Elementary’s third season began with missing time: for much of the season, we had little idea what Sherlock had been going through in London before his return to New York, a mystery that paid off in the conclusion of Kitty’s arc at the season’s midpoint.

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In “For All You Know,” Elementary follows this impulse into a space it’s surprising they haven’t explored sooner. The period of time before Sherlock and Watson began working together is “missing time” in its own right, a period where Sherlock’s actions are wrapped in his addiction. While the show has largely avoided turning to Sherlock’s past as a direct source of drama—the packet of heroin that he discovered late last season and nearly used in London is the only time a relapse has ever seriously been hinted at—it feels thematically appropriate to return to it at this stage. When two detectives show up wanting to talk to Sherlock about a body discovered following a December 2011 disappearance, they are treating him as a suspect, and it allows for a different type of self-reflection than what we’ve seen in the series thus far.

Sherlock’s self-reflection has typically come through people: his relationships with Watson, Mycroft, Gregson, and Bell have all at some point in time served as a way for Sherlock to work through his own insecurities, and to varying degrees they’ve worked to flesh out Sherlock’s humanity amidst the character’s base idiosyncrasy. At the core of these moments are often cases where Sherlock’s actions have threatened that relationship—while there is some reciprocity (thinking of Mycroft in particular), Sherlock’s relationships are typically threatened by him as opposed to the other individual.

What gets unearthed when Sherlock is forced to revisit his lowest moments before his rehabilitation is different. There is a person involved: Oscar, Sherlock’s former drug deal and current drug addict. However, Oscar is not like the other relationships Sherlock damaged, because there was never really a relationship at all. Oscar was not a friend, nor was he—as Sherlock emphasizes—a partner or teammate. Rather, he was a fellow addict who enabled Sherlock, and who Sherlock sees as partially responsible for his addiction whilst simultaneously feeling that he himself was partially responsible for Oscar’s own struggles. Sherlock is entering a period of his life where he is both the victim and the perpetrator, a fact that makes him emerging as a suspect a moment of profound identity crisis. The Sherlock we know would never kill Maria Gutierrez, but could the Sherlock we never got the chance to meet have done it without realizing it?

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We know the answer to this question is no. We know it from the time the question is first introduced at the start of the episode, we know it even when Sherlock keeps insisting it’s possible, and we sure as heck know it when the Councilman with a strong relationship with the NYPD that Maria cleaned for showed up as a more logical suspect. Sherlock is the show’s hero, and for as much as the show has been willing to explore his darker sides, having him revealed as a murderer—even in a drug-induced state—was never in the cards. And so when it’s eventually revealed that the councilman was the one who did it, I didn’t feel intense relief as though I had been spending the episode torturing myself over the idea of Sherlock as a murderer. Sherlock claimed that Joan’s certainty regarding his innocent was “illogical,” but once we place this sentiment in the context of a television show instead of the series’ diegetic reality, Joan’s position is the only logical one.

And that’s fine. While the case wraps up way too neatly once they point the finger at the Councilman, requiring too much exposition to be in any way elegant, I appreciate how the clarity of the crime contrasts with Sherlock’s memory of it. The more clarity that’s offered regarding Sherlock’s role—meeting with Maria and trying to get her to a safehouse—the more Sherlock’s inability to remember it haunts him. He may not have killed Maria, and his instincts might have been to help her, but he wasn’t there for her when she was vulnerable, and when she took a risk and lost her life as a result. The clarity of Sherlock’s mistake is perhaps not as painful as the near-amnesia he began with, but it also offers a direct point of harm, and thus something Sherlock is forced to wrestle with directly.

“For All You Know” gives Jonny Lee Miller some strong scenes to play, but what impresses me most about the performance—which is as much a reflection on his performance throughout the series—is how quickly he picks up the thread. This isn’t really the end of a highly serialized arc, like we saw with Kitty or Moriarty. This is standalone seriality, an episode that opens with events that activate a dormant, often ignored part of the series and makes it into the dramatic core of an episodic storyline. From the moment Sherlock becomes aware he’s a suspect to the moment he walks away from Oscar, Sherlock becomes the story, and the scenes within run the gamut from emotional and reflective (at the kitchen table with Watson) to dark and self-destructive (Sherlock offering to have his hand broken).

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The speed at which this is activated should be problematic—we could read this as a “very special episode” on its surface, and the musical signature of a few key scenes felt new in a way that amplified the emotional side of the story in ways that could have seemed artificial. And yet for all the ways the episode consciously taps into Sherlock’s addiction more overtly than any episode to date, it never felt trumped up: Sherlock’s pain always felt real, and the ending resisted the idea that Sherlock has gained any true resolution from his journey into his past. He gained clarity, perhaps, but his efforts to make and seek amends are as nebulous as they were before, his relationship with Oscar anything but resolved as he walks away.

Sherlock’s addiction is not an endless reserve: I don’t think that Elementary could return to this period, this subject matter, or Oscar as a character on a regular basis and manage the level of pathos evident in this episode, nor do I think this would have worked as well if it had popped up in season one as opposed to season three. I have some issues with the way the episode itself developed that I’ll get to below, but ultimately this felt like it was coming at the right time: in the wake of what has happened this season, and in the wake of where the show has gone over three seasons, now was the right time to explore Sherlock’s past, a subject that will continue to resonate both when it’s discussed directly and when it’s an underlying truth to this character and this world.

Stray observations:

  • My biggest issue with this case is the fact that the detectives were so willing to discuss potential suspects in the case with the family members. They don’t have enough evidence to arrest Sherlock, but they’re telling the victim’s family about Joan? That seems wildly unprofessional to me, and a clear case of story needs—the attack on Sherlock—trumping logic.
  • Michael Weston does some nice work as Oscar, although after our recent Inventory on episodes you can only watch once, I’m reminded that Six Feet Under has made it difficult for me to watch him in anything.
  • We can add a circus performer to Sherlock’s list of paramours. It actually makes me wonder at what point the show will break down and attempt to give Sherlock an actual love interest, something that feels antithetical to the character but would serve as a logical recurring serial component in later seasons.
  • Not really related to the episode, but I always wonder how brands pick shows to “sponsor” in the way Flonase did here. Do they have data to suggest Elementary viewers are likely allergy sufferers?
  • I think you in the comments think about Joan’s fashion more than I do, but I did enjoy that I wrote down her grey coat and hat number before then realizing she’s wearing a second, different grey coat later in the episode. Too Many Coats?
  • Clyde Watch: Three thoughts this week. First, I was recently thinking about Clyde’s origins, and wondered if Craig Sweeny—who wrote “The Red Team,” the episode in which Clyde first appears—gets character residuals for a turtle. Second, most apropos to the episode, I hope we eventually get a case that ties into Clyde’s murky past, where we get flashbacks to murders he’s witnessed—if The Good Wife can do an entire episode inside Alicia Florrick’s head, we can see an episode through Clyde’s eyes on Elementary. And third, the Elementary Writers on Twitter have their own theory for what Clyde was potentially doing in this episode, and it’s slanderous, and I won’t stand for it. Clyde would never be so sloppy with a frame job.

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