Sherlock: The Final Problem

I began my reviews of Sherlock Series 4 by commenting on how far the show had evolved from its origins as predominantly a crime drama to now a show which revolves around character drama. Character drama has always been at the heart of Sherlock, and it’s one of the reasons, if not the predominant reason, that Sherlock has become the most popular TV adaptation of Conan Doyle’s stories ever. To put it pithily, people come to Sherlock for the crime-solving but stay for the absorbing and well-written characters. Over Series 3 and 4, though, the pendulum has swung decidedly in the direction of character drama and away from crime-solving, such that the crime-solving, once central to the show, is now almost superficial decoration for a show that is now predominantly a character drama about the life of an extraordinary man who happens to be a detective.

The Final Problem exemplifies the swing towards character drama more than any other episode yet, I think. It was all about Sherlock, about delving deeper into Sherlock’s past, into his subconscious even, in order to uncover the secrets of his past and help him and us understand him better. It was about answering the question put by John to Sherlock in The Abominable Bride, “What made you like this?” That moment was a little bit of foreshadowing for what we discovered in The Final Problem, because the John who asked that question was a figment of Sherlock’s drug-addled imagination—Sherlock, or rather Sherlock’s subconscious, was putting that question to himself, because Sherlock subconsciously knew how the events of his childhood involving Redbeard and Eurus had fundamentally shaped who was and who he has been ever since that fateful incident.

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Eurus was not a villain in the mould of Moriarty or Magnussen. She was a superhuman genius completely devoid of morality or human feeling, but she wasn’t here to destroy or conquer or seize, although I think there’s little doubt she’s capable of all of that. The episode was about Eurus’s obsession with Sherlock and, more fundamentally, the significance of Eurus in Sherlock’s life. Eurus made the Sherlock we know—or we thought we knew. At the same time, it was also about what made Eurus, and Sherlock’s personal significance in making Eurus. This episode was all character drama. That’s not a criticism, but a comment. I generally think it was done well, and the revelations about Sherlock’s past and how those childhood traumas shaped him were interesting, well-conceived and necessary. That part of Sherlock’s character had to be confronted at some point—the show couldn’t go on indefinitely without explaining why he is the person he is, and I think this was a good juncture and a very good way of doing it.

So what was it that we found out about Sherlock? That fundamentally he’s sentimental and driven by emotion. That much has always been obvious at some level, as we should have inferred from Mycroft’s comment in A Scandal in Belgravia that Sherlock had the mind of a scientist or a philosopher but elects to be a detective. Or by the unspoken ferocity of his devotion to his friends, above all to John. The emotional, passionate child that Sherlock was never really went away, but he was repressed in the wake of Sherlock’s trauma over Redbeard. We learnt that Sherlock’s emotions, repressed though they might be, made him the strongest and the most mature of the Holmes children, even though he was the least intelligent. At a very real level this episode was a tribute to the importance of human feeling and empathy, even—especially—in the most intelligent people. The cold, calculating machine that was Sherlock in the early seasons may have been fun to watch, but the Sherlock at the end of Series 4 is without a doubt the better person, and he’s the better person because he’s more in touch with his emotions.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as always delivered an outstanding performance (the scene with Molly was a dazzling highlight), but it was really Sian Brooke as Eurus who stole the show. I loved Eurus, and I loved what Brooke did with Eurus. She was unsettling, spine-chilling, enigmatic and unpredictable, and she was perfect for who she was supposed to be. There’s a case for saying that maybe Eurus was taken somewhat overboard with the dementedness, that perhaps she was too unhinged compared to the Eurus we saw in The Six Thatchers and The Lying Detective, but I think the point was that she was supposed to be unbalanced—and I think this was conveyed by Sian Brooke superbly—she was supposed to be deranged and crazy, thus the reason she was in Sherrinford. The point was that she knew how to be correct, but she’d never been taught how to be beautiful.

So Eurus was outstanding, but I’m not sure about the way the story was handled. Imprisoning Sherlock, John and Mycroft in Sherrinford and making them work their way through a series of puzzles for Eurus’s sadistic scientific interest? Am I the only one whom this strikes as lazy plotting? Apart from perhaps some of the more overtly character-driven scenes, like the scene involving Molly (easily the standout scene of this episode), this can’t have been one of the more difficult Sherlock episodes to write. I’ve seen it compared to The Great Game in the way it was plotted, but The Great Game was a much better-written episode than this one. I can’t help but think that the plot idea, a high concept one to be sure, sounded better in conception than Moffat and Gatiss were able to realise it in practice. Perhaps, if The Great Game was the model, it would have worked better to have followed it more closely, for example by keeping Eurus out of Sherrinford, which turned out not to be that interesting a place in the end. Additionally, the inclusion of Moriarty was pure gratuitous fanservice and really served no purpose in the story at all—Moriarty’s epic entrance perhaps excepted, the episode would probably have been better without him.

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Yeah, so my feelings are mixed about this one. There were aspects of it that I did really like—the revelations about Sherlock’s past, Eurus—but it’s not going to be anywhere near the top of my ranked list of best to worst Sherlock episodes. I would regretfully say that, if this is going to be end of Sherlock, as is rumoured, then I think we deserved better. It’s hard to blame the writers, because it’s obvious they were going for a big, barnstorming finale to Series 4, but the ideas and the conceptions they were clearly excited about perhaps didn’t translate as well into a final product. There are a lot of fans who are disappointed about this season of Sherlock, which, although it delivered its many moments of pure brilliance, has been one of the poorer seasons in the estimation of many fans. I’m inclined to agree with them—although, saying that, even a poor season of Sherlock tends to be high quality television. As I’ve said, though, I hope that Sherlock does not end on a divisive, disappointing note and that there is more Sherlock yet to come.

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2 thoughts on “Sherlock: The Final Problem

  1. I think we did deserve much better, if this is to be the end. This episode felt rushed above all else. The plotting was, as you said, lazy. And I feel that Euros, as a villian, deserved more than just an episode for the start and end of her story. If the writers had taken a season to explore the character properly and give her the same importance as they gave Moriarty, I would have liked the episode more.
    In other news, I’m glad to see you’re writing again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I hesitate to say Sherlock has lost its way, but it’s clear the show has been going down a different route since series 3, series 4 being the high point of the new style, and I’m not sure that’s better than the early Sherlock with its focus on dramatised mystery- and crime-solving. Certainly, for what fan opinion is worth, series 1-2 Sherlock was more popular. If Sherlock returns, as I hope it does, I’d like to see the show return to its roots.

      Liked by 1 person

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