Previously on Sherlock: The Lying Detective.
With the writers’ egos being bigger than their brains, the episode didn’t earn the emotional fallout the creators expected.
Potential — Wasted
Plot and script: on par with The Blind Banker, better than Hounds of Baskerville. (My two least favourite episodes, if I had to rate them.)
Emotional pay-off: on par with The Sign of Three, but not as good as The Reichenbach Fall or The Empty Hearse. And considering the emotional significance, those would have been the benchmark.
You see, my Litmus test: did I cry? Because, I am, as we say in Germany, built notoriously close to water. As in, give me genuine emotional acting, and I’ll cry my head off. It does depend on what kind of a day it’s been and where my head is at, but there’s movies and TV shows I cry at every single time, even if it’s been a while.
And sometimes, if the tension is jUST SO HIGH, it stops working. It’s too much, and I shut down, and the heartstrings don’t budge.
As for how they left it in terms of the characters’ fate and well-being, it was satisfying. To be honest, I would be fine if this were the final series. We came full circle on a lot of stuff, and though they left the door open, the characters are in a good place. Sherlock and John are co-parenting Rosie, Lestrade is with them, Mrs Hudson is safe, Molly seems to be fine… If they do return, I would certainly wish them to stay away from further ‘event series.’
The only sad thing would be, if this were the final case, that we wouldn’t have gotten to say goodbye to the rest of them. There was a criminal lack of Lestrade this series, we have no idea what happened to Irene, we haven’t even seen Anderson again. (I did spy Dimmock in The Six Thatchers, though, I’m glad he’s alright.) Sally was never heard of again, either. So not getting to give them a proper send-off would be sad.
This finale had a lot of potentially very good ideas, but they weren’t executed to the best of everybody’s abilities. The script provided very strict constraints for everyone — not just physically, but it seemed as though neither Martin, nor Mark, nor Ben could quite get their best acting through the lines of the script. Adrenaline alone won’t do it, that’s the problem. Ben and Mark got the meat of the story, while they barely seemed to know what to do with John beyond him being a soldier.
List of good ideas:
- By making them the subjects of the experiment, making them complicit in the killing of at least five people. (They didn’t blow it, but… it wasn’t as good as it could have been.)
- Confronting Sherlock with the true reason why he is how he is, and with a family secret buried so deep Sherlock didn’t just rewrite his memories, but deleted them. (But they blew it by not letting the narrative explore that that could be the reason why he’s always so angry with Mycroft.)
- Giving us a third Holmes sibling, the truly scary one. (But they blew it by making sentiment her weakness.)
- Giving us a villain that could, possibly, actually be scarier than Moriarty. (But they blew it by cramming everything about her into one episode rather than letting it breathe.)
Murder, But With More Speed Dating
It would have been so much better if they’d pulled a How to Get Away With Murder and shown bits of the third episode all over the first two. No, hear me out: we knew nothing about Eurus, we knew nothing about a third sibling. Sure, there were rumours, but rumours are no substitute for plot. The writers relied very heavily on Eurus leading to Moriarty (or, rather, the other way around) telling us that she’s scary~, so much so that they didn’t bother giving us enough time to get a sense of who Eurus really is. We had three episodes until we even got to see Moriarty in Series 1; and those of us familiar with Holmes canon knew what he was capable of and why it’s smart to fear him. We also only saw him on screen for a few precious minutes when we finally did. But that was enough for both viewers entirely new to Sherlock Holmes and everyone who knew intimately what Moriarty meant for Sherlock to quiver in their boots.
I see the value in doing something different and boldly Holmes-ing where no-one has Holmes-ed before, but different isn’t always a value onto itself. That’s one thing.
The other: I figured out why it’s such a huge mistake to tease villains bigger and badder than Moriarty. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because nobody (ha) is as good as Andrew Scott. No-one. God, I have missed that man. I know he’s dead, and I knew it was a flashback from the first second, but he still scares the living daylights out of me; and I was delighted because of it. Andrew Scott, man. Andrew Scott. Genius.
Cramming this much plot into only 90 minutes, and into only one episode, the writers need to rely on a lot of shorthand and on us acclimatising quickly enough to take all of it in.
Eurus could have been the true sociopath of the Holmes family. Instead, they made her toothless. In the end, she just wanted to not be alone, she wanted to be part of the family.
One: cool motive, still murder.
