‘Sherlock’ Recap: “The Final Problem” – Torture or Vivisection?

     January 15, 2017

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The most striking moment of Sherlock’s Season 4 finale, “The Final Problem,” came in its final moments. There, from beyond the grave (again), Mary calls Sherlock and Watson her “Baker Street Boys” and details the legends, the stories, and the adventures of “the junky who solves crimes to get high, and the doctor who never came home from the war.” Oh would that it were anymore, Mary, would that it were! But now, Sherlock has become twisted, torturous, and emotionally manipulative in a way that, to quote Sherlock himself, is akin to vivisection.

“The Final Problem” gave us the “missing” Holmes sibling Eurus, who is apparently the very soul of evil. Mostly it’s because Sherlock wouldn’t play with her when she wanted him to, which again makes all of her brilliance (detailed by Mycroft) unimportant, as everything only matters or has meaning in relation to Sherlock. Even his poor childhood best friend Victor — a child his sister brutally murdered — exists only as a point of manipulation, which John Watson gets subbed in for (of course, the Holmeses love torturing him). Victor even gets replaced as a dog in Sherlock’s mind palace. The indignity!

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Image via PBS

“The Final Problem” was full of indignities, though, not the least of which endured by poor Molly Hooper, who exists at this point to just be emotionally abused by Sherlock. That phone call was awful, but then there was never any follow-up. Whatever happened to Molly and Lestrade? Why isn’t anyone ever allowed to be happy on this show?

Sherlock, like so many dramas before it, has continued to mistake violence, torture, and grief as the only kind of drama, and does so with a love affair for guns. How many people have we seen kill themselves, shoot someone, die from being shot, or be involved in a crime with a gun this season? (Even Eurus’ crime-game with Sherlock hinged on a rifle).

If Sherlock gave us some narrative consistency, I might be able to forgive it some, but it does not. The season began by reminding us that Sherlock is a petulant, cold-blooded killer without remorse, and ends with him being called a “great man,” genuinely caring about a girl on a crashing plane (even though it was a just metaphor), calling Watson “family,” making she Mrs. Hudson was safe before setting off the patience grenade, and communicating with his otherwise catatonic sister through playing the violin. He’s either a high-functioning sociopath, or he’s a generally self-interested guy who finally came to understand the nature of friendship. You can’t have it both ways, show. And I definitely prefer the later — one psychopathic Holmes sibling is really enough.

Then there was Moriarty. After teasing his return since the moment he left, it was just a trick on viewers to bring him back as a flashback, and as someone who did a series of recordings for Eurus. Did this really make any sense? (This episode was full of illogical leaps). While it was fun to see Andrew Scott giving us another taste of his weird take on Moriarty, Sherlock has gotten so big and so over-the-top with characters like Eurus — an “era-defining genius” who could eclipse Newton, who doesn’t feel any pain, and who was apparently playing about 4 characters on the show — that Moriarty seems quaintly quirky now.

I could go into more detail about the finer points of “The Final Problem,” but I prefer not to relive it. Despite a few fun, classic Sherlock moments, it was largely interminable. That fact grieves me deeply. The excitement of having Sherlock back has turned into abject disappointment with this season, where great villains were wasted, great characters were unceremoniously disposed of, and the show has seemed to lack all sense of what made it great to begin with. Sherlock’s strengths lie with its cast, its witty banter, and its clever crimes. When it first aired, it elevated itself from a typical crime drama by bringing a unique visual flare that made it a joyous watch … until it started getting mired in its own mythology and became a drag. Ultimately, aren’t we looking for a show that entertains and doesn’t torture us and its characters? Is that so much to ask?

The final insult, maybe, has been this season’s hollow use of tautology — phrases like “it is what it is” to sum up its madcap episodes. For a show that seems to want to be smart and make a statement, it feels lazy. It is what it is, really? Well, it hasn’t really been that great. If this is where it all ends, that would be a terrible shame.

Episode Rating: ★★ Fair

Season Rating: ★★ Fair

Musings and Miscellanea:

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Image via PBS

— I don’t know when Sherlock became a horror show, but this episode was steeped in it from Mycroft’s house of horrors at the start to Eurus’ drowning of a child.

— Mycroft: “It’s family!”  Sherlock: “That’s why he stays.”

— There was a serious lack of deductive reasoning in “The Final Problem.” You know, that thing Sherlock’s entire character is built around?

— I liked the fake family gravestones, but it feels like one of many touches from the Holmes’ ancestral home that could have been explored more.

— So Eurus reprograms people and enslaves them … unless Sherlock plays with her. Everyone only lives for Sherlock in this world. I’m still convinced the entire show may just take place in his mind palace.

— It’s bizarre how Mary has no words for her daughter or any kind of loving words for John, her videos are all meant for Sherlock and are all about his relationship with her husband. Seriously, Moffat …

— “Smell all that insane criminality” – Moriarty.

— Lestrade has been so sidelined this season I honestly could not care less if Sherlock remembered his name or not. He deserves better!

— Mycroft really went from being a robot to not having a stomach for much in this episode, didn’t he? Again, if that transition had made any sense, but there was no built up to it.

— Er, so did Molly ever recover from that emotionally devastating phone call with Sherlock? Even if he told her later it was to save her life, man, that was messed up.

— “This isn’t torture, this is vivisection” – Sherlock.

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