In last week’s episode ‘The Lying Detective’ came the revelation that the Holmes boys have a sister, a shocking bombshell that had eluded us all. Mainly because Mycroft had purposefully kept her existence a secret from Sherlock (and us the viewers). In this week’s episode, those long buried secrets come to the surface, and Sherlock and John have their greatest challenge to date, facing off against the smartest Holmes sibling of all. Spoilers henceforth of course.
After Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) decide to play a prank on Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss), all is finally revealed regarding Eurus Holmes (Sian Brooke). The youngest Holmes sibling that Uncle Rudy (not sure if this is an actual Uncle or a possible code name) had incarcerated at an Alcatraz-like institution dubbed ‘Sherrinford’ due to her dangerous psychopathic tendencies that apparently manifested at an early age. However when Sherlock, John and Mycroft go to Sherrinford to visit her to determine how she escaped, the tables are turned when the three of them are trapped by Eurus. Forced to play an Escape Room like set of tasks, Sherlock, John and Mycroft are put to the ultimate emotional and mental test. Only if they manage to succeed in outsmarting Eurus can they hope to win this game, and the solve the final problem.
Once again the writing and co-creator team of Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss with director Benjamin Caron (Wallander, The Crown) manage to confound and confuse us with this, ‘The Final Problem’ and what quite possibly could be the last ever episode of the BBC Sherlock series. The pacing is fast to begin with, in the first 10 minutes of the episode we leap from Mycroft’s house, to 221B Baker Street to arriving at Sherrinford. But once we land in the grips of Eurus and her game, things slow right down again. The episode keeps the tension nail bitingly high as our trio move from room to room solving the twisted individual tasks as well as somehow trying to assist a scared little girl via phone in an airplane that is about to crash. And yet, none of it seems to have any point or make any sense, least of all Eurus’ long-winded monologues regarding emotional context. The only thing that seems apparent is that she enjoys torturing Sherlock most of all, despite the fact it was Mycroft who had kept her locked away. Even more startling than Sherlock’s ability to “delete” his sister from his memory banks entirely comes the revelation that Redbeard isn’t Sherlock’s beloved pet dog, but his best friend Victor. That Eurus appears to have killed in a fit of jealous tantrum fuelled rage because Sherlock wouldn’t play with her when they were children.
There’s no real logic being played out here at all, but what we do get is emotional manipulation and having our feelings put through the wringer. When both John and Mycroft refuse to kill the Governor of the facility to spare the life of his wife, only to have Eurus shoot her anyway. She replies ever so chillingly “What did your moral code grant you? This is an experiment, there will be rigour”. But when it comes to having to ask Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) to tell Sherlock “I love you” is when we get a heartbreaker moment. In order to coerce her to say it, Molly makes Sherlock say it first, and mean it. Even though Sherlock succeeds that round in his own mind, the emotional damage and fallout upon Molly, is the point Eurus is trying to prove. There’s a lot crammed into this episode, both psychologically and literally and by the time we reach the closing stages it does feel a little taxing.
There are some unexplained mysterious plotholes in this episode as well, like how it is that Sherlock’s parents never bothered to remind him or even discuss the fact his childhood best friend went missing. Or whether the fact that Eurus’ 5 minute conversation with Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) 5 years earlier was part of a collaborative scheme the two of them dreamt up together? And whether Moriarty had any part in the schemes or just provided the weird pre-recorded messages to drop into her game? Nor how it was possible for Eurus to put the entire Sherrinford prison team under her spell by simply talking to them?
However the biggest disappointment comes in the last 5 minutes, where we get a cheesy Hollywood like cliché montage of life continuing on, whilst the dearly departed Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) in voice over via a PS video she left behind narrates. This all-too-neat ending feels like a quick easy cop out and wanky fan-servicing, and doesn’t allow us any real closure on any of the character’s emotional developments. Seemingly glossing over the fallout of family dysfunction the entire Holmes clan would have with the “resurrection” of Eurus. As well as ignoring John’s rage and backlash of the death of his wife and raising Rosie as a widowed father. And let’s not forget Molly Hooper’s unrequited love either. For an episode that goes on about emotional context, it almost completely forgets that in its own script.
For all the negatives though, this is an episode about family and in particular the dysfuction of the Holmes’ family. In this one singular episode we are given the most insight into Mycroft we have ever seen before. From the fact that he loves vintage Hollywood films, that he hates clowns and has a hidden sword in his umbrella and once played Lady Bracknall in a stage rendition of The Importance Of Being Earnest. Despite him being portrayed as incompetent in this episode a case can be made that everything he had ever done throughout his life was for the protection of his little brother and an attempt to spare his family from more heartache, and it’s Mycroft that provides us as the link between Sherlock’s past and present.
The episode also highlights just how far Sherlock has come as a person. In the first episode of Season 1 we were introduced to a cold calculating man detached from almost everyone and seemingly devoid of emotion. In Season 4 we meet a man that considers his best friend as “family” and relies on his brother to get him out of hairy situations even if he doesn’t like to admit it. And here we see that Sherlock has bottled up considerable emotional trauma, the disappearance of his best friend, for years despite having a deeply emotional psyche. When faced with an order to kill either his friend or his brother, the only option he sees is to threaten to kill himself.
For a show that almost consistently had strong writing this episode had its moments of tension but little to no humour to break it up. Which is all well and good but to then leave it with a Hollywood cliché neat ending feels like an anti-climax and cop out. Not just for this season but for the show as a whole. The last skimmed over reports I read was that this was possibly going to be the last season. With both its leads becoming Hollywood A-listers and in high demand it’s hard to fit 3 movie length episodes into their schedules. At the very least Team Mofftiss wrapped up the show and concluded all the major plots and stories and wrapped things up with a tidy little bow. But all in all it felt like they were starting to run out of steam so it’s probably a good thing the show is wrapping things up. I’d like to hope that the possibility remains that they may do the occasional one-off episode similar to “The Abominable Bride” but I guess that remains to be seen. “The Final Problem” wraps up a rather shaky 4th Season for BBC Sherlock, but on balance the show itself overall has been more brilliant than it has been mediocre.
Episode Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
BBC Sherlock is available to stream exclusively on Stan Australia.