Two: they had to do that because they’d written themselves into a corner. Sherlock threatening to take his own life worked once, it disrupted the experiment. But to get her to give up John’s location, they had to make it so that Sherlock would get through to her — via sentiment. The one thing of no interest to her. And that’s the fallacy, because Sherlock can’t outsmart her, he can’t out-think her. He won’t deduce where John is quickly enough, because for some reason, he doesn’t know the well John is stuck in. So he has to get through to her, and they can only think to have that happen through, what, forgiveness?
It’s Irene all over again. Instead of letting her really get one over on Sherlock in A Scandal in Belgravia, they made her lose. They couldn’t stand her winning when in canon, she proves she’s smarter than Holmes fair and square, so she lost because they made her fall for him.
I mean, for real, Eurus’ entire argument during the experiment is that emotions are the thing that will put Sherlock in his grave. But then, they do a 180 and try to sell us that hurting Sherlock is never what she meant to do, and that in trying to be part of the family, she made him like her, and that she regrets that. In the end, she’s a frightened child and made weak by time and fate. (That’s some Tennyson for you.)
It’s this need to have Sherlock win that is their downfall.
The Six Thatchers Was Just… What, Then?
You see, when you start a series like Sherlock, you lay the ground rules. You set up rules for how your world works — visual rules, like seeing Sherlock’s thought processes visualised on screen. And moral rules, like having John kill a man 80 minutes in to save a man he barely knows, and Lestrade not even investigate further as to who the shooter could possibly be.
Moral rules, like letting Sherlock shoot an unarmed man in the head to save his friends, and letting the punishment be reversed at the simple fight of Moriarty on the telly.
And then, The Six Thatchers went and broke all the rules. The Abominable Bride was an exercise in unreliable narration, and I figured that The Six Thatchers was an escalation of that under the influence of drugs, a coma, whatever. The thing is, when you break your own rules in such a big way, there has to be payoff from that. There has to be fallout. But this was… nothing. The entire wackiness of The Six Thatchers just didn’t matter. And I went on and on about how all of that was a choice and would lead us somewhere… but it didn’t. Now don’t I feel like an asshole.
The Case of the Missing Laughs
There’s another thing that struck me while writing my think piece last weekend, I just couldn’t put my finger on it yet: the humour.
Honestly, I think my last genuinely funny Sherlock review was about The Hounds of Baskerville, and that was a while ago. I didn’t keep a running tally, but I’m sure that the last two series had as many actual belly laughs combined as I had in A Study in Pink alone. And that tells you something: because the humour wasn’t missing for lack of trying, sort of. It was simply that the jokes used the same tired punchlines over and over and over. ‘John’s the family idiot,’ first and foremost. Episodes 2 and 3 of this series pretty much relied on that one note and Martin’s (admittedly funny) endless reservoir of bewildered looks alone. It pretty much undercuts all the time and effort Sherlock spent telling us that he needs John for far more interesting reasons; and that John is, in fact, not an idiot. He may not have “the deducting thing” (ok I loled at that one), but he’s not stupid. In short, John Watson doesn’t bumble.
So I understand when shows go darker as time goes on, because the mysteries change and, in this case, become more personal. That’s OK, TV would be exceedingly dull if funny shows didn’t explore their potential for misery. However, I miss lighthearted fun, and I only say this because, for me, it threw into sharp relief how in Series 3 and 4, a lot of jokes had a lot of trouble landing.
As I said in one of the comments, I’m not one to cry, “I miss when show XY was so and so,” I tend to be pretty ruthless about cutting shows out of my life when they disappoint me or bore me, and then I whinge about it exactly once — on this blog — and then never again. So I’m not arguing that a show shouldn’t change, I’m just saying this particular one didn’t live up to the potential that it had, and the expectations that it fostered.
Moriarty ties into this: I literally clapped my hands in excitement when he turned up, and I knew he was dead. I’ve missed Andrew Scott, that’s for sure, but most of all I’ve missed villains that were fun. Magnussen was a bully and a jerk, and Culverton Smith was… boring, the only thing interesting about him the final sequence when he tried to strangle Sherlock to death (and nearly succeeded). The conceit is always that Sherlock is going to have to get out of it alive, so the challenge for writers is to make us fear for him anyway. To make it suspenseful, and genuinely tense rather than rely on set pieces.
Eurus, then, was… well, I said it earlier: cool motive, still murder. I loved her as a villainous character, hated her emotionally for what she was doing to her brothers, and then at the very end I was supposed to pity her? Not a damn chance. I didn’t pity Jim, either, I was relieved when he was dead at the end of Reichenbach, because Jim Moriarty alive meant a world of pain; but I loved him as a villainous character. But he definitely got the better arc. The only reason Sherlock got away from Moriarty quite so cleanly on top of that hospital was that he was unpredictable. His suicide shocked Sherlock — he thought he’d have to fake his death to come back and take Moriarty down another day. Not so. Eurus, then, could only be outsmarted through her emotions. Just like Irene. Arrrrggggghhhh. Come the fuck on, Bridget!
