In the hour since the final episode of Series 4 of BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ aired, I must have read roughly 200 different opinions on it. Most of them have been negative unfortunately, that’s the trend over on the Sherlock subreddit. My friends’ opinions on Facebook have been a lot more positive; “That was the single best piece of television writing and acting ever.” writes one friend who may or may not have a penchant for overemphasising.
But a good writer doesn’t summarise other people’s opinions, that’s what journalists are for, and while I don’t necessarily profess to be one I definitely do aim for that mark. So, to follow is my attempt at a rational and at least somewhat thorough summary of my thoughts and feelings towards it. This is a review, so it’s biased. All reviews are. And of course, there are spoilers, and probably more commas than is completely necessary.
This episode definitely has its ups and its questionable CGI (this looks weirder in motion), and it’s safe to say that Moffat’s style comes through a lot in the shows writing, though, at the very least, the direction of this episode is a lot more psychological than action packed a la ‘The Six Thatchers’, which is the way Sherlock should be done. A lot of the “reveals” are achieved simply by sequencing things out of order though, which, while sometimes effective, can have the effect of being disorientating to the point of pretension. It’s not so much lazy writing as it is a stand-in for good writing.
There are bits that do feel genuinely quite clever: Mycroft pretending to be heartless by advocating to kill Watson is a great piece of character development and was pulled off very well, and the phone call with Molly had a great level of tension (though it was left largely unresolved). These too aren’t so much good writing as good ideas, but the writing was mostly compelling. Perhaps the best part of the whole show was Sherlock finally solving Euros’ riddle with the graveyard cipher, and a lot of that one is in the presentation, which has been broken down fantastically by Every Frame a Painting on YouTube. The previous episode has absolutely convinced me that the brilliance of ‘Sherlock’ is in the meeting of great writing with this simple yet stunning presentation that, in a way unlike any other, gives the audience an insight into the mind of Sherlock Holmes.
I feel that a lot of the people railing against the episode are doing so because of the ending, the uncharacteristic terribleness of which has had an incredible anchoring effect. For an episode largely quite good, the ending is a fantastically flawed way to lose a lot of viewer’s praise. Time and again, Moffat has shown himself to be a master of anti-climactic climaxes. Drama drama drama (sometimes good, sometimes not) and then everyone kisses and makes up and everything is fine. Moriarty forced Sherlock to fake his own death and go into hiding for two years, some random woman from the Home Office killed a main character and threw Watson and Sherlock’s character arcs into a loop, but Euros, the psychopathic genius with powers so intense she’s accused of being straight out of Doctor Who, nothing. Life continues as normal for the Baker Street Boys after this episode, as narrated by an annoyingly omnipresent aforementioned deceased Mary. Years of childhood trauma which Sherlock intentionally repressed to escape are unveiled but have no withstanding effect. If anything, Sherlock seems revitalised by the uncovering that Euros murdered his only childhood friend (and indeed, perhaps his only friend ever until the events of Series 1) and becomes more sympathetic to her plight. I get that there’s a message there about neglect and psychopathy, but it’s so much less compelling than it could have been. Considering that her response to not being allowed to play Sherlock’s reindeer games is to murder his best friend, (well, not before essentially torturing the both of them first) shouldn’t Sherlock be a little bit more upset?
A lot of people are going to remember this episode for its ending, and that’s a shame, because to do so is to neglect an otherwise decent to good 80 minutes. It’s even more of a shame because it could have been avoided. The rest of this episode, intelligent and dark to the point that the phrase “torture porn” will no doubt be bandied about come morning, seems to indicate that Moffat and Gatiss are aware of what makes ‘Sherlock’ great – beautiful presentation, good writing, and dark storytelling juxtaposed with light-hearted humour – but the ending cuts that notion up into ribbons with an umbrella-sword. The violin montage is fine, the monologue ending with a freeze frame action shot isn’t. Everything begins to feel like a speech The Doctor would give just before regenerating. At the very least it does indicate that when ‘Sherlock’ does return, it’ll be back to mysteries and cases, which is a welcome relief to many.
Overall, not so much a mixed bag as an unemulsified vinaigrette; you could probably find the exact frame the episode turns from dark and excellent to camp and stale. But, for now, it’s another end of a 3-week long era. It was fun while it lasted, but for now it’s a sad farewell to 221B Baker Street.