TV Review: Sherlock: The Final Problem


S4, E3: ‘The Final Problem’

O Brother, where art thou?

Grade: W. For ‘What the ever-loving fuck did I just watch?!?’


Well, that happened. A once-promising adventure story with a world-class cast and crackerjack chemistry has disappeared forever into the maw of a self-love so ferocious and consuming that it could leave no shred of freshness or wit behind. A self-love that confuses clutter for complexity, and thinks that having an idea is better than following through on it. And that shouting several ideas at once is better still. And that story, narrative or character are concerns only for bourgeois mediocrities.

I regret bitterly using the words ‘like a cokehead at a party’ to describe the last episode. Because this. This episode was the apotheosis of The Large Concept Collider. Love! Memory! Construction of Self! Guilt! Redemption! Feelings! Lots of Feelings! Also Clowns! And Coffins! And Planes! And John in a Well! I assure you these are all concepts of exactly equal importance in this episode!

Ah well, though, it’s not as though Mofftiss care. After all, as they not-at-all-insufferably tell us in closing, ‘It’s all about the legend’. So certainly, let us examine this legend.

‘Hi, I’m Jim Moriarty. Welcome to the final problem.’

A little girl wakes up on a plane. Her mother is asleep next to her and oxygen masks have dropped, unheeded. The body on the floor is the flight attendant. The cockpit door is open. She is awake in a world of adults, all fast asleep. A terrifying, nightmarish fairy-tale. The phone rings insistently and she picks it up, crying out for help. Bad news, kid: You’re going to die. Good news? Five seconds’ chat with Jim Boriarty, and you will fling yourself out of that plane.

‘Why would you do this, this pantomime? Why?!’

Man, this season is just bursting with unanswerable questions and excellent, disregarded advice. Mycroft is watching what is clearly meant to be Old-Timey Sam Spade-esque Noir, but which took a wrong turn somewhere at Eighties Schlock. Which I suppose is a metaphor for the entire show after the first season. Headed for Wittily Self-Referential, took a wrong turn at First Draft of Fanfic. Headed for Psychological and Philosophical Moebius Strip, took a wrong turn at Stoner Telling You The Plot Of Inception. Headed for Greek Tragedy, took a wrong turn at Roman Farce.

So anyway, Mycroft’s mouthing along with the semi-pornographic ‘sultry’ ‘banter’ in his film, when the reel’s broken with presumably a home movie of the childhood of the Holmes siblings. Then the reel splits and burns. Mycroft steps out into the hallway, pulling a very John Steed-esque swordstick out from his umbrella. In short order he is menaced by one half of the Shining twins, ancestral portraits weeping blood, and a clown wielding a sword (see? Told you). Mycroft pulls a gun from his sword (Told you), whispers ‘you can’t have escaped’ to ‘the east wind’, and is rescued…by Sherlock, in his caped greatcoat and That Motherfucking Hat. With his smackhead partners in crime, acting out this little comedy for Mycroft’s benefit. Though not the benefit of his trousers, which may need changing.

Oh, apparently Eurus shot John with a tranquilliser (phew! I was worried! (No I wasn’t) (No, even if she’d shot John dead) (Death doesn’t…take….on this show))), and is coming to get Mycroft, I guess? He’s terrified, and John and Sherlock are blithely callous for reasons that sort of escape me. No, seriously, jog my memory as to why Mycroft deserves such scorn at this point (by the end of the episode, you may think differently)? He pisses me off, sure, but quite a bit less than some others on this show that I could name.

‘An era-defining genius.’

I..Okay. All right. So Eurus is Sherlock and Mycroft’s baby sister, apparently a ‘Beyond Newton’ level genius. She is also a Very Bad Little Girl, as evinced by….a high threshold for pain and a somewhat directly-expressed curiosity about how her muscles work? And also maybe she drowned Sherlock’s Adorable Doggie Redbeard? Or maybe that’s a lie? Anyway, Psycho Genius Eurus has been imprisoned on Shutter Island le Chateau d’If Sherrinford, which is Fort Knox for Supervillains With Freudian Excuses. aka Supervillains.

‘The name’s Sherlock Holmes.’ ‘The detective.’ ‘No, the pirate.’

So Eurus has busted out, and has sent motion-activated bombs atop drones after her baby brother. Despite myself, I achieved a wry chuckle at the boys stiff-upper-lipping their way through their civilian-casualty-minimising strategy. They were just so delightfully English. Less delightful and less English? Sherlock and John flinging their way out of the path of the resultant spectacular yellow ball of flame. While the music, yes, swells. Loud enough almost to drown out the ‘THWACK’ of my palm connecting with my forehead. Two minutes later another ‘THWACK’ resounds as Sherlock and John commandeer a vessel on the high seas near Sherrinford, and Sherlock leaps down from the mainbrace or whatever, coat billowing about him like the Bat-cape. And then after that my forehead lodges a formal protest. ‘Watch if you must’, it says, ‘but leave me out of it.’

‘I’m particularly focussed on internal conflicts, where strategizing around an intuitive moral code appears to create a counterintuitive result.’

