Important note: Do not proceed if you have not seen Sherlock Series Four episode Three, “The Final Problem” or various episodes preceding it. Spoilers will be numerous and specific.
In my life, I’ve been taught to hope. To give the benefit of the doubt. And to trust in optimism rather than criticism. I hoped. I gave. I trusted.
Today, sadly, I must criticize.
I tried to enjoy the season/series finale of Sherlock. Truly, I did. I mean, I just made a big to-do about how I didn’t appreciate all the it’s-not-good-anymores and I-wanted-this-to-happens and general complaints about a plunge in quality. I stand by what I said then.
It was before I watched “The Final Problem.”
As I watched the action unfold, my anticipation turned from high to low before finally dwindling to apathetic. By the end, I was itching to look at my phone instead of seeing how it all wrapped up.
I didn’t understand. Had I set my expectations too high? Had I thought certain plot developments should occur that did not? Was I just an angry fan who didn’t get what she wanted, or did the episode truly lack what made Sherlock great?
Look, I don’t mean to nitpick.
Okay, fine, I mean to nitpick. Sherlock is a show that relies on the nitpick. Sherlock cracks cases because he nitpicks. So in the name of trying to understand why I spent an entire day upset over an hour and a half of television, I’m going to nitpick two episodes of Sherlock.
Impossible things in “The Hounds of Baskerville”:
I call the things that don’t make sense to me “impossible things,” at least when it comes to Sherlock. Most of Sherlock does well at turning impossible things into mysteries, then solving those mysteries with plausibility. Let’s look at the second series’ episode two:
Henry Knight swears he saw a Giant Monster Hound kill his dad: explained. With experimental gas that gave those exposed to it hallucinations and extreme paranoia, the child Henry imagined the man who killed his dad to be a monster, and always thought of the monster as a hound thanks to the acronym on the man’s sweatshirt: H.O.U.N.D.
Tour guide saw Giant Monster Hound: Explained. He saw a giant dog the innkeepers bought to encourage tourism.
Giant Monster Hound footprints: Explained. Same big dog.
Sherlock himself witnesses Giant Monster Hound at the Hollow: He doesn’t understand it, but he saw it. It’s clear to the viewer that he saw it. It’s also explained: He was drugged and his mind turned a normal (albeit large and snarly) dog into a monster.
John sees the Giant Monster Hound in the lab: It was Sherlock, creating the sense that the Hound was terrorizing John to test his theory on drugs.
WE see the Giant Monster Hound at the Hollow: Since we are “there” in the Hollow we also experience the same hallucination, the aerosol-disposal drugs in the fog making us think a regular dog is a gigantic hound.
Impossible things in “The Final Problem”:
“The Final Problem”…well, it raised a lot of questions. Although it took care to reference the Conan Doyle canon (e.g. Baker Street burning, the Garrideb brothers), “The Final Problem” managed to simultaneously feel careless. And at points, actually slipped to…cartoonish.
Sherlock has been hokey before. It has been cheesy before. It has occasionally overindulged in fanservice before. But it has not been cartoonish. Not until it dangled three bound bad guys over the cliffs of a top secret fortress asylum while lights flashed red to remind the good guys they were running out of time.
As a single occurrence we could forgive this, but the combined power of many unexplained impossibilities gives way to a general air of implausibility.
Eurus “reprogramming” the entire asylum simply by talking to her guards. This is a key plot point to leave nebulous. Without explaining this, the rest of the setup fails. None of these other how’s and why’s could possibly ring true without understanding this first leap. We are told that Eurus makes people do terrible things, but other than old recorded tapes of Eurus saying things, we don’t know why.
Remember the cabbie who made people kill themselves just by talking to him? That was a mystery until Sherlock discovered that the cabbie gave his victims a choice of choosing between two pills or getting shot.
How Eurus kidnapped the governor’s wife. This unsolved mystery is probably the least important, but if we apply the following questions to the other mysteries on this list, it becomes worse: Did Euros have help? Are all the employees/doctors at this top secret rock island asylum now on her side? If so, then why don’t we see anyone besides poor David after Eurus takes over? Without answering these questions, we can’t possibly understand how Eurus accomplished her other tests. Ok, we can assume she had help, but assumption doesn’t get people addicted to Sherlock. Marvel movies are for assuming detail to enjoy the spectacle. No, the draw of Sherlock is the explanation of the specifics.
Remember how Moriarty explained how he rigged the jury in The Reichenbach Fall? That was necessary, because Moriarty was, at that time, at risk of becoming impossible himself. How could he have rigged a jury while in jail? Because he has a criminal network and that criminal network took all the jury’s loved ones hostage. Simple as that.
How Eurus rigged all the pretty lights. She’s all about showmanship isn’t she?
How Eurus found the three murder suspects and strung them up to dangle on cue. Are we supposed to understand that she did this because she was actually free to come and go as she pleased the whole time? Okay, but that’s still a lot of work for one person.
