‘Elementary’ Season 6 Finds Sherlock Holmes Facing a New Crisis

As season six of CBS’s “Elementary” begins, brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes finds himself facing a new, very personal crisis as he continues to track down bad guys. It seemed addiction was finally in his past, but now the series has thrown a new hurdle his way. For five seasons now this show has re-imagined the iconic character as a detective in modern-day Manhattan, and it remains an entertaining concept. There’s an old-fashioned style kept alive by the series in the way you get a new case every week. The challenge is how to keep every case feeling original.

Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) begins the season suffering from headaches, hallucinations and other ills. A visit to the doctor reveals that he is suffering from “Post-Concussion Syndrome.” It seems the years of battling heroin addiction, doing boxing as a pastime and fighting criminals has taken a severe toll on Holmes’s health. He tells his partner, Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), who is also dealing with the sudden passing of her mentally ill father. Watson tries to get Holmes to rest, but he insists on continuing to work. New cases emerge including the murder of a sex tape participant, the apparent assassination via lightning of a corporate supervisor, and the strange murder/arson of an American Revolution memorabilia collector. The more he works, the more Holmes’s symptoms will slowly start intruding. At one of his regular meetings for recovering addicts, Holmes meets a mysterious man named Michael (Desmond Harrington), who claims the detective has inspired him on his road to sobriety. Michael also wants to help Holmes get back on his feet, with the case of a fellow recovering addict who has disappeared.

When “Elementary” first premiered in 2012, it was seen as a gamble to take such a famous character and update him into a former heroin addict running around Manhattan. But the show proved itself as a weekly procedural combining humor with puzzling cases. There are some continuing story threads, but every episode stands on its own as a mini-mystery. In the new season the first three episodes set the tone for what to expect, namely that Holmes now has to face his body in rebellion as he insists on being a detective. In the season premiere, “An Infinite Capacity for Taking Pain,” he worries about having a hazy memory and feeling constantly tired. For someone of his keen mind it is disastrous to step into a room and forget why. In one scene he attempts to get answers out of a suspect just as his symptoms kick in. Here we are getting a more humbled Holmes, sure of his intellect, but unsure of how well he can continue functioning. During a particularly well-written moment in the third episode, “Pushing Buttons,” Holmes opens up about the dilemma that work is what keeps him sober, but now that could be taken away.

Season six also gives some welcome attention to Joan. We get a window into her personal life when her father passes and she faces the fact that she hardly knew him. Her half-sister hands a letter the father wrote before dying, but Joan refuses to read it. Lucy Liu has always played Joan as the more level-headed counter to Holmes, bringing a cool intelligence to the role. In this season she becomes more concerned and uncertain, aware that Holmes is risking more than his sobriety. The storyline involving her father also adds a strong, deeper dimension to the character. This is a season where these two characters are each reaching a crossroads in their lives.

Fans of “Elementary” will still find the humor and sleuthing that defines the show intact this season. The writers are starting to really get into “Law & Order” mode by yanking plots out of headlines. An heiress is caught in a sex tape murder/scandal in “An Infinite Capacity for Pain” while the second episode, “Once You’ve Ruled Out God” goes from a hunt for missing plutonium to tracking down a white power group. “Pushing Buttons” has a more traditional sort of Holmes plot as an arson case leads to a mystery involving historical artifacts. Some episodes are a bit more engaging than others, but the show gives longtime viewers what they crave. “Pushing Buttons” has a good twist at the end that you just don’t see coming. When the plot’s mastermind is revealed it’s a good shocker. We also get those classic Holmes moments where the guy is the detective version of “Good Will Hunting,” capable of knowing all. He grabs a piece of gravel from a wheel and deduces what part of town the gravel is from, when Joan mentions an obscure land scandal from the 19th century Holmes replies, “ah yes, wasn’t that in 1789?” Part of the charm of “Elementary” is that it has transferred the character to the present, but adapting his personality without losing it. Aidan Quinn is also back as Captain Thomas Gregson, supervising Holmes and Watson, and interrogating suspects with great gruff.

“Elementary” has not lost its style in this new season, which is a rare enough feat. Its formula works just like the original Arthur Conan Doyle novels, you keep going back for a new case. But there are also new dimensions here, with the characters facing new personal obstacles. There’s still plenty here to solve.

Elementary” Season 6 premieres April 30 and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.