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When last week’s episode saw Joan heading off to Copenhagen in order to spend time with Andrew as he sets up his new business, I honestly didn’t expect her to be gone for an entire episode. In television, the time between episodes is magical: it can be one day in some cases and one month in others, and some shows don’t even bother with attempting to suggest any kind of clear chronology to events. If not for the variations of New York weather created by location shooting, Elementary doesn’t really even pay much attention to the seasons, and so extending the time between episodes until Joan returned would have been easy.

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However, it also would have been a missed opportunity. “Rip Off” is not an exceptionally strong episode, lacking a memorable mystery or an existential question that speaks to the core of the series and its characters as last week’s stellar effort did. However, it’s a productive episode, as Joan’s absence creates room for other characters to breathe. In the case of Thomas Gregson, the character work is welcome and overdue, but also somewhat strange given how sudden it feels; in the case of Kitty, meanwhile, the show reinforces the good work it’s done with the character to date while unexpectedly tying it to Gregson to bring the episode together. It makes for an episode that create a great deal of positive character momentum even in a circumstance where forward progress is put on hold with one of the series’ main players left off screen.

Joan’s absence is felt in the episode, although “Rip Off” is smart to make this into a something of a positive as opposed to a negative. Kitty’s presence means that “the show can go on” and continue with similar dynamics, but her absence becomes the primary topic of conversation between Sherlock and Kitty in the episode. Sherlock’s discovery of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes—the written tales of Joan’s time with Sherlock that we occasionally saw her working on while she was living at the Brownstone—has him incredibly paranoid, as he is concerned about the judgment within. It becomes a symbol of his sensitivity: while he may act as though he doesn’t care what other people think, and he’s happy to ignore skepticism or derision tied to his methods given their success rate, Joan’s story of their time together matters to him. And so the idea that a document exists telling that story scares him, and creates tension in how he works with Kitty.

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This is a big episode for Kitty, and Ophelia Lovibond is up to the task. She’s assertive with Sherlock, calling him out on his paranoia and speaking to the insecurities and double standards it reveals. She’s also an active participant in the case of the week, ultimately piecing together the clue that gets Sherlock thinking about Amit—the murder victim’s assistant—as a possible suspect to piece the story together. And in Joan’s absence, we’re able to see how her role is complicated by Joan’s continue presence in Sherlock’s headspace if not necessarily in the Brownstone—here, she’s faced with increased computer security and a nondisclosure agreement simply because of echoes of Joan’s partnership with Sherlock. She navigates that situation well, and holds her own in a situation where Sherlock could have easily railroaded her if she would have allowed him.

Joan’s absence also leaves room for broader characterization, which lands on Detective Gregson. This work is less effective than the work with Kitty at first, as there’s nothing for it to hang on: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a personal story for Gregson, to the point where I didn’t even realize he had a daughter yet alone that his daughter was a cop. It turns out we’ve known about the adult daughters for a while, but the cop information is new, and it feels too new. As we join the storyline in progress and discover he physically assaulted his daughter’s partner after learning he was abusive with her in the context of a romantic relationship, we’re jumping deep into a storyline with a character we like but barely know, and two other characters that we didn’t really know existed. I’m happy to see Aidan Quinn getting something more to do, but the story lacked context to seem connected to the broader scale of the series.

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But then “Rip Off” does something really interesting, as Kitty asserts herself in the conflict. It comes out of nowhere: we don’t see her lip-read their conversation at any point, and so we have no reason to think that Kitty would become involved. However, given that Gregson is one of the few people who knows her background, and given that the case involves abuse, Kitty chooses to take action. Suddenly, the story is about Kitty working through her own past with abuse to help Gregson understand his daughter’s position, and her desire to keep from appearing as a victim to her colleagues (and, for that matter, to her father). She puts Gregson’s own privilege in check, understanding his objection to the situation but cautioning him against courses of action that would place his daughter in an even more difficult position to process the abuse that was done to her. It’s a subtler extension of the storyline than its awkward introduction, and it results in a situation where Gregson’s character work becomes intricately linked to Kitty’s: Gregson does right by his daughter, and Kitty takes control of the situation and finds a way to convince the abusive partner to quit the force.