The Indignity of Making Molly Hooper the Woman Who Loves Sherlock
I hate that they did this to her. HATE. In the end, Molly Hooper will always just be the girl who fell in love with Sherlock and never got over him. To treat her so cruelly… I didn’t like it, and I don’t think it was good writing. She wasn’t targeted because of her smarts, or the role she played in Sherlock’s “death,” or simply being Sherlock and John’s friend. She was targeted because of her feelings for him, reduced to the crush she had on him. (Oh look, same as Irene.)
Yes, Eurus made Sherlock go through every primary emotion that he locked away inside of himself since he lost his beloved friend Victor (in the novels, Victor Trevor was Sherlock’s roommate at college and pretty much his only friend before John came along). Fear, anger, grief, and love. She had to confront him with it somehow. I have no problem with it being Molly who was used for this stage of the experiment, I just wish the writers had found another way for her. Eurus could have simply run the timer, called Molly, and told Sherlock that there was only one way to save her, without saying what. Sherlock could have figured it out, and told Molly something like, “I know this won’t make up for the times I hurt you, and it’s too little too late, but you are my friend, Molly Hooper, and I love you.” The challenge could have been to ask Molly for forgiveness, to acknowledge that he hurt her. That way, it could have been an affirmation of Molly being over him (or at least half-way) and being happy, but forgiving him nonetheless and perhaps being a little wistful. She’s always counted, and this could have been an affirmation of that; and I believe that that would have been so much more emotionally satisfying than this, an island of hope in what amounts to pretty much an ocean of pain. Above all, it would have meant a small amount of vindication, something that Molly was long, long due and owed. Because even when we look at a character naturalistically, as in, ‘characters are in love, and that’s fine,’ we must remember that someone writes those characters, that it is never their choice, but someone else’s. Someone with a history of writing women a certain way, for instance.
Instead, they made her the butt of the joke. Again. The same way they did when she turned up in The Sign of Three with that Sherlock look-alike boyfriend of hers. John tried to say something, but Sherlock told him, “Yes, I noticed. And we’re not saying not a word.” Sherlock Holmes was done being cruel to Molly Hooper. And in the end, she broke up with him, and I thought, ‘Yes, maybe now we’re finally past this.’
Sherlock taking the coffin apart was… strong. He used to be so frightened of love most of all, and even though everything he’s ever done ever since Series 1 was out of love for John Watson, he never said it. Not those three words, to anybody. So now, he had to grapple with the reality that he feels, and that on top of that his baby sister just forced him to utterly destroy one of his best friends. He stopped being cruel to Molly a long time ago, and now she’s forced to listen to him say something he does mean, but knowing that he can’t give her exactly what she needs. If the scene had played out different, he still could have smashed that coffin for similar reasons — for nearly losing Molly, for hurting her in the past, for being confronted with the fact that the way he locked his emotions away as a child wasn’t, in fact, a good idea.
Here’s what Louise Brealey herself thought of her character’s involvement:
Molly has always been entirely selfless — remember, her only answer in Reichenbach was, “What do you need?” In fact, loving someone even though you know you’ll never be with them requires enormous strength, and it’s simply a thing that happens. It’s tragic, and one might be tempted to tell people in unrequited love to just move on, but everyone’s emotions are their own. Some people, you just never stop loving. And doing what Molly has done through four series is not weak, and I’ve written time and time again that Louise plays her with a quiet strength underneath that makes her a compelling character.
So what I’m saying is: it’s not that she still loves Sherlock, that doesn’t make her weak, at all. I wrote what I did above because I wanted her to move on for her own sake and her happiness as a person. I simply would have preferred to see her happy. When this is what her character is reduced to, a pawn in order to cause manpain in the protagonist, in what might be her final appearance, then it still majorly sucks. The fact that she still loves is not reductive. The fact that it becomes the whole point of her character in the end and that she doesn’t even get a bloody apology, is. I know that Sherlock/Molly shippers see this as the potential beginning of a relationship between them, and I don’t begrudge them that. (It would be one of the biggest ‘no homo’ moves in history, though, just saying.)
