Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are big-shot movie stars these days and have obviously been keeping rather busy with other projects, but Sherlock is finally back with its 4th season, after a prolonged two-year hiatus.
I must admit, I didn’t have really high hopes for this one, given how underwhelming the Abominable Bride had been last year, but this season delivered so far, even though it didn’t start by putting its best foot forward.
The Six Thatchers
Episode 1 brought us back to the here and now of Sherlock’s (mis)adventures, with the loose ends of last season being quickly tied up within the first few minutes of the episode. I must admit I had trouble even remembering what had happened when we left off two years ago, and the ‘previously on…’ segment didn’t do much to refresh my memory, so I tend to think of the neat resolution to the cliffhanger shooting as more of a convenient plot device rather than sloppy writing.
Whatever I may think of Mycroft’s involvement in Sherlock’s life, however, is inconsequential, as the show quickly dives into the first new mystery of the season: still plagued by the ghost of Moriarty, Sherlock takes on a new case involving a dead body discovered under unusual circumstances. Surprisingly, the unlikely answer to the case comes to him early on in the episode, leaving Sherlock plenty of time to ponder on a detail everyone else had dismissed: the shattered bust of Margaret Thatcher, and the new ones popping up to compound the mystery.
As is usually the case with Sherlock, arriving to the conclusion about the identity of the culprit takes a back seat to the actual ramifications the murder mystery has on his life and those of his loved ones. This time, everything ties back to Mary’s past, which, again, I feel like we needed a refresher on because damned if I remember what the big revelation had been in Season 3! Luckily, this time everything was explained away by plenty of exposition as Sherlock and Mary confront her [spoiler alert!] former partner in the top secret agency-for-hire they used to work for before her new life as John’s wife, who’s on a mission to kill her for allegedly betraying her former team.
The closing scenes of the episode, where the criminal mastermind behind the betrayal is revealed in a plot twist, would have been underwhelming if not for the tragic ending, which felt a bit like a cheap thrill.
Although the show has a habit of appointing a secondary role to the individual cases in favor of the overarching plot involving Sherlock’s personal woes and relationships, and as shocking as this first episode of the new season may have been in its conclusion, it does feel a bit like they’ve been overusing the this plot device. It is, after all, just a 3-episode season, where the format allows for each episode to exist as a stand-alone movie in its own right. An intriguing case with many twists and turns might have been preferable to what ultimately amounts to Sherlock’s world being shattered once again, but I guess that’s not the show we all signed up for, so I’ll keep my minor gripes to myself for now.
The Lying Detective
Episode 2 picks up at the aftermath of last week’s tragedy, with John [spoiler alert] in therapy, trying to come to terms with Mary’s death, and Sherlock going down the same downward spiral we’ve seen him on before.
What’s unusual, however, is this week’s case: a perfectly cast villain by name of Culverton Smith, entrepreneur and philanthropist, whose daughter hires Sherlock to uncover the identity of the victim Smith confessed to wanting to murder, right before he administered a memory inhibiting agent to her and his tight group of friends. With John unavailable, blaming Sherlock for Mary’s death, and Holmes himself indulging in heavy doses of opiates or whatever is his drug of choice these days, we get bombarded with quick-cut frames of memories and/or hallucinations involving both John’s imagined interaction with Mary and Sherlock’s inebriated state. This device which has come to be my least favorite part of the show; I get the stylistic choice, I just don’t see it as very supportive of the actual substance.
Over the 90′ episode, we see Sherlock arrive at the conclusion that the victim he and Smith’s daughter are looking for isn’t in fact a particular person, but ‘anyone’, as Smith is a serial killer, enjoying the freedom his wealth and status provide while he operates beyond any suspicion. As he tries to trick Smith into confessing to his crimes, he makes himself a target, and eventually enlists John’s reluctantly helping hand in trying to solve the case.
[big spoiler alert]
In the end, we learn that Sherlock’s self-destructive path and obsession with the Smith case was nothing more than his way of fulfilling Mary’s final wishes, which were to save John the only way he knows how: by “going to hell”, as the DVD message teased us last week. He does just that – almost – when he finds himself in a hospital alone with a murderous Smith, after being beaten to a pulp by an enraged Watson. Luckily, John and the police arrive just in time, but not before Sherlock manages to extract a confession, which he handily captured on a recorded device hidden inside John’s old walking stick.
The revelations keep on coming as we first find out that Smith’s daughter isn’t, in fact, the same person who presented herself to Sherlock and hired him to solve the case; the impostor was actually John’s therapist – but wait!
She’s not his therapist after all, but the woman who had flirted with him on the bus in The Six Thatchers, with whom John kept texting back and forth. Yep, the (literally) red herring he quasi-flirted with (and is since riddled with guilt about).
The revelations don’t stop here, however: not only is this devious, mysterious stranger the one pulling the strings all along, but also the lost Holmes sibling Mycroft had alluded to since the previous episode. John catches on quickly, but not fast enough to avoid the closing scene confrontation with Eurus Holmes, Sherlock’s sister, pointing a gun at Watson.
The titles roll just as she fires the gun, and I guess we have to wait until next week for the big conclusion. If the title of the episode (“The Final Problem“) is any indication, we’re in for a doozy!
After a mostly uneven third season, it’s good to see Sherlock return with a bang! The Six Thatchers may have been a bit disappointing, but it works as a setup for the big second episode, which was probably the best we’ve seen so far.
However – and even though this episode definitely delivered in terms of plot twists and cliffhangers alike – I can’t help but feel that the whole younger sister angle is a bit of a cheap ploy to reinject some personal drama into a show that doesn’t really need it: Sherlock’s personality quirks and unsurpassed wit is more than enough to keep the show interesting; Mary’s death is not about to be forgotten over the course of three episodes; add to that the revelation that Sherlock has been sexting with back-from-the-dead Irene Adler, and you’ve got plenty of sublots to get us going for the remaining 90′ of this season.