The third episode of Sherlock’s fourth season, ‘The Final Problem’, is perhaps aptly named. It seems that the show has run its course, devolving into a season of introspective, sensational plot with less of the original charm that attracted so many towards the beginning.
Let’s first look at where we were left before ‘The Final Problem’. In ‘The Six Thatchers’ we find out that Mary Watson, in her previous life, had been the only agent to escape in the takeover of the British Embassy in Georgia. This leads to her travelling around the world to escape her former colleague, only to be shot back in London by a minor member of the British government. This begs the question: what was the point of this entire side story other than to shift Sherlock more into the spy-drama genre and to create a rift between Sherlock and Watson?
Needless to say, this rift is quickly solved in ‘The Lying Detective’, in which John decides to save Sherlock from murderous millionaire Culverton Smith. The seemingly unrelated primary plot of the episode also furthers the overall storyline in introducing Eurus, the third Holmes sibling.
This is where Season Four of Sherlock falls down. Despite some genuinely gripping drama, it seems that the twists, turns and cliffhangers of the show no longer serve any purpose than to shock. The big reveal of ‘The Lying Detective’ was that the mystery third brother we’ve been hearing rumours of for a while now is – hold onto your hats – actually a sister! Maybe there’s room for compliment here, with the move to make the smartest Holmes sibling female, but what difference does her gender actually make to the overall storyline? Similarly, Watson being shot at the end of this second episode is explained in a throwaway line in ‘The Final Problem’; it was just a tranquiliser. Which, once again, makes me think that these twists are put in just to get a short gasp out of a fanbase growing accustomed to people’s deaths not being final.
On a broader level, Sherlock’s move away from its original format of case-by-case episodes is both to its merit and detriment. Some of this season has seen genuine emotional sincerity and complexity, which sets it aside from other British crime dramas. The chemistry between Sherlock and Eurus – both as Faith Culverton and herself – offers rare moments of emotion from the often-distant Sherlock. Although I find it unconvincing that Sherlock Holmes would completely forget both that he has a sister and that Redbeard is, in fact, his childhood friend, the background family drama adds some texture to the relations between the Holmes siblings.
So to me, it seems, Sherlock has reached a natural end. Although some of this season added context and backstories to the characters we have grown to love, its move towards action with gimmicky cliffhangers has left it a bit aimless. What it could really do with is returning to the original formula that worked so well, but after all of this complexity that might be a little reductive. So instead, I think it’s time to close the door on 221B Baker Street and remember it for the outstanding show it was in previous seasons.
Image : Fat Les @ Flickr