If we’re saying that everything’s political, then the pattern that we see in this episode — namely three women* being reduced, in their core, to loving Sherlock and therefore losing, giving up, or being treated cruelly — is a grim one. That’s context for you. (*Eurus, Irene, Molly — Irene is named as one on the short list of people who love Sherlock, and I laid out the parallels between her and Eurus above.)
I think that Molly made a appearance at the end of the epilogue, and she seemed happy to be at 221B, veritably running towards where we would assume Sherlock to be, even. So I daresay that Sherlock made it up to her and explained what happened. I hope she can forgive him for that one, too.
Moffat’s comments about Molly
Here’s a link to Steven Moffat’s comments on the impact this had on Molly. And here’s an excerpt:
“She gets over it!” said Moffat. “Surely at a certain point you have to figure out that after Sherlock escapes tells her, ‘I’m really sorry about that, it was a code, I thought your flat was about to blow up.’ And she says, ‘Oh well that’s okay then, you bastard.’ And then they go back to normal, that’s what people do.”
He added: “I can’t see why you’d have to play that out. She forgives him, of course, and our newly grown-up Sherlock is more careful with her feelings in the future. In the end of that scene, she’s a bit wounded by it all, but he’s absolutely devastated. He smashes up the coffin, he’s in pieces, he’s more upset than she is, and that’s a huge step in Sherlock’s development.
“The question is: Did Sherlock survive that scene? She probably had a drink and went and shagged someone, I dunno. Molly was fine.”
That’s a lot of accumulated ignorance. It’s also a load of horseshit.
It also provides some context for Loo’s tweets: I think she was defending her character rather than the decision that went into the writing, because I believe many were attacking Molly for her feelings and Louise for not refusing to do the scene.
That’s what Moffat focuses on: the pain it causes Sherlock. Sherlock is not in more pain than Molly here. They’re both shattered. And it will take a long time for Molly to recover.
What a douchebag. It’s so… laughable. That Moffat says, Sherlock is in pain here, not Molly! Focus on the man pain! It’s a prime example of giving a character development entirely at the expense of another. And we even have Word of God on it! Nice. That way no-one can accuse me of reading too much into it.
Sherlock Holmes — Consulting Detective. Human. Good Man.
In A Study in Pink, John, puzzled by Sherlock suddenly disappearing, looks to Lestrade for advice. Greg tells him that he may have known Sherlock for five years, but he doesn’t know him. He tells John this:
“But you put up with him.”
“Because I’m desperate, that’s why. And because Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky… he might even be a good one.”
So now, when a copper says, “He’s a great man,” Lestrade has this to say:
“He’s better than that. He’s a good man.”
And this is it. This is where we come full circle, this is the conclusion of an origin story that took four series and a
And that, surprisingly, is all I can say about this, because for all the tension and the emotional turmoil, the episode didn’t give us much more than this. Every experiment was a reiteration of the things we already know about Sherlock.
He loves his family, he loves his friends, he loves John.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here, but… the scene with the grenade at Baker Street, the moment that he shares with Mycroft in re: Lady Bracknell revealed more emotion than the entire thing at Sherrinford. That moment was surprisingly tender and moving — because it was subtle. The rest of the episode spent time pounding us with a sledgehammer. The only other subtle cues where the ones between John and Sherlock: asking John if he’s ok, saying one word only, “soldiers,” making John stand up straight and focus. They share an understanding that even Mycroft is not privy to.
And not just that, but that entire scene was so… good? With John and Sherlock working out exactly when to move so that Mrs Hudson would be safest. It’s Sherlock who asks whether a phone call would be possible, to afford John the chance to say goodbye to Rosie.
But it’s shoved aside in the face of family — when John whispers, “Vatican cameos,” Sherlock tells him, “Not now,” and removes his earwig. That’s also why Sherlock and John don’t even get any “real” scenes together, they don’t get a moment to just share a moment, basically.
“This is a private matter.”
“This is family.”
“THAT’S WHY HE STAYS.”
Ok, alright, we get it, John’s family, there is no need to shout.
There’s another shout-out to that love in this episode, in the form of the Three Garridebs. In that story, one of the suspect shoots Watson, injuring him. Holmes rushes to his side and sees that the wound is not exactly trivial, but not life-threatening. Holmes then incapacitates the suspect and tells him that, had he seriously injured or even killed Watson, he’d have not left the scene alive. Watson then records in his diaries that, in that moment when Holmes checked on him, he saw the great heart beyond the intellect, and that it was worth a thousand wounds to see how much Holmes cared about him.
