I know, I said this wouldn’t be up for Monday. But then my weekend plans got spoiled by a stomach bug and I ended up home and watching Sherlock anyway. So it’s entirely possible that I’ve got a sour mood to match my stomach. Nevertheless, what a complete and utter disappointment this season of Sherlock has been.
The crux of the problem is one that plenty of franchises have fallen afoul of, which is thinking that you can introduce a character like Eurus and have her matter to the audience purely on the mythic weight of who she is instead of having to develop her. But it doesn’t work. She’s a distressingly one-note character whose characterization consists entirely of Mycroft asserting things about her. More to the point, her supposed powers are all bizarrely undersold: we’re told that she can effectively enslave someone by talking to them, but nothing about her comes off as particularly persuasive or charismatic. Mostly she sits around talking like a Markov bot fed on mediocre nihilist philosophy. And this is a real problem – the episode depends on her being the unholy fusion of Sherlock and Hannibal, but instead she’s just a generic megalomaniac. Which makes the resolution of her just needing a hug painfully unearned.
Making this worse is the way in which the episode is haunted by Moriarty. It’s not that it would have been better to actually bring him back, but having him popping up on video screens for dramatic effect and to have been the secret co-architect of all of this only serves to highlight how much weaker Eurus is as a villain. I’m not sure even Magnussen could have been effective with Andrew Scott popping up all over his episode, but Eurus doesn’t stand a chance, and the overall effect is to constantly remind the audience of a time when the show hadn’t used up its best ideas yet.
It’s not that there aren’t good bits. The relatively bottle-episode nature of it such that the majority of it is just Sherlock, John, and Mycroft is good, and all of them get some lovely character moments throughout. Mycroft, in particular, shines, getting a wealth of small emotional moments of the sort that he hadn’t really had before in the series. But John’s incredibly well-used as well, even if I don’t entirely buy him backing down from shooting the warden. And of course Molly’s scene was incredible.
But none of that masks the fact that this is just The Great Game done over with the melodrama pushed past the breaking point. The reveals just don’t work. The big one – that Redbeard was actually a person that we’ve never met before and aren’t particularly invested in – is a complete flop. We’ve already seen five people get murdered this episode. Finding out some kid from Sherlock’s past got killed instead of his dog doesn’t carry any particular weight. If anything, it was easier to be upset when it was a dog, which at least felt like a fairly fleshed out dog.
And then we get the ridiculously sentimental ending, complete with meticulously reconstructed Baker Street and final voiceover from Mary. Which, fine. But like Moriarty, Mary’s appearance mostly serves as a reminder of the fact that Sherlock, John, and Mary continuing to have adventures would have been vastly fresher and more interesting than either of the last two episodes. Apparently there’s no immediate plans for Sherlock’s return, and frankly, that’s for the best. Maybe given a few years Moffat and Gatiss can actually come up with a decent idea again.
- I really do want to harp on the stupidity of killing Mary a bit more. The biggest problem with this episode was that it was a tired rehash of past glories with contrived stakes. And as good as the John/Sherlock/Mycroft team was, you know what would have freshened up this episode nicely? The new dynamic that Mary introduced to proceedings instead of reverting to the Season One setup. At the end of the day, that’s where this season went wrong: after moving excitingly forward in Season Three, it moved backwards and unsurprisingly found nothing there.
- What was served by having Sherlock have no memory of Eurus? I mean, that’s a hell of a big premise, but other than explaining how we made it this far without ever mentioning Eurus it doesn’t really do anything save for make it harder to invest much in her as a character. I certainly don’t think realism is a big part of Sherlock, but “pushing it” is a fucking understatement here.
- I did like the opening sequence in which Mycroft’s sword umbrella turns out to also have a gun in it. That, along with Sherlock’s gloriously deadpan entrance to proceedings, might have been the best part of the episode. Which largely highlights another problem: for the most part, they forgot to be funny here.
- There’s obviously an element of “well it was kinda crap so presumably it was mostly Gatiss,” but other than some of the bigger concepts (most notably the “girl on the plane” motif) it’s difficult to identify much of this that really felt like Moffat. Trying to disentangle a collaboration is a mug’s game, and I’m sure it’ll turn out he had a bigger hand in it than it looks, but I struggle to find much.
- On a similar note, I have to admit I’m somewhat less than enthused about Doctor Who this year. This season gave the strong impression of a writer facing burnout, and the fact that Moffat blatantly wanted to leave after Series 9 doesn’t give much hope that he’s going to turn in something akin to Series 5, 8, or 9 as opposed to 6 and 7. I find myself hoping Capaldi is leaving this year, just because it seems like the sort of thing that might push Moffat to turn in a bravado final episode. And hey, at least Series 10 has a hell of a supporting card in terms of writers. (And, you know, Gatiss and Whithouse.)
- Benjamin Caron at least acquitted himself fairly well, although the tightly constrained location did him a lot of favors and helps explain why this was the episode that didn’t go to the veteran – it didn’t need Talalay or Hurran.
- Honestly, I think The Six Thatchers may have been a better-constructed and more interesting episode than this, but killing Mary still dooms it in the rankings.
- The Lying Detective
- The Final Problem
- The Six Thatchers