[This is a review of Elementary season 3, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
It is clear by now that Elementary plans to spend less time analyzing the idea of Holmes and Watson working apart from one another than the season premiere suggested. Still, despite what appeared to be a reluctance to go full on into the proposed altered dynamic during last week's 'The Five Orange Pipz', the series has managed to rebound to a certain degree, meeting it's own proposal halfway by bringing in more subtle alterations that, nonetheless, manage to uncover some interesting shifts in the Holmes-Watson relationship and elsewhere.
It also doesn’t hurt that 'Just a Regular Irregular' is also a far more charming episode than its predecessor. With an engaging crime plot involving the apparent serial murder of mathematicians, via an enticing "Puzzle Hunt,' the episode utilizes Mad Men's Rich Sommer – who was introduced last season as Harlan Emple, the math whiz who likes to feel closer to the numbers – to a great end, not only as a means by which the main plot can be facilitated, but also as a vehicle to drive Sherlock to a discovery about the the new role he's taken on with Kitty.
At two seasons and some change, it can be quite a challenge to demonstrate the ways in which Sherlock can still grow as a person, while still maintaining the qualities that make the character so appealing. What 'Just a Regular Irregular' delivers, then, is a somewhat familiar discussion on Sherlock's inherent lack of empathy and his sometimes-brusque way of speaking with people – the Joan certainly looks "well-sexed" line to Watson's new boyfriend Andrew is a perfect example of this – that manages to feel fresh because Kitty is part of the equation.
The episode goes a long way in legitimizing the importance of Kitty outside the superficial appearance of change, and that's good. The shock of seeing someone other than Joan living in Sherlock's brownstone has mostly worn off, and for the series to push the relationship Kitty has with Sherlock as much as the distinctly different relationships they each have with Watson is key to making the character significant. Sure, Elementary could have wrung additional conflict out of the Kitty-Joan dynamic, but the season premiere and last week's episode proved that such an interaction is almost impossible to sustain on a level that makes a new character appealing to the audience. What's more, it tells us absolutely nothing about Kitty.
And while the series is treading into potentially choppy waters with regard to the sexually violent event Kitty suffered, the way it has been handled so far doesn't seek to trivialize it, or use it as a mere plot device. Instead, it becomes an element through which the character begins to develop an arc along with the two leads.
Where the episode succeeds, then, is in its subtle character development that is seamlessly integrated into the crime of the week. In that sense, Harlan even gets something of an arc, which is impressive considering he's been on only slightly fewer episodes than Kitty. The neediness of his character – which drove Sherlock to seek out the help of another mathematician while he and Kitty were solving cases abroad – becomes the catalyst for Sherlock to understand that his role with Kitty must be more than a simple mentor-protégé scenario; he must deepen his own role for her well-being, rather than his own.
This understanding comes after Sherlock and Joan discuss his new partner, and Sherlock begins to describe the trio's dynamic as something of a classic family unit. If anything, this is the moment on which the episode turns, as it underlines how the roles have changed and how, despite Sherlock's belief that they're one thing, they've turned into something else. Sherlock's desire to replicate the benefit he received from his relationship with Joan has landed him a responsibility to another person that supersedes his own self-interest. The realization is not altogether different from what the series was attempting to establish with Det. Bell last season, in that Sherlock's realization of why certain relationships become important to him are often followed by an examination of how little he gives in return. 'Just a Regular Irregular' underlines this finding three times in a single episode, without making it feel like it is moralizing Holmes or marginalizing those who facilitate his self-discovery.
Much of this might have come off as cloying, were it not for the sharp dialogue from Robert Hewitt Wolfe. The script delivers several scenes that manage to play up Sommer's gift for comedy, while also demonstrating the way Jonny Lee Miller's subtly alters the cadence of Holmes' speech –accentuating the "s" in certain words – when he has particularly snappy dialogue to deliver. In one particularly charming moment, Miller and Sommer have a delightful exchange wherein Harlan's theories on the murders become an opportunity for some biting, but funny retorts from Holmes that really make the most out of having a guest star like Sommer onboard.
Mostly, though, the episode succeeds by allowing its structure to guide it not only to the expected conclusion of the case (hey, everybody, it's Justified's Jacob Pitts!), but also in the way that structure becomes the scaffolding on which the character dynamics continue to be built and continue to become more interesting.
Elementary continues next Thursday with 'Bella' @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: