I don’t often say this, but thank god for Steven Moffat. After last week’s muddling episode filled with confusing subplots, unmemorable lines, and exactly 0 interesting crimes solved, Sherlock is back in fine form with a Moffat-penned episode that gives us plenty of mystery and a genuinely scary villain. This episode was campy and ridiculous and up its own ass just a little bit, and I fully loved it.
The trouble with a television show like Sherlock, I imagine, is how to craft a show worthwhile enough to justify three film-length episodes a year when the subject material (a crotchety consulting detective) lends itself so well to a case-of-the-week procedural format, as seen in House and Elementary. The difficulty with Sherlock’s construction then, is creating narrative cohesiveness, both between every episode of the show and an entire season. The trick in seasons one and two was a Big Bad, and a stellar one at that: Moriarty was a delight every moment he was on screen, and his role as a “consulting” criminal meant Sherlock could occupy the audience with an infinite variety of interesting mini, unrelated mysteries along the way until the audience would be graced, yet again, by Andrew Scott’s presence.
Season three struggled: the next attempt at a Big Bad, shark-eyes-what’s-his-name, had some genuinely sinister moments (licking Lady Smallwood’s face, peeing in the fireplace) but he was always going to pale in comparison to everyone’s favorite Westwood-wearing crime boss.
The other option for creating season-long cohesion is with an internal relationship struggle. Instead of spending three episodes fighting a single sinister well-dressed crime boss, each, they assure us, more despicable than the last, the arcing challenge of the season could be Sherlock and John’s relationship, or another human aspect of Sherlock, focused on the man and not the crimes he’s solving.
The strongest episode of season 3, had an isolated criminal—the photographer at the wedding acting purely for his vengeance—and that’s not a coincidence. Moriarty as a villain loomed over Sherlock like an ex-boyfriend you can’t stop thinking about, the kind you keep brining up over and over again until you drive your friends crazy. You can try to distract yourself with ill-advised subplots about international assassin brides, but it wouldn’t help you get over the breakup any faster.
That said, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are in the unenviable position of near-impossible standards, especially given the show’s increased popularity, and the scrutiny that comes along with it. I’m happy to say that they hit the mark in the second episode of season 4.
The opening scene is reminiscent of the Sherlock premiere: John has just suffered a traumatic event (first war, now the death of his wife), and he’s talking to a therapist about how alone he is (it’s a new therapist—guess Sherlock got the old one in their friendship-divorce.) The scene is well-paced and heartfelt, and the first brilliant surprise of the episode came early.
“Are you going to tell her about me?” a voice in the hallway asks John as he’s leaving to see the therapist.
“DAMMIT, WATSON!” I shout at my screen. “You’re still mourning your wife and you’re already shaked up with that floozy from the bus?!?!?” And then the camera pans. It’s Mary Watson.
“DAMMIT, MOFFAT!” I shout at my screen. “Can’t you let anyone just actually be dead for once!?!?!??!” But then the reveal: yes, Mary is dead. John is hallucinating her and these interactions are making me sadder than her actual death did. John’s “See you later,” to the ghost of Mary is one of the most subtly touching lines I think this show has ever done. (From my notes: Mary is ALIVE??? Oh, nvm thank god. She’s a ghost. Bless this show.)
And then, there’s an entrance in classic Sherlock fashion. “If Sherlock Holmes wants to get in touch, that’s not something you fail to notice.” Cue: helicopters, sirens, roaring Aston Martin down the street and a dark figure gets out of the car. And then cue opening credits. Sherlock is back, and Sherlock is back.
We meet the episode’s villain in a trippy board-room sequence. Culverton Smith is giving some sort of presentation to a table of important-looking people. Smith, we learn, is a big-time businessman and philanthropist. “What is the worst thing you can do to your best friend?” Smith asks (too bad John Watson isn’t there to answer—“let’s see, fake your own death for two years, egg on the woman who shoot kill your wife…”) Smith claims the worst thing you can do to a friend is tell them your darkest secret, something he very much intends to do, but with the aid of nurses around the table administering some sort of narcotic to the people around the table so they’ll forget what he says. The whole thing is a big exercise in unnecessary confessions: whatever this Smith is doing is so bad that he just desperately has to tell people to get it off his chest.
