‘Sherlock’ Recap: “The Lying Detective” – Merrily Manipulating John Watson

     January 9, 2017


If Sherlock’s second episode of the season “The Lying Detective,” made us sure of anything, it’s that only Sherlock matters. That’s not terrible. Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding, and in an episode like this one he was at peak performance. Sherlock once again played with his drug addiction to manipulate those around him, and got the desired results, showing how much of a pawn everyone is in his life. This is particularly true of John Watson, who was not only manipulated again by Sherlock, but also by his deceased wife, and the missing Holmes sibling. Further, the episode all hinged on him being a terrible doctor and letting Sherlock’s addiction rage out of control. At this point I think the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle could sue for defamation on behalf of Watson.

John definitely has it the worst at the hands of Sherlock, where every moment of his life turns out to not be his own. I thought a lot about Westworld as I watched “The Lying Detective,” and the humanoid hosts who — even when they think they are making their own decisions and striking out according to their own will — it turns out every since motion was programmed. That was true when Watson went to therapy, when he beat up Sherlock, and when he later rescued him. All of it was supposedly, in the service of catching a serial killer (more on that in a moment), but even in his personal life everything is staged. The woman he cheated on with his wife and his therapist were one in the same, and they were a Holmes sibling. And then Sherlock hijacked John’s own grief about Mary. How much more can this family abuse this poor man?

Image via PBS

Image via PBS

The Holmes sister was a weird twist but it was also an important reminder of how forgettably interchangeable women on the series have become, and how they ultimately exist only in service of Sherlock. Yes, I know the show is called Sherlock and it’s all about him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every character has to exist only to serve his every whim. Even Mary’s death — which I found to be a huge disservice to what was otherwise a very strong and interesting character — was all about Sherlock, as was her afterlife. She wanted him to save John, and in order to do that, John needed to save Sherlock. But how is that different than any other day between the two? Poor forgotten Molly Hooper doesn’t even seem to have a career or personal life anymore except to take care of Watson’s daughter and Sherlock’s medical state, tutting and frowning and looking constantly upset. So it’s really no wonder that three women on the show turned out to be the same one, and it’s one of Sherlock’s closest relations.

And yet … and yet. I’m a sucker for style, and while the narrative plotting of this episode was a complete mess (and Culverton Smith a total let down), “The Lying Detective” was still full of the visual and stylistic flourishes that make Sherlock so unique and such a fun watch. Most of this was thanks to Cumberbatch and his scenes: drug-fueled pronouncements, Mrs. Hudson spilling the tea to grab the gun from him, touring around London with what turns out to be his sister. Cumberbatch is magnetic as Sherlock, which is helpful since the show is so wrapped up in its lead character at this point that I would not be surprised in the end if every other character ends up just being a projection of Sherlock’s own psyche. They act like they are anyway.

Now on to the Case of the Week, which was extremely disappointing. Though Toby Jones hammed it up like a pro to seemingly establish one of the most vile criminals of our time, the series forgot to show and not tell when it came to the actual crimes (until, of course, they had to do with Sherlock himself). Introducing Culverton’s fame with brief clips of him appearing on TV was smart, and the show could have easily juxtaposed those moments with his misdeeds as well. Instead, it spent an inordinate amount of time on the memory-altering drug and the bait-and-switch of his daughter, Faith. We got very Moffat-y, rather interminable soliloquies from Culverton in the morgue and at Sherlock’s bedside (and bizarrely, in the childrens’ ward of the hospital), but it was a lot more fun to see that Sherlock had picked his pocket and Culverton dance away from his accusations.


Image via PBS

“The Lying Detective” was, like “The Six Thatchers,” a mix of success and failure, though now that we’re one week in to the new season I’m not as forgiving towards its faults. Sherlock has always been fully of snark, but lately it’s confused meanness for wit, which it spews most aggressively at Mycroft (Mark Gatiss seems to love punishing his characters). Yet on the other side, it forced John’s head-Mary to smile and nod knowingly when he admitted to cheating on her, instead of giving her any vim or vigor in the moment. John’s one small triumph in the episode was figuring out how Sherlock had predicted his whereabouts two weeks previously. At least he had that, and that’s how I’m starting to feel about the show — the small moments are carrying us through.

Rating: ★★ Fair

Musings and Miscellanea:

— As haphazardly as it was presented, I did like the nod to Mrs. Hudson’s unexpected finances.

— “I detest conversation in the past tense” – Mycroft.

— Now we know where the “get out of my house you reptile” moment came from (Mrs. Hudson to Mycroft), but it felt pretty forced.

— If this was Westworld, Sherlock would be Ford and Watson would be Dolores.

— Speaking of, I have a hard time believing that Mycroft has the capacity to engage in sexual relations with anyone. He seems so classically asexual and disinterested in passion. Pairing him with Lady Smallwood is … odd.

— Are the texts from Irene Adler a suggestion that she’s back for the finale? Or is Sherlock’s sister actually Irene, Mrs. Hudson, Molly …

— “Big Brother is watching.” “Literally.” Sherlock writing out messages to Mycroft in the streets was a great moment.

— Everything in this episode showed that Sherlock is not the sociopath that he claims to be, and that would make more sense if he hadn’t also shot a man in the face in cold blood. Why the writers did that I’ll never know.

— The idea of a rich and powerful serial killer is a great one for a crime series, but not as a single episode and not as background noise like it was in “The Lying Detective.” Huge waste of potential there.

— Sherlock quoting Henry V was fantastic, especially since Benedict Cumberbatch just played Richard III in The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses.

— “Oh get over yourself, you’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock” – Mrs. Hudson.

— The game is afoot! Mrs. Hudson making tea! These are the touchstones that I love on Sherlock.

— “Your life is not your own, keep your hands off of it” – Sherlock with a great sentiment that was lost in a cluttered episode.