I’ve been a fan of Sherlock right from its very first episode back in 2010. Repeatedly having given it the benefit of the doubt, in the hopes that the show would eventually redeem itself, it would seem that it has instead morphed into something quite different from what compelled me to watch it. I feel that it is now safe to say that the modern day re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes simply doesn’t work anymore. In fact, there are several reasons why it’s at its worst… and with Season 4 of Sherlock having come to a close, it isn’t ahead of the pack anymore.
10. Too many Mind Palaces
The entire Mind Palace gimmick is just just a bit too unrealistic, and just plain… bad. Stories have so much more potential than being resolved by a cop-out that’s basically telling you “Oh, he’s smart.”
Season 3 of the show took this to a whole new level, where the overarching villain for the season, Charles Augustus Magnussen, essentially reveals that he doesn’t have secret vaults with material for blackmail, and doesn’t wear augmented glasses. Its all in his own mind palace!
This is just plain lazy writing, as it dehumanizes what could have been a great villain for the series post-Moriarty, and introduces a character you just can’t win against, because at the end of the day, everything is in his brain. You have an unbeatable villain, just because he’s smart. That is, until, he gets shot in the head in front of several hundred police officers and Sherlock doesn’t even get reprimanded because Mycroft pulls some Parliamentary strings and doctors the evidence.
9. A Message to the Writers: Moriarty is Dead.
Andrew Scott’s Moriarty was the perfect foil to Sherlock Holmes, he was simply the perfect antagonist, constantly keeping the detective on his toes. His death in the S02E03, The Reichenbach Fall, was extremely convincing.
Sherlock’s apparent death in the same episode, however, was a much larger talking point, as the titular character was revealed to have survived having jumped off the roof of a hospital at the very end of the episode. We were all left wondering how he had survived, and the hype for season 3 was massive. Sadly, the producers not only managed to botch his return, but also went back on killing off Moriarty. He’s constantly appearing in the Mind Palace sequences, and the cliffhanger ending to Season 3 is simply : Is Moriarty still alive?
In Season 4, we were treated to a multitude of very poorly executed red herrings, all of which amounted to no proof of the return of the character. The series finale though, finally gave viewers a taste of Moriarty, in the main section of the episode, which ended up being essentially a Moriarty themed adaptation of SAW(2004).
However, even that was done as a cheap trick, just to incite confusion, and anger: for viewers to have the ‘ohhhh’ moment when it reads “five years ago”. If Steven Moffat’s point is to make us weep with joy at the sight of Moriarty, mission unequivocally not accomplished. I can’t be the only one tired of having the same villain popping up every time.
8. Never Living Up to its Own Hype
The finale of Season 2, as I mentioned, set up a genuinely fascinating puzzle that had fans busy creating theories about for over a year. The producers promised viewers a full explanation as to just how Sherlock survived a seemingly fatal fall off the side of a high-rise building, witnessed by Watson. But we never got that.
It’s true that nothing that they could come up with would ever live up to the hype. It would be akin to Valve suddenly releasing Half Life 3. No matter what it gave you, it simply wouldn’t be good enough.
But Moffat isn’t GabeN, and the number 3 doesn’t elude him. The opening of Season 3 sat uneasy with me, as it seemed painfully obvious that it was a move to second guess the Sherlock fandom and act as if the show is smarter than they are. In the end, we simply never got any explanation.
The Season 4 finale, with all its elaborate buildup, essentially boiled down to “I’m your brother, please stop”. Especially the development of Eurus’ character, which went from her being a completely cold-hearted manipulator and killer her entire life, to ending up being a sobbing wreck that’s simply plagued by loneliness was displeasing to watch. You introduce a woman who’s finally capable of vexing Sherlock (and not dead), and she ends up just wanting for affection. For an episode that was very heavy with its psychological tones, there was absolutely no unraveling of her state of mind. It was just a flipped switch.
7. Benadryl Cucumberpatch
The actor, who impressed the world with his distinctive, and highly convincing take on the popular character, as the cold, highly manipulative, yet still endearing “consulting detective”, is now simply an opportunity for the show to cater to the massive fan following he has.
A majority of Season 3 simply panders to the fandom, and features extremely self-indulgent fan service, and brings with it little plot progression. Instead, it focuses on showing Sherlock’s interpersonal relationships, something its never really done before, and it shows. After a very ham-fisted attempt at humor in the first episode of Season 3, it was especially blatant with the wedding, in the second episode, which featured a tiny little mystery crammed in somewhere near the end, just so that everybody could remember that this was a show about a detective.
6. No More Modern London; the city of Fog, Fashion and Opportunity.
The first two seasons were fantastic, and capitalized on the series’ modern setting. Sherlock’s use of technology, his extensive knowledge of the city’s transport systems, and the homeless network were refreshing additions to an age old classic.
As the show progressed however, we got to see less and less of a contemporary accompaniment. We find a few mentions of Dr Watson’s internet blog, with Sherlock constantly tweeting on his iPhone, occasionally playing Angry Birds. But the City of London has stopped being an iconic figure in the show, where previously it was the heart and blood, the detective’s lifeline.