Or put in other words: sometimes it’s not so clear what the right thing to do is. Especially when you have an attention-seeking nutter with epic Bad Hair Day taking over the asylum.

Oh yeah – apparently Eurus has taken over the whole Evil Fortress of Solitude with her Mad Brainwashing Skillz. Which, to my uninitiated eye, look suspiciously like the pompous rantings of a second-year undergraduate who has misunderstood Nietzsche and not yet discovered Kant. Most impressive. Oh, and also she spent a very long five minutes with Moriarty some moons ago. During which they sniffed and pawed at each other through the glass, and my toes may never uncurl.

Anyway, Eurus gives the boys a series of Agonising Moral Conundrums. For example, kill the brainwashed governor or Eurus kills his wife, and to add insult to injury lectures them on their unwillingness to dirty their hands when they refuse to kill the governor, he kills himself and she blows away the wife. That sort of thing. The sort of thing that would blow the mind of anyone who has never heard of the trolley problem. Or indeed the concept of tradeoffs in general.

Oh and goody, here comes another well-loved chestnut: Sherlock-as-Spock! Sherlock who has to thrust away his fragile beating heart so it doesn’t get in the way of his brain! Sherlock’s Fee-eee-eeee-lings! Teardrops/running down hi-iiiissss face/blurring his de-DUC-tions….

What else, what else, what else? Oh, John gets all ‘We. Are. SOLDIERS. today!’ on an appalled Mycroft. Because if the show tells us that John is a soldier often enough, it can get away with having him be Sherlock’s Damsel in Distress or Morality Pet, with naff-all of the darkly pragmatic man of action of A Study in Pink. Some more cod-nihilism from Not!zsche (‘Is it really so different killing the innocent from the guilty?’) and away we go.

‘I love you.’

OH HERE WE FUCKING GO. Molly Hooper – poor useless Butt Monkey Molly Hooper – is being wheeled out in her spanking-new avatar as Damsel in Distress. Sherlock is instructed to toy with her affections to save her life. Because his Evil Mastermind sister can literally think of nothing better to do with her near omnipotence than to enact Mean Girl stratagems that a John Hughes movie would find embarrassingly hokey. Actually, that sounds about right. When was Eurus imprisoned? I assume in the late eighties? Okay, I suppose this shit would be at the cutting edge of psychological warfare for her. Okay, sorry, I take it all back. Carry on.

Anyway, Sherlock needs to get Molly to say she loves him otherwise kaboom. A call is made from Sherlock’s phone, Sherlock tries to get her to say the words and finally, in desperation, says them first. So a blissful Molly says the words that will save her life…except she was never in any danger! Because….hey, what happened to ‘this is an experiment. There will be rigour’, Eurus? Oh, you’re an unimaginative Mean Girl guarded by worryingly suggestible ape-men? Okay, then. Gotcha. Carry on.

But not before we watch Sherlock go apeshit on a coffin. In slow-motion. As the music swells. Feeee-lings/spilling over my-eee suit/chewing up the sceeeee-nery….

‘Sherlock, I’m in a well.’

That…that pretty much sums it up. And I just..I. Okay. Let’s try to parse this. This will have to be a list, because…look, count yourself lucky this recap isn’t all emojis, all right?

  • John’s chained by the foot to the bottom of a well, steadily filling up with water. I assume Eurus has had access to some James Bond films in her prison, yeah?
  • And why is he chained up at the bottom of a well? Well, because Sherlock’s Adorable Doggie was actually his bestie Victor Trevor, whom Eurus killed and stuck at the bottom of a well.
  • Because – and this is very important – she never had a best friend. Or even a hug.
  • All she had was –waitforit – a Mind Palace. A Mind Palace with a frightened little girl surrounded by slumbering adults, who doesn’t know how to land.
  • But Sherlock will hug her! And that will make it all okay! Awww, fix little Hannibal Holmes! And for the love of God get her some decent conditioner while you’re at it.

‘It justifies dressing up or any damn thing I say it does!’

Welp. But you know what, it’s all worth it. And for why? Well, at the 23 minute, 32-second mark, Moffat and Gatiss give us the Prime Directive of Sherlock. Because they are polite men, the Law is a slightly more civil version of ‘Because fuck you, that’s why.’ Because I am not polite, I will not so refrain. Here, let’s try the Prime Directive on for size, shall we?

  1. Hey, how come Sherlock’s never actually told us how he managed to come back from the dead? Because fuck you, that’s why.
  2. How come John, Sherlock and Mycroft are daytripping and hijacking and prison-breaking in the immediate aftermath of an explosion that took out their flat? Because fuck you, that’s why.
  3. If Eurus really can brainwash anyone she speaks to, why is she still in that prison? Because fuck you, that’s why.
  4. Why do you think it is anything but skin-peelingly embarrassing when Moriarty strikes a Freddie Mercury pose to ‘I Want to Break Free’? Because fuck you, that’s why.
  5. Why does Sherlock think throwing down a rope is going to help a man who is chained to the bottom of a well? Because fuck you, that’s why.
  6. Why do you think making poor old Cumbers desperately mime Pet Cemetery Minority Report is anything but embarrassing? Because fuck you, that’s why.

