Sherlock: In the end, none of it matters

Sarah Posted by Sarah at January 16, 2017 13:43:48 January 16, 2017 13:43:48

Sherlock Season 4, Episode 3 recap


After a middle episode that introduced a completely unjustified third Holmes sibling, Sherlock series four concludes with whack-a-mole plot and a wholly unnecessary retconning of the entire Moriarty arc of the first two—and still best—seasons. “The Final Problem” is also hopefully the final Sherlock episode for a while—for once, I won’t mind a years-long wait until the series returns. Series four has been hyper and over-stuffed even by Sherlock standards, but all that gyrating didn’t amount to much as we end up where we always were, with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solving crimes with no lingering emotional distress or growth from their experiences.

The most frustrating thing about the way Mary Morstan Watson was handled by Sherlock is that, ultimately, she didn’t matter. In the books her death is merely a passing mention, because Arthur Conan Doyle understood she was irrelevant to Holmes and Watson solving cases. The TV series attempted to make a bigger deal of her—so have the RDJ movies but that trilogy remains incomplete so we don’t know how they fare—only to use her, in the end, to give Sherlock and John permission to go on as they always were: Sherlock, an addict using crime to get high, and John emotionally crippled by PTSD and reliving the war through Sherlock’s antics. (Don’t even get me started on how useless baby Rosie is—John might as well not have kids for all the difference she makes.)

But no woman was treated worse by this series than Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey). In many ways, Molly embodies everything that has gone wrong with Sherlock, as she is dragged back into this episode for no real reason except to be humiliated as a plot point on Sherlock’s emotional arc that doesn’t even have a payoff. This episode revolves around Sherlock’s long-lost sister, Eurus (Sian Brooke), the cleverest Holmes but also an outright psychopath who was locked up as a child after doing something terrible involving Sherlock’s dog, Redbeard, and arson. Eurus is the kind of character that NEEDS multiple-episode setup but she doesn’t get it so there is absolutely nothing to ground anything that’s happening in this episode.

Except for Sherlock’s phone call to Molly. In staging the “final problem” for Sherlock, Eurus traps him, John, and Mycroft in the prison where she is incarcerated—this is every bit as dumb as it sounds—and forces Sherlock to navigate a series of challenges, including getting Molly to say “I love you”, which actually has some emotional resonance because we first meet Molly as a woman with a hopeless crush on Sherlock, who blatantly uses her when convenient and is unspeakably cruel to her on more than one occasion.

But following his death and subsequent return, Molly seemed to have grown and left Sherlock—at least the romantic ideal of him—behind. In series three we see Sherlock and Molly come to terms as friends. Sherlock values her, and can express that to her, and Molly, while always there for Sherlock when needed, is no longer as emotionally vulnerable to him. That position is even reiterated earlier in this series, when Molly takes Sherlock to task for using (again).

Only in this episode, she says she can’t say “I love you” because it would be true, and the scene is acted as if Molly is flayed open by submitting to Sherlock’s request. In the moment, Sherlock is angry at being forced to humiliate a friend, but in the closing montage, there is no discernible emotional fallout between them. Presumably they just got over it, but because we don’t see their reckoning, it reduces Molly to once again being nothing more than a prop whose love for Sherlock is used to illustrate his cleverness.

The Molly/Sherlock phone call is, in and of itself, a terrific, painful scene featuring two accomplished actors. But within the context of the episode, and the show at large, it’s totally meaningless. Any drama introduced is erased by the ending, and tonally, it doesn’t even make sense for where those characters are emotionally. And this has become the central problem with Sherlock—the show will do whatever it wants in the moment, but it isn’t interested in long-term growth and evolution.

This has been the case with Sherlock’s murder of Charles Magnussesn, John’s marriage, Sherlock’s death and resurrection—in the end, none of it MATTERS. Sherlock and John end up right where they started, seemingly unchanged by the things they’ve been through over the last several years. Even Molly, the one person who seemed to escape Sherlock’s orbit, is dragged back to be the lovesick fool, his emotional patsy. “The Final Problem” is full of ludicrous twists and unearned revelations, and despite that fan service-y closing montage, Sherlock ends, for the foreseeable future, with a messy, unsatisfying finale.

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