Here's my review of the final episode of Season 4 of the BBC's Sherlock, and possibly the final episode of the entire series. This review was originally published on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.
"It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen" [FINA]
[Editor's Note: this is the eighth in our series of reviews for Series 4 of Sherlock. There are spoilers below. Don't say we didn't warn you.]
Where to begin? How does one describe this beautiful mess, this sublimely ludicrous end to a season that has delighted and frustrated so many viewers? Well, I guess we have to start with the obligatory spoiler warning. I mean, for the love of all that is Sherlockian, don't think about reading any further until you've watched the final episode of Season 4 of Sherlock: "The Final Problem."
Let's start with that title: despite the obvious reference to perhaps the most famous of all Holmes stories in the Canon, this episode has little to do with Doyle's story of the same name. Moffat and Gatiss had already plundered Doyle's "The Final Problem" back in Season 2, with "The Reichenbach Fall." So plot-wise, there's not much in the way of references to that source material, other than a certain air of finality at the end of the episode. But more on that point later...
There are references to the Canon, of course, as we have come to expect from this series: the reference to "The Three Garridebs" (just their names—the plot point is completely different); the "Dancing Men" reference in the final montage. Perhaps other more eagle-eyed Sherlockians will detect other clues. And there was a delightful detail in the final shot, where a placard on a building clearly reads "Rathbone Place," a cheeky little extra-canonical tidbit. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.
As a fan of comic books when I was younger, I can't help but think that the island fortress of Sherrinford was reminiscent of Arkham Asylum from the Batman series: a place where only the most brilliant of the criminally insane reside. Meanwhile, the writers made the parallel to Silence of the Lambs explicit in the scene where Sherlock first visits Eurus at her cell, and a guard refers to the famous film/novel. Eurus certainly brought Hannibal Lecter to mind right away.
Perhaps one of the biggest laughs I got (maybe the only laugh, considering the dark tone of the episode) was when the camera panned down through the floor at 221B, to show Mrs. Hudson vacuuming her floor, while listening to Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" on her headphones. No, that's not right, I did laugh at one other spot: the great musical cue at the beginning of the flashback to Moriarty's visit to Sherrinford, wherein he's listening to Queen's "I Want to Break Free." Typical Moriarty flash and cheese, all in one delicious moment.
The Critical Question
At this point, though, I have to ask myself: canonical references and humorous musical cues aside, what about the rest of it? Did this episode, in fact, make any sense?
No, I don't think it did. For all their attempts to really wow us, with all the suspense — will Sherlock shoot Watson or Mycroft? Will Mrs. Hudson perish in the explosion? Will Molly Hooper die because she won't say "I love you"? — for all that, much of the action felt horribly contrived to me. If anyone has watched any of the Saw films, there's often a point in those elaborately executed torture traps where the viewer thinks, "How could anyone possibly set all of this up?" In the case of Eurus Holmes, a woman who had been incarcerated for much of her adult life, I found myself thinking the same thing: even with the help of the guards that she had (almost magically) talked into doing her bidding, there was just too much planning and almost superhuman omniscience involved in setting up her elaborate test of brothers Sherlock and Mycroft.
Speaking of superhuman, we're also forced to believe that Sherlock, John and Mycroft (not to mention Mrs. Hudson) all walked away from the huge explosion at 221B, with nary a scratch on them? For heaven's sake, Sherlock and John were blown through a second story window!
But this same superhero-style Sherlock doesn't even realize that there is no glass between him and Eurus, the whole time he's talking to her? Nope, sorry, I don't buy it. I've stood in front of glass walls, and it's quite easy to tell the difference between glass and thin air. And it takes that long for Sherlock to figure out that the little girl on the plane is all a ruse? As they have in the past, Moffat and Gatiss seem to have thought we, as viewers, would simply accept their overly elaborate game (that's "not a game any more," according to the trailer), and not notice how far-fetched the whole thing was, or how lame Sherlock has gotten at figuring things out.
Almost the entire length of the episode, I just kept thinking, "No, that wouldn't happen that way...no, that just isn't possible." Just as they did at the beginning of Season 3, when everyone wanted to know how Sherlock had survived his "Reichenbach Fall," the Sherlock writers simply said, "We don't need to explain it. Sherlock's just the cleverest man alive." Except for when he's not. Which leads me to the end...
There has been much speculation, especially as Season 4 has progressed, as to whether this will be the last season of Sherlock. The final montage of this episode certainly seemed to lean that way: Mary's final words about her "Baker Street Boys...Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson!" had a definite air of finality about them. Are Moffat and Gatiss going to accomplish what Arthur Conan Doyle failed to do with his "Final Problem"? Will this be the end of the story? Doyle tried to kill off his detective, but ended up bringing him back to life. All of our favorite characters (well, most of them) are still alive and well at the end of this "Final Problem." So I guess the future of the series is still open.
Of course, that leads me to my final dilemma: how do I view this episode as a series finale, rather than just a season finale, if that's what it turns out to be? I suppose, to a certain extent, this finale demonstrates what Sherlock has always been: entertaining, frustrating, impressed by its own cleverness, slick, modern, and completely in love with its source material. I mean, that's what's kept so many of us coming back, through the long hiatuses and all that, isn't it?
