It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that BBC’s Sherlock finale “The Final Problem” on Sunday (Jan. 15) was not quite what fans were expecting.
The third and final instalment for Sherlock’s fourth series about consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) concluded to mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. And although this may have been the last episode in the Sherlock universe, fans still have a lot of questions.
Mostly, “What the hell happened?”
After a tumultuous weekend filled with spoilers, a Russian version leak and uncertainty about the show’s future ahead of the premiere, fans were left with an episode that felt more like a parody of its own clichés and nonsense.
While Sherlock has always bounced between spectacular and not bad, the finale fell somewhere between confusing and melodramatic. We were first given a variety of old horror tropes, such as the small creepy girl a la The Shining, and horrifying killer clowns.
And that was just the first five minutes. Fan reaction to the episode was mixed.
I liked #Sherlock. But I didn't love it. I feel like the individual set pieces were good but didn't add up to a great episode overall. Soz.
— Hazel Hayes (@TheHazelHayes) January 16, 2017
“I liked #Sherlock. But I didn’t love it. I feel like the individual set pieces were good but didn’t add up to a great episode overall.”
— twocandles (@Linnelle) January 16, 2017
“When fandom has the better theories and writing and ideas than the actual writers of the show. #sherlock #sherlockreacts.”
There were a few huge plot holes that caught the attention of devoted fans. At the end of series three, Sherlock shoots Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelson) with witnesses to his crime, and he sees no consequence. Eurus Holmes, Sherlock’s secret and surprise sister, shoots John Watson in the face at the end of episode two, and there is no continuation or real consequence in episode three. Eurus traps John in a well, but he is able to be rescued with a rope, even though his ankles were chained to the ground.
And while “The Final Problem” contributed a series of dramatic scenes where it felt like watching Saw and not Sherlock, the series failed to deliver on its promise of groundbreaking television.
What we also saw was traditionally-strong characters, such as Mycroft Holmes (played by co-writer Mark Gatiss) reduced to incompetency and inferiority. The eldest Holmes brother, and the man behind the British government, could not keep his sister Eurus (Sian Brooke) contained in the institution where he placed her. He didn’t realize that she had brainwashed every employee who worked there and casually left multiple times. She manipulated and bargained her way into an unsupervised meeting with the notorious Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), where in five minutes, she was able to plan her twisted game for Sherlock for the next few years. And in the end, when the dust settled and all seemed okay again, Mycroft puts Eurus back in the institution she escaped from.
And once again, the character of Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), the smart forensic pathologist, was thrown into this messy plot as a pawn. Eurus used her to test Sherlock’s humanity by having him try to get Molly to say, “I love you”.
Politely requesting a spin-off show where Molly Hooper gets to be more than a lovesick, lonely background character #sherlock
— Abi (@AbacusBrowne) January 15, 2017
“Politely requesting a spin-off show where Molly Hooper gets to be more than a lovesick, lonely background character #sherlock.”
After the damage is done, (because of course she says it) Molly is thrown to the side, as usual, her arc done, her heart still broken. There is no character resolution and no development. It is a petty and cheap ending for a character who is so handy to have around when you need her.
And this is just the beginning of the way Sherlock treated its female characters. John’s wife, Mary Morstan Watson, is a retired assassin who trades danger for domesticity and ends up taking a bullet for Sherlock in the first episode of series four, ending her life seemingly just to further the plot of the two male leads.
Irene Adler, a clever dominatrix who shakes up the British government and monarchy, ends her arc in series two by begging for her life and being saved from certain death by the consulting detective. Irene Adler is also openly gay, except apparently for Sherlock.
This issue of LGBTQ representation has also put a strain on the problematic relationship between the writers and the audience. Sherlock has done a lot of queerbaiting (media that intentionally inserts queer subtext to attract an audience without the intention to ever follow through) in the relationship between Holmes and Watson, although Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have repeatedly stated that the show and the characters would never go there.
What their relationship has turned into, instead, is an obnoxious and offensive joke throughout the series, with throwaway character quirks played for laughs. It is difficult for the audience to understand why Gatiss, an openly gay man, could write a perfectly complicated relationship that teases and hints at romantic entanglement, but is nothing more than an insulting running gag.
And in “The Final Problem”, whenever there is representation of queer characters on screen, it is the villains. We get a big-bad Eurus Holmes who rapes a woman, and evil Jim Moriarty, who talks about having sex with a man.
Additionally, the final episode was centred on the childhood trauma that shaped Sherlock into the man he became. But the episode ended with a voiceover from deceased Mary Watson telling Holmes and Watson “who you are doesn’t really matter.”
One cannot ignore the continuously incredible acting by the Sherlock cast. It is extremely rare to have a cast that is talented across the board and able to bring that to every episode. Sian Brooke effortlessly captured four distinctly different characters in this season (the woman on the bus, the girl who got chips with Sherlock, John’s German therapist) that seemed to fit together neatly into the puzzle of her major character, Eurus. Andrew Scott smoothly steals the spotlight of every scene he is in as Moriarty, with his terrifying charisma and twisted antics.
We see Mycroft, the ever-so-cold and collected eldest brother, broken and horrified at the thought of ending an innocent man’s life. Where the plot seems to weaken, the dynamic and chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman electrifies. They bounce off each other in moments that careen between horror, tension and comedy. Cumberbatch is able to bring the humility and heart Sherlock Holmes deserved without being theatrical, and Freeman shines a light on the core of who John Watson is- a noble, brave soldier and friend.
The final problem of Sherlock appears to be that it is what it is, and what it is, is self-indulgent, addictive and so 1895.