Control is important in a procedural, and in Sherlock’s world it’s hard for anyone but him to call the shots: He has the intellect, and the complete disregard for proper procedure, and so it’s difficult for anything else to drive Elementary forward. When Sherlock suggests at the end of the episode that Watson has the right to tell her own stories, my mind went to the show itself, where finding Watson her own stories has been challenging given the weight of Sherlock in the series’ structure. However, in this case the show uses control in an interesting way, allowing Sherlock to run the central mystery—severed hand, hired killer, elaborate frame job involving a diamond smuggling lieutenant and a crooked attorney—while Kitty and Gregson engage in control in different ways. As Gregson is forced to give up control over his daughter, Kitty asserts control in ways that demonstrate her ongoing adjustment to—and movement past—her own victimhood, which then bleeds from her work with Gregson into her work assisting Sherlock. That control is crucial to establishing her as a part of this world, and represents the solidification of her development so far this season.

As much as Joan’s absence was felt, “Rip Off” made that absence productive, both by reflecting on Joan’s influence over Sherlock in ways heightened by her “Danish sabbatical/sexcapade” and by using the open space to bring other characters into the control room. The show is better with Joan in it, I think, but that show will be better for the work done here.

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Stray observations:

  • Since there is always vocal outrage when I complain about guest casting spoiling a killer’s identity, I appreciated that the actor cast as Amit (Rafi Silver) was able to blend into the background after being introduced. I started to get suspicious when he recurred, but having a bigger guest star in that role would have been a dead giveaway, so the situation was handled effectively.
  • I honestly can’t remember the last time Joan was actually writing that manuscript, and we lacked her inner dialogue to explore how she intended it to be consumed and when she deleted it. Bringing it back up has thematic value, but I had factual questions that I’m not convinced the show will ever address.
  • If CBS is looking for transmedia opportunities, releasing The Casebook for Sherlock Holmes as an E-book might be a nice touch, although giving it a diegetic length of 474 pages might make actually creating such a document unfeasible.
  • Am I crazy, or was the pronunciation on Oosthuizen all over the map? Miller kept landing on what sounding like “Oosterhuizen,” while Bell lands on more like “Oostihuizen” in the interrogation.
  • Similarly, I’m still not sure on the logistics of how the body got picked up by a tow truck once the severed hand was out of the equation. We eventually learn the tow truck didn’t rip the hand off, but how could someone towing a car not notice a dead body under it? I’m not saying it’s illogical, but I’m struggling with it.
  • Note to self: If I ever buy a Burberry belt, I will be suspected of subsidizing my income as a PhD candidate and become a potential murder suspect. I shall plan my Black Friday shopping accordingly.
  • “If you asked me to come here for some messed up puppet show…”—I, for one, would pay to see Sherlock Holmes put on a puppet show with three carefully constructed life-like mannequins.
  • I expect we’ll have fewer than usual comments given the holidays, so a Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who partake, and we’ll hopefully be back to full strength next week.
  • Clyde Watch: While we don’t quite open on Clyde—the discovery of the bloody hand opens the episode instead—we do quickly move to Clyde in the Brownstone with Kitty petsitting in Joan’s absence. It would have been easy to acknowledge this only in dialogue, so I appreciate the show’s commitment to the logistics of Clyde’s custody arrangement. Meanwhile, given that I’ve got some suspicion that the show might be leaning toward killing Kitty off before the season is done, we officially have our first suspect given Clyde’s insistence on the buzzer over the bell when being fed. (Also, thanks again to CBS for including a photo of Clyde from this episode. It’s almost as if you’re doing it just for me. Plus, imagine if there were two Clydes everyone!)

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