If you watched last nights Sherlock episode, you might have had some mixed feelings on that ending. No twists to rock the boat, no huge mystery to untie nor any real plot threads left dangling. It felt very much like a show that was saying goodbye, without the goodbye. Some have reacted negatively to this, but for me I couldn’t be happier. Sherlock has been struggling for a while now to escape the shadow of its creative constraints, creating ever more awful directions to escape the corners it keeps trapping itself in. With diminishing returns and increasingly awkward logical lapses, I’m ready to say goodbye to BBC’s incarnation Sherlock.
Let’s be honest about BBC’s Sherlock – it’s become a mess of parts. A meandering self-contrived toil that’s neither wholly satisfying nor as exciting as it once was. Rather than deliver its audience quality mysterys, increasingly the show has become a melodrama of its core cast. The ever-widening emotional beats that have come to characterize the show have left it stretched beyond its means and shattering the very things fans enjoyed about it. By the time we reached the end of last nights episode, the show was smugly telling us “Look at all the fun Sherlock and Watson are having now that they’ve overcome the bumps in the road”. Shame we didn’t get much of that in Season 4.
I’ve been a fan of Sherlock since the end of Season 2. Part of the appeal of the show was the way its stories were created. The way mysteries slowly unraveled themselves; teasing the audience with interesting characters and twists that threw everyone for a loop. I still say the best episode of the show was its Season 2 premiere, A Scandal in Belgravia. It was the perfect blend of character driven toiling mystery that had you hooked the whole way.
Compare this to Season 4, where there’s barely been a cohesive arc holding everything together. Within minutes of starting, Season 4 the show backtracked on the Season 3 climax. Sherlock’s transgressions handwaved away through the magic of terrible writing; the plot not bogging itself down in dealing with the ramifications of the title character actions, such shooting someone at point-blank range (A fact the show never brings up again). Why bother dealing with such inconveniences when the show can just click its fingers and everyone just forgets? And it’s not the first time its happened either on Sherlock.
The show did the exact same thing in Season 3’s opening episode, where audiences were treated to an 80 minute “Guess how Sherlock dodged death” mystery – only to be told at the end that it didn’t really matter. It’s another case of the show handwaving away huge plot points for the sake of convenience. And this destroys all tension within the plot.
How can the audience buy into plots moving forward if we know that the major stakes underpinning the show are liable to be removed without warning? Sherlock is a mystery thriller first, character driven exercise second. Yet increasingly Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have been removing the mystery element from the show. Rather than create self-contained stories that provoke thought and intrigue, we’re treated to the kind of half-baked story arcs that never really payoff as they should, stacked with logic loopholes that scream lazy. (Likewise, did the show ever explain how Sherlock’s sister got Moriarty’s face onto all those screens simultaneously? I know it said she was insanely smart and observant, but that seemed like a huge logic break, even by Sherlock’s standards.)
So the villain had a secret passage into the hospital? That’s convenient. Sherlock’s secret sister managed to roam around free for several years without anyone noticing? That seems weird. Yes the villains in Sherlock have always had a larger then life quality to them, but the liberties taken with this season’s batch of baddies feels almost dauntingly silly. Speaking of Sherlock’s sister, it was nice of her to turn the entire prison complex into a room-to-room puzzle for Sherlock and his chums. Imagine if they turned up on Tuesday instead of Thursday; she’d have been so embarrassed her traps weren’t ready.
It’s this convenience of plot that ultimately detracted from the enjoyment of Season 4 for me. Everything that happened on-screen felt slightly lazy, like the show was more interested in putting its characters into these interesting spots rather than logically getting them there. Don’t get me wrong, the show was still fun, but it’s no longer that smart kind of fun that makes you feel like you should get involved in every twist and turn. Instead its like riding a rollercoaster, you kind of know where the twists are coming so you just go along for the ride. The depth that once defined the show now replaced with the kind of twists you’d find in a Christmas episode of Eastenders. If that seems harsh, consider the fact that Sherlock managed to calm his increasingly maddening sister down with a single hug.
For my money. I’m totally cool if the ending to last nights episode serves as the series finale. The status quo was returned and its characters have been reset enough that things could continue on in our minds. I suspect this was done with half an eye on the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have become almost impossibly huge actors and the BBC doesn’t really fancy dragging them back in increasingly expensive outings. What was once a launching pad for the pair is increasingly a lead weight round their careers, and with Hollywood playing ever-increasing role in their schedules, Sherlock just doesn’t compare.
Who knows what the future holds for the show. The BBC hasn’t revealed what its plans are for the show moving forward, nor have its stars committed to another three episode run. With news that shows ratings are sliding ever increasingly down, perhaps it’s the best time for all party’s to move on. Sherlock has been a good television show, but all shows come to an end eventually. The mystery here is whether anyone at BBC is willing to do the deed before things go really down hill.
The game is over.