'Elementary' Boss on the Surprise 'Blessing' of Season 7 and Wrapping Up Sherlock & Joan's Story (Exclusive)

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This time last year, Elementary creator and showrunner Rob Doherty received a call he wasn't quite expecting: CBS was picking up a seventh season of the modern-day Holmes-Watson detective mystery. The surprise pickup, which would later be announced as the show's final season, threw everyone for a loop -- mainly because an ending was already in place.

"Even though I didn't want things to end in season six, I felt very satisfied with the finale. I know that Jonny [Lee Miller],Lucy [Liu], Aidan [Quinn] and John [Michael Hill] felt good about it," Doherty tells ET. "To be honest, I was a little hesitant to explore the possibility of a seventh season. It wasn't quite, at least initially, the cherry on top. We thought we had already placed our cherry. [But] ultimately, it was a blessing because between the writing staff, the cast, the crew and post production, it really was a family. So to have this extra time with our Elementary family was a great thing." 

A lot will have changed since the events of the season six finale, which saw a deep rift form between Sherlock Holmes (Miller) and Captain Gregson (Quinn) following the death of serial killer Michael Rowan and the aftermath that followed. When things pick back up, a year has passed, and Sherlock and a newly blonde Joan Watson (Liu) -- more on that later -- are across the pond in London working alongside Scotland Yard doing what they do best: catching elusive bad guys. (Watch ET's exclusive clip above featuring Miller, Liu and Tamsin Grieg, playing Scotland Yard's DCI Athelney Jones.)

But it's not all hunky dory for the PIs, most notably Joan, who grows increasingly homesick for life in New York City. With the core foursome of Sherlock, Joan, Gregson and Bell split up at the start of this final run, just how will they come back together? Ahead of Elementary's final season, ET spoke with Doherty to get his thoughts on how he approached these last episodes, the challenge of constructing a wholly new ending, Sherlock and Joan's new foe and yes, the origins of Liu's new blonde 'do.

ET: Were you surprised at all that the show was returning for a seventh season?

Rob Doherty: You know, it's funny. I was surprised and yet at the same time, if you'd asked me a few years ago, I would have presumed the show would go seven years, if that makes any sense. As we were getting into the sixth season, it just seemed less and less likely. We couldn't really get an answer one way or another. And so it started to feel like we needed to plan to end it. Our intention was to finish the series in the sixth season. We did that, and then lo and behold, there was a request for a seventh, and there was much rejoicing, as they say.

What was the creative mandate that you wanted to follow in this final season? 

Because the seventh season is only 13 episodes, it's more serialized. We were thinking about the finale as we broke the first episode. We were already close to the end, or at least it felt that way, so going into the season, we had a few big-picture items that we wanted to tend to. One was seeing if we could heal the very fractured relationship between Sherlock and Gregson. That was an important element for the season. There were some personal things in Joan's life that we wanted to explore a bit more. We didn't really have a chance to wrap up certain storylines for her in season six because of the way it was structured. And so, getting into season seven and looking ahead to the finale, we wanted to position Joan for some big changes in her life.

Elementary
CBS

You're referring to the fact that Joan gave up the opportunity to become a mother and adopt a baby? 

Yeah. The big questions for Joan are: Where does she really belong? As season six wrapped up, she made a big decision to join Sherlock in London. She had, over the course of the season, explored the possibility of becoming a parent. We felt we had more stories to tell on that front. It's something that she will reexamine over the course of this year.

At the start of the season, Sherlock and Joan are in London working with Scotland Yard. It's a slightly different situation than they're used to in New York, but they are both handling their new reality differently. Can you preview that side of it for us?

In a lot of ways, it's the flip side of the Elementary pilot. Joan is the fish out of water. Joan is the one who has to navigate the new landscape [and] find new friends. She's getting a taste of what it was like for Sherlock when he came to New York and carved out a role for himself there. For Sherlock, it's a homecoming. He's in the place that he is, arguably, supposed to be. There's less of an adjustment period for him. 

