The Sherlock Finale Was A Good Puzzle but a Bad Story


*Massive Spoilers for Sherlock Season 4

So BBC’s Sherlock ended its fourth season (and possibly the entire series) with a controversial episode titled “The Final Problem”. It saw Sherlock and Watson facing off against his much teased sibling which turned out to be a psychotic sister by the name of Eurus Holmes. On one level, this episode was a perfect way to end the series, but on another, it was an incoherent mess of a story. The reasons for this boil down to creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ often criticized tendency to turn their stories and characters into puzzles rather than compelling creatons to watch. That’s a weird criticism to lob at writers, and hard to understand unless you actually experience it, but anyone who’s watched “The Final Problem” should be able to see exactly what I’m talking about. The story in this episode was composed of all these little elements that were hinted at and built upon throughout the series that were elegantly woven into this newest adventure and connected convincingly. Yet despite all this, if you remove yourself from the cleverness of it all, you just see an impeccably acted story that’s anticlimactic and kinda bad all around.

Sherlock is the person he is largely because of Eurus’s presence in his life that he repressed as a child. The murder of Victor, the person who left a void that Watson is filling in Sherlock’s life unbeknownst to the great detective, and his past obsession with deciphering Eurus’ cryptic hint at what she did to Victor, is what led Sherlock into becoming the mystery solver that he is today. Meanwhile, Eurus’ great intellect but inability to make a connection with another human being rotted her as a person, and is a great metaphor for Sherlock’s character arc as a whole. As I said before, all these are potentially great character beats and good “pieces of a puzzle” if you will, the issue here is the execution. Moffat and Gatiss were so preoccupied creating a riddle to Sherlock’s character, they forgot to write in compelling character moments within the story. The way all these themes are resolved in the actual show are through a rushed conversation between Sherlock and Eurus that came off the heels of an anti-climactic reveal that the hostage situation she threatened Sherlock with was just an elaborate metaphor to her inner loneliness and that Sherlock must stop her by offering his friendship. On a thematic level and within the constrains of this puzzle, it makes sense, but from a story perspective it was deeply unsatisfying.

The actual scene of Sherlock talking down Eurus went by way too quickly, was filled to the brim with trite dialogue and tried and true popculture villain converting platitudes, and didn’t build on the themes that were developed in the previous episodes of the season, namely, of Sherlock’s hubris. The puzzles of Moffat and Gatiss are aggravatingly self-contained, which has the effect of making their episodes seem at once brilliant and strangely amateurish. For example, that clumsy  and awkward voice over at the end with Mary, while it honoured the source material for the series, was super cheesy and unfortunately placed alongside a rushed climax. It all ended up feeling cheap, when it had every reason not to be.

Moriarty, my favourite character of the series (whose final showdown against Sherlock in season 2 remains the high point of the show), had an important role to play in the finale. If this really is the final Sherlock episode, Moriarty makes that all the more fitting. Having Eurus’ plot be a contingency to his failure in season 2 was smart, and every second of his flashback was a delight. Him meeting with Mycroft (who was at his absolute best in this episode) was a ton of fun to watch. Even if the logistics of it were off (Mycroft should have never let the two converse at any point, terrorist plots or not), it was fun television. I only wish we could see how their 5 minute conversation went, although I suppose us not knowing is part of the point to it all.

This episode certainly wasn’t unfun to watch, there were some highs, and many of the series’ best characters were properly honoured. The unfortunate element of this all is that it fell into its creators’ worst instincts in the most severe of ways. It was like a greatest hits of all their biggest writing flaws. The status quo was not changed, virtually no lasting consequences were felt by the end of the episode, and the show favoured cleverness over compelling storytelling once again. I wrote of this show’s problems before with the third season finale and Magnusson, and while Eurus was nowhere near as bad as that moron, her face-to-face confrontation with Sherlock deserved far more time and attention than it received. This finale really shows that good old fashion writing and well placed character beats trump dazzling twists and easter eggs. Maybe the titular final problem of this episode was in reference to the creators and the problems in their storytelling they just couldn’t overcome. Perhaps that’s the puzzle we were meant to solve all along…

Quote of the Day:

“I’m too clever.”

Eurus Holmes in Sherlock bragging about herself and also describing the main problem with the writers who created her.

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