The fan feels that there was nothing positively wrong with the season, thus making the negative criticism aimed at it somewhat unjustified. Another common grievance that some fans have about Sherlock is about the entire subplot involving Mary, not just her death scene, which they feel wasn't well-conceived.
It’s been a raucous ride hanging out with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) over the past four seasons and almost seven years. As we learned in the most recent episode of Sherlock, emotional context matters, which is why “The Empty Hearse” was such a disappointment.
After a Season 2 cliffhanger that saw Sherlock fake his own death in front of John, breaking his best friend’s heart, this episode had one major job: to deal with the emotional fallout from that decision and Sherlock’s inevitable return satisfyingly. “The Empty Hearse” was the first episode of Sherlock that really failed at what it needed to do, marking an unfortunate downturn in quality (or, if you’re being generous, a shift in the kinds of stories this show is interested in telling).
Inevitably, Sherlock manipulated John into forgiving him by making him think they were both going to die in a fiery explosion, which is not really how emotions work. John is then forced to decide if he will forgive his pregnant wife for her deception (and, you know, for shooting his best friend).
In addition to it all, Sherlock works to get Mary (and, by extension, John) out from under Charles Rasmussen’s thumb. Like much of the rest of Sherlock Season 3, “His Last Vow” had some good moments, but was weighed down by its larger-than-life plot twists.
As Emily Asher-Perrin points out in her excellent review of the episode over at Tor.com, this flat depiction of Euros not only feels like a plot hole, but undermines one of Sherlock’s underlying themes: By painting extreme intelligence as this frightening problem, the episode lands a vague assertion that once a person hits a certain level of genius they are automatically a sociopath, incapable of seeing the value in life and morality (not a fascinating or accurate assumption to go on).
When you’ve spent an entire television show proving that just because Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes are smart doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings or value people, drawing their sister in a way that deliberately conflates her remarkable intelligence with an ability to place value on life is neither smart nor believable. Instead, “The Six Thatchers” quickly devolved into a spy melodrama, with Mary taking off on a round-the-world trip, Sherlock and John tracking her down in Morocco, and Mary eventually defying the laws of physics to jump in front of a bullet meant for Sherlock.
The detective is still on the plane we saw him on at the end of “His Last Vow,” trying to decide if there is any chance Moriarty is still alive by playing through an unsolved case of a woman who seemed to rise from the dead to kill her husband in Victorian England. What’s less effective is the mystery itself, which starts off well enough, but soon devolves into Sherlock mansplaining proto-feminism to a bunch of murderous Suffragettes.
In the end, “The Abominable Bride” had its delights (not to mention classic Holmes references), but it was hard not to reconcile the necessity of an “It was all a dream” episode when we get so few installments of this detective drama to begin with. The Season 1 episode you probably don’t remember that well, “The Blind Banker” is a vestige of a show that was at its peak creatively, but still managed to fall into some seriously lazy Orientalism.
“The Blind Banker” is the second installment of the detective drama, and the first episode that really sees Sherlock and John settling down into some kind of crime-solving-roommates routine. This was a simpler time, when the show was still grounded in reality, when John had fights with self-checkout machines at the supermarket and went on bad dates with his clinic boss, Sarah, that turned into kidnappings.
Their co-dependency has officially begun, but it's in the throes of its honeymoon period so, even though in hindsight you know it’s going to cause some serious problems down the road, you can’t help but get caught up in the giddy wonder of it all. It transcends the typical TV case-of-the-week episode, however, with some nice character moments, as we see both Sherlock and John forced to deal with real, raw fear.
(In John’s case, Sherlock is manipulating him into a terrifying situation, setting a dangerous precedent.) It’s also refreshing on this show to get such a direct translation of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories.
Ultimately, the “Hound of Baskerville” is a fun, memorable episode of Sherlock that isn’t overly ambitious, but tells an entertaining, grounded story. Also, the always welcome Russell Today appears as poor, frightened Henry Knight, which gives this episode extra guest star points.
Toby Jones brings what could have been a lackluster, underdeveloped villain to chilling heights with his performance, as Sherlock uses the master criminal to manipulate John Watson into forgiving him for Mary’s death. It’s a classic Sherlock move that makes his character less and less likable the longer you think about it, but also serves to provide an over-arching focus for this episode, which has become a rarity in recent seasons.
“The Lying Detective” is also one of the few recent episodes of Sherlock to effectively pull off a twist that is both surprising and interesting with the reveal of Euros Holmes. Though the character would go on to be sloppily and inconsistently developed, her turns as a fake Faith Culvert on and John’s German therapist in “The Lying Detective” are masterful.
And, again, though the cliffhanger that sees Euros shooting John after revealing her identity to him is anticlimactically resolved off-screen, it was a chilling end to this episode. Perhaps the best part of “The Lying Detective” was its return to a novel, cohesive visual style that made early episode of Sherlock so impressive.
