It feels like an eternity since we watched Sherlock put a bullet through Magnussen’s skull, and in the three-year wait, Sherlock has established its status as a revered adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic with a strong cult following. It is likely a combination of this lengthy wait and devoted fan following that saw the most recent series of Sherlock meet an intense and varied critique – it was undoubtedly the most talked about series of the show for many reasons.
The general responses to each episode are portrayed most clearly in each episodes’ IMDb rating; The Six Thatchers received a 7.8, the lowest slump across all four series, The Lying Detective hit the lofty heights of a 9.5, while The Final Problem found a tepid middle-grounding 8.6. An even set of ratings for a quite a complicated, indeed uneven, series of a show that had delivered us nothing else but consistency prior to this. Sherlock himself was more emotional, Lestrade was more absent, Mrs. Hudson was far sassier and John apparently now has grey hair; the latest installment was certainly a deviation from familiarity.
“the six thatchers opened the new series in sloppy, unpolished style”
The Six Thatchers opened the new series in sloppy, unpolished style. The show has, in recent series, adopted an addictively fast pace – but during these 90 minutes you could literally not blink or you’d miss a crucial plot point. The swift pace is only effective when the episode has logical structure; Sherlock brushes aside some mundane cases, Lestrade then tells him that old women are going missing in Ipswich (or something equally enthralling and mysterious), and Holmes and Watson solve the mystery. Gatiss, in fairness, did give us an interesting case – someone was destroying busts of Maggie Thatcher’s head, but with a swish and a flick the case was solved, which leads to another mystery about Mary’s past; yep, the frustrating elusiveness of Mary is back with a force. I’m in agreement that more lead female involvement could benefit Sherlock, but it was nearing on impossible to care for a character that seemed so superficial and false, meaning an episode based around her was quite problematic.
The climax is bland and unexciting, and the twist was too random for anyone to ever see coming, which rendered it void of shock factor. The directing and editing throughout felt alienating and only added to the overall confusion; for the first time, Sherlock left me feeling disinterested. This opener was boring and unconvincing for a multitude of reasons, and it felt a lifetime away from the genius of series two.
“in many ways there’s far less to say about the lying detective, because it was quite simply fantastic television”
In many ways, there’s far less to say about The Lying Detective, because it was quite simply fantastic television. It was quite remarkable how Moffat and Gatiss provided such a distant remanence of the show we loved in The Six Thatchers, and straight after gave us a 90-minute epitome of all the show’s glory. The plot and structure was tight, riddled with twists that either shocked us, or were simply hilarious (see: Mrs Hudson’s car chase with the police). And, while we’re here, Mrs Hudson was as comical, feisty, and admirably loyal to her tenants as ever. Una Stubbs was not alone in delivering a series-standout performance; Cumberbatch, Freeman, and Abbington gave thrilling and poignant displays, topping anything they’ve delivered before on the show.
Toby Jones was a more-than-welcome addition, playing the hauntingly creepy Culverton Smith to perfection. It is clear to anyone who watched it that the character was a fictionalisation of Jimmy Savile, which only made the villain work more. Despite my criticisms of the character, the unique use of Mary in this episode was a welcome and commendable sub-plot, that added a tablespoon of poignancy and heartbreak to what felt like a recipe for a perfect episode of Sherlock. To top it all off, the episode – which is nothing short of a gripping thriller – caps off with a twist that overshadows both the end of series two and the end of series three. Seriously, it’s an absolute corker. The episode had an undeniable, looming finality about it – but, at the rate it was going, this ending was going to thrill and satisfy.
It seems like quite sweet irony that the episode titled The Final Problem was arguably one of the show’s most problematic; problematic in terms of working out just what we’d witnessed. It was surreal, showy, and at times silly, but my word was it entertaining. It was television like I’d never seen it; the creators wanted to pack as much tension and spectacle into this once-humble BBC drama as possible.
The fact that this does not feel like a classic episode of Sherlock – a point many have used to criticise the likely last ever episode – is the very reason the episode works. Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft are pushed to their physical, mental, and emotional limits by a compelling villain who has been lurking in the periphery for a long time. Forcing characters we are so comfortable with out of their comfort zones gave us an intense, distressing, and new focus on them. This was Cumberbatch’s show; it was an unsettling portrayal of Sherlock’s disturbed psyche, with shocking twists about his past filtered in. It wouldn’t be the last episode of Sherlock without us having to suspend our belief to let Moffat and Gatiss yank that rug from under our feet.
“it was a spectacle, and would anyone really want anything less gripping from a finale?”
There were undeniable issues; the CGI was below par, the resolution of the ‘case’ (if we can even call it that) felt rushed and sloppy, and at times we really, really had to suspend our belief. But it was a spectacle, and would anyone really want anything less gripping from a finale? The plot, contrary to most criticisms, was not contrived or hollow in the slightest – amongst the drama and hysteria, Sherlock still excited us with his familiar, superhuman deductions, we were given a twist that resonated through all the series previous, and Moffat and Gatiss tied up nearly (sorry, Molly) all character arcs with style and finesse.
At the end of series three we were told that an east wind was coming, a force that would lay waste to all in its path. Well, that turned out to be series four; it was powerful, intense, emotional, and inconsistent, and it left me feeling utterly exhausted. If there is to be another series, I’m sure it’ll be gladly welcomed, but for the meantime it seems that Sherlock has nothing more to give us.