Networks have been trying to make “midseason finales”/“fall finales”/“winter finales”—take your pick of terms—happen for a few years now, but 2013 feels like the year when they’ve finally succeeded. If nothing else, the nomenclature has been adopted by shows like Scandal or Arrow to heighten the “event” status of individual episodes, and to make evident the importance of valuable live viewership.
Elementary does not seem bothered by this turn of events. Although technically the last episode Elementary will air in 2013, and billed as a “Fall finale” on at least one website I frequent, “Internal Audit” is uninterested in the event status a show like Scandal has gone after with tonight’s episode. While some shows are using the holiday break as a space in which to place a huge cliffhanger or a momentous development, Elementary largely tells a basic continuation of last week’s story, charting Bell and Sherlock’s respective responses as they try to move on from an event that has complicated each of their lives. It is quiet instead of loud, reflective rather than revelatory, and it works as a nice statement of purpose and focus to head into the break, which is just as valuable as a heart-stopping showdown.
The case itself becomes something of a nonentity, which is logical for an episode that notably precedes the murder-related cold open with scenes featuring Joan and Sherlock respectively. Opening the episode with Joan’s visit to Bell—which followed an extended “Previously On” package outlining the events of last week’s strong episode—was almost jarring, and following it up with Sherlock visiting a returning Alfredo highlighted the way “Internal Audit” focused on the aftershocks of the shooting. In an episode that—as Bell requested—never pairs the two characters together, those opening scenes nonetheless remind us that the two characters’ fates are linked, and sets out to explore how the two characters each separately need to come to terms with what happens.
That is obviously a more serious issue for Bell given the state of his hand, although the episode offers him minimal development: After losing his temper with Joan, Bell pushes paper for most of the episode, until Peter Gerety stops by as the deputy commissioner to offer Bell a new job working with what sounds like an anti-terrorist intelligence agency operating within the NYPD. We don’t get so much Bell in the episode that it feels like a life-changing development, but it works because it seems plausible. I can imagine a version of the show where Bell is working for another department and becomes a source for Joan—and Sherlock—while his therapy helps him try to regain the full use of his right hand. I can also imagine Bell turning down the job to stay where he is now. I doubt the show will change dramatically either way, but Gerety could be a strong presence, and the idea of Bell getting space to develop is never a bad thing for a show with such a small ensemble.
It’s not surprising that “Internal Audit” spends more time on Sherlock’s side of the shooting given that this is both a show about Sherlock and that it’s more easily woven into the cascading murders that drive the episode forward. There’s not a lot to say about that story, given that we’re given so little time with both the victims and the killer(s) such that the story fails to resonate. That the heart of the crime was the head of a Holocaust Survivors Reparations non-profit who was stealing money from his own charity created a complex set of moral contradictions, but there wasn’t any space to do anything with them, and the victims remained both too anonymous and too numerous to make any sort of impact as a standalone story.
More than usual, then, this was about the basic rhythms of a case giving our central characters reasons to engage with changes in their day-to-day lives. For Joan, it’s running into a former client in the midst of a case, confronting the confidentiality required by her old life intersecting with her new life in a way that complicates both. Ultimately, Chloe Butler—a personal chef and recovering heroin addict played by Heather Burns—had no involvement in the case, but it’s a useful reminder that Joan carries her own baggage into this field. It’s a counterpoint of sorts to Sherlock’s relationship with Abigail in “Poison Pen,” but within a more contained context more suiting Joan’s personality and history compared to Sherlock’s. While the case itself had minimal personal stakes beyond the vague evocation of a dead reporter’s family, Joan’s interactions with Chloe have stakes for both of them, and became a good way to make a roadblock in solving the case simultaneously function as a character moment for Joan and a point of conflict between her and Sherlock.
