Elementary season 3 episode 24 review: A Controlled Descent

Elementary’s season 3 finale leaves the show on a bleak note, with Sherlock continuing to battle his demons…

This review contains spoilers.

3.24 A Controlled Descent

That’s that then. The potential relapse hanging over Sherlock since Elementary began has finally happened. We’re given to assume that after dishing out a beating to Oscar (surely not killing him but calculating the amount of suffering even his “pathetic frame” could endure) and being taken on a magical mystery tour of his inner demons, Sherlock made the decision to use again. There was some symbolism involving a dark tunnel to help us towards this conclusion, but as ever, a single look at Jonny Lee Miller’s face was all the storytelling required.

When Sherlock told Joan in that shooting gallery that even surrounded by triggers, he was no closer to using than he was yesterday, it was the truth. He’s always on the precipice of falling, it’s no more or less likely from one day to the next. For him, there’s no such thing as “cured”.

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Which is why, as Holmes predicted in that leaky faucet speech all those episodes ago, so it came to pass that his relapse was an anti-climax and not some grand drama. Now that it’s happened, what really changes? He’s still the same man constantly battling his addiction, only now he’s back to counting his sobriety in hours and days, not months and years. It was complex, bleak stuff for a show usually so reliant on eccentricity and silliness.

To call it an anti-climax isn’t to say there wasn’t drama leading up to the relapse itself. There was plenty, though unfortunately, it was so contrived as to be largely meaningless. The notion that an addict like Oscar would concoct such a scheme to trick Sherlock and bring him down to his level is a ludicrous one.

The show would have us believe that Oscar discovered his little sister’s corpse and, instead of calling a coroner or exhibiting any signs of grief, immediately embarked on a complex plan involving kidnapping at gunpoint, blackmail, and trips to a rehab facility, drug den and the home of a notorious sex attacker, all to knock a former shooting buddy off his sober pedestal? That’s insane, even bearing in mind the animosity between him and Sherlock, or that junkies don’t tend to be the greatest decision-makers.

Usually, Elementary is a show that thrives on the ludicrous, but only as the entertaining trappings of an investigation. Until now, it’s done well to separate its outlandish case elements from its sincere character moments (Watson’s schizophrenic homeless biological dad—whatever happened to him?—being one unfortunate exception). This week merged the two in a deeply unsatisfying way.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that Oscar didn’t behave like a human being. He’s barely even a character. This week he was addiction personified, a demonic, selfish presence in a filthy coat, like that dead-eyed photo of Alfredo in his using days. He taunted and tempted, stringing Sherlock along on a dead goose chase and callously using his own sister’s cadaver as bait, all in an attempt to push him off the wagon. Only if he’d appeared as a cartoon devil on Sherlock’s shoulder could the characterisation have been any less subtle. Oscar was indeed “a sickening means to a sickening end”, for the writers as much as for the consultant detective himself.

That end is presumably written on a now-yellowing card pinned to a corkboard in the Elementary writers’ room. ‘Sherlock relapse’ must always have been the final destination of season three, it’s just a pity that his route towards it felt so unanchored in anything solid. It’s as if A Controlled Descent knew it needed to end up with our recovering addict having strayed from sobriety, but didn’t much care how it delivered Sherlock to that point. The result was a lack of emotional payoff, deliberate anti-climax or no.

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Ach, perhaps I’m still just sore about the lack of a big bad this half-season (I know, I know, addiction was the big bad all along…), but bleak realism feels an uncharacteristic place for Elementary‘s third run to conclude.

Still, we were at least thrown the crumb of Sherlock’s billionaire daddy being on his way. Whether he’ll actually show up this time (and who’ll be playing him) is the question.

Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, Absconded, here.

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