‘It’s all about the legend.’

When I posted this review first, I was too knackered to say anything about the ending, but you know what? That is just shirking. So yes. Let’s talk about that ending. The ending of this season, and, from the looks of it, possibly the show.

So let’s see, where were we? Sherlock’s Magic Hug unshackles Eurus metaphorically, and John literally, I suppose? Because Sherlock’s hugs are magic. It is known. Look at the wonders his manly chest did for John’s hallucinations of Saint Mary of Baker Street.

Who books a return gig, by the way, recording the Longest Fucking Message From the Grave in recorded history. She is just full of weirdly pointed life lessons, isn’t she? She’s kind of blown her wad now, though. If the show ever comes back, she’ll be reduced to saying, with a wry smile and a chuckle, ‘Boys, boys, boys. Always remember to switch the gas off.’ As the music swells and Sherlock and John look mistily at each other.

Anyway, so the boys are back, unharmed, and Sherlock’s playing violin duets with his murderous rapist sister. Who is I guess neither of those things now, but just a poor little waif in an oversized nightshirt and with, to reiterate, really appalling hair? Because Sherlock’s arms leech away psychosis and his coat cures cancer and That Bloody Hat solves world hunger. I assume, given John’s frankly alarming obsession with it.

The boys are back in town, and they’re restoring 221B to pristine condition: in the older sense of ‘earlier’, not ‘pure’. Ah yes, there’s the yellow smiley face. Which Sherlock dutifully shoots at, and Saint Mary dewily waffles on about how John and Sherlock will always offer a chair for the huddled masses and an ear for the dispossessed and a shoulder for the bereft and a strong right hand for the weary and a mighty left knee for the unloved and a truly beauteous metatarsal for the forlorn and…you get the idea.

Because – I don’t know if you noticed – but altruism has always, always distinguished Sherlock’s choice of case. Not peculiarity, not intellectual challenge, but the Victim Index of the client. Uh-huh. Listen, I don’t think Sherlock’s mercenary. But at what point did the show decide that its odious snob of a protagonist was actually some sort of champion of any sort of underclass? John is the sentimentalist. John is about Queen and Country. Sherlock may care about vulnerable people in danger – because, for heaven’s sake, he is not actually a sociopath, except in the show’s very worst episodes. But ‘not a sociopath’ is very much not the same thing as ‘knight-errant’.

I’ll probably write a separate post musing about the show as a whole (because my God, that finale), but if this is the show’s last episode, we may as well leave it on this note: Self-satisfied, emotionally dishonest and trumpeting an entirely unearned notion of its own significance. And with a woman as (posthumous!) handmaid to the egos of men.

But why did you make me fall in love with these two in A Study in Pink, Moffat and Gatiss, if you were to bring them to this pass?

Deerstalking: Holmes canon nods

  • The Three Garridebs gets a shout-out.
  • So does The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, in the form of Musgrave House.
  • Victor Trevor gets a shout-out too.
  • Well, I say shout-out. These names are mentioned, basically in passing. Sounds about right. After all, it’s not as though the show’s been about bringing Sherlock Holmes into the twenty-first century for, oooohhhh, a while now, has it?

Odds and Sods

  • I do not for a second believe that Mycroft would have forgotten an Oscar Wilde line. Especially not if he played Lady Bracknell.
  • Sherlock has never looked more English than when he is diffidently approaching a pyjama-clad and violin-playing Eurus in her jail cell.
  • Hey, how many times have they used the ‘Sherlock falls in dreamy slow-motion’ shot?
  • Oh yeah! I forgot about the biggest Take a Third Option moment! Eurus tries to get Sherlock to kill Mycroft or John, Mycroft and John both heroically volunteer themselves (John directly, Mycroft by sneering unforgiveably at John to antagonise Sherlock) and Sherlock…turns the gun on himself. Because it is, now and forever, All. About. Sherlock.
  • Sherlock is holding the baby again. By the way, has John ever held the baby? Does Martin Freeman have an allergy to babies, while Cumbers is just super broody? Interested minds vaguely want to know.

6 thoughts on “TV Review: Sherlock: The Final Problem

  1. MARVELOUS review! Like you, I fell in love with the show during “A Study in Pink,” when the writers seemed to understand subtlety and good characterization. In fact, I loved all of season one. BUT right with the first episode of season two, I saw the show had lost its way. Irene Adler a sex-bomb lesbian dominatrix who un-gays for love of Sherlock and is rescued by him in Lawrence of Arabia get-up? I couldn’t believe it was the same show (and was delighted when, despite being nominated for 18 Emmys, this episode didn’t win a single one). Every episode since then has been an embarrassment. It’s as if the writers are writing for five-year-olds who are impressed with “and then…. and THEN… AND THEN!!!!!!!!” improbable turns of plot. I absolutely detest what the show became. Thank you for making me laugh, and for letting me know I’m not the only one in the universe who is sorely disappointed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for taking one for the team to watch and write about this episode. I can’t even bring myself to read all of your synopsis yet; I need a few more days of mourning the show that could have been and was.

    Liked by 1 person

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