In many respects, it's very similar to their experience in New York. They're working in Scotland Yard. They have their cases, both personal and professional, and they are as devoted to the work as they ever were, but it's just not the same. Joan has family she's very close to that she misses. Joan is as much a creature of New York as Sherlock is a creature of London. It's tricky. When we join them, we're going to start to see cracks appearing in the partnership, and there's some conversation that's due about whether moving to London was the right move or not.

It's only a matter of time before Sherlock, Joan, Gregson and Bell come together again. Under what kind of circumstances could this manifest itself? 

We left Sherlock and Gregson in a very bad place at the end of season six. The captain was willing to let Joan remain a suspect in the murder of Michael Rowan because he knew that the truth was his daughter actually killed Michael. Sherlock figured this out and confronted him. It was a really powerful scene to see Sherlock and Gregson really go after each other, but a seventh season represented an opportunity to heal that rift. But it's going to be very difficult, not just because there's so much bad blood between them. Suffice it to say it's going to be even more difficult than they thought to come back together as friends and colleagues.

Do you think that that's even a possibility -- that Sherlock and Gregson could somehow put this whole situation behind them? 

My sense always was that, whether there had been a seventh season or not, that they would come back together. I've always looked at them as a family unit and the four of them have been through too much together to stay apart forever. That's certainly the way we attacked the problem this year. They're all grown-ups, they're all very dear friends and as we'll see very quickly, in times of trouble, they put a lot of that personal stuff aside. Very quickly they'll have bigger and more important problems to get to and I think a lot of hurt feelings will fall by the wayside.

Elementary
CBS

Sherlock and Joan will be facing a new foe, Odin Reichenbach, played by James Frain. Can you set up their new target?

We wanted a threat to Sherlock and Joan that was even more present. There is a larger, more serialized case that they will tackle as of the end of the first episode and it won't be long before they find themselves in the orbit of a tech mogul by the name of Odin Reichenbach. And at least initially, he seems like a potentially good friend for two detectives to have. He has access to data around the globe. But the closer they get to him, they realize that he's as dangerous as he is powerful.

I must ask you about Lucy's blonde hair because it is quite a dramatic new look for Joan, and the hair color change is even referenced in the first episode. Was that a creative conversation you had with Lucy or something she wanted to do?

I have a very detailed recollection of this. I was at my son's Little League baseball game when I got the call from the network that we were officially coming back for a seventh season and I immediately texted Jonny and Lucy. Lucy wrote back, "I'm a blonde now" or "I have blonde hair now," and I texted back, "Haha very funny." And then she texted, "No, I'm serious." At that point, I very quickly wrote back, "Can't wait to see it, bet it looks amazing!" That was the discussion. The show had ended, Lucy was looking for a change. She didn't really have to worry about whether Joan Watson would do it or not, and it was great! Lucy looked beautiful no matter what she did with her hair, so it was nothing that any of us worried about even a little.

Because you thought the show was done after season six, did you save anything in your back pocket on the off-chance you'd get a bonus season?

We left it all off the field [in season six]. There wasn't much that we missed when it was all said and done. We felt we had done what we wanted to do in the final season. When we had this opportunity to do one more year, we just started from scratch again. We knew we had to reset the table, as it were, and bring our core group back together. But beyond that, we weren't sitting on a finale, we just wanted to re-situate everyone as best we could and then look for something that felt appropriate. Ultimately, we looked back to canon to see how Arthur Conan Doyle might have spun it, and found great inspiration there. People who are familiar with the original stories will recognize some of our moves as we get towards the end of the season. 

How do you feel about the way the story ends, since you knew going in that this was it?

I'm very proud of the way we ended things. You hate to have one good finale and one bad finale. Even though I was nervous going into it and had a few sleepless nights as we started to search for another series finale, I feel really good about where we went. I hope anyone who enjoyed the original series finale will enjoy this one just as much.

So we shouldn't expect an uproar, a la Game of Thrones?

(Laughs.) We have fewer dragons! It's funny, I just watched it and I feel more equipped to talk about their finale than ours. It's fresher in my head. We'll see. Ours will be half as long.

Elementary launches its final season Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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