It's always been clear (to me, at least) that Moffat and Gatiss absolutely adore the characters and stories created by Arthur Conan Doyle. In the end, if it is actually over, the whole series is kind of like a crazy, devoted fan fiction: they have always said, "What if?" What if Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were living in today's world? What stories could we tell about that?
And they did.
Despite the fact that I only rated Jeremy Brett as my second favorite Holmes actor in my "Top Five Sherlock Holmes Actors" series awhile back, I still maintain that he is a very close second to Benedict Cumberbatch (in my opinion). And certainly, as far as Victorian settings of Sherlock Holmes go, I don't believe any actor can match him. Even though he had a lot of personal problems that had a negative impact on some of the later episodes of the Granada series, the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes episodes were marvelous.
One of my all-time favorite scenes in that first set of adaptations featuring Brett was the scene below, from "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist." Whereas Holmes's fistfight was merely described by Holmes himself in the original story, the Granada adaptation shows us the whole scene in all its glory, and Jeremy Brett is sublime. Watch and enjoy...
I have read many times about the 1988 film, Without a Clue, starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as Holmes and Watson, but I'd never seen it...until today. I recently discovered that the film was available to watch on YouTube, so I gave it a try. I'm glad I did, as it was really quite delightful! The premise of this Holmes parody seems as if it would be too silly: Watson (Ben Kingsley), a rather brilliant detective in his own right, has created the character of Sherlock Holmes as a cover for his crime solving work, and hired bumbling actor Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine) to portray his creation. When the fake detective gets too cocky for his own good, Watson attempts to fire him, with hilarious results. They end up facing off against the infamous Moriarty, of course...
As I said, it seems silly, but the fact is, it all ends up working rather well as a comedy that parodies the source material, while presenting a fun, engaging story, with capable actors who pull it off with great humor. It doesn't rely nearly as much on slapstick comedy as an earlier Gene Wilder Holmes parody, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975), which I saw a few years ago and which disappointed me greatly. Without a Clue captured my attention, made me laugh, and impressed me with its fairly clever references to Sherlockian canon. Kingsley and Caine end up being a good team, despite their initial (and hilarious) animosity towards each other. Jeffrey Jones (the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is enjoyable as the conceited Lestrade, and the rest of the cast is quite good as well (including the late Peter Cook, in an appearance as Watson's publisher at the Strand Magazine). Really well worth my time! Recommended for all Holmes fans who like a good laugh.
I've been quite a bit more active here on Baker Street Babble than I've been in a long time. So I decided to look back through some of my oldest posts. I started this blog three years ago, and I think I've managed to cover quite a bit of ground since then. Oh, I've had some fairly lengthy hiatuses over the years, and I've never quite matched the momentum I had in those first few weeks of the blog back in 2014. Still, I've come back to it from time to time, and managed to polish the site (it's really a bit more than a blog) quite a bit.
You can read my first post here. I am impressed by how excited I was at the time to begin sharing my thoughts on my Sherlockian interests on the Internet. I remember thinking at the time that many websites devoted to Sherlock Holmes tend to be pretty shabby looking; some of them look like they were created in the late 90s, and never moved beyond that point. (Which is probably the case for many of them...) When I began Baker Street Babble, I wanted to create a site that was visually appealing, that had good content...a site I would be interested in experiencing myself. I think I've managed to make it look pretty decent.
I hope I can find a bit more regular opportunities to share my thoughts on Sherlock Holmes in the future. The subject really seems to be endless, so I shouldn't ever run out of material. If you've found Baker Street Babble enjoyable, please feel free to email me with your feedback: there's a link in the column to the right, or you can fill out a comment form at the "Agony Column" link at the top of the page. Thanks for reading!
I've just finished watching the second episode of season 3 of Sherlock, "The Lying Detective." I have also just finished scanning through several reviews of the episode online. Most of the reviewers seem to think this was a great improvement on the previous episode, "The Six Thatchers." I'm not sure I agree. I think it was good, and certainly, by the end, had plenty of surprises up its sleeve. (There will be some spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen the ep yet, then read at your own risk!) And it's not that I didn't enjoy it. But to my way of thinking, the plot got so convoluted, and there was such an awful lot of blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality, that some of the plot points that I suspect were meant to be moments of "A-ha!" became, for me, moments of "Huh?"
I'm prepared to admit that I'm not enough of a mystery fan to really enjoy extraordinarily complex mysteries. And really, as I read and re-read the original Arthur Conan Doyle canon, I don't think his mysteries were always incredibly complex. Usually, by the end of a Holmes story, I think, "Oh, of course!" However, through much of "The Lying Detective," I found myself completely confused. (For example, perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention to the actresses who were playing "Faith," but when Holmes didn't recognize her at the end of the second act, I had already forgotten what she looked like, so I found his lack of recognition confusing.)
