I never expected to be noting Manos: The Hands Of Fate as a major procedural reveal in an Elementary recap (or almost any other recap), but the day has come! Rejoice! Watson wrangles justice from the chaos this week by cottoning on to the uncanny resemblance between a described suspect and Torgo. Is Torgo one of the worst possible people to base a suspect’s physical description on if you don’t ever want the guy’s face to be placed? He is. Does this episode care? Not at all.
Not that this episode is without any care—it’s a solid outing, corpsicles and all—just that it comes and goes. The Manos procedural aspect is fun for those who know; the procedural aspect of this episode that turns a desperate cancer patient into a double murderer is perhaps less so. Elementary’s approach to medically-desperate criminals is varied, but only meeting Ford in the second half of the episode reduces any chance at humanization and leaves his cancer as little more than a gimmick. (Repeatedly dinging him for his personal taste in order to set up the whodunit becomes salt in the wound, somehow.) No one watches Elementary for the cases, of course, but given that the B-plot is so firmly concerned with Joan’s mother’s health, I was expecting slightly more thematic confluence than we got. Instead, it’s another of those perfunctory cases that often happen in a twenty-four-episode season, attached to an episode that feels like it’s recentering the great partnership work from last episode by giving Joan the heavier dilemma and challenging Sherlock to be there for her.
In some ways beyond the regular character beats of their partnership, the Sherlock and Watson Dynamic has become its own procedural element, part of the comfortable rhythm the show can return to for a lower-stakes episode like this one. It immediately adds structure and allows for natural build for scenes like the first visit to the cryo-center; the obviously-involved suspect will lie, Bell will be drilling for the truth, Sherlock is likely to snark on the intelligence of those present, and Watson is likely to snark on their ethics. It’s particularly interesting, then, when these dynamics shift from in-character meta designed for audience recognition and become internalized by the characters themselves. Some of the moments of the show I’ve loved the most are those in which Joan’s internal life is revealed; increasingly, though, the essence of their interpersonal procedural is that Joan presents a mystery, and Sherlock solves it.
In “For All You Know,” Sherlock spent the duration mired in guilt of his own making, over a crime that turned out not to have been his fault, but over which he still felt responsible—if not for the victim, than for his other ghosts. It comes as absolutely no surprise, then, that a pivotal scene in this episode is Sherlock lecturing Joan about the guilt she feels being drawn into family intrigue. Mary’s put Joan in charge of asking her brother Oren about the extramarital affair Mary is sure he’s having; when Joan reasonably bemoans being put in the middle, Sherlock encourages her with brittle sternness to “cut the cord.” On one hand, it’s obvious he’s trying to help her avoid family missteps (oblivious to his own), and perhaps avoid the guilt that comes of getting in the middle of dynamics you can really do nothing about. He even suggests that the problem might actually be with Mary’s memory.
And of course, he’s right on all counts. Oren denies the affair and is furious with Joan for even believing him capable of it; Mary is, in fact, suffering from memory loss above and beyond the usual absentmindedness. Despite the fact that part of their interpersonal procedural is that each of them provides home truths when the other needs it, Sherlock’s predictions were markedly on the nose. There’s definitely some comfort, though, in the fact that Joan clearly knows exactly how the call with Oren going to play out as soon as her mother brings it up at lunch—he was just the partner who was telling her the things she knew to be true. Joan also predicts with long-suffering familiarity exactly how her mom will react to being tested on her memory: “You’re not a doctor any more, and I’m not your patient,” Mom replies, setting down those boundaries the Watson way.
Given that, though, it becomes harder to reconcile the final moments of the episode, in which Sherlock deliberately lies to Mary until she agrees to meet Joan (and, it’s implied, a neurologist). It’s only natural Sherlock would consider this well within the bounds of acceptable behavior for a woman he considers part of his found family; that Joan accepts the manipulation without question is more surprising, and is on of those moments that we’d need to know more of her internal life than we do to be able to understand it beyond simple plot expediency. It’s a lapse of her usual boundaries, especially in an episode that used her ethical concerns at the scene of the crime, and it’s a missed opportunity to follow up on this episode’s hints about that mysterious separation. (Joan told her mom the day Sherlock left and then never brought it up again on all those monthly lunches? Joan’s mom has Sherlock on speed dial? Go on!)
The third season of Elementary has largely managed to deftly sidestep the disappointments of its second season and build on its smartest setups: the central partnership, and a close-orbit satellite in Kitty. It’s been slower to figure out how to incorporate its fascinating supporting cast (wither Ms. Hudson?), but glimpses like these are always welcome, both for building the world and for deepening the characters we know. There are some lingering questions: Joan’s terrified of losing, these days—and who can blame her?—but we see hardly anything visceral in her reactions to the idea of her mother aging, or even of exasperation with Oren, which seems like a speedy emotional recalibration, even for Joan. It is, in some ways, too easy a solve. But taken in the wider sense of the season, “T-Bone And The Iceman” serves as a gentle exit out of angst and an affirmation of their partnership, and sometimes, that’s enough.
- Sherlock’s offhand musing about what a shrink would say about an impulse to “turn a violent criminal’s face into one’s own” is a really nice carryover of his guilt; a hint of ongoing introspection on his addiction without letting it overpower the other beats in this episode.
- I really enjoy that after the chewy chracter-centric arcs they’ve been giving us this season, Bell’s comfort level with Sherlock is so high he’ll actually call him out to a crime scene and then string him along until Sherlock starts to be a jerk before revealing the twist.
- “I’m telling you, one day they’re going to find my skeleton propped up on his futon.” Her time with us was brief, but I appreciate a character aware of the dangers of living in a crime procedural.
- “We do not require referees.” Oh, Sherlock, everyone who saw last season is calling bullshit on that.
- This isn’t writer Jason Tracey’s first outing in a Joan-centric episode; among others, he wrote “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville.”
- Unsurprised but quietly pleased that they gave in and delivered a “corpsicle” reference even before the halfway mark.
- “Former lover? Wouldn’t be the strangest.” I swear, I will never get to cover an episode of this show that doesn’t include Sherlock needlessly stepping over the line about Joan’s private life.
- Deductive oversight: Joan “The Other Great Detective” Watson didn’t notice the van had no plates when they were casing it for suspicious stuff?
- Joan’s large-scale watercolor-print blouse (worn for much of the second half of the episode, starting with Mom Lunch: Return of Lunch with Mom) is stunning.
- “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.” Hint of a senior Holmes to come, or just Sherlock dismissing every elephant documentary ever in the service of making a point? Time will tell.
- I had a No Clyde note written before this episode even aired, which felt like a gamble, but paid off handsomely. No wonder Sherlock’s so smug.
- And thanks to Myles for letting me step in! (I take care of the place while the Master is away.)