicides as it does the show's co-leads, Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson.
This comes after Joan's semi-bombshell announcement that she wants to move back into the brownstone with Sherlock, and to devote her life to being a detective as fully he does. As such, 'When you Number's Up' picks up with Joan on her moving day, having arrived at her soon-to-be former apartment late enough to discover that Sherlock has taken the liberty of carting her belongings to the brownstone, while putting the rest of her furniture in storage.
The episode builds on Joan's response, and her seemingly adamant desire to cut all ties with her recent past, driving Sherlock to question whether the decision to return to the brownstone and dedicate herself to detective work so completely is too hasty. The story build's off of the last few episodes nicely, giving some depth to Andrew's death beyond the shock of him collapsing on the coffee shop floor. But Sherlock's questions about Joan's readiness also help keep the show's ostensible return to the status quo from feeling too perfunctory.
For her part, Joan is seen as restless; something that describes her behavior almost all season. On her first night back in her old bedroom, she's unable to sleep, and wanders down to the basement to find Sherlock exercising, and wondering if the noise is what woke her. Sherlock's conscientiousness, mixed with his earlier insistence that Joan not simply give away her furniture, leads his roomie to surmise he's having second thoughts about the two of them cohabitating again. As it turns out, though, that's far from being true.
Instead, Sherlock's assessment of Joan is quite in tune with the one he's been delivering all season: that his partner, though ready to take the next step in her career as a detective, is feeling a bit unsure of herself. And while he's eager to have her back where he feels she belongs, Sherlock doesn't want to appear to be an enabler. The end result gives Joan the best of both worlds, as she takes over the brownstone's basement (with the help of a nail gun), giving her the opportunity to distance herself from Sherlock, if need be, while also keeping the two together.
But the move is made more important because it is a decision reached by Joan of her own accord. Even though the episode doesn't allow the audience to see the progression of her decision, the end result is important enough – both in what it means for Joan's ability to enact change and for her return to the norm. It also works to strengthen the impact Andrew's death had on Joan, even though she was in the process of breaking up with him. In the end, the additional character depth these last few episodes have afforded Watson will hopefully open the door for more of an exploration of her character, as it seems she is on something of a road of self-discovery.
In between the Holmes-Watson dynamic, 'When Your Number's Up' is focused on the investigation into the murders of a homeless man and a fortysomething musician, whose deaths are linked to a victims' compensation case in the wake of a commuter plane crash. What makes the investigation unique is that rather than be a classic whodunit the episode is more of a whydunit – focusing much of the storyline on Alica Witt's Dana Powell: a young, attractive woman, who commits murder and leaves notes on the victims, quoting a prominent attorney whose equation for calculating the value of a human life has him in some ethical hot water.
The shift to figuring out Dana's motives, rather than the identity of the killer is one that actually works in the episode's favor. By offering a different take on the usual procedural of solving a crime after the fact, the story follows along with it almost in real time. And because of that, there is a greater sense of urgency given to the deaths that go beyond the cops finding a dead body and handing the investigation off to Sherlock and Joan.
But the move also gives the episode a chance to make the killer's motivations more apparent. Instead of the usual last-minute confession of a cornered criminal, the reason behind Dana's crimes are revealed piecemeal, making them build to the eventual confrontation between her and her sister Penny (Maria Dizzia, Orange is the New Black), which paints a hasty but mostly complete picture of Dana as a woman so consumed by materialism and wealth that she puts a literal price on the lives she finds hold less value.
In the end, 'When Your Number's Up' serves the stories of two characters in a way that's surprising for a procedural. By mixing up the formula a little, Elementary manages to deliver the next step in Joan's development, while also turning the classic whodunit into a surprisingly engaging question of "why?" that offers just the right amount of change without completely deviating from the norm.
Elementary continues Thursday, March 6, with 'For All You Know' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: