“It wasn’t one thing, was it? It was everything.”

When your season finale opens with a bomb cliffhanger, you are really tempting fate on the bang/whimper axis. And when your season finale contains what’s essentially the thesis statement of four seasons of your show, you’ve put yourself under serious pressure to deliver something that draws on all the major themes from the last twenty-three episodes. This season has been about legacy, and how you deal with the secrets other people are keeping from you, and how you work around questions that can never be answered, but the only person those themes consistently built around was good old Morland Holmes.

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Given where he is at the end of “A Difference In Kind,” it’s no surprise why he’s gotten the lion’s share of the season’s emotional energy. (And honestly, though Curran was lovely, there’s no one better to grind his way through any necessary conflicted-evil-mastermind dialogue than John Noble.) The sad part is that the show doesn’t seem to realize how short it’s played everything else in trying to get Sherlock and Moriarty to this corner of the board. For a finale that had so much to work with, it went out with…well, a whimper.

We’ve heard about Sherlock’s mother being an addict in a season that started with the ramifications of a downward-spiral relapse, and neither that nor Morland’s spitefulness in telling him has an echo here. Joan supported Sherlock out of that dark moment, with a solidarity that has nowhere to go in the meat of this episode. (Joan’s own feints at a downward spiral, the sort of thing that could rock their partnership, seem to have been entirely dismissed with one brief spat about Holmes Senior.) Sherlock’s recovery has been sidelined; the very pleasant Fiona only occasionally mentioned; his relationship with Gregson variable.

All of this is standard operating procedure for a show that tends to let a lot of things slow-burn until the finale ties it all up in a quietly heartbreaking/triumphant way. This year, no dice. There might be no more central a beat of dialogue to the entire show than Morland declaring, “Men like us, we’re not meant to make such connections,” and Sherlock answering, with conviction, “I disagree.” It’s nice that we’re at a point in the series where his attachment to Joan (Gregson, Marcus, Alfredo) is such that we know how firmly he can stand in this moment. But in a finale that had so little else that was memorable, it would have been nice for Joan (or anyone) to have a chance to prove it.

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The finale hits hardest, to nobody’s surprise, on issues of legacy. (Vikner even makes it part of his terms of Morland’s surrender.) And the episode keeps things in the family: Sherlock faces off with Morland in several photogenic locales (including a confession smack in the middle of a church), as Morland comes to terms with just how much he loves his son. Despite his best intentions, we know from the rest of this season that it’s something of a fool’s errand; Morland made too many mistakes early on for Sherlock to ever quite forgive him. Hell, Sherlock’s so intent on distancing his father that he describes the brownstone bomb as a threat to “your least valuable real estate holding.” (That Sherlock’s so concerned about his father he shouts for an FBI agent’s help at an active crime scene is as close to an arc as we get in this episode.)

What was not an arc in this episode, and should have been, was the blitheness of Sherlock’s “We’ve got to frame him for murder,” and what follows. Joan participates—which is, perhaps, the pittance of a payout of her subterfuges earlier this season—but it all happens in such a rush of plot points that we lose what feels like a pivotal moment for the partnership. It’s no surprise Sherlock would suggest such a thing to take down an associate of Moriarty…but isn’t he surprised that Joan puts up no argument? Why does the disappearance of the world’s most dangerous man feel like a minor concern that fills time until Morland can save the day? For an episode that tries so hard to build dread in that FBI office as Joan lies to a federal agent who considers her a friend, there’s shockingly little suspense. Things play out like a speed skate over some amazing chances for character work. If your characters are making tough choices, for heaven’s sake, let us feel that.

The best moments of the episode are walking reminders that when they do get an inch to work with, everything works out beautifully. The dynamic shifts in their partnership often suffer from the hopes that an aside is the same as a development, but it doesn’t diminish the greatness of those asides. Miller’s “You’re not breathing” before he even looks up at Liu is beautifully played; it’s matched by Liu’s there’s-a-loose-animal calm understatement as she answers, “It’s because I’m a little nervous.” And one of the smoothest beats of a long partnership is Sherlock’s casual, Obviously Not headshake after Joan asks, “You believed him?”

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The A-plot falls out as we all expect it to; it’s in these smaller interpersonal beats that our expectations are subverted. Sherlock casually yanks the detonator off a bomb. Joan goes into danger without getting kidnapped. (If we’re being honest, she goes into danger with no sense of stakes, which makes her scene with Vikner much less interesting than it could be, but Joan’s steely disgust for the entire thing gets the job done.) And though Joan’s larger arc fizzles out, we at least see her suspicion of Morland bear fruit in her insistence Morland’s all too suitable for the position at the head of Moriarty’s organization; she has his number before Sherlock does.

And though the season wasn’t always satisfying, with Sherlock and Joan, it never takes much to remind you why you watch. The episode’s best surprise isn’t the swift dismissal of Vikner, or Morland’s change of heart. It’s Joan’s utter non-reaction to Sherlock’s vaguely martyring offer of separate living space: “Does this have anything to do with all that junk that your father said to you the other night?”

This tidiness does, unfortunately, seem to suggest that Joan’s incipient vigilantism has been backburnered, and that Sherlock seems to have too-neatly put some of the past behind him. On the other hand, last season’s cliffhanger ending was a minor chord; this season, with all this talk of legacy, is more concerned with making sure everything’s settled and the future is bright. So for now, the show sets aside Joan’s race to the bottom; it sets aside any questions about Sherlock’s recovery; it sets aside the idea that Morland Holmes has, whatever his lip service to the contrary, just become his son’s greatest enemy. What’s most important to Elementary is that Sherlock ends up all right. And whatever it has to do to make that happen, it will, and the methods don’t much matter; it’s a difference of kind, not of degree.

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Stray observations

  • Another wonderful season of work from Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, who are acting in a higher caliber of show that Elementary can sometimes provide, and have made their Sherlock and Watson two of the best.
  • A very interesting beat: Zoya Hashemi removing her head covering (with Joan pointing out, for clarity, that they already know Hashemi is not religious) before they get down to business. It’s very deliberately an attempt to dismiss the connotation that a woman wearing hijab is planning nefarious things. I’m not sure it works, but I see it.
  • Lines Jonny Lee Miller Clearly Relished: “If he crosses his predecessor, there is a 100% chance he will be exsanguinated.”
  • “Despite the many movies you tell me are good which are in fact, not good – “ The most quietly aggrieved Sherlock has been in a while. Five bucks says Joan makes him watch bad movies on purpose just to watch him cast his eyes to the heavens.
  • “You haven’t said very much, Joan.” :looks into the camera:
  • Related: If Joan’s actual arc next season is fracturing their friend group with dating setups when she walked away from two separate vigilante operations this season, we’re gonna have words.
  • Zoe Keating’s cello work is always an amazing atmospheric touch; it makes even exposition sound melancholy, and feels so often like Watson’s point of view made manifest.
  • That abandoned warehouse was deliciously art-directed. (The church still trumps it.)
  • Line that’s better than it has any right to be of the week: “This is their home, rain or shine.” John Noble chews through scenery, but he can also use that same unstoppable momentum to give depth to a scene at a moment’s notice. He can never confide in his son that he has reservations about all this, but that’s all he needs to make it perfectly clear to us.
  • I was going through clips and recaps in preparation for this finale, and I really do think this season—more than any prior—has been an example of a series yearning to break free of the episodic and embrace the serial. It’s made for an uneven season; it can be a hard thing to quantify in a show that’s so steadily competent on a workmanship level, but that thin line separates a good show from a great one. And despite feeling hollow after it’s all over, there were some fascinating moments in it. Let’s see what’s next.

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