The series 4 finale of Sherlock capitalised on recent cliffhangers to deliver a Saw-esque trip into the mind of a psychopath, walking Steven Moffat’s favourite line somewhere between thrilling and ridiculous.
You can read my review of “The Six Thatchers” over at Epigram: http://epigram.org.uk/film-tv/2017/01/sherlock-season-4-episode-1-review-busted-back-business
You can read my review of “The Lying Detective” right here: https://doorknobishthings.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/review-sherlock-the-lying-detective-2/
It would be a much easier and more enjoyable task to forget about the first and last ten minutes of this week’s episode of Sherlock and focus on the middle which, with one nasty exception, made for an atmospheric and enjoyable trip into the twisted mind of Eurus Holmes and her murder asylum.
Sherlock, Watson and Mycroft teamed up to visit Sherrinford, a super-prison on an isolated island housing the insane third Holmes sibling, who murdered the family dog and then plotted to kill Sherlock as well. Choosing to buy into this premise and take the proverbial blue pill led to a really terrific middle hour of the episode, consisting of the springing of Eurus’ trap and a series of mind games that followed.
There was little to no subtlety to the way Eurus was set up – ‘she’s a genius, even smarter than Sherlock!’ is the clear subtext to Mycroft’s description of her. But he failed to mention her hypnotic Kilgrave powers that have allowed her to seize control of the chief doctor of the asylum and his entire team, thus imprisoning Sherlock and company with ease. Silly Mycroft!
It’s not the only silly thing Mycroft’s done as well. He decided to let flashback Moriarty into a room with Eurus for five minutes as a Christmas present. It’s a satisfying resolution to the third series’ cliffhanger and a good way of bringing Andrew Scott back into the show without a miraculous return to life. His helicopter arrival on the island was so enjoyable that I was almost willing to accept that he HAD come back to life and welcome him back with open arms. Alas, as it was it was just a lovely but kinda irrelevant throwback to Sherlock‘s best series.
Once they actually got into the mind games, the episode really worked wonderfully. Eurus played Jigsaw from the control room of the asylum through a monitor, forcing Sherlock, Watson and Mycroft to do some nasty things in an effort to save an anonymous girl from a crashing plane. The chief doctor and his wife were easy casualties and while the show did do a good job of making it look like our main characters were vulnerable, none of them actually were in the end.
But we have to talk about the utterly grotesque Molly Hooper scene. I think this would have been bad on its own but in the context of Moffat’s atrocious writing for female characters (which I’ve alluded to in previous reviews), it was incredibly uncomfortable. No, Steven Moffat, we don’t need Sherlock to reduce Molly to a one-dimensional obsessive who’s in love with him in order to save her. You’ve done a fantastic job of that yourself already. Blergh.
Springboarding off the back of a tense scene in which Sherlock was instructed to kill either Mycroft or Watson, the titular final problem had a really great setup as well. Sherlock was sent back to the Holmes family home (the Holme?) to solve the riddle that had plagued him since childhood – what happened to beloved family pet Redbeard? Watson was trapped in a watery well with the threat of being drowned as well, an overtly stated reference to the Reichenbach Falls in the Victorian special.
And then it all completely fell apart. Not only did Sherlock NEVER ACTUALLY LOCATE WATSON, but the whole thing turned out to be a big murderous decades-long cry for help from Eurus. And Redbeard the family dog was shockingly revealed to be a random child. Did they name him? I’m going to call him Redbeard ‘the Dog’ Holmes. “You killed my best friend!” screams Sherlock, who thought his best friend was a dog until sixty seconds ago. Or maybe he meant man’s best friend? That’s much cleverer.
There seems to be zero confidence in Sherlock‘s inability to stand up anymore without a series of Big Twists, which is a real shame since when the show began it didn’t rely on anything like this at all. “A Study in Pink” culminated in a game between Sherlock and taxi driver, similar to the best parts of this episode, and it was one of the most memorable moments of the entire series.
“The Final Problem” built Eurus up as a big bad fun evil villain, and then tried far far too late to humanise her and bring the whole episode back down to Earth. The plane as a metaphor made no sense whatsoever and was a far too abrupt segue into a heavily-abbreviated Watson rescue and trip back home in time for tea. And the choice to have Mary, one of the series’ most divisive characters, deliver the final monologue as a ‘P.S.’ to her previous message didn’t really work either.
I’d also be remiss in finishing this review without mentioning the horror sequence after the episode’s opening credits, featuring creepy little mannequin girl, paintings with bleeding eyes and a killer clown. It felt like bad Doctor Who, a silly dream sequence at best, and yet it was all real and pretty much no attempt was made to justify its inclusion. The exploding drone was on a similar level of thought – if the explosion’s special effects were meant to be funny then they certainly succeeded.
It’s a shame that an episode which did so much right had such bad missteps, but it’s totally in line with what the rest of this series delivered. No doubt the ‘Sherlock is too much like James Bond’ crew will have a field day with tonight’s horror-based instalment, even though it was a partial return to what the show does best.
And oddly enough the taped-on ending felt like a series finale as much as an end to this season. Every previous series of Sherlock has left us with a cliffhanger, but there was nothing like that here. I suspect we will get a fifth series, assuming the actors’ schedules line up, but for a show that seemed unsure of where to go after the departure of Moriarty, it will likely be as much of a minute-by-minute lottery as this series was.
“Did you miss me?” asked Moriarty at the end of last series. Well, we’ve certainly been missing something.
Score: Two Holmes siblings out of Three and a half Holmes siblings.
Written by Tom Besley
P.S. My scores for these episodes have definitely been silly but worked out surprisingly accurate when I tallied them up properly. For those who are interested, here are the results when I re-checked my scores for the series:
“The Six Thatchers” – 3.5/6 – 122.5/210 (2)
“The Lying Detective” – 3/5 – 126/210 (1)
“The Final Problem” – 2/3.5 – 120/210 (3)