How Eurus discovered which coffin Molly Hooper ordered or wanted to order, got her hands on one/it, and put it on display. And if she could do all that, why not actually rig the flat to explode?
Who shot Sherlock, Mycroft, and John with tranquilizer darts? Eurus only has screen presence (geddit?) in that scene.
How Eurus transported Sherlock and John from Sherrinford to the old Holmes place in a couple hours, gave them comms set to the same frequency so they could talk to each other, set up a television and streamed herself, set up a fake Sherrinford room, and chained John in the bottom of a well…and how John got unchained from the well because they only lowered the poor bloke a rope.
Why does Eurus bother to plant Redbeard’s dog dish when Redbeard was never a dog? Did she commission one from a ceramic artist just to mess with her brother? (Shop local, people.)
In short, “The Final Problem” did not satisfy the majority of viewers because it raised more questions than it answered.
Also of interest: I don’t buy her ability to set up so elaborate a scheme in five minutes five years in advance, even if she conspired with Moriarty.
“Five minutes. It took her just five minutes to do all of this to us.”
Sherlock HolmesSteven Moffat reminding us that Eurus is clever, got that? Because cleverness is what matters.
And why bother helping Sherlock with a case only a week or so prior? Why seduce John Watson? Why impersonate a therapist? To study Sherlock and “play” with him some? Ok, sure, but then why bother showing us how much Eurus liked Sherlock?
“You’re not what I expected, Mr. Holmes. You’re…nicer.”
—Eurus Holmes, before being reminded that she’s under contract to engineer a death game for Sherlock in the next episode.
It makes the leap from “unstable but brilliant” into “prepared to severely traumatize Sherlock because he didn’t play with her as a child” that much more difficult.
Speaking of which…
I was terrified of Eurus at The Lying Detective’s conclusion. I did not recognize that three different women, were, in fact one and the same. Realizing that yes, one actress played all three gave credence to the reveal and the fact that even Sherlock failed to notice further freaked me out. We didn’t know Eurus’s plan. She seemed off-kilter. She seemed lethal. I thought she was very capable of shooting John if she show chose to take that route.
The Eurus of “The Final Problem” is a completely different character.
It turns out that aww, she’s just misunderstood. Too smart for her own good, that Eurus. Too lonely. Couldn’t handle her own intellect by herself, and because her brother Sherlock wouldn’t play with her (like so many brothers), she descended into psychosis, killing her brother’s friend because she was jealous, burning a mansion to ruins, conspiring with criminals, convincing one of her doctors to murder himself and his family, killing a total of five people this episode and that’s assuming none of her (invisible, but surely there) cronies killed any of the asylum guards. She would have killed six if her last test had unfolded as planned. Eurus’s motivation, according to Eurus herself, was: “I never had a best friend.”
All she needed was a hug and a promise of more family time?
Happily, the existence of another Holmes sibling is not unheard of in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle scholarly canon. Some of his early notes refer to a “Sherrinford” Holmes, and many scholars believe that the career paths of Mycroft and Sherlock would only be possible in the original setting of the 19th century if a big brother was available to run the family estate. The East Wind, a.k.a. Eurus, is even a symbolic feature in the Conan Doyle story “His Last Bow.” But the powers and reach of Eurus in “The Final Problem” made even the East Wind seem small in comparison.
Moffat and Gatiss Have Done a Remarkable Thing, but…
Despite the majority of my words here today, I do not think “The Final Problem” was bad television. I thought it was the worst episode of Sherlock I’d ever seen, but not bad television. One thing that came to mind during that fated first viewing was I would be enjoying this if it wasn’t Sherlock.
The idea behind the episode was golden: give closure to one of the show’s most prominent themes. Explore how Sherlock came to be the fascinating character he was. But if you want to have your final reveal change the way your work will be read—proceed with caution.
Moffat and Gatiss surely thought they had an interested audience for Sherlock’s flashes of humanity. In “The Hounds of Baskerville” Sherlock apologizes to John for taking his fear and doubt on him, the first time Sherlock has expressed any outward affection for him. He calls John his only friend. The fans went nuts. So they gave us more. And more. Until Sherlock became like everything else we consume: a superhero with hidden childhood pain who is always right and always wins.
I venture, however, that most people enjoyed the first series of Sherlock for the floppy-haired, stone-faced, socially incompetent sleuth who solved impossible crimes in a realistic way and with a 2010 mind. Although Sherlock’s trajectory certainly pointed towards humanizing the titular detective, does the show sacrifice its core identity by giving Sherlock repressed memories, a controversial psychological condition that many believe does not exist, and making that the inciting incident for Sherlock’s sleuthing endeavors? Or is losing a show’s essence is simply a casualty of closure?
And so I must attempt to answer my initial question: Did the episode truly lack what made Sherlock great? Perhaps not, but it certainly lacked what made Sherlock Sherlock: a closed case, deductions, root in Conan Doyle, and a detective who remains just beyond the realm of humanity.