[major spoiler warning for those who still haven’t watched The Final Problem]
If you watched this week’s season finale (and, quite possible, the series finale as well) and felt satisfied by the payoff of everything set up in last week’s The Lying Detective, then you probably won’t like what you’re about to read. If, however, your reaction to this episode was an overwhelming ‘WTF did I just watch?‘, which is pretty much how I felt throughout the feature-length Sherlock swan song, then by all means, let’s commiserate.
My views on The Final Problem could be summed up in three words: What. A. Mess. This wasn’t just a case of high expectations, raised by an admittedly solid second episode of an otherwise brilliant show; it was a jumbled mess of a story which ended in a conclusion that felt disjointed from everything we just watched before the curtains closed.
Sure, this show often defies logic and invests in the powers of Sherlock’s analytical mind (an effect augmented by the rapid-fire dialogue) to gloss over any inconsistencies or impracticalities within. And yes, if this indeed to be the final episode of the series, a few artistic liberties are definitely allowed. But The Final Problem was exactly that; a last episode, so problematic from start to finish, that its few shining moments simply weren’t enough to make up for what I’m assuming was conceived as a rollercoaster ride but, in the end, failed miserably in delivering any satisfaction other than a few answers to questions that were posed too recently to feel substantial or important.
I guess I can’t blame the actual episode for the overall format of the show; it’s hard to build up enough tension and mystery over the course of three episodes, even when we’re talking about a show that has zero filler. Then again, they’d done it with Moriarty before; the big Eurus mystery, even with Moriarty’s bizarre cameos, just didn’t measure up.
To make things worse, the entire thing was so uneven and convoluted, often downright incoherent, it was as though the writers decided to just throw everything but the kitchen sink in there as compensation for the two-year absence and (probably) lack of future episodes in the foreseeable future.
- Last we saw John, he was staring down the barrel of a gun as Sherlock’s crazy sister claimed she wanted to kill him. Next thing we know, he’s alive and well and just shot with a tranquilizer gun, for no apparent reason (other than the cheap cliffhanger).
- We got to see Mycroft attempt a sword fight with a clown, which is absurd, and a sentence I’d never thought I’d say (but so hilarious I’m willing to give it a pass).
- We spent a big chunk of the episode worrying about the little girl on a plane only to realize it was just a cry for help and all in Eurus’s head, which in and of itself makes no sense. Neither do plenty of other incredible things this episode had to offer, such as Eurus having to go to such lengths just to get Sherlock to admit how messed up he’d been since his traumatic childhood experience, which she was responsible for.
- Of all the movie tropes this episode could have followed, we got a long sequence that clearly echoed the ‘live or die’-type-traps we were used to in the Saw movies, complete with directions given remotely via speaker and/or video by not just one, but two deranged psychopaths.
- While I’m on the subject: yes, Moriarty was the best villain we’ve had on this show, and no, bringing him back from the dead to act as Eurus’ pawn in torturing Sherlock wasn’t exciting, it was just nonsensical, and undermining his role in previous seasons. On one hand we’re supposed to buy that she only needs a few minutes with someone to completely bend them to her will; on the other, she needed to enlist the help of another lunatic murderer in order to play her little game with Sherlock?
- And seriously, are we really supposed to believe that she has such powers of mind control? Then why go through all these theatrics instead of just talking to Sherlock for a few minutes?
- More to the point, was the ‘little girl’ revelation supposed to make us sympathize with someone who’s only been a murderous, manipulative wackjob since the moment we met her not too long ago? Couple her recent shenanigans with the final revelation about Redbeard and Sherlock’s childhood friend, and I’m pretty sure no one felt the tiniest bit sorry for locking her up in Sherrinford and throwing away the key. So all she wanted was to be loved? Boo hoo, you genius psychokiller.
- Even more frustrating than having us emotionally invest in the little girl on the plane were the faux-scares the episode gave us, starting with the way it picked up from last week’s tension between John and Eurus (anyone else reminded of the infamous Glenn dumpster-dive?). All three main characters looked like they were in mortal danger at some point, and all of them were ultimately spared. Yes, we’ve had Sherlock die and come back before, but given the climactic tone of the finale, an important character death would have been excused. Had the show dared to kill someone off – someone we actually cared about – then maybe it might have passed as payoff to an otherwise underwhelming mystery.
- To top it off, the way the show wrapped up was so disconnected with the rest of the episode it just felt like a bad montage; Mary’s video message was unnecessary, as Sherlock and John returning to their routine of sharing the Baker Street flat (after the fastest reconstruction ever) didn’t require any voice over exposition. If anything, all it did was remind us that the whole “happily ever after” shtick, especially given the events that preceded this ending, simply feels out of place on this show.
One of the few good elements of the episode was the fact that they actually used Mycroft instead of having him in the sidelines as the obnoxious big brother; the moment when he offered up himself as a sacrifice was touching, and it was good to see him become likable for a change. Another standout was the scene where Sherlock tries to coerce those three words from Molly (or “she dies”): it was a beautiful, emotional moment in an otherwise lackluster episode.
Aside from the few emotional scenes, everything was so over-the-top, with the random, misguided fan-service plot points thrown in contributing to the overall confusion rather than elevating the story. Yes, Sian Brooke was excellent (but wasted) as Eurus, and the rest of the performances were brilliant as ever, but the plotline was significantly lacking any semblance of coherence and underdelivered from every aspect.
In the end, The Final Problem was frustrating at every turn, and the few glimpses of the brilliance we’ve come to expect of this show were lost in the mélange of frustration that was this episode. Maybe a second viewing will sway me towards a more lenient critique but for now, I stand by my verdict: sadly, it just wasn’t up to par.