It’s hard to admit when something you love crashes and burns after a glorious run. However, I don’t know how else to categorize this weird thing Sherlock has morphed into. I loved Seasons 1 through 3, but suddenly, after all the time, Sherlock doesn’t seem the same anymore. There are going to be a lot of spoilers throughout the review, so if you aren’t caught up, then I recommend waiting to read this until you do.
Sherlock Season 4 starts with the return of Sherlock from a very, very brief stint in exile. In the first episode we learn more about Mary’s past as well as see the birth of their child, but ultimately Mary dies. In Episode 2, Watson comes to terms with his grief as Sherlock goes after a serial killer. And finally, in Episode 3, we meet Sherlock’s secret sister Euros (or Eurus, no one seems to be 100% on the spelling), who is locked up in a super-max prison after literally murdering one of Sherlock’s friends. She attempts to force Sherlock to “save” her because she’s lonely (because in spite of her massive sadism, she is just as soft and squishy inside?) and ultimately, concedes to being locked up again.
Episode 2 is far and away the strongest and best written episode of the season. I think forcing Watson to deal with the grief of losing his wife as well as Sherlock trying to hunt down a magnet personality who drugged his friends into forgetting a secret provided solid narrative tension and helped further their bond. Not sure how to feel about the ghost-Mary thing, but at least it was brief — the video, on the other hand, was such a trite and ridiculous move that I still haven’t stopped rolling my eyes over. The episode, however, is still rushed at points, nearing giving us time to really feel the grandeur and magnitude of Culverton’s power before setting Sherlock after him.
The biggest issue of the season is how Euros is so poorly developed as a threat. We don’t need to know who she is — we didn’t really know anything about Moriarty and yet we developed him as this impossible to understand, terrifying threat. Euros just suddenly appears and we’re told to care because she manages to…what? Make Watson have an emotional affair? Hacks into the British airwaves? Convinces Sherlock she’s someone else? I wasn’t really feel any of the fear that Mycroft keeps trying to instill by talking about how terrible and deadly her intellect is, even after she “brainwashes” the hospital officials. There’s no real flexing of the muscle, no intimacy in the terror.
And in the end all she wanted as attention? Are you kidding me? That’s the best motivation you could come up with? All Sherlock does is tell her that he’s there for her and problem solved. I don’t honestly understand what it even means. Comparatively, Sherlock has to fake his own suicide to defeat Moriarty. All he had to do to take down Euros was symbolically accept her for who she was, psychosis and all. Again, for a character we only really had an episode to get to know, touted as Sherlock’s greatest adversary, this falls flatter than the pancakes at the Flat Earth Society’s annual breakfast potluck. While the challenges the three have to go through in the episode are smart and dramatic, pushing the characters to the edge, the payoff fails the premise.
I genuinely believe that this is tied to Moffat’s inability to write women. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the man treats women like means to narrative ends, creating these 2D super-sacrificial characters who are dangerous because they are feminine. Seriously, he forgets that down at their core, women are people who need motivations and logic, just like his male characters. The only women in the entire show who are well written are Mrs. Hudson and Molly Hooper, though one has to wonder if its because they are too old and too pathetic to be considered love interests by any of the male characters, respectively. I will also add that Hooper has shone in these last two seasons, and it felt like she got some real closure and emotional development in the last episode.
The entire last episode is a sprint to the finish line, which is such a shame for a series that always felt like it could take its time and still be engaging. Between the death of Mary for no other reason than dramatic tension to the one-episode takedown of Euros, it barely felt like there was any real detective work happening, the same charm that permeated the other seasons. While there are some aspects that still have that creative spark left, like the trials in Sherringford or the drug trip.
The show still manages to impress visually. The sequence in which Sherlock works through his high and comes crashing down is brilliant. There’s a lot of that directorial creativity in the shots, and in a lot of the way transitions are used to denote time passing. It’s one of the few things that manages to be consistent throughout the series.
The acting is still as strong as ever. Sherlock and Watson are still a duo with powerful chemistry in no small part due to the comradely between Cumberbatch and Freeman. Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson still a surprising delight, and Mark Gatiss is still excellent as Mycroft. In terms of the new actors, Toby Jones as Culverton Smith is delightful in that manic kind of way, though we definitely don’t see enough of him. Sian Brooke as Euros is excellent as she manages to be both childlike and cold, overly intelligent and yet youthful in her cruelty — I truly think we would have benefitted more from more time with her, more digging into her thoughts.
If this is, in fact, the final season, then all I have to say is way to fuck up the landing Moffat. This is not a befitting ending for any show, let alone one that was so full of creativity and mystery, one that mastered wit and emotion in a visual, compelling way. So desperate were they to make the ending memorable, to get all the things they wanted in that they forgot what made Sherlock great in the first place. And that’s a damn shame.
Sherlock Season 4 fails when it should have soared, and leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. If they had been more focused on the flow of the plot and less on the shock, maybe we could have had a half-way decent ending to what could (and should) have been another excellent entry in the franchise. Can someone please force Moffat to retire now?