Elementary Review: “A Controlled Descent”

photo credit: @ELEMENTARYstaff

photo credit: @ELEMENTARYstaff

Here’s my review of Elementary season three finale “A Controlled Descent.” Please note that this isn’t a recap of what happens. I’m assuming that you’ve already seen the episode. There are spoilers in this review.

So I was way off base last week when I said Gregson’s storyline would continue in the season finale. That was my fault. Apparently we’ll get back to that story next season. Instead, “A Controlled Descent” was another story about Sherlock’s drug addiction. I’ll be completely honest and say I was a bit disappointed with the end of the episode. Not with how it actually ended, but more about how we reached the point where Sherlock fell off the wagon again. I have questions about what happened but they won’t be addressed until next season. Right now, we’ve just been left hanging and Sherlock’s big moment felt a bit rushed and incomplete to me.

I appreciate that the show tried to do something different than the usual murder mystery. Searching for two missing people (Alfredo and Oscar’s sister Olivia) could have been interesting. But I think splitting the case between the two hurt the effectiveness of it. We couldn’t focus on leads and clues when we’re constantly switching between the two. Neither investigation is particularly memorable which is disappointing for a season finale.

The character of Oscar is also problematic. There was a point in the episode where I just found myself questioning why he would go through all that work just to make his point. Am I the only one who felt his actions were unbelievable? The whole thing is just a revenge motive. He wants Sherlock to fall down to his level because he himself can’t seem to move up at all. But the extremes Oscar goes to make no sense. He kidnapped Alfredo and held him hostage to make Sherlock look for his sister. Even if I can accept that a junkie would do something like that, once it’s revealed that he knew his sister was dead all along, it makes even less sense than before. Sure, he’s angry, but this isn’t a normal way to deal with grief. He found his sister dead of an overdose and what is his response? He leaves her there so that he can drag Sherlock through the process in the hopes that Sherlock will start using again. It’s absurd. It’s over-the-top and unnatural. It’s a plot point that only exists to make something happen. While the episodes usually feel like a glimpse into the lives of real people, this one felt like a story contrived by writers who wanted something dramatic to happen for the sake of being dramatic.

As always, there was at least some character development for Sherlock. And it started off good even if it wasn’t effective at the end of the episode. We open with Sherlock and Alfredo hanging out, expanding on their new friendship instead of sponsorship. And it’s nice to see this in a season where Sherlock has been focusing more on interacting with people and developing functioning relationships with them. And as we see, a new friendship isn’t always easy. They disagree. This may be the most genuine part of the whole episode.

And what’s heartbreakingly effective is that once Sherlock begins the case, his is cut off from everyone but Oscar. He doesn’t have Joan, Gregson, or Bell since they are all out looking for Alfredo. Obviously, he doesn’t have Alfredo either. And on top of that, he doesn’t even have a new sponsor to turn to. Sherlock is alone. While I didn’t like the group being split up, it was an effective demonstration of Sherlock’s state of mind. He’s been cut off from his group of support.

But this brings me to the end of the episode where I lose the understanding of Sherlock’s state of mind. Here is the end where Sherlock finds out Alfredo is okay, then he beats the crap out of Oscar, and then walks into the dark tunnel with the heroin. I am confused. It’s implied that Oscar’s final push works and Sherlock uses again. But I don’t understand why since Alfredo is safe and Oscar isn’t forcing him. I don’t have the mind of a recovering addict, so I need Elementary to show me how Sherlock feels and why he makes this decision. As is often the case, it feels like the episode ran out of time. There just wasn’t any time to delve into Sherlock’s brain (and also no good way to show that since he has no one to talk to.) If perhaps the previous episode would have set up this plot instead of Gregson’s maybe it would have been more effective.

I’m assuming that the opening of season four will address some of these questions. At some point, Sherlock will have to talk about it. But at the moment, it’s just disappointing to have to wait for things to make sense. Don’t get me wrong though. I like when Elementary is messy and real. Relapsing does happen to recovering addicts sometimes. It’s okay that Sherlock fell because I think some compelling stories will come out of it. I just wish it had played out in a different manner, one that felt more true to the character and less like a dramatic season finale.

Extra Case Files

  • One thing this episode did perfectly was on the visual front. Weren’t the locations just amazing? Even the heroin den was beautiful in its own way. And the bright colors of the graffiti at the railroad tunnel were excellent contrast to the tone of the scene.
  • Apparently we get to meet Sherlock’s father when season four begins. Any speculations on what he’ll be like and what will happen?
  • Can we get more focus on Joan next season? It’s her turn for character development.
  • I can’t completely hate this episode simply because it opens with the greatest comedy duo of all time (in my opinion): Abbott and Costello. And the “who’s on first?” skit is class and also the best (again, in my opinion). (But the actual best part of that scene was when Alfredo leaves and says “I don’t know,” waits for Sherlock to finish the joke, and then just awkwardly does it himself.)
  • Overall thought on the season: the Kitty arc was the most compelling and excellent. It had the right balance of character development and plot, along with a great payoff at the end of it. The second half of the season struggled to regain that, but it still had its great moments too.
  • Favorite moment of the season: Sherlock and Joan shouting a serious conversation over death metal in the police station from the “Bella” episode. Still cracks me up every time. What’s yours?

So what did you think? Like it or hate it? Did Sherlock’s final decision make sense to you and was it effective? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments! The fourth season of Elementary begins in November and I’ll be back with reviews for it then!

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4 thoughts on “Elementary Review: “A Controlled Descent”

  1. If you look at Irene/Jamie’s actions, they make no more sense than Oscar’s. Get to know & seduce Sherlock and then fake your death to keep him off your trail. Then go back to him as Irene pretending that you never died.

    • I totally understand what you mean because they were both similarly ridiculous situations. I think the difference though is that Moriarty is portrayed as a mastermind criminal and a psychopath who enjoys stuff like that whereas Oscar is just a bitter junkie doing what he can. Perhaps? But thank you for pointing out the parallel because I hadn’t thought of that before 🙂

  2. Pingback: Elementary Review: “The Past is Parent” | Notorious Rambler

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