It also serves a useful thematic parallel, given that Alfredo’s return foregrounds Sherlock’s role as both a sponsee and a potential sponsor. The reminder of Joan’s time as a sober companion and Alfredo’s return not so subtly indicate the “program” has become more important, natural given how “Internal Audit” identifies the ways the situation with Bell is testing Sherlock’s resolve. It’s not that Sherlock sits on the precipice of relapsing—although this episode reminded me how real that threat will feel when they eventually evoke it—so much as the fact Sherlock finds his life becoming complicated by his feelings in a way he hasn’t seen before. Whereas normally he is capable of channeling his compassion through his work, telling Alfredo of the empathy he feels for victim’s families, he’s finding this particular empathy to be making his work more difficult: He’s struggling to concentrate, he’s losing focus, and he’s unable to confront it, given that he is respecting Bell’s request to avoid contact. Sherlock still “solves the case,” so it’s not as though he’s entirely broken, but he’s affected enough to go to Alfredo for guidance, something he never thought he’d do as often as he does (with the episode making the claim that Sherlock has been seeing his sponsor more regularly than Alfredo’s absence from the season would suggest).
The idea of giving Sherlock someone to sponsor is both logical and kind of obvious when you think about it, and it seems unlikely to be a revelation for the series. Randy—or Randall, as Sherlock calls him—is a pretty generic entity, a kid who’s three months sober and needs someone to help him along. It’s unclear how much we’ll see of Randall going forward, but that final scene had little to do with Randall. Indeed, although Alfredo is right to tell Sherlock that being someone’s sponsor is “not about you,” a lesson Sherlock has historically struggled with, the idea of giving Sherlock someone to sponsor is very much about Sherlock. Just look at how Jonny Lee Miller is selling Sherlock’s discomfort with his body language, pulling Sherlock out of his comfort zone to serve as a source of support. It’s not the first time Sherlock has struggled to step into a new role, given how central that idea is to his relationship with Joan, but the “program” is reinforced here as a central part of his recovery and something to which he can turn not simply in situations that involve his addiction but also in situations like Bell’s shooting that affect him on a personal level in similar ways.
Although Elementary has not always used the “program” as a framing mechanism, and Alfredo’s non-presence throughout the series makes this a somewhat convenient investigation into its role in Sherlock’s life, it’s an effective if also understated reminder of where the stakes of the series lie. Although a case with three homicides and a corrupt charity needs higher stakes in order to avoid being rendered senseless, plot-marking destruction, the rest of “Internal Audit” highlighted the high stakes of day-to-day life for Sherlock, Bell, and Joan, a solid construction that brings the show into 2014 with less of a thrilling cliffhanger and more of a contemplative character piece.
- With Ato Essandoh’s regular series gig on Copper concluded with that show’s cancellation, one wonders if there’s room for him to recur here; interestingly, he’s also got a recurring spot on CBS’ Blue Bloods, according to IMDB. Perhaps there will be a fight between the shows’ respective New York City crews for the right to his services? Either way, it should be curious to see if we hear more “Bad Boys” ringtones in the future.
- I’m always interested when the series provides a clue during the opening murder, as it did here with the voice of the killer being revealed. It ended up being a useless clue given that we never heard Nelson speak before he was identified as the suspect, but still.
- I got in trouble recently for suggesting people would best know Chris Bauer from The Wire, but Gerety will always be Judge Phelan for me, which was only reinforced by his recurring role as one of The Good Wife’s many delightful judges.
- I liked coming back to Joan watching all of the skater footage on Sherlock’s wall of televisions—it was a small detail, but I liked seeing one of his methods being so casually practiced by Joan.
- Was anyone else weirded out when Joan said “Two Thousand and Eleven?” Or am I the weird one for thinking that’s the wrong way to say it?
- I knew I recognized Heather Burns from lots of places, but I hadn’t realized how central Miss Congeniality was to my pop culture memory of her.
- Clyde Watch: Last week has bought them some goodwill, but 2014 is a new year with new expectations for Clyde, Clyde, and more Clyde.