Sherlock Series 4 features three feature-length episodes, “The Six Thatchers,” “The Lying Detective,” and “The Final Problem.”
The series was certainly different from the prior three. It would be inaccurate to say there’s no mystery in this season but they’re definitely very different sorts of mysteries. We’ll go ahead and examine each episode in turn.
Warning, spoilers ahead for the first episode.
“The Six Thatchers” follows the events of Series 3 and the nightmare trip which was, “The Abominable Bride,” with Holmes having been given clemency for committing murder at the end of Series 3 in order to confront the seeming return of Moriarty. Holmes’ reaction is to put that off until something happens with Moriarty or whoever’s impersonating him. He returns to being a detective and texting all the time. While showing texts in Series 1 was interesting, it became incessant at the start of this episode. Characters should text far less than people in real life do.
There are some things I liked about this episode. I thought it was funny when Holmes offered to give Lestrade credit for solving a case, and Lestrade pointed out he’d done that before, and Watson wrote about it on his blog, making Lestrade look foolish. It’s a subtle dig at the original stories which were published by Dr. Watson in-universe, including stories where Holmes agrees to let Lestrade take credit for solving the case while the story exists in-universe and reveals otherwise.
The first half of “The Six Thatchers” is a well-done modern retelling of “The Six Napoleons,” which I really enjoyed. It leads into an ex-spy colleague of Mary Watson hunting her down for betraying him and the rest of her team.
Mary runs away. Sherlock tracks her down and searches for the real traitor. They confront the traitor unarmed and the traitor tries to kill Sherlock and Mary throws herself in the way of the bullet and is killed.
I found the “Mary has another secret” plot to be a bit of a rehash of plot points from Series Three. It was sad to see Mary go, but she died in the books, so it’s hard to complain about that. This episode was okay, not great, but it had some good moments.
“The Lying Detective,” finds Watson having cutting Holmes out of his life for failing to fulfill his vow to protect the Watson family. Holmes’ health is deteriorating, even as he pursues a rich man named Culverton Smith who may or may not be a serial killer.
This story leaves you constantly questioning who you can trust. Holmes has been taking drugs, and we’re given reason to question if what the audience sees is real or drug-induced fantasies. At the same time, Watson is hallucinating about Mary, with Mary even being helpful enough to tell him that she’s a hallucination created by his own mind.
This story does keep you thinking as there’s suspense about what exactly has happened. There’s not a question of who did it since there’s not a specific crime being investigated. That lets the central conflict be a battle of wits between Holmes and Smith.
Not being sure what you’re seeing is true makes for an interesting story, but I wouldn’t want to see another episode like this.
The series wraps up with, “The Final Problem,” in which we finally find out what was behind Moriarty’s re-appearance after dying in Series 2 as well as Sherlock finally learning the truth of his own past. I enjoyed this episode for the most part. It is much more psychological thriller than a typical murder mystery, but it has more use of deductive skills than any other episode this series. The final few minutes are superb as they say a lot about the man Sherlock has become without him saying much of anything.
On the other hand, to enjoy this, you have to accept Sherlock’s opponent in this story is a supervillain with the power to control any person if they get within three feet of her and speak to her alone. It can be disconcerting when a Sherlock Holmes story takes a giant step outside the realms of reasoning that’s such a hallmark of the character. To be fair, Steven Moffat is far from the first to do this. Sherlock Holmes has appeared in numerous pastiches that have put him up against supernatural creatures, aliens from outer space, and all other sorts of weirdness. This sort of thing certainly has been done worse.
The decisions this series have certainly been controversial, but I understand why they were made. When this series started in 2010, Moffat set Sherlock on a journey. In Series 1, Sherlock could be far more cold and oblivious to how others feel, and in many ways he couldn’t care less. In the first episode, Inspector Lestrade expressed his hope for Holmes, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”
And that’s been the journey Sherlock’s been on. It’s not unheard of to do this in modern detective programs. In Monk, Adrian Monk was on a journey to become whole and find peace. The big difference between Sherlock and Monk is Monk aired sixteen hours of new episodes per year for eight seasons and worked Monk’s emotional journey into that series.
The challenge with Sherlock is they’ve gotten three feature-length episodes every two to three years due to the rising popularity of the series stars. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both become major stars in Hollywood and scheduling has become more difficult. Who knows when they will be able to do a Series 5 or if they will be able to. Moffat seems to have wanted to ensure that character arc was completed, so a lot of character-related stuff was shoved into Series 4 in order to give the series a good stopping place.
The challenge is Moffat squeezed so much character work into this series, the mystery elements suffer. And to further along Sherlock’s character story, the show does some things that compromise Watson’s character.
Whether you enjoy it will depend on what you’re looking for. If all you want is a simple, well-written detective story, you’re going to be disappointed. The more invested your are in these characters, the more you’ll get out of it and the more forgiving you’ll be about the series’ flaws as you get to see Sherlock’s personal growth.
I was invested enough that I enjoyed the series, but I’ll be okay if there’s not an additional series or future one-shot movies. Unlike the previous three finales, “The Final Problem” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger that demands another series. Unless Moffat plans on bringing viewers the type of mysteries that got people into Sherlock in the first place, it’s probably best just to leave it there.
Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0
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