[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 17. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week's 'For All You Know' was one of those episodes of Elementary that seemed bound and determined to disprove the notion that, by and large, the audience isn't really that interested in the weekly procedural stuff. The cases of the week serve as the springboard for Sherlock and Joan to interact; and through that, the audience is granted access to the relationship dynamics on which the show's charm is fueled. The crimes are sometimes wild, and sometimes shocking, but for the most part, they aren't why anyone tunes in.
By making Sherlock the prime suspect in the murder being investigated, the series made a compelling argument for the confluence of the procedural and personal. And for the most part, it worked; the episode delved into Sherlock's self-reproach over a crime it was proven he ultimately did not commit, but nonetheless forced him to confront a painful aspect of himself.
In comparison, 'T-Bone and the Iceman' takes a completely different approach, pushing the procedural and the personal so far from one another that the A and B plots almost seem as if they were compiled from two different episodes – a theory that, had it not been for the distinctive outfit Joan was wearing acting as the bridge between both threads, might have seemed plausible.
The primary case - a murder resulting from what at first seems to be the theft of some soon-to-be illegal refrigerant - leads to the discovery of another double homicide, committed out of medical necessity. That's about as twisty as your average episode of Elementary gets. But even though the secondary plot of Joan's mother experiencing memory loss (beyond the average "senior moments" of a woman her age) matches up thematically in terms of both tenuous familial connections and the sense of desperation a less-than-positive diagnosis can bring, the two threads never really seem to come together in a truly satisfying way.
That's not to say the episode isn't filled with plenty of beats that offer the usual kind of Elementary goodness. In fact, the 'T-Bone and the Iceman' offers a rare glimpse into Joan's personal life that goes beyond her limited romantic successes with characters like Mycroft and Andrew. The Joan-centric storyline may revolve around Mary asking her daughter to "referee" what she presumes is her son's infidelity, but because of the limitations of the audience's knowledge of Joan's family – exacerbated by the fact that her brother Oren never even appears onscreen – the conflict becomes one of Sherlock encouraging his partner to "cut the cord," as he claims to have done with regard to his extended family.
Never mind the questions of how much 'T-Bone and the Iceman' may or may not recall the events of season 2; Sherlock's comment that "were it not for the evolutionary quirk that a mature human brain cannot pass through a dilated cervix, we might be rid of the pair bond between parent and child entirely," underline his not-so-subtle preference toward bonds made outside the confines of a familial relationship. A fact that seems to propel him into making the unorthodox and somewhat cruel gesture of tricking Mary into thinking she'd forgotten her daughter's birthday, in order to encourage a hasty reconciliation with Joan and what is presumably a trip to see a neurologist.
Sherlock's somewhat charming and heartfelt preference of his acquired family (and their troubles), and his connection with Joan aside, the episode struggles at times to make the personal matters that Watson is facing resonate. This is mostly due to the lack of a response that we see from Joan when she's first told about Oren's supposed infidelity; and again when Oren angrily rejects the accusation that he would cheat on his wife. Had the episode the time to include Oren in the proceedings (and not just made him a voice on the phone), then Joan's role in the familial strife may well have felt more pressing. Instead, it wound up having stakes that were arguably as low as the case of the week.
As far as the case goes, there's certainly some humor there for fans of B-movies – which, in this case happen to be Manos: The Hands of Fate. It turns out the suspect in the homicide that drives the cryogenic criminal activity is a lover of cheesy flicks from the '60s, and he uses the image of actor John Reynolds (a.k.a. Torgo) as the basis for the lie that has kept him out of prison. The element works to snare an employee at the cryogenic facility, after he claims to have been assaulted by the fictive character (played by a now deceased actor), not knowing the photo he was looking at was a production still.
It's a memorable way to wrap up a mostly unremarkable episode. Still, despite having very little at stake, 'T-Bone and the Iceman' avoids falling into the familiar trap most burner episodes do - instead, offering something of value within the interpersonal arena that Elementary handles so well.
Elementary is scheduled to return in a few weeks, following the NCAA Tournament.