Sherlock: a fourth series with big shocks.
(2ENTERTAIN) OUT NOW
I “n saving my life she conferred a value on it,” says Sherlock Holmes, paying eloquent tribute to a woman who took a fatal bullet for him. “It is a currency I do not know how to spend.”
An egomaniac like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes might not acknowledge it (or even realise it), but that currency-based challenge extends beyond Sherlock himself. It stretches to the series, which sets out in season 4 to justify two things: a central character’s death and fans’ long-haul investment in the show.
Critics were splintered over its success, but give co-writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss this: they damn well try to challenge their show. Even the choppy Gatiss-written opener, “The Six Thatchers”, improves on 2016’s self-satisfied special “The Abominable Bride” in the thematic density and jolting twist.
True, the wheeze of killing a female character in order to challenge a show’s core bromance approaches cliché – but Gatiss and Moffat invest more weight in her demise than Arthur Conan Doyle ever did in the stories. The death is complemented by contained emotion from Martin Freeman as John Watson. As for claims of Bond-like aesthetics brawling into Baker Street, at least Sacha Dhawan makes a vigorous scrapper. Rachel Talalay ( Doctor Who) directs with noir-ish style too; tasked with forging coherence from the opening episode’s knotty scripting, she delivers fluently.
For episode 2 of this series, Moffat takes a turn to rise to the game. Grabbing a seat at the top table of the show’s best episodes, “The Lying Detective” compensates for any subtlety shortfalls with a brazen show of almost arrogant daring. You can see it in Mrs Hudson’s gratuitous screen entrance, or in Sherlock’s flash-bastard new screen-wipe technique. But Moffat’s audacity peaks with serial (cereal!) killer and philanthropist Culverton Smith.
Played to vile perfection by Toby Jones, Smith is not just a sly echo of Jimmy Savile: he couldn’t scream Savile any louder if he sported a string vest. What could have seemed distasteful works because Moffat’s script puts in the work on the thematic front. As well as stretching the Holmes and Watson bond, he integrates resonant subtexts beautifully:
“The self-indulgent psycho‑panto makes for heady entertainment”
“elective ignorance”, evil hidden in plain sight.
That theme of hiding in plain sight locks briskly into the grandiose finale, where Sherlock’s long-lost, slyly teased sibling sets horror movie-ish – Saw meets Hannibal – traps for him. Even before we’re asked to believe our heroes would survive leaping from an exploding building, “The Final Problem” busts the restraints of realism. Maybe Gatiss’ Mycroft speaks for all watching when, after Holmes and Watson turn his home into a ghost-house, he asks: “Why would you do this? This pantomime?”
Yet the episode’s selfindulgent psycho-panto makes for heady entertainment, secured by strong thematic roots and Sian Brooke’s tasty guest turn. The comparisons to Bond aside, “rigour” and a well-sustained “atmosphere of urgency” distinguish the episode’s taut push-pull between “complicated little emotions” and Holmes working “at peak efficiency”. And though the solution is rushed, it steers the show back to a series reset with emotive efficiency.
A perfect ending for an imperfect but ambitious threeepisode run, that climax could also double as the show’s perfect full stop. Yet surely Gatiss and Moffat aren’t spent yet: after investing so much in Sherlock, could they resist another challenge?
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is more tested in the latest series.
Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) retains a strong presence in series 4.
You certainly can’t accuse the series of standing still.
Toby Jones is utterly mesmerising as the chilling Culverton Smith.
Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) becomes key in the series finale.
We discover much more aboutmycroft (Mark Gatiss).