Speaking of love: when thinking about Victor Trevor, I got my wires crossed for a bit and I ended up thinking of the case Moriarty taunts Sherlock with in The Great Game, the trainers that used to belong to Carl Powers, a boy who drowned and the first case Sherlock ever wanted to work. He was a child himself, and he pestered the police for ages.
Christ. Moriarty was trying to trigger Sherlock’s memories by presenting him with evidence that the first case he ever wanted in on was the drowning of another boy.
Everything about Moriarty, death, and Sherlock’s trauma is associated with water, that much we understood from the beginning, and it was brought to our attention again in The Six Thatchers:
- They first meet in a pool.
- He appears in Sherlock’s near-OD dream in The Abominable Bride as they reenact the waterfall scene.
- Magnussen’s home has a large pool.
- Mary dies in an aquarium.
- Sherlock fights her former team member in an indoor pool.
We see this come together in flashbacks, but they left out Carl Powers, the boy who drowned even though he was a master swimmer. Moriarty killed him, just like Eurus once killed Victor — and Moriarty didn’t even know her, then. Oh boy, the parallels.
In the end, everything’s back to normal. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Mary’s Baker Street Boys, solving crimes and helping people. In the end, it’s about the legend, and it comes back to that. The door is certainly left open for more series, or for the occasional special, but I’m guessing those would return to the format of Series 1 and 2, rather than continue to try and make more stuff explode. If nothing else, blowing up and then rebuilding 221B was cathartic. It gives them a fresh start, safe from threats like Eurus and Moriarty, so everything that comes after this should be a piece of cake, really. (Fingers crossed.) But they’re happy now, and safe, and together; even the Holmes family gets some form of closure on their tragedy.
So whether we see that fresh start or not, or whether we see them again years down the line, they’re in a good place. And for that, I’m grateful.
So no, Johnlock isn’t canon. They’re co-parenting Rosie, at least, and I’m sure Lestrade is an excellent babysitter. (He lets her sleep on him when he’s over, he’s very comfy. Don’t even try and convince me otherwise.)
And, yes, they missed a step in not making it canon. They could have done it, they decided against it, and criticising that is fair. But they’re very open about calling it love, and apparently it’s platonic, but they’ve never told anybody not to interpret it any way they like. Moffat can be a dick to fans, there’s enough examples out there, but fanon exists apart from validation in canon; it has to. Those who believed in TJLC are bitterly disappointed now, and I do feel sorry for them. That’s the dangerous thing when one of your fandom’s maxims is, “Moffat lies.” It’s too inviting to twist anything he says into the opposite. When it comes to the debate whether this was queerbaiting with a final twist of ‘no homo,’ I’m not sure, and I’ll let others speak on this. Assumptions were constantly being made by other characters, but the writers, when asked, only ever said that that’s not the story they’re telling. They put those bits in, though, they chose to do that. That’s how the entire damn conspiracy theory got started in the first place. So which is it? Was it mockery, an effort to leave it ambiguous, or ignorance?
Bond Air is Go
The whole thing with the plane is a reference back to A Scandal in Belgravia, wherein Sherlock impresses Irene and John with deducing that a plane full of dead people will crash, which is one of the many ways that Moriarty used to torture Sherlock, now revealing themselves to be intertwined with Eurus. It’s how Moriarty knew him so well — we thought it was just Mycroft sharing secrets when Moriarty was in captivity, but it went deeper than that. Mycroft locks Jim up after he breaks into the Tower of London, but he brings him to Eurus as a Christmas present… probably before that. My grasp of the show’s timeline isn’t as strong as it used to be.
Speaking of Bond and Tennyson: the criticism levelled against the show that it’s trying too hard to be Skyfall are laughable, really. The hero returning to the old homestead for a good bit of family tragedy isn’t exactly… you know, new. Neither are ancestral homes. And just because there’s a bit of shooting… Holmes and Watson spend plenty of ammunition in the stories.
Since I quoted Tennyson above, however, there’s one thing that made me think of Skyfall: the bull’s head and the headphones made it through the fire, and all I could think was, “The whole office goes up in smoke and that bloody thing survives.” 😂
- Sherlock texts someone at the end, “You know where to find me. SH” This is a reference to first-ever text we see him send DI Lestrade in A Study in Pink. It’s a shorthand signal for, ‘Everything’s back to normal.’
- Other Easter eggs include, of course, The Musgrave Ritual and The Adventure of the Dancing Men. And if I never see that hand puppet from the epilogue again, that’ll be too soon.
- In the stories, Victor Trevor’s father died, and that was Holmes’ first case.