Meanwhile, towards the end of Sherlock's long game against Culverton Smith, I began to realize how similar this story was to Doyle's similarly named story, "The Dying Detective." So, as a longtime Holmes fan, that was enjoyable. Of course, just as I was skeptical about Mary's ability to jump in front of a bullet in the last episode, I was also skeptical of Sherlock's ability to "manage" his drug use in a way that still enabled him to function in his whole plan of thwarting the bad guy.
And can I talk about the many scenes where John talks to his dead wife? As pleased as I was to see more of Amanda Abbington, whose performance on the show I have always enjoyed, I didn't quite buy the whole thing. We've all seen movies and TV shows where someone talks to a dead loved one. I just think that the writers may have overused that particular trope.
Still, there were plenty of twists and turns that I found enjoyable: perhaps the most enjoyable for me was the development of Mrs, Hudson, played so delightfully by Una Stubbs. Was it believable that she could drive a sports car in a chase with police, as if she were some sort of stunt driver? No, I don't think so. But was it fun? Absolutely. And certainly, Toby Jones turned in a great, and creepy, performance as Culverton Smith.
Meanwhile, as I read all of those other reviews claiming that "The Lying Detective" was one of the greatest episodes ever, I can't agree, personally. But overall, I thought it was a worthy addition to the show's story arc. The cliffhanger at the end was nice, even though the "next time on Sherlock" kind of ruined any suspense that the viewer might have had about whether John will survive his encounter with the mysterious Euros Holmes. And we still don't know who (or what) Sherrinford is! Hopefully, all will be revealed in the next episode.
Oh, one more thing...watching the episode on PBS, I was disappointed that they had to censor the profanity that happened in some crucial moments. I mean, it's not like I couldn't understand what was going on, but it takes me out of my engagement with the story when the audio disappears, merely because American audiences are too sensitive to hear what the Brits don't mind. C'mon, PBS...
Finally, I keep wondering if the next episode, "The Final Problem," will be the last one they give us, or if there's still a future for the show after this season? I've read different theories online, about whether or not they'll keep going, but I don't think it's been announced officially at this point. Will they wrap things up, or give us another cliffhanger? Or will it be the kind of "wrap up" that Doyle thought he'd done when he wrote the original story of "The Final Problem"? Anyone's guess, I suppose.
I was doing a little surfing online, when I stumbled on this great little article on the many references to the Sherlock Holmes Canon in the recent Sherlock episode, "The Six Thatchers": Canonical References in The Six Thatchers.
Tonight Episode 2 of Season 4 of Sherlock airs, on PBS this side of the pond. The episode is entitled "The Lying Detective," which is a clever little twist on Doyle's story "The Dying Detective." As we are too cheap to get cable, and the local PBS affiliate refuses to come in on our digital TV, I will be watching it tomorrow, and then reviewing it here on Baker Street Babble. Stay tuned for my next review!
Shortly after my review of "The Six Thatchers" was published on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, they published this review from a (presumably) more experienced critic named Steve Doyle. Although his perspective is different from mine (he is writing as a critic, whereas I suppose I was writing more as a fan), I found it to be a very well written and well thought out review of the episode. You can read Steve Doyle's review here.
For many years, my only copy of the Complete Sherlock Holmes (novels and stories) was the good old Doubleday edition. Over the years, my copy of that edition got pretty worn. I replaced it with a Barnes & Noble reprint, which had the same text, but also sported a dust jacket that was an unpleasant orange color. So, a year ago, I was looking on Amazon at editions of the Complete Holmes, and stumbled across an edition that is well worth the reasonable price I paid for it: the Knickerbocker Classics Complete Sherlock Holmes.
It's a lovely slipcased edition of the complete novels and stories, with a ribbon placemarker, and a cover design that calls to mind the famous deerstalker cap and cape that are synonymous with the great detective in the public imagination. I haven't gotten rid of the Doubleday edition, but this one is much, much nicer. I highly recommend it!
(Incidentally, I also have a Complete Works of William Shakespeare published by Knickerbocker Classics, in a similar slipcase...another beautiful piece of work. And reasonably priced.)
After having owned the complete 1954/55 Sherlock Holmes series on DVD--starring Ronald Howard as Holmes--for God knows how long, I finally decided to watch a few episodes. I'm glad I did, because Mr. Howard and H. Marion Crawford (Dr. Watson) are quite good! Sure, some of the plots are a bit silly (the "Texas Cowgirl" episode is particularly ridiculous), and most of them have little or nothing to do with Doyle's stories, but the show is very entertaining. Ronald Howard brings an energy and a lightness to the character that is very refreshing. He clearly doesn't take himself as seriously as Rathbone did, which ends up being a plus. And H. Marion Crawford was one of the first (possibly the first) actor to attempt to avoid making Watson a dunce. I enjoy watching Howard and Crawford more than Rathbone and Bruce: their chemistry is better, as far as I'm concerned. And the humor that they bring to the show is quite enjoyable to watch. They don't match Cumberbatch and Freeman, to my way of thinking, but they're quite good.
This series won't appeal to all fans, but it does appeal to me. It's certainly well worth watching. Meanwhile, it's very easy to find the entire series, on DVD and YouTube. Do yourself a favor, and check it out!
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.