A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“Who you really are, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the legend, the stories. The adventures.”
There is a certain indignity to subjecting yourself to terrible writing. Some of it is because there is a desire to see if the writing is really as terrible as one might think it is. Some of it is because one desires to see what they themselves ought to avoid as writers. Some of it is because the terrible writing has some positive elements attached to it, elements that once perhaps were ensconced within writing that held greater promise and quality. “The Final Problem” fits all of the bills and others, in essence of becoming a microcosm of the strengths and weaknesses Sherlock has embodied so far. The most frustrating thing about it is that it embodies far more of the latter than the former, constantly reminding the audience of what it used to be before it succumbed to its own ideas of how clever, how great it truly was. The key to perfect storytelling in any medium quite simply is writing. The directing, cinematography, acting, et cetera, can all be thoroughly fantastic and more often than not that is the case with Sherlock. Tonight’s finale is quite well-acted, for example, and Sian Brooke’s performance as Eurus Holmes is especially inspired. The directing and the cinematography are both top-notch and it remains quite impressive how quickly the show is able to twist itself from one genre to another within the same episode. But the writing is simply not there. As a writer, I am quite biased in this regard, yet I do want to note that I mean no disrespect to directors, cinematographers, and actors. Each of those artists tells a story in their own regard and respect but for a cohesive overall story, if the writing isn’t able to pull those stories together with a sharp pen, it fails to honor them.
“The Final Problem” is a massive disappointment as both an episode and a season, possibly series, finale. It doubles down on the sense of disappointment as, aside from a massive leap of logic at the beginning, there’s an overall cohesiveness and thrill to the first third of the episode that the previous three installments of the show simply haven’t had. The logic is extremely shaky, but at this point, if I could get through an episode of Sherlock without rolling my eyes out of their sockets at the plot, then I would consider that some modicum of success. Then Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” plays loudly over a prison in the middle of the sea and I lost all hope for this episode to have any semblance of actual, human intelligence left. Before we get there, however, the episode opens (outside of the cold sequence) with an effectively shot horror sequence that begins with a horrifying glimpse at Mycroft’s taste in pornography. It ends in Sherlock revealing that this was all a trap for Mycroft to reveal the existence of a secret sister Sherlock had lost all memories of. Once that bizarre but yet again effective sequence rolls forth, the rest of the episode continues and the logic just flies out of every window, figurative and literal. It turns out that Eurus was a fairly effective psychopath when she was a child and after her committing arson, she was taken to an island fortress prison, which themselves are becoming almost clichéd themselves. While there, Mycroft was observing her ability to thwart three terrorist attacks via Twitter, although it’s never really explained how she got access to Twitter in the first place. In return, Eurus would get Christmas gifts like a violin (which seems somewhat reasonable) and five unsupervised minutes with Moriarty (which seems to be thoroughly ridiculous). Mycroft, in a stunning display of stupidity, goes for it.
The inherent problem of logic has never really been a concern for Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, but at a certain point the goodwill for Sherlock has to shrink in order for their lack of prowess as writers to be properly assessed. The twist of Moriarty getting five unsupervised minutes with Eurus leaves a question of just how much Moriarty himself was manipulated by Eurus, but the episode never bothers to explain that. Nor does it flesh out how Eurus is actually able to just manipulate people by speaking to them. “I’m too clever” doesn’t cut it as an actual explanation but then again, the script for this finale is too concerned with its own cleverness to actually bother with pedestrian concerns of storytelling logic. For example, there’s absolutely no explanation of how, just how Eurus gets a drone with a patience grenade to get through Baker Street and fly into Sherlock and Watson’s kitchen that conveniently would only take out just the front of their flat. It just happens, but wasn’t it cool to see our heroes jump out of a window as terribly unconvincing CGI flames fill the backdrop? Nor is there any explanation of just how, just how no one noticed that Eurus had manipulated the entirety of the prison to work in her favor. If she manipulated a single guard and no one noticed, that can be explained by it being a trope in prisoner storylines. That she could “enslave” the Governor of the prison and get away with it until it was dramatically convenient is remarkably idiotic. Mycroft not being in touch with every single guard and operative at the prison makes sense considering that he has plenty of other quandaries on his plate. Him not being in touch with the Governor is less logical.
Sherlock has always had plenty of problems with its female characters. When Eurus was introduced at the end of the last episode, I was excited but my excitement was tempered significantly because I couldn’t get the ignominious end to Mary Watson out of my head. She was a sharp, clever woman who could match Sherlock but she ended up as a plot device to further Sherlock’s character arc. Eurus unfortunately ends up with a similar treatment. The signs of the character are promising, the booming childhood psychopath sent away to a prison to seemingly be kept alive, a prison where she could be kept safe and others could be kept safe from her (how Mycroft knows the location of the prison as a child when his parents don’t is a glaring plot hole that is never explained). Then she begins to play her mind games and Sherlock becomes a torture porn show. Even that could have been tolerable if the resolution to her arc hadn’t been that she just needed some brotherly love to calm her psychotic tendencies down. The abrupt one-eighty is monumentally disappointing, falling instantly flat on its face. Eurus had, in spite of the torture porn and logical inconsistencies, the markings of a terrifying villain. Her torture of Sherlock as a child is horrifying and the revelation of what the Redbird mystery is disconcerting in a way this show hasn’t been able to pull off for a while. Yet who knew that the childhood murder of one’s best friend by one’s sister could, within about five minutes of screentime, be translated instead into a resolution via pleasant violin duets? Mary’s resolution proved Sherlock’s ability to be thoroughly disappointing in resolving long-running mysteries, but this about-face was far more shocking than I could have anticipated.
“The Final Problem” could be Sherlock’s final episode and it certainly feels that way in a montage that is meant to be sweet but isn’t because it’s not earned. My apologies on my incorrect reading and noting of there being a confirmed fifth series with Benedict Cumberbatch returning, which may or may not happen depending on which female character Moffat and Gatiss think to screw over next. All the trappings of a final episode are here and as I watch Sherlock and Watson bursting out to solve their next mystery, I find myself conflicted on whether or not it’s even worth revisiting this series if it does indeed grace our screens in the next couple of years. Series three began in a disappointing fashion but it rallied in the end. “The Abominable Bride” was a catastrophe, but at the time it felt like an odd whimsy and one that at least acknowledged a long-running problem. Series four has simply felt disappointing. There were moments of sharpness, of glee, of anticipation that the old Sherlock was returning. Then the episode would go and throw those positives out the window. I have enjoyed Sherlock and Watson’s adventures a great deal more than what perhaps they deserved. I have loved the performances on this show more than the writing their characters were given and I can’t deny the pleasure I feel by seeing Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman share the screen together. Yet the returns have been nothing but diminishing. Perhaps whatever pleasures Sherlock had to offer are better left behind the closed door of 221 Baker Street, sitting quietly in the chair where all clients must sit if they want a piece of the man who grew larger than his story and engulfed it whole.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
+John is family. Aww.
+Mrs. Hudson cleaning and dancing was great
+/-“Why are you making fun of me?”; “I’m not an experiment.” These lines would have greater meaning if Molly wasn’t solely used as a plaything for Sherlock.
-Having one of the few actors of color with lines be enslaved by a white woman is terrible
-The Governor groveling on his knees was unnecessary
-Sherlock is a great, nay, a good man.
Episode Title: The Final Problem
Written by: Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss
Directed by: Ben Caron
Story Reference: “The Final Problem”
Image Courtesy: Sherlockology @ Twitter
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