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Elementary boss previews new threats in season 6

Will Sherlock and Watson split?

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Michael Parmelee/CBS

Elementary may be heading into its fifth season, but Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson’s (Lucy Liu) partnership may not make it to the sixth.

When the CBS drama returns, the dynamic detective duo will be celebrating their anniversary, but Sherlock suspects Watson is no longer fulfilled by their escapades. That’s where reformed criminal and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle character Shinwell Johnson (True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis) comes in. Sherlock encourages Watson to assist her former patient in hopes of satiating her professional wanderlust. Will it work? EW turned to executive producer Rob Doherty to find out:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where does the new season pick up?

ROB DOHERTY: A summer has passed for Sherlock and Joan, just as it has for us. So we are picking up with them a couple months after the end of the fourth season. They’ve been particularly busy with the return of a mad bomber, someone who terrorized New York almost a decade ago and then went dormant has returned and started setting off devices in the city. So when we rejoin Sherlock and Joan, they’ve been working on this case and are giving it their best.

Is that a season-long threat?

No. not a season-long threat. It’s just that we’re picking something up in progress, which is a little unusual for us. It’s an opportunity to join them midstream.

What can you say about new threats they will be facing?

Let me talk to you about Shinwell Johnson. He certainly doesn’t present as a threat, but he is someone with a dark and troubled past, someone who is trying to reform himself, but he brings a lot of baggage to our doorstep. I guess that’s not a threat — are you looking for cases? In the early goings of the season, they will tangle with a mad bomber, they will work to recover one of the most infamous missing treasures in history, and they will investigate the murder of a man who expressed concern that NASA is not doing all it could do in its search for Earth-killer asteroids — searching for and identifying Earth killer asteroids.

Will you be getting back to cases-of-the-week more?  

We will be in the beginning. I’d say the most important connective tissue at the start of the season will be Shinwell — getting to know him, finding a way to implement him without tempting fate with regards to his attempts to reform. Just as last year, Morland was certainly a foreboding presence in the very beginning, but he wasn’t exactly a threat; he didn’t present as one very early. As the season kicks off, we’ll delve a little deeper into Shinwell, who he is and how he’s going to function over the course of the season for good, bad, or other. And yes, we’ll have a string of very interesting, high-concept standalone cases.

With Shinwell reforming, how is that going to affect Sherlock?

One of the most important themes of the show, if not the most important theme, is broken people in repair. Sherlock may be the strongest example of that, but everyone on the show has their damage and is doing their best to tamp it down or fix it. But we’ve never spent a lot of time with a criminal trying to repair himself. One of the questions we intend to examine over the course of the year is can you comeback from a heinous crime, can you make up for it, can you become a different person, or are you a victim of fate, a victim of your own history? So all of that will resonate with Sherlock and Joan, who have their own tortured histories. They’ll be very inclined to help Shinwell, but at the end of the day, they’re in law enforcement, their job is to identify criminals and put them where they belong, so Shinwell is going to represent a very different kind of challenge for both of them.

John Noble isn’t returning as a series regular, but when might you pick up with Morland’s story when it comes to leading Moriarty’s group?

It’s something we want to touch on over the course of the season, but there aren’t immediate plans. We’ll find the right time to if not catch up with Moreland himself, then his exploits.

Any chance to bring Natalie Dormer back as Moriarty?

My gosh, there is always a chance. I can say that there is always a chance of seeing the return of Moriarty. At the same time, Game of Thrones was never the only obstacle between us and Natalie. She’s extraordinarily busy, tends to have multiple projects going on at one time, so we’ll talk as we always do and look for a window.

Set the scene of Sherlock and Joan’s working relationship this year. Any new challenges for them?

In the first episode, Sherlock comments that Watson has seemed, here and there, down in the dumps over the course of the summer. He’s a little concerned. He realizes that soon she will have been a detective longer than she was a sober companion. He’s always said she has something of a professional wanderlust, and he’s concerned that maybe the sadness that he has detected has something to do with the approach of this anniversary. Joan makes it clear that she’s quite happy being a detective, but at the same time, she misses helping people. It’s something that she could do when she was a surgeon, it’s something she could do when she was a sober companion, but as she says in the first episode, she and Sherlock are in the punishment business. When Shinwell pops up in her life, Sherlock recognizes him as an opportunity for Joan to address some of the disappointment she’s been feeling of late. He’s someone she has a special connection with and he’s someone who needs help. Joan’s going to do her best helping him with his reentry, which I believe is the current official term for transitioning out of prison and back into society. It’s a huge obstacle and it’s something that just doesn’t work out for everyone; you see a lot of people slip right back into old habits and get sent back to prison. So Sherlock and Joan are trying to keep that from happening. But as we progress and we find out more about who Shinwell is, and maybe more importantly who he was, there may be a difference of opinion of whether keeping him in their orbit is such a good idea.

Any chance to see some love interests for Joan and Sherlock?

No immediate plans for Joan. I’d say with Sherlock, we certainly owe a status report for the Sherlock/Fiona relationship. [Editor’s note: This interview was completed before EW broke news of Betty Gilpin’s return.] In the first few episodes, there won’t be much mention of her, but we are working on a return for Betty Gilpin. Betty is yet another actress whose got quite a bit going on. She’s currently wrapping up an arc on Masters of Sex and I know she’s in contention for a couple of other things, so we’re staying in touch and looking for the right window for Betty, who was so great making time for us last year and flying across the country as needed. But yeah, Fiona is a thread that we won’t let dangle too long, especially considering how much we love Betty. As far as Joan goes, nothing immediate, but we always have an eye out for someone who would fit the bill.

In our finale interview, you hinted at a possible wedding. In terms of Gregson, is that something we may see?

I think there is a very strong possibility. I can promise that we’re going to see that relationship continue to evolve and advance. You may already know this, but Virginia Madsen will be in the third episode; she will return as Paige Towan.

So wedding bells may be ringing then?

You never know. She’s amazing. We loved that story last year. We’re excited to see her in the third episode.

What’s next for Bell?

We talked about things that are so embryonic. I can promise that he’s going to take a pretty keen interest in Sherlock and Joan’s endorsement of Shinwell. Bell, as our viewers may recall, has a brother who’s an ex-con as well. We haven’t explored that in awhile, so we don’t know how well that’s gone or how poorly it’s gone, but he has experience with this kind of person and this kind of quest. He’ll have some pretty strong opinions about how Sherlock and Joan are approaching it.

Elementary returns Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

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