Holmes and Watson are back in Elementary season 4 — only this time, it seems that the two are flying solo. At the end of season three, Sherlock and Joan were tied up with a whole host of problems, from a sudden drug relapse to possible felony assault charges. Now, without the assistance of the NYPD to back them up, things are about to get even more sticky for the duo — not that they can’t handle it.
In the final episode of the last season, “A Controlled Descent”, Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) was seen beating up his former drug dealer, Oscar Rankin (Michael Weston), after being pulled into a wild goose chase, which ended with Sherlock’s vivid realization that he had been played. Punches were thrown and Sherlock ended up stomping all over Oscar’s nearly-dead body before skulking down a darkened tunnel with a tin of heroin to get high.
Season four, episode one, “The Past is Parent,” brings everything to a screeching halt: If the second half of season three was meant to resemble an out of control train, speeding toward a shadowy end (the metaphor then with the heroin-tunnel is especially appropriate), season four is an emergency brake, pulled just seconds before the train hurtled off the edge of a cliff. With Sherlock and Joan (Lucy Liu) now severed from their working ties with the NYPD as a result of Sherlock’s relapse and potential assault charge, there’s nothing left for the two but to sort through a backlog of old cases and unavoidable conversations.
Of course, as mundane as that might sound, there’s a method to the madness. As executive producer Rob Doherty pointed out in a recent interview with EW, it wouldn’t make sense for the new and improved Sherlock to scuttle around rock bottom and throw tantrums. Sherlock’s “better equipped” now to deal with the repercussions of his heroin binge. That much is evident by the way he immediately throws himself into a structured routine of Narcotics Anonymous meetings and cold case files. More importantly, now that Joan has permanently moved back into the brownstone, Sherlock knows that there’s someone waiting at home to hash things out if he needs it — a huge shift from the tenuous bond we saw between the two at the beginning of last season.
That doesn’t mean he’s without his flaws. Sherlock has always been stubbornly dismissive of any potential harm to himself, which is showcased perfectly when he offers to let a witness smash his hand with a wrench, just to get the truth in return. After being beaten by two men on the street, it’s Joan that has to drag him to the emergency room — Sherlock, of course, sees no point in useless check-ups.
But that same casual attitude doesn’t translate when it comes to Joan. For her, Sherlock will do anything. He understands well that his debt to Joan is immeasurable, and he’ll do anything to keep her future in the black. For all intents and purposes, Sherlock seems to be moving forward. (Of course, all this development could all be crushed with the appearance of Sherlock’s father, Morland Holmes (John Noble), who finally appeared at the end of the episode. Certainly, Sherlock himself seems troubled. But that’s another story for another day.)
Joan, too, scored a few important moments of character development in this episode, something that even her hasty (and strangely written) departure at the end of season two couldn’t achieve. While Joan has made attempts at self-sustainability before (moving into a new apartment, snagging a new boyfriend, and then mourning the loss on her own), it wasn’t until she realized that her identity had significantly evolved that she made any real progress toward becoming — for lack of a better term — a certifiable badass herself.
“What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit?” Joan asks Mr. Cook, an associate of Morland Holmes, after Cook smugly remarks on Sherlock’s heroin addiction. Cook’s dumbfounded face following Joan’s retort says it all.
That one rare moment of unbridled contempt signals a larger change in Joan’s demeanor: No longer is she Joan Watson, M.D., or Joan Watson the sober companion turned detective’s apprentice — Joan has gone from tiptoeing around civilities to firmly punching back when threatened. She’s established herself as an equal counterpart in a successful consulting business that depends on both of its members being unafraid to get their hands dirty, and so far it seems to be suiting her well.
It’s about time, too. In fact, all of Joan’s previous paltry attempts at starting her own consulting practice now seem ridiculous in comparison. Of course Joan was successful in her work with the NYPD while Sherlock was away in London at the beginning of last season. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room to improve. If this new season of Elementary has already given us, in a single episode, one massively important overarching theme going forward, it’s both Joan and Sherlock’s ability to be independent while not being independent. And while both sides of the crime-solving duo are more than capable of going it alone, it’s their combined independence that will serve them well as they venture out into the cold this season.
For the most part, previous seasons of Elementary have offered interesting perspective on both Joan and Sherlock as individuals, tugging them apart, then allowing them to butt heads over technicalities. Now that they’re back together for good (or at least for a good while), the show is finally cementing that classic Holmes/Watson dynamic we’ve grown to love over so many years. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be proud.