Unfortunately, the narcotics don’t kick in right away for his daughter: post-creepiest board meeting of all time, she’s jotting done notes, struggling to remember details. She remembers that her father said he needs to kill someone, but she doesn’t remember who. That “who,” she says, is one word that ruined her life.
Sherlock (and Sherlock) loves fun details like that. “One word” that ruined her life, she said. But names are two words. He stops her at the door and tells her he decided to take the case, but not just because of that little detail: even tweeking out on drugs and high as a kite, Sherlock is not a sociopath. Her handbag is heavier than it should be. She has cuts on her arm. She’s living alone. She has no car, and didn’t call a taxi to go home. She says Sherlock is her only hope. She is going to kill herself. Maybe it’s the memory of the still-smoking gun shot Mary Watson, or maybe he’s far more sentimental and emotional than he ever wanted to believe, but Sherlock wants to save this woman. He takes her out to chips. They walk in a path through the city that tells Mycroft (tracking Sherlock) to fuck off. Sherlock takes her gun and throws it into the river. “Your life is not your own,” he says. Suicide doesn’t hurt you—you’re dead. You being gone hurts those around you. Sherlock saw that firsthand after Mary’s death.
So Sherlock has a newfound tenderness, and her death seems to be serving a larger narrative purpose, but we can’t forget that he was also hardcore tweaking. His deductions were shown on the screen in chalk, far vaguer than usual. He’s asking and doing things subconsciously, as if his deductions are working faster than his actual brain. When he arrives home, he’s stalled in the middle of a busy street hallucinating about Culverton Smith in a trippy sequence reminiscent of when Sherlock was drugged by The Woman in season 2. But in that hallucinatory state, Sherlock gets the answer. The one word that ruined Hope Smith’s life. “I need to kill someone,” he said. “ANYONE.” Culverton Smith, wealthy and famous philanthropist, is a serial killer. (The one small aside I have here is how they make being a serial killer seem like a biological compulsion. It almost feels like they’re defending it—not defending, but explaining it—the way they would a pedophile. Is that what being a serial killer is?)
And now back to the opening sequence, a glorious Beethoven car chase that ends at John’s new therapist’s office. Out of the Aston Martin pops…. Mrs. Hudson. And in one of the best surprises of the episode, that car is hers. (She owns property in central London!) She begs John to examine Sherlock and he says he will, if he’s in the neighborhood. Well, good news, Sherlock is locked in the trunk of the car.
He had gone crazy on drugs, reciting Shakespeare in his apartment (Henry V! I think Tom Hiddleston has played Henry V before…. I’m not just desperately grasping at straws am I?) and Mrs. Hudson brought him to John for help.
Ready for examination, Doctor.
Sherlock knew two weeks in advance where John would be going for therapy even before John decided on getting a new therapist. These are the kind of fun, impossible, super-power deductions that make this show worthwhile. Sherlock is so smart he can tell the future and manipulate the world around him like a chess game.
Begrudgingly (it is always begrudgingly on John’s part, it seems), the team is back together and time to face off against aforementioned wealthy and famous philanthropist Culverton Smith.
But you don’t get to be wealthy and famous without being great at manipulating the media. When Sherlock (on drugs probably. Or not. You never know) tweeted out that Culverton Smith was a serial killer, Smith parlayed it into a viral marketing opportunity, as if famous detective Sherlock Holmes in on the plan all along. He is a CEREAL killer! With a new cereal he’s selling!
And Sherlock is roped into media appearances, going to the hospital Smith built to visit sick children where Smith gives an on-the-nose monologue about how hard it is for rich and famous people to be caught for crimes. And then Smith brings John and Sherlock into his “favorite room: the mortuary, where Smith’s creepy villainy really, really shines.
When Sherock hugged Smith earlier, he stole his phone and texted his daughter, the daughter Sherlock went out for chips with and talked out of suicide and got the prompt to investigate Smith in the first place from. She arrives at the hospital except…. It’s someone else. Sherlock has never meet Smith’s daughter ever before.
This verges into a bit of Richard Brooks territory, but damn if this isn’t effective, because Sherlock was very very high on drugs. John was hallucinating Mary, it’s not insane that Sherlock could have been imagining this woman. I love this moment as an audience member—genuine confusion and eagerness for the reveal. It’s what Sherlock does best.