In Sherlock’s absence and John’s grief, Lestrade seemed to step up to do a lot of the emotional labor. The conclusion to Sherlock Season 1, “The Great Game” was the episode that tied the Moriarty clues together and gave us the first appearance of the consulting criminal played masterfully by Andrew Scott.
After a season of relative low-stakes fun, everything became much more intense in “The Great Game” as Moriarty led Sherlock on a devastating goose chase where real people’s lives were at stake. Inevitably, Moriarty kidnapped John and strapped some bombs to him for good measure, forcing a hostage situation that articulated just how much these two had come to mean to one another over the course of their short friendship.
Thematically, it was the perfect cap to the season, hammering home the point that, while Sherlock might act like he doesn’t care, he really, really does. Also known as the one where John Watson and Mary Morgan get married, “The Sign of the Three” uses Sherlock’s best man speech as a frame tale for much of the action of this episode, as he tries to solve the case of The Mayfly Man in front of an entire wedding hall of people.
Refreshingly, it doesn’t present Mary as an obstacle to their friendship, but rather incorporates her into the two-now-threesome, while also giving some time to the central duo. “A Scandal in Belgrade” is a near-perfect episode of Sherlock that unfortunately doesn’t stick its landing, as it gives us an adaptation Irene Adler who manages to be even less progressive than the one depicted in Conan Doyle’s original work.
It does all this while also giving us a nice helping of 221B Baker Street’s goings-on (including a memorable visit to Buckingham Palace). The episode that started it all,“A Study in Pink” gives us a Sherlock Holmes adaptation thoroughly grounded in the modern day.
(Or the second beginning, if you count the unarmed pilot, which proves just how much this show’s visual style matters to its story.) This is the real mystery that needs solving in “A Study in Pink,” as John Watson gathers evidence for us from people like Greg Lestrade, Sally Donovan, and Mycroft Holmes.
There’s something heady and addicting about the idea that Sherlock Holmes is the true mystery of this show, and no one but John Watson has ever stuck around long enough or been given enough vulnerability to answer it. “The Great Game” may have been the first Sherlock episode that upped the stakes, but it was “The Reichenbach Fall” that pulled the trigger.
If post- Season 2 Sherlock has too often been a show without consequence (and, therefore, without a tangible sense of stakes), then “The Reichenbach Fall” demonstrated how good Sherlock can be when every decision, every action has weight, like when there is no easy or good solution, only the lesser of two terrible choices (something “The Final Problem” tried to repeat, badly). It started with Moriarty’s stylish robbery “attempt” of the Crown Jewels and slowly escalated until every one, but John Watson believed that Sherlock was the criminal.
What this meant for Sherlock is that plots never had enduring consequences, and characters’ actions never had any logical impact on their lives. But the show always presented these frustrating resets gleefully, as if they were just part of Sherlock’s much-touted, endless “game” instead of the huge narrative shortcomings they actually were.
The pair constructed every episode of Sherlock around one far-fetched unrealistic plot after another, but left their audience hanging time and again when it came to actual resolutions. And every time, the show presented the dangling plot as a clever innovation rather than a frustrating loose end.
This was typical of Sherlock : Whenever it came close to presenting real drama with meaty narrative consequences, it consistently halted mid-act and just walked away from the entire plot point as though it didn’t matter. The result was that Sherlock, Moriarty, and Mycroft each became larger-than-life mythical figures who could miraculously rewrite fate again and again.
Because characters like Molly, Mrs. Hudson, Irene Adler, and Mary are so thinly written to begin with, it’s hard not to notice that they all turn out to be, again and again, props for Sherlock’s ego and/or schemes. The reason for this recurring pattern in Sherlock’s female characters is clear and frustrating:Moat has stated before that he thinks women’s primary reason for watching Sherlock is one of sexual attraction, saying “our female fan base all believe that they'll be the one to melt that glacier.” He couldn’t be more wrong about women, and it shows in his writing.
In order to believe that Sherlock could fake his own death for years and return with no one being the wiser; murder someone and get away clean; and never know about the existence of a sister who occasionally broke out of a high-security prison in order to send him reaction GIFs of Moriarty, we have to believe that Sherlock’s older, allegedly smarter brother Mycroft basically the god of Great Britain. In terms of accountability he seems to be answerable to no one, which means Mycroft can pull whatever strings are necessary to keep Sherlock from going to jail, or even facing trial after killing someone.
Given all this, the way in which he seems to orchestrate acts of God again and again in order to compensate for his brother’s antics has started to seem less quirky and endearing, and more like a convenient way for the show to avoid any kind of continuity. But since he was so popular, the narrative constantly brought him back as a specter, implying that Moriarty had planned dark and impenetrable plots to keep Sherlock busy long after his death.
And then there’s the fact that the threat of Moriarty’s return was the reason Sherlock never had to pay for killing Rasmussen. Instead, Moriarty will go down as Sherlock’s biggest distraction, and not a very good one, from the series’ most consistent issue: It couldn’t maintain any narrative cohesion or direction.
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