If there’s any persistent criticism about the last few years of Sherlock, it’s that ever since Moriarty went and killed himself (and Sherlock pretended to kill himself) at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall,” the show’s spun into a spiraling hole of weird plot twists for the sake of. It all started when Sherlock didn’t actually die, and progressed through stranger and stranger swerves. (Warning: spoiler alert from this point on. Unless you didn’t know what happens after Sherlock jumps off the building, then spoiler alert from the beginning.)
After a lukewarm return to our lives a couple of weeks ago, series four amped up the intensity of all the twists and turns the show loves to take. Second episode “The Lying Detective” saw Sherlock make up for the first twist “The Six Thatchers” gave us by doubling (even tripling) down on the surprise reveals. In the second episode, we learn that Sherlock had been faking a descent into madness in order to get John back on his side, and oh, the Holmes brothers have a middle sister that Mycroft had been hiding from the entire family.
If it didn’t have that up its sleeve, I’d say that the second episode would have been a proper finale for the whole thing. But it really wasn’t done; “The Final Problem” finally sees the show playing the hand it’s been building ever since the second season started. There were apparently a lot of tangles to weave through, and despite the problems that came with the twists they’ve packed, if you don’t stress out about it too much then it was a satisfactory ending.
I’m trying my best to review the ending without spoiling too much of it, but it really is that. If “The Final Problem” really is the last we’ll see of Sherlock and Watson, and it really is likely considering they’re now both part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and Middle-earth, but that one’s done), then it wasn’t a bad way to wrap the series up.
Instead I’ll comment on this season and the last by saying this: what was once a rather novel idea in formatting the show to come out in one-and-a-half-hour episodes to contain the creatively-imagined adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories ended up dragging it down in the end. When the one-off mysteries eventually and inevitably gave way to a larger arc (a system that most TV shows nowadays do have to adopt), the mini-movie setup slowly became too much for the vision showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had for it.
It’s the same reason why comic book adaptations have found a better niche on the serial format of television than on the big screen. Each Sherlock mini-movie—and season, for that matter—provides a story, and part of a story, that’s meant to be consumed in one quick binge. Because the writers have to cram a lot of development over three 1.5-hour episodes, everything feels rushed; had it been a longer season of at least 10 episodes, like a Game of Thrones or a Breaking Bad, all the shocking mental and emotional assault Moffat and Gatiss forced on us, and all the necessary reparations that they entail, could’ve been played out over weeks of anticipation.
[pull_quote]But that’s it, really; nobody has that much objection to the psychological rollercoaster that Sherlock made us ride. Sherlock Holmes is a drug addict and a sociopath, so at this point we’re used to the fact that nothing in his world would ever be normal.[/pull_quote]
It also feels like the two backed themselves into a corner, with the long runtime forcing them to stuff as many twists and turns they can in order to fill it all. Ironically, it ended up being both too much and not enough for them—the complex scripts take forever to write, but the hiatus also requires them to put out the odd one-off, like “The Abominable Bride.” That’s something they could’ve stuck at the beginning of a new season had their schedule been more normal.
But that’s it, really; nobody has that much objection to the psychological rollercoaster that Sherlock made us ride. Sherlock Holmes is a drug addict and a sociopath, so at this point we’re used to the fact that nothing in his world would ever be normal. It’s just that sometimes, it becomes too much over the course of one and a half hours. That’s why episodes that would usually be brilliant were they another show get disgusted, disappointed reactions now more than ever.
At the very least, though, Sherlock ended on a high note, for those who like their happy endings. I won’t spoil you as to exactly how they got there, but I can tell you that by the end, both men are back to normal, solving cases to their heart’s desire. That’s all we really wanted in the end. We’re never treated to all the nuances we deserve, but on the other hand, I think that after seven years, we also should have known better.