Holmes’s past informs his present; the spectre of his drug addiction, and the fear that boredom will drive him back to drug abuse, is one of the things that keeps him devoted to his work. But the blank spaces of his days as an addict have never been filled in, perhaps because he fears confronting some of the things he did. So what if he committed a murder – and can’t even remember it?
It’s not like he wouldn’t be capable. He was quite prepared to kill the man he thought murdered Irene Adler, and he has the physical prowess to tackle even the most fearsome adversary. But his fear is that he might have killed someone innocent.
Joan is working on the case of a guitarist whose work has been plagiarized – but nothing comes of this plot-line, so we’re not sure what note it’s meant to sound. Sherlock is experimenting with sleep deprivation – a nonsense, as he would realize perfectly well that sleep is a neurological essential, and deprivation could only lead to derangement.
Nonetheless, he welcomes the distraction of an invitation to investigate the murder of a cleaner, one Maria Gutierrez, until he realises that he is the suspect – a note with his signature has been found in the victim’s purse. In late 2011, when the woman disappeared, Holmes admits that he was prone to drug-induced paranoia, hallucinations and blackouts.
The downward spiral into dependence was started, he explains to Joan, by experiments to increase his deductive ability and so solve the supposed murder of Irene. Locked out of the Gutierrez case, Holmes has to rely on Joan to investigate; she visits the victim’s family but gets a frosty reception.
Holmes undertakes an even harder task, digging into his own past by contacting his former dealer, Oscar. The danger, of course, is that street sleazebag Oscar might lead him back into bad ways; or could he be the killer? But Oscar claims that he knows nothing.
Maria’s family beats up Holmes, who does an oddly ineffectual job of fighting back, because he’s busy stealing a wallet off the attacker, Prentice, a relative of the victim. Sherlock’s apparent willingness to endure physical violence to get at the truth is worrying, but worse, Prentice punctures Sherlock’s theory as to why Maria might have been seeking his help. He does, though, point a finger at a councilman who employed her, Barclay, but that leads nowhere.
Sherlock, who has tried desperately to forget chunks of his past, now has to confront them, forcing Joan to realize that she doesn’t know what he might have been capable of. At best, he feels that’s he’s failed Maria, and that his self-loathing is justified. But Joan’s faith in him is unwavering, and Bell comes up with a connection between Maria and Oscar. Oscar insists that the guilty party is indeed Holmes, who is subsequently arrested on hearsay evidence from a mystery witness.
Joan forces Oscar to admit that he had put Maria in contact with Sherlock, and that he kept a bloodstained shirt found in Sherlock’s apartment. But she realises that the bloodstains aren’t Maria’s, and are evidence from an entirely different crime, evidence Maria had brought to Sherlock to investigate. Sherlock recognizes the bloodstained shirt as belonging to Councilman Barclay, the killer, it transpires, both of his secret lover, and of Maria, who witnessed the cleanup.
It’s little comfort to Sherlock to know that he didn’t fail Maria, because he did forget that she needed his help; he tries to offer Oscar some help in amends, but gets a brutal rejection.
Sherlock’s confronted the darkest part of his past, but we’re not entirely convinced that the experience has helped him. Oscar remains as the chilling image of what Sherlock might have become – that, or something worse.
So who ripped off the guitar lady’s composition? We may never know. Maybe Clyde the tortoise did it.
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