5. Irene Adler is (Not) Coming Back
Another fan favourite character, they teased her return in Season 4 Episode 2. We don’t know if it’ll happen, but hey, anything is possible. If Moriarty keeps being fake reincarnated and Mary continues sending DVDs after her death, what’s to stop Irene Adler from turning up on Sherlock’s doorstep in the first 10 minutes of Season 5? It would be a bit predictable though, and Moffat and Gattis are anything but.
4. The Gift That Unfortunately Keeps on Giving: Mary Watson
She’s just a little bit too important in this story, for literally no real reason. The entire aspect of Season 3 is to build up her character. She ends up dying in the first episode of the next season to a woman we only ever see twice on screen. Again, the only mystery in that particular episode is shoehorned in with the boy who had the seizure in the car. Mary undertakes superhuman disguises and travel techniques, while seemingly abandoning her baby and the love of her life. The cost of travel itself is actually quite unimaginable to my debt-ridden college student brain. Tens of locations, dozens of means of transport and sightseeing destinations worth Instagramming, and yet they find her because she doesn’t check her flash drive for a tracker. Convenient.
And why is she sending DVDs for no reason?
Seriously though, what was the entire point of the whole Mary story line? Really her entire character is established at the end of Season 3, only to have her killed off in the very next episode. Perhaps it helped bring Sherlock and Watson together, but who would abandon their baby and love of their life to save a friend?
3. The 90 Minute Format Makes it Drag On
In traditional British format, we get 3 90 minute episodes per series. Almost movie length, I’d suppose. At some point you’re going to have to weave narratives that don’t actually drag on. The first 10 minutes of every episode in Sherlock is spent on something that’s seemingly irrelevant to the story. Most villains aren’t even introduced till 30 minutes in, and even after that there are arcs that are just abandoned midway, just like one of Watson’s many therapists.
2. That Bizzare Christmas Special
Sherlock Season 4 was preceded by a kinda bizzare Christmas Special, with a confounding plot and Superman flying sequence. It wasn’t awful, but it was vexing… and un-Sherlockesque. I do like the way they tied in Moriarty and other Season 4 stuff into the old storyline. In its entirety, though, the episode/movie was too self indulgent. What should have been a simple, if quirky mystery, turned into a labyrinthine journey of epic proportions into the drug addled mind of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character. Classic Moffat.
1. Being Clever For the Sake of Being Clever
At some point, the show just starts becoming rather implausible. S04E03, The Final Problem, suffers the same problem as before: all conclusions and no explanations. Eurus captures people’s minds and almost bewitches them, and this could be explored more, but instead the coolest parts are all just left to be. Technically she can manipulate anyone, but golden boy Sherlock was alone with her for quite a bit. Did she manipulate him? Doesn’t seem like. She met Moriarty. Did she manipulate him? No. Probably the other way around.
S04E02 has a drug that can wipe peoples’ memories. A truly miraculous invention if it exists in modern times. What were its uses? Who made it? What possible reason did it have to exist in the plot if it was never used again? Especially in an episode that’s plot revolves around the titular character having “lost” his memories of his sister.
Sometimes we get the feeling that the writers put all this stuff in simply because it sounds cool.
There are times where you just think, “God, the amount of time and money these people have must be insane”. Eurus spends an inordinate amount of time jerry-rigging the three brothers to dangle outside a window for dramatic effect, goes to the trouble of installing cameras in Molly’s house, but not rigging her apartment with explosives, because that would be too far. And lets not forget that this is after she already blew up Sherlock’s own apartment.
Mary’s DVD collection just appears out of thin air, getting FedEx’d in regular intervals, probably by some notary in the post office who was paid a couple of quid to do so. Maybe they should dedicate some time to that. On how Mary set up this whole system – the recording, the logistics and the necessity of it. That’s a mystery I’d like to see solved.
Bonus Season 4 Episode 3 Rant
Moriarty is back! Oh wait, no he isn’t.
You had a dog! Oh wait, no you didn’t.
Eurus is behind a glass wall! Oh wait, no she isn’t.
You have to kill someone, Sherlock! Oh wait, I guess you don’t!
You have to save the girl in the plane! Oh wait, there isn’t one.
Your sister is dangerous as hell! Oh no wait, she just wants a friend.
Where was the crime solving? Where was the mystery? The adventurous romps with two grown men with infinite resources, no real job, and enough time to indulge their whims and fancies? I miss when everything wasn’t a grand conspiracy.
I Like Sherlock, But it Needs to Find its Way
Season 4 Episode 3 of Sherlock answered all the questions I didn’t have, ignored all the questions I did have, and raised more questions that will probably never be answered. We lost the actual crime-solving element of the show that drew some of us to it in the first place. All we’re left with is a sitcom-like blur of meaningless words, and self-aware nods to the camera which serve no purpose other than gratification of the show’s massive fandom. Dammit Moffat, where are the mysteries at?!