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More than anything else, this week’s Elementary is a strong case for the value of procedural world-building. Although Ms. Hudson never appears, she’s mentioned multiple times, having reorganized Sherlock’s books and knitted turtle cozies for Clyde to help him through the cold winter. Clyde himself appears not once but twice, each time in different turtle cozy, delighting Clydesdales—that’s what Clyde fans call themselves, right?—everywhere. And Sherlock twice has to rely on the anonymous collective of immature hackers Everyone, whom he dealt with back in “We Are Everyone,” and whom he bargains with in the form of personal humiliations (including singing the soundtrack to Frozen in a prom dress, which is kept unfortunately off-screen).

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These are details that might normally be reserved for the stray observations of these reviews were they to appear individually, but collectively, they make a much stronger impact. Although “The Many Mouths Of Aaron Colville” is built around a re-opened cold case with ties to Joan’s past, it is the smaller details that make this a memorable hour. It felt like the culmination of various recurring elements, including Sherlock’s penchant for waking Joan up in the morning—in addition to adding the turtle cozies to his Clyde wakeup strategy, Sherlock also elevated his “Outfit Selection” process by picking Joan out an entire outfit, including a scarf. One of the most enjoyable details in the episode is that Joan is wearing a completely different outfit when she appears in the following scene, Sherlock’s fashion sense having been rejected even if his strategy ultimately worked to get Joan back on the case.

I focus on these elements because they’re growing more effective with time. The show is accumulating details that we identify not simply as tropes of the crime procedural format, but rather as tropes of this series, ones that register as specific in ways that differentiate between Elementary and shows of a similar nature. They’re also elements that fans have connected with, and which the show has helped foster through their social media accounts—the Elementary writing staff Twitter account is often using Clyde as a mascot of sorts for the series, likely because the writers are getting so much audience feedback regarding the show’s most beloved reptilian cast member. To see the greatest hits of the show—the missing Ms. Hudson, the oft-absent Clyde, the “Sherlock wakes up Joan” sequences—deployed at once, it seems like something close to fan service—the Twitter account even promised that a Ms. Hudson appearance may be on the horizon, a promise I hope the show keeps.

All of this is important to the series’ longevity, both in terms of convincing audiences to continue watching and to make it easier for the writers to draw on specific rather than generic details to round out their storytelling. At the same time, though, these smaller details must work alongside larger details, like the Joan Watson backstory deployed in this hour. The case-of-the-week revolves around a flashback to 2005, when Joan had bangs and was working alongside the surgeon who operated on a convicted murderer—the eponymous Aaron Colville—who was stabbed in prison and died on the operating table. New evidence that could exonerate him sends her back to the memory, as she wonders whether her boss had let an innocent man die on purpose, driving her to solve the case and discover whether she had helped commit a miscarriage of justice (or at least stood by while it occurred).

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It’s a difficult story for me to grasp onto. It struggles from seeming too convenient, as though this new case would happen to coincide so directly with an event from Joan’s past. And as the episode went on, it felt like another use of “the past” as a vague idea to populate Joan’s path forward, rather than providing her with anything to motivate her in the context of the present. And although the story gained more clarity in its conclusion—that Colville admitted he had killed the women, and Joan’s boss is unsure if that led him to not save his life—it was clarity that seemed too neat. The episode posits that Joan was always meant to be a consulting detective because she was herself pondering letting Colville die and allowing his organs to save others, thinking about justice instead of saving his life.

It’s an interesting question, but it’s all too existential, relying on notions of fate and destiny instead of anything tangible. Whereas we have a strong grasp on what Sherlock does to pass the time and keep himself occupied, Joan remains largely a cipher. Going back to her past has the potential to fill in certain gaps, but every gap filled in here was either isolated to this specific case or felt written onto the character as opposed to being written by the character. Liu’s performance has always been strong, and there’s an element of mystery around her personal life that can be useful, but in order for this case to resonate for Joan the episode had to construct a hyper-specific back story, making it more of a stretch and limiting its value to Joan’s character more broadly.

Whether or not the case-of-the-week itself is satisfying is not Elementary’s long-term goal. Yes, it wants the story of Aaron Colville to provide the requisite twists and turns—there were a larger number of those than usual here—and for the reveal of the killer to connect with audiences. But it also wants the rest of the episode to add something, whether it’s a recurring figure (Everyone) or a more substantial piece of character development. As a statement regarding Elementary’s desire to build out its world, “The Many Mouths Of Aaron Colville” worked well, and it even did a better-than-usual job of keeping multiple suspects in play before the final reveal (that it was Colville’s mother). But if this was intended as a meaningful episode for Joan, it never connected the way it needed to, and it leaves her character a part of the show that’s working fine but has some considerable room for improvement.

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Stray observations:

  • I am never one to complain about the presence of cute dogs—another blatant appeal to online fanbases—but I do have questions about the “Wheaten Terrier” presented to us. Admitting that not all Wheatens look the same, I would never have marked that dog as a Wheaten, and I was staring at this above my television as I was watching.
  • So what song from Frozen do we think Sherlock chose? Or was he performing the whole soundtrack? If so, what harmony do we think he sang in the duet parts of “Love Is An Open Door?” And do you think they made him do Demi Lovato’s single version of “Let It Go?” These are important questions.
  • Clyde Watch: I just only hope they don’t think double the Clyde will make it acceptable for him to go missing for another long stretch of time. Because that’s not how it works, Elementary writers.

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