And so Sherlock does what he always does when he doesn’t understand something: he tries to stab it, it, in this case, being Culverton Smith (with a scalpel from the table). John subdues Sherlock with a few violent blows that probably felt very cathartic and Sherlock is hospitalized. We are left with Smith’s maniacal laughing in our ears, wondering, like John, how this all happened.
But we’re not left in the dark for long—Smith’s TV promise that Sherlock might end up in his “favorite room,” is enough to confirm that this man really is a serial killer, and he’s going to try to kill Sherlock. After all, nothing on Sherlock is ever given the easiest explanation.
And then Smith gives it all away in his villain monologue to Sherlock at his bedside: Smith wanted to be a modern day H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who built a murder hotel, except instead of a hotel, Smith uses the hospital he built. Sherlock knows. He did all this so Smith can kill him.
The first warning signs flare: Sherlock had given such an impassioned monologue to fake Hope Smith about not killing yourself that this couldn’t have been his master plan the entire time. Besides (I assured myself, not at all terrified) Sherlock can’t die! This is his show. He always wins. The Sherlock always comes out on top mentality was an honest and genuine comfort to me during a few very frightening minutes of television during which Smith become a very scary murderer.
But, of course, Sherlock always wins. John is back at 221B Baker Street watching the video that Mary left for Sherlock. It doesn’t just tell him to go to hell: Mary tells Sherlock he needs to put himself in real danger to save John. Let John save him, and that will save John. And, legitimately insane as that plan is, that’s what Sherlock had been doing: ruining himself on drugs and allowing himself to fall into Culverton Smith’s trap so the valiant doctor could rescue him.
Save Sherlock he does. John forces himself into the room just as Smith was watching the life leave Sherlock’s eyes, and Sherlock had masterminded this whole thing to get Smith’s confession (even though this sort of confession was entrapment, once he was in custody apparently, Smith just loves to confess.)
All the loose ends seemed to be tied. The conclusion seems to be that Sherlock, capable of predicting the future with his deductions beyond his conscious mind, invented the fake Hope Smith as a representation of the case he was already working on in his mind. Sherlock gets a text from Irene Adler (sexy voice: oohhh yeaahhh) and John realizes it is Sherlock’s birthday.
Here is my favorite part of the episode, the boys back together: John admits he knows Sherlock didn’t kill Mary, and confesses to cheating on her with the girl from the bus, but only via text. He is finally able to get it out . And Sherlock reminds John (and the audience who, like me were infuriated that JOHN WATSON WOULD EVER DO SUCH A THING) that he is just human. Lady Smallwood tries to ask Mycroft out on a date. Sherlock wears the hat. Everything has found stasis.
But this wouldn’t be Sherlock without one more big surprise. John’s new therapist was the woman on the bus, and the woman who pretended to be Hope Smith (she got the details from Culverton) to talk to Sherlock. Is she working for Moriarty? Herself? WHO IS THIS WOMAN!?!?!
Well, the answer is, Eurus Holmes. The third Holmes sibling was not a brother after all, but a sister, with a name that means “the east wind.”
That name has some poignancy. In Doyle’s story “His Last Bow,” Holmes is telling Watson on the eve of World War I: “There’s an east wind coming… such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast.”
And that quote made it’s Sherlock appearance last season in “His Last Vow,” with Sherlock saying “The East Wind takes us all in the end. It’s a story my brother told me when we were kids. The East Wind – this terrifying force that lays waste to all in its path.”
I had sort of wished the woman on the bus had just been a civilian: an average person in a part of John’s life that was meant to show he was just a person too. But, like I said, nothing is simple in Sherlock. Why have a wife if you can have an international assassin? Why have a bus crush if you can’t have a rogue super-spy Holmes sibling?
Eurus—if that is her real name—ends the episode holding John at gunpoint.
Seeing as this is Sherlock, there’s no guarantee that she’s actually who she says she is. Maybe she’s Moriarty’s sister, and Sherlock and Mycroft do have a brother named Sherrinford played by Tom Hiddleston somewhere.
Why would “Eurus” write “Did you Miss Me?” on the note if there wasn’t a Moriarty connection?
Even if he was high on drugs, would Sherlock really not be able to deduce that he was hanging out with his own sister?
Who or what is Sherrinford, and will it wear an I ❤ T.S. tank top?
These questions and more to be revealed next week, one hopes.