[Spoilers follow for Season 4, Episode 3, “The Final Problem.”]
Season 4 of Sherlock has galloped by — which is easy enough, when the seasons are only three episodes long — but it ends on an oddly final note. Although cast and crew insist that this isn’t necessarily the end, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss wrap up their 13th episode on an elegiac note, musing on the legend that is Sherlock and Watson.
It’s just a shame the rest of the episode was such a mess, really.
Don’t Look Now, Mycroft
The opening of the episode is pure Gatiss — in what seems like it must be a dream sequence but isn’t, Mycroft is haunted by the voice of his sister (represented by what we assume is a little girl but is actually a small man in a wig), a clown, and portraits that weep blood. The Hammer horror-infused nightmare is just Sherlock and John trying to scare him into telling the truth about Euros. It’s suitably creepy, but presumably saying, “We know she’s alive because she just shot John with a tranquilizer gun” would have also done the trick.
After several seasons of game playing, faked deaths and disguises, the truth is out – Euros Holmes is A.
Wait, this isn’t “Pretty Little Liars”? You’d be forgiven for wondering if you’d switched to the wrong channel, because the Greatest Detective has taken a few leaves out of the ABC Family/Freeform show’s playbook. Much like Sherlock, the show’s big reveal was that the mastermind behind a few seasons’ worth of torture and mind games was a sister obsessed with a younger sibling and locked away for being a psychopath — although deep down, she just wants to be loved.
The Female of the Species Is Deadlier Than the Male
Or at least smarter than him. It’s been a running joke that while Sherlock is the cleverest man John has ever met, Mycroft is even cleverer. Euros, though? She was “incandescent… an era-defining genius beyond Newton.” Sadly, we don’t see any evidence of this beyond her almost-supernatural ability to manipulate people. She hits the nail on the head when, in a recording of a psychological assessment, she says that she’s institutionalized because she’s “too clever.”
Let’s be clear: This review does not endorse murder, mentally manipulating people, arson, or any of the other nasty things that the youngest Holmes gets up to. But if I was written that inconsistently, I’d want to burn the ancestral pile down as well.
It goes without saying that it isn’t the fault of the woman playing her — such is the brilliance of Sian Brookes’ acting that I’m still not 100 percent sure she wasn’t actually playing the little girl on the plane. Hell, I’m not 100 percent sure she isn’t playing Sherlock.
But her love hate relationship with her sibling makes absolutely no sense – as a child she hates him so much that she draws pictures of his gravestone but is desperate to play with him and as an adult she needs to be physically restrained from killing him but later on can be calmed by a hug. Beneath the emotionless façade, she’s just a broken little girl who needs to be loved. It’s a far cry from her chilling introduction at the end of last week’s episode, all grey wig, dowdy clothes and cold dead eyes.
While Brooke is genuinely heartbreaking as the two sides of her personality collide — the icy manipulator and the frightened child who can’t connect with anyone — it’s a disappointing step down from the Machiavelli we’d been led to expect. Although Euros in villain mode can be truly horrifying, at least she had power. At least she had agency. Then again, so did Mary once — as did Irene Adler and Molly Hooper. Every woman on the show has been systematically defanged and no amount of Mrs. Hudson driving a sports car can erase that.
It’s misogyny, of course, but not exclusively that. Moffatt and Gatiss are supremely unconcerned with the inner life of any character that isn’t John or Sherlock, neither of whom have developed as much as they’d like to think.
Mycroft v. John
It’s unsurprising that Euros forces Sherlock to choose between his brother and his best friend, since the show itself can’t decide which side it would choose. Mark Gatiss does such a supreme job of infusing Mycroft with all the nobility and nuance that the scripts dispense with that it’s easy to forget he wrote them. Martin Freeman’s John Watson, however… well, he’s just a bit of a knob, especially where Mycroft is concerned.
While Sherlock has legitimate issues to work through, John’s antipathy to Mycroft just feels mean. Despite the multiple times that Mycroft has saved one or both of their lives – and is the only reason that traumatized drug addict Sherlock even survives long enough to meet John – all the old warhorse can do is taunt, bully and generally tell Mycroft to shut up.
Although we’re ostensibly meant to take John’s side, he doesn’t make it easy for us. For one thing, John doesn’t speak to his troubled sister, whereas Mycroft built an entire island facility for his. Oh, he talks a good game about how Sherrinford is Britain’s answer to Arkham Asylum, but we never see any other prisoners. Mycroft can’t kill someone — he’s physically repulsed by the thought — whereas John did it without thinking in the show’s very first episode.
John Watson isn’t noble, he’s a narcissist. He hangs out with Sherlock Holmes because next to him, he has empathy. Does Sherlock consider him his conscience because he doesn’t know any better, or has he just found another possessive playmate to replace Euros?
The Mystery of Redbeard
Since Season 3, we’ve known that Sherlock’s biggest childhood trauma came from the death of his beloved childhood dog, Redbeard. Except that was a gigantic big fakeout, because it turns out Redbeard was the piratical alter ego of Sherlock’s first BFF, Victor Trevor. The good news is that Euros didn’t kill a dog. The bad news is that she literally drowned a child and then chained John Watson up in the same well.
I Blame The Parents
We get the return of Mummy and Daddy Holmes, furious that Mycroft faked his sister’s death to keep them safe. Eventually, they all go on a jolly family visit to see Euros, where she and Sherlock play the violin together and it’s all terribly nice except that she’s still a murderer locked in the mental health equivalent of Fort Knox and their shockingly lax parenting skills probably helped put her there. If, as we’re led to believe, Euros’ problems were compounded by being locked out of Sherlock and Victor’s reindeer games, maybe they could have intervened. And if not, perhaps being complicit in Sherlock literally erasing every memory of his sister and dead friend wasn’t the best move — no wonder he ended up an addict. In fact, do they even know Sherlock has a drug problem, or is this something else that Mycroft has been protecting them from?
In a pointlessly cruel moment, they turn to Sherlock for advice on what to do with the sister he had forgotten about until roughly 24 hours previously, claiming “You were always the grown-up.”
Sherlock has never been the grown-up. He’s an emotionally illiterate manchild and the fact that he’s learning to behave like an adult doesn’t make him qualified to take decisions on his sibling’s complex mental health needs. At this point, the question isn’t “Why did Euros set fire to the family home?” but “Why didn’t Mycroft join her?’
Oblivious parents, drug addict brother, mentally ill sister — Mycroft may use his siblings to solve the odd Government problem, but he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Despite the alleged game-changing nature of the finale, by the time the credits roll order has been restored. “Sherlock’s” final problem is that it never quite manages the courage of its convictions. It flirts with veering away from the original books, but never really commits — it pulls every punch is takes and the show is worse for it.
The brave choice would either be letting Euros be a full-on villain or acknowledging Sherlock and Mycroft’s culpability in what she became. The brave choice would be having Sherlock, not Euros, breaking down and needing to be guided home. The brave choice would be Molly saying sorry, but actually she isn’t in love with Sherlock anymore because love can’t survive in a vacuum and that’s all he’s capable of offering. The brave choice would have been Sherlock and John acknowledging their feelings for each other with or without Mary’s assistance from beyond the grave. Actually, the brave choice would have been leaving her alive and exploring good old fashioned polyamory.
Instead we get clichés, queerbaiting and a modern adaptation that manages to feel more staid than the original.