Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Sherlock: The Final Problem

Sherlock: 'Five minutes! It took five minutes to do all of this to us.'

If I had to pick one highlight from tonight's episode, it'd either be Moriarty's rock star posturing to Queen's 'I Want to Break Free' or Mrs Hudson vacuuming to Iron Maiden's 'The Number of the Beast'. It's good to know that during this suspense-laden, at times hopelessly improbable finale, they could still offer up some levity. It was sorely needed at times, especially with Eurus being such a rotter.

As with episode one, I suspect tonight's offering will divide opinion. Let's face it, the brilliance on display occasionally took some believing. Even with a regular episode of Sherlock it's frequently a challenge to buy that his deductions even faintly resemble something plausible, but in an episode where Sherlock is the dullard, and Eurus has almost superhuman powers of prescience and the ability to reprogram minds, there were times when you just had to grit your teeth and get on with it. At times Eurus was positively god-like. Five minutes was all it took to set her plan, and the only reason Sherlock managed to stop her is because she willed it. She left the clues, all Sherlock had to do was follow them to their inevitable conclusion.

Yet despite the unlikeliness of it all, I think I mostly enjoyed this. Cumberbatch was his usual mesmerising self—Sherlock's reaction to the gradual uncovering of his childhood trauma was moderately affecting, as was his emotionally charged phone exchange with the oddly deflated Molly Hooper—and Sian Brooke was again a revelation. Four characters in three episodes is pretty good going, and she played them with enough nuance that they felt like different people. In fact, the first forty minutes, culminating in the reveal that there was no glass between Sherlock and Eurus, and the fake-out of Moriarty's return, were thoroughly absorbing. The middle section is where the wheels, if not fell off, definitely developed something of a flat spot.

There's no denying that Eurus' Crystal Maze-esque testing of Sherlock, Watson and Mycroft gave us a fascinating insight into their characters—how they reacted under pressure, their morality, their affinity for each other, etc.—but the payoff was that the momentum occasionally stuttered. The inter-cutting of the little girl on the plane attempted to maintain some forward movement, but once it was revealed to be fake, the pressure it'd generated dissipated completely. Whether this bothered you or not, likely depends upon whether you found the twists more compelling that the story you thought you were being told. Was seeing Sherlock save his long-lost sister from a mind palace of her own making a better story to you than seeing him save a young girl from a crashing plane?

In fact, half way through the episode I began to ponder how well the show handles its own canniness. It's one thing to come up with these seemingly unending twists, but do they realistically deal with the consequences they beget? For example, shooting Doctor Watson last week was an effective cliffhanger, but was explaining it away as a tranquilliser dart, and then forgetting about it entirely, really a fair resolve? Ditto the blowing up of 221B Baker Street was a cracking idea, but to then have Sherlock and Watson turn up hours later unscathed, after being blown out of an upstairs window with the explosive power of a DX707 up their bottoms, really did take the biscuit.

For me, the character of Eurus was so interesting, the Redbeard payoff so unexpected, that the gripes I had throughout seemed to conveniently diminish. Eurus wasn't evil, she was simply a woman endowed with an incredible gift, struggling to cope with the ramifications of being brilliant. Many were complaining on Twitter that Eurus' turn-around was too quick, but I didn't see it as a turn-around at all; I saw it as a woman ostracised because of what her mental capabilities had made her, with a capacity for love, but no way of knowing what it took to be lovable. She thought that by removing Victor Trevor from the equation that Sherlock would like her more; instead, it resulted in her near complete isolation. She wasn't cured by the end, she was simply reunited with a brother she'd longed to be close to, and a family previously unaware of her existence.

One thing that has been gratifying to watch throughout these four seasons is how they've developed Sherlock as a character. Now that we know why Sherlock's like he is—a metamorphosis brought on by the murder of his best friend—it'll be interesting to rewatch the whole series and witness his slow journey back to humanity. Him hugging Watson last week, and him saving Eurus tonight, perfectly demonstrated how far he's come. He may not be the finished article yet, but with John, Greg, Mycroft, Mrs Hudson and Molly at his side, who's to say what's possible? After a few more years of refinement, maybe he'll even resemble the Sherlock of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories.

Looking back, Sherlock's always been an over the top adaptation. For me, it's never been about the realism or the faithfulness of the adaptation: it's been about the ride, the characters, and the sheer audacity of the storytelling—and Moffat and Gatiss have been audacious. Sometimes what they've brought to the table hasn't worked as well as we'd have liked, and maybe at times it's been a little too Time-Lordian, but they've seldom played it safe, have always gone big, and for that we should salute them. That said, I really wish they'd spent more time on consistency. If we're to believe that Sherlock can predict things weeks in advance, then please don't have him miss there being no security glass. I mean, I loved it for its shock value, but Sherlock really shouldn't be missing this shit.

So is that it? The ending may serve as a fitting coda to the show, with 221B Baker Street rebuilt, the Eurus situation resolved, Molly seemingly back on board, and John and Sherlock solving crimes like billy-o, but is that the last we'll ever see of them? Moffat says that he'd be surprised if this was the end, but that it absolutely could be, and Cumberbatch says that he'd love to revisit the show, but has no immediate plans to do so. In truth, nobody's got a clue, but at least no one's said no for definite, so maybe it's not too outlandish to hope for a handful of specials sometime in the future.

Until then, adieu, Sherlock.

Other Thoughts:

—Moriarty's return worked well as a twist, but his presence was pretty much redundant after it was revealed to be a flashback.

—I guess Sherlock repressing his memories explains why he had no awareness of having a sister.

—Victor Trevor was the name of Sherlock's university chum in 'The Adventure Of The Gloria Scott.' There was also a nice visual reference to 'The Dancing Men'.

—The 'Rathbone Place' thing at the end was a nice tip of the hat to the late Basil.

—I can't say I was particularly jazzed with the Molly sequence. She's a great character, but she's had an awful season all told.

—Sherrinford was the name of the institute that Eurus was incarcerated in. Nice twist.

—Did you spot Paul Weller dressed as a viking in the closing minutes?


Mrs Hudson: 'Would you like a cup of tea?'
Mycroft: 'Thank you.'
Mrs Hudson: 'The kettle's over there.'

Sherlock: 'John stays!'
Mycroft: 'This is family.'
Sherlock: 'That's why he stays.'

Sherlock: 'How are you?'
John: 'Bit of a lump.'
Sherlock: 'True dat, but you have your uses.'

Eurus: 'You still don't know about Redbeard, do you? Oh, this is going to be such a good day.'

Sherlock: 'Thanks, Greg.'


Cardinal Chunder said...

Yeah, you have to approach the last two seasons of Sherlock with a non-critical eye. Sherlock himself has developed almost superhuman powers of deductions, and the stories have become less and less realistic, but if you view it the same way you'd view a fantasy show, it's a lot easier to forgive the stretches in credulity. Employing this mindset, I've really enjoyed this final season. You're right that the show became a little too Doctor Who-ish, but it was none the worse for it in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

After his rather over the top introduction on the show, I'm not sure how Moriarty became my favourite character. Even in flashback he steals the show.