It is always interesting, when it comes to adaptations (modern or otherwise) of Sherlock Holmes, to see how they choose to delve into Sherlock’s drug-addled past. On the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch’s great detective is glib and clipped and thoroughly British about the entire thing. While this has its own charms (as his denizens of fans on tumblr prove), I’ve always preferred the more emotionally intelligent and tender characterized of Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock. His great mind and stellar sense of deductive reasoning are almost always wasted in the confines of Elementary which is, at best, a B+ procedural. Don’t get me wrong, I love it!
When it comes to find the television equivalent of comfort food, Elementary is like the classiest pizza place – the one that makes the killer garlic knots. But I don’t go there expecting to see Gordon Ramsey yelling at a Michelin starred chef. If I did, it would be super-jarring (and also that I would have to sign a waiver to be on Kitchen Nightmares). It’s almost as jarring when Elementary gives Jonny Lee Miller an opportunity to really spread his wings — he’s so often so much better than the world and the writing he’s been dropped into.
This week was a classic example of just this. Sherlock was forced to revisit the darkest hours of his drug-fueled days, and in the process we got to see some of the best work Jonny Lee Miller has done on the show to date. The mystery was almost incidental, and while usually that irks me, this time it served as the perfect secondary vehicle to Sherlock confronting the most frightening parts of his past: His self-loathing, and his fears that he may have done permanent damage to his brain in his drug-using days.
That was, in effect, the most interesting aspect of the case of the week. After an initial red herring where I was briefly very concerned that we were going to have to watch Joan solve the case of the stolen folk-music jingle, we discover that Sherlock is actually the case. He’s a suspect in the case of a woman’s disappearance. Police found a note with his handwriting implicating him in the crime. Sherlock soon realizes that he knew the woman in question and was helping her, but can’t remember any of the pertinent details due to the drugs.
The hunt to figure out the details behind the crime take on an urgency, then, that most of the crimes of the week don’t particularly have. Sherlock is desperate to atone for his time on drugs, his past behavior, and to right any wrongs he may have committed. Frankly, by the episode’s end I was far more invested in Sherlock slaking the demands of his demons than I was in whether or not he would solve the crime. I don’t even necessarily think that this is a bad thing. Unfortunately, in all this juicy Sherlock emotional tumult, Joan got a little lost. That said, she’s had a nice little arc of her own this season, one that is sure to come back into play with some more Moriarty closer to the finale.