In terms of compelling, engaging, downright gripping serialized storytelling, Elementary might just be TV’s most formidable procedural. “Risk Management” is a gem of an episode with a killer twist that completely restructures Sherlock’s backstory and casts an entirely new light on what we know. The case springboards off of last week’s Moriarty cliffhanger, and results in an investigation that’s another Elementary classic, as it’s not as simple as having only one guilty party. But the episode proves to be so much more than that, as it not only brings Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) closer to the answers he’s been seeking, it also brings him closer to Watson (Lucy Liu), who goes all-in with her partner, whether or not he can keep his promise to keep her safe from harm. So much of Sherlock’s journey has been catalyzed by the death of Irene Adler, whom Sherlock describes as “THE woman” in his life — a female that “eclipsed and predominated the whole of her gender.” He goes into detail about Irene for the first time, recounting her optimism in the human condition, which he’d formerly seen as a sign of stupidity in others, but found strangely convincing coming from Irene, a “highly-intelligent” American artist responsible for restoring Renaissance paintings for art museums. It’s apparent on his face that there’s a certain warmth and nostalgia to these recollections, but also considerable pain. This is a person he loved, someone who was ripped away from him. His sobriety, his focus, his determination, his forthright desire to change and to better himself, and his world — it’s all been compelled by Irene’s death. This is why the final twist at the end of “Risk Management” stands to reshape the entire series, as we know it.
The case is the result of a deal Moriarty, a mysterious, velvety British voice on the other end of the phone, makes a deal with Sherlock: if Sherlock solves the case Moriarty gives him, then he’ll give Holmes the answers he’s after. With no other choice, Sherlock takes the case, which involves solving the murder of a relatively nondescript former serviceman named Wallace Rourke (Con Horgan). Holmes looks into the murder and discovers that Rourke was killed with great skill, having been subdued by a precise, martial arts strike to the neck, followed by the swift puncturing of his lungs with a screwdriver or a similar instrument. In the weeks leading up to his murder, Rourke had apparently been paranoid about being followed. In their investigation, Holmes and Watson discover that Rourke was correct in his assumptions — he was being followed, by employees of a risk management firm.
Holmes and Watson confront Darren Sutter (J.C. MacKenzie), a famed author and CEO of Sutter Risk Management, about having his employees surveil Rourke’s movements. After attempting to deny involvement, Sutter admits that he paid to have Rourke followed after he threatened one of their clients. However, he insisted that his employees found nothing to substantiate the threats, so he canceled surveillance immediately. It seems fairly cut-and-dry, but Holmes isn’t entirely sold on Sutter’s story. He reads Sutter’s book, published five years ago, and learns that Sutter once had a sister named Leah, who was murdered over twenty years ago. Sutter arrived at home and had come face-to-face with his sister’s killer. The killer fled, and Sutter went to the police to give a description, resulting in a police sketch that eerily resembled a young Wallace Rourke. Most tellingly, Holmes learns from the memoir that Darren Sutter is an expert in the form of martial arts used to subdue Rourke. When Sherlock approaches Sutter with this information, he tries to deny involvement. But Sutter, having been spooked by Sherlock’s investigation into the murder, goes to the police and confesses to the murder. It’s hardly what Sherlock had hoped for, as he’d instructed Sutter to come to him when he wanted to talk, since Holmes was operating under the theory that Moriarty wanted Sutter behind bars in order to exploit one of Sutter’s clients. With Sutter behind bars, Holmes can no longer work with him, meaning he can no longer prevent whatever sinister goal Moriarty has in mind.
But while it’s a very sound theory that Holmes is proposing, we never know for certain just what Moriarty’s angle is. He neither confirms nor denies Sherlock’s theory, only telling Sherlock that he hasn’t satisfied his end of the agreement. Yes, he solved Wallace Rourke’s murder, but the case goes much deeper — it goes back to the murder of Leah Sutter, 22 years ago. Sherlock breaks night trying to figure out Moriarty’s meaning, and learns that Rourke couldn’t have killed Leah Sutter. After being discharged from the Army in 1990, Rourke took a job in Saudi Arabia for an American oil company. When Watson confronts Sutter’s wife and business partner, Katie Sutter (Francie Swift), the meeting sets off red flags. Though Katie insists that she and Darren didn’t meet until after Leah was killed (she claims to have met Darren at a candlelight vigil for Leah), Watson becomes convinced that Katie set the entire Rourke murder plot in motion, framing an innocent man that looked like her husband’s recollected police sketch, in order to free her husband of his suicidal depression over the loss of his sister — by giving him a target for the vengeance he needed.
Yet it goes even deeper than that, as we learn that Katie actually knew Darren before Leah’s death. She had been cheating on her first husband with Darren, and she had been the one who walked in on Leah’s murder and had come face-to-face with her killer. However, she couldn’t reveal this to the police without revealing her affair to the public, so Darren pretended to be the one who walked in on the murder, in order to keep their affair a secret. He then gave a description of the killer based off of Katie’s recollections. Twenty-two years later, Darren is no less suicidal from the loss of his dearly beloved sister, and so Katie found an approximate representation of the man in the sketch in Rourke, and convinced Darren that Rourke was the killer she saw that night. Katie is placed under arrest, and though Sherlock attempts to give Darren some closure by not only breaking the news about Katie to him, but by also promising that he will do everything in his power to catch Leah’s true killer, Dareen isn’t interested in hearing any of it. He wants blood vengeance, which Sherlock can’t give to him, even if he understands why a man would want an eye for an eye.
Moriarty contacts Holmes and expresses his hope that they never meet face-to-face, since it would ruin their dynamic. He then forwards Holmes an address, telling Sherlock that all of his answers can be found there. Sherlock then takes a call from Watson, lying to her about having heard from Moriarty. For her part, Watson has spent the better part of the episode resisting Captain Gregson’s (Aidan Quinn) inferences that partnering with Sherlock puts her in harm’s way — that while Holmes is undoubtedly intelligent, he’s also self-absorbed and unstable. Watson ultimately sides with Sherlock, and is able to meet him at the address, proving that she’s every bit Sherlock’s student by cloning the phone he used to receive texts from Moriarty. She essentially tracked him without Holmes knowing it. In a moment that solidifies their partnership, she explains to Sherlock that while he might think he’s protecting her, she’s every bit as entitled to the answers Moriarty is providing, since she’s been committed to him the whole way. They go into the palatial, chained-off estate that houses the answers Sherlock has sought. Inside, the house serves as an eerie mirror of Sherlock’s brownstone, but bathed in white. Sherlock hears classical music and approaches a den where he finds a litany of Renaissance paintings. As Sherlock rounds the corner, he sees a person on a stool, touching up a painting. He begins to break down, in one of Jonny Lee Miller’s most exquisite moments as Sherlock Holmes. When Watson asks what’s wrong, he can only muster, breathlessly, the word “Irene.” Sherlock calls her name, and Irene Adler (Natalie Dormer) spins around and comes face-to-face with Sherlock Holmes for the first time since her supposed death. It’s a powerful, impactful conclusion to an outstanding episode.
Next week’s two-hour season finale promises to be huge, fully embracing the serialization that has proven to be one of the show’s best assets. “Risk Management” sets up the finale beautifully, bringing Sherlock’s post-sobriety journey back to its starting point, while also bringing him closer to Watson. I can’t think of many occasions where I procedural became appointment viewing, but Elementary has managed to become can’t-miss TV.