What follows is a rambling post about “The Final Problem” and Sherlock overall that I made on Facebook. I don’t guarantee that it will make any sense. It’s a bit random.
A coworker said to me this morning, “You either loved it or you hated it.” I didn’t hate it, but I’m not a fan of psychological horror, so I couldn’t really love it. I got what (I think) it was going for last night, but it wasn’t a journey I really wanted to go on.
The interview with Mark Gatiss in Radio Times was instructive, and it really confirmed the feeling I had coming out of “The Final Problem” — emotionally it felt like the ending of Batman Begins, and Sherlock is now out of his “Sherlock Holmes Begins” phase. I mentioned this feeling to my coworker, to which he replied: “‘He’s not the Sherlock Holmes we want, but he’s the Sherlock Holmes we need,'” which rewrites the line from the next Batman film, but it applied here. But it also feels like a giant retcon of the four seasons of Sherlock to suggest that he hasn’t been “himself” for six years and hundreds of cases (a few recorded, most not) and only now he’s the Sherlock Holmes he was always meant to be.
The fourth series, at least to me, seemed like Moffat and Gatiss said, “Anything you can do Elementary, we can do better.” Elementary has a Sherlock post-rehab, and when he chased the dragon at the end of season three, we didn’t see him high, only the aftermath. The fourth series of Sherlock has practically reveled in a Sherlock off his face, by contrast. Elementary had Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — defeated by love and imprisoned in an impregnable fortress, and when she escapes she’s again defeated by love. Sherlock has Sherlock’s greatest nemesis — a woman! — imprisoned in an impregnable fortress and defeated by love. I enjoy Elementary, and those two things — a female arch-nemesis for Sherlock and a foregrounded drug addiction — are things that I associate with Elementary, so seeing them so prominently in Sherlock these last three episodes felt a bit odd. (The only thing that would have made them odder would have been if Eurus occupied her time in Sherrinford by painting.) I’m not sure Sherlock used these elements better than Elementary, just differently.
As absurd as Eurus’ years-in-the-making plan was, “The Lying Detective” laid the groundwork for it. Eurus was able to predict what Sherlock and John and even Moriarty would do years in the future with absolute accuracy so it would all come to a head now, as absolutely insane as that is. But Sherlock did the same thing with John in “The Lying Detective,” setting up a situation in which John would have to rescue him a month in the future under very exact circumstances. The Holmes siblings clearly would put the Second Foundation to shame to be that accurate. But their powers of observation and deduction also come across as outright omniscience — Super Saiyan God Mode Sherlock or what have you.
Speaking of the Holmes siblings, I was struck by how well they map to the Wiggins siblings from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series — Mycroft/Peter, Eurus/Valentine, Sherlock/Ender. Two families, each of three siblings, each of them super-geniuses, each of them (in descending age) boy-girl-boy. The oldest one is a master manipulator who goes into government, the middle one has a bond with her younger brother despite being separated by years and unable to communicate, the youngest one is gaslighted by those around him into not fully understanding the circumstances of the existence that molds him into being a driven individual with strong ethical imperatives. “Wait,” you say, “Mycroft isn’t a sadist like Peter, and Eurus lacks the empathy that Valentine has.” First, we don’t know that Mycroft isn’t a sadist (or wasn’t in his past), and Gatiss’ Mycroft has always struck me as something of an unpleasant, monstrous figure. And second, Valentine was as just interested in power as Peter (she was his partner in the Demosthenes project) and her empathy was directed at her younger brother, just as Eurus’ emotional energy, stunted though it was, was directed entirely at her younger brother, Sherlock. I freely admit I’m cherry-picking details from the Ender books and Sherlock (both in general and “The Final Problem” specifically), but the more I think about it the more I wonder if Moffat and Gatiss were influenced at all by Card’s work. Intuitively, this all feels right to me.
I assume “The Final Problem” was the overall series finale. If we don’t see this version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for five years, ten years, or even ever again, I’m fine with that. I loved the idea of Sherlock, sometimes I even loved the execution (particularly in series 1 and 2), but it wasn’t quite the series I thought it could have been. In some ways, I blame the format; three 90-minute episodes per series forced some creative choices that were to Sherlock‘s detriment by making every episode a movie-scale epic that served a larger metaplot. In other ways, especially series 3, Sherlock‘s storytelling felt like it was geared toward fan service moments in search of a coherent narrative; the attitude of Moffat and Gatiss toward cliffhangers, or even following up on the implications and repercussions of events in their stories, I found frustrating and tiresome. In short, it could have been a more focused and disciplined program.