The 2010 BBC adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories which reimagines the world’s most famous sleuth in a 21st century context was one of the best things on television. Note the past tense. Despite offering only 3 episodes a season instead of the standard 12 and making fans await a minimum of two years for the next instalment, Sherlock easily became a fan favourite and lauded by critics. Yet the latest season not only fails to live up to the hype, but also messes up big time.
Let’s roughly look at the three episodes. With the premiere of ‘The Six Thatcher’s on New Years Day, Sherlock Season 4 was off to a disastrous start. What appeared to be an intelligent murder mystery involving six identical busts of Margaret Thatcher gradually lost all sense of logic and plot and degenerated to a meaningless mawkish family tragedy. The next episode ‘The Lying Detective’ fared considerably better, with tight storytelling and a very gripping plot with a nasty twist in the end, that was for the most part, enjoyable. The concluding episode “The Final Problem” which was absolutely unconventional and a masterpiece in terms of storytelling, however gave way to a weak and disappointing climax.
So what is it that makes the latest season worth it? Very few things. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman reprise their roles and perform what they’re paid to do, rather well. Amanda Abbington as Mary Watson and as Sian Brooke as Eurus are also impeccable. But apart from the top-notch acting there’s not much else to truly enjoy.
So let’s come to the problems that weigh the show down. Sherlock was never praised for its treatment of women characters especially after the Irene Adler fiasco in season 2, but here, they take it a step further. The death of Mary Watson is a clear instance of what is commonly termed as ‘fridging’. Mary was never fully realized as a character from the beginning, with the writers turning her pretty quickly from a wife to a deadly assassin to a mother and finally a spy with a dangerous past who dies courageously to save the protagonist, and make him feel really bad about himself. Just when Mary showed the potential to develop as a strong female character, the writers decided to get rid of her.
Next of course is the complete lack of Molly this season and the fact that her supporting role never extends beyond background ornamentation and fangirl-surrogate. Although Louise Brealey is another talented actress, she isn’t allowed to do much except mope and the final scene where she is forced to confess her love to the man who can never reciprocate her feelings does not offer any sense of closure. In fact, by constantly focusing on Sherlock and John, the show literally forgets about all the background characters who are nevertheless an integral aspect, and the fact that practically none of the supporting cast get any sense of closure at the end may annoy the average viewer who has followed the show over the years.
And finally there’s zero plot at work and plenty of plotholes. Earlier, the Sherlock stories were believable and easy to follow and invited the audience to participate. Now, Sherlock no longer plays the role of a detective but a saviour- instead of trying to solve a mystery, we’re supposed to marvel at his intellect that solves cases in a fraction of a second before we can even comprehend what the case is about. In other words, the audience is forced to play a passive role. Moreover the constant use of special effects makes the show rather surreal, and takes away the gritty reality aspect that characterizes a conventional detective story.
But does this mean Sherlock isn’t worth a watch at all? Not exactly, well, except perhaps the first one. Both the second and third episodes prove to be very engrossing, although in both cases Moffat recycles a trick from Doctor Who while playing with the audience’s mind and the third one which seems more like a dystopian game show than a detective story is so engrossing that you will not be able to move an inch from your seat. But compelling storytelling cannot take away the many flaws in the show which means Sherlock re-runs won’t no longer rake in the viewers. For the most part, season 4 passes, but barely.