This episode was surprisingly dark, even for a procedural show in which the two main characters are a recovering drug addict and a surgeon accused of malpractice.
Watson walks downstairs the morning after young Mariana Castillo has been kidnapped. Holmes has been up all night studying his notes on serial criminals and informs her that this is the latest in a series of seven kidnappings since 2005 done by a criminal the NYPD calls the “Balloon Man”, after his penchant for leaving a bunch of balloons behind when he takes his victims.
Watson wants to make sure Sherlock stays healthy, because apparently “sober partner” is the same thing as “life coach”. She suggests jogging, and, you know, sleep. He protests that he can sleep once they save Mariana Castillo.
Gregson and Holmes question a witness, who says she saw a brown van driving away from the Castillos’ house. They track the brown van and Elementary’s first car chase ensues. The driver jumps out, and is clearly too young to be the man who’s been kidnapping children since 2005. Instead, it is Adam Kempler – the first victim of the Balloon Man.
At the police station, Watson suspects Adam has Stockholm Syndrome, and Holmes’ interview seems to confirm this. Adam refers to Balloon Man as his “father”. Holmes wants to question him further, but is impeded by the arrival of Adam’s parents, who have hired lawyers.
From photos collected at the original crimes and Adam’s mention that his kidnapper works nights, Holmes deducts that the Balloon Man was a newspaper deliveryman. He tracks down the suspect – Samuel Abbot. At Abbot’s apartment, the police find empty rooms and balloons saying “Congratulations”, as well as a video of Abbot threatening to kill Mariana if he doesn’t get his “son” Adam back.
The Castillos want to make the trade and suspect Adam of assisting Abbot in his crimes.
Adam is offered an immunity deal for any crimes he might have committed in conjunction with Abbot. Holmes: “You will never get their blood off your hands. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.” He’s on the verge of tears and so Is Adam.
The police find and confront Abbot, who pulls a gun and commits suicide. Mariana is safely returned to her parents, but Holmes suspects that Abbot, who wore a back brace and was not physically strong, was not responsible for all seven kidnappings.
From clues in Abbot’s apartment, Holmes realizes that Adam turned the tables on Abbot and dominated him. He took to kidnapping and murder himself, using Abbot as an accomplice. But as Adam points out when Holmes confronts him, under his immunity agreement he can’t be prosecuted for any of those crimes because Abbot was involved. Holmes leaves, only to visit Adam the next day.
As it turns out, Abbot was in the hospital having back surgery (thus the brace) in April 2009 when the fourth victim was kidnapped. That means Adam was solely responsible and can be prosecuted. Case closed.
Back at the apartment, Holmes (who hasn’t slept in days) protests when Watson tells him to rest. He says that he’s on a post-case high and will solve three cases by midnight, but as soon as Watson turns around to hand him some relaxing tea, he’s fallen asleep against the armchair. Saving people is tiring work.
What’s good about this episode is that Holmes and Watson are emotionally affected not due to personal problems but because the crime itself is horrible. It’s a call back to the books, where Holmes is a detective to help people, not just to entertain himself with cases.