Sherlock’s fourth season was a whirlwind of twists, turns and excitement. While this season was extremely entertaining and watchable, many of the emotional stakes felt forced and it lacked Sherlock’s addictive spirit that made previous seasons so great.
SPOILER ALERT THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS. Throughout this season Sherlock takes a more personal look at the characters as their pasts catch up with them and they are forced to finally face their demons. Mary’s mysterious former life comes to light as an old teammate surfaces to kill her after thinking that she betrayed their team, and while she escapes his threat, she ultimately dies saving Sherlock after he’s provoked the woman who betrayed Mary with his cockiness. Episode two shows that Mary’s death results in the spiral of both Sherlock and John with John blaming Sherlock for her death. Sherlock “goes to Hell” through drugs and reckless behavior at the request of a video Mary sent him before her death in order to save John by letting John save him, which brings us to the twist, as if there weren’t enough prior to this. Sherlock and Mycroft have a younger sister who Mycroft has kept locked in a secure facility and Sherlock has rewritten out of his memories to better cope with the trauma she caused. “The Final Problem” shows how she’s “reprogrammed” the prison workers so that she now runs the prison, allowing her to trap Sherlock, John and Mycroft and torture them with clips of herself she had Moriarty record.
The actors’ performances were fantastic as ever, but the writers failed to provide satisfying solutions, making their twists less well-conceived and more reminiscent of Scandal. Ironically, the writers suffered from the same fault as Sherlock. There was too large a focus on proving their cleverness through complex, interwoven, emotionally-charged cases. As entertaining as it was to follow as Sherlock manically flip through deductions and traps, these storylines fell short in their lack of resolutions. A good twist, once you know it, can be retraced through the previous episodes. Yes, the lead up to someone causing havoc in Sherlock and John’s lives was there as Sherlock’s sister showed up in the two previous episodes as different people. The whole idea that Sherlock has a sister he doesn’t know about, however, has far fewer logical connections. The writers explain Sherlock’s lapse of memory as Sherlock “rewriting” a happier version of his childhood that did not include his sister and turned his best friend into a dog. Sherlock’s reconstruction of his memories is supposed to be a coping system to deal with his sister killing his best friend at a young age, but with the supposed power of Sherlock’s memory and brain, this explanation feels like a lazy way to introduce this plot point. Like this twist, most of the drama of this season felt forced and implausible, and existed only for the purpose of making Sherlock, John and Mycroft face their emotions.
By intertwining each case so deeply with Sherlock’s personal life and forcing emotional development, Sherlock’s fourth season fell short in capturing the spirit of the first two seasons which made it so engaging and unique. The show became much heavier, and not in a good way. A key aspect of the first two seasons was Sherlock’s motivation for solving the cases. Even when the stakes were high and lives were at risk, Sherlock took the cases primarily because he was an addict.
The lack of choice Sherlock had in taking the case again exemplified the forced drama under which Sherlock had to work and grow. “The Lying Detective” presented the most interesting and true-to-form case as well as provided the case most removed from the personal dealings of Sherlock and his friends. Even though Sherlock took the case at Mary’s request in order to “save John Watson,” this case showed Sherlock in his truest form of the season. Sherlock is at his best not when he’s trying to figure out who committed the crime, but rather how they did it. In the case of Culverton Smith, Sherlock knows who the culprit is from the beginning, allowing him to spend the episode figuring out how and why. He nearly dies to hear why Culverton Smith committed his crimes, only to be saved by John, mirroring the conclusion of “A Study in Pink”.
Even though this season hasn’t been announced as the show’s final — and the creators and cast insist that if logistically possible, the show will go on — the season had a very distinctive sense of finality to it. It wrapped up loose ends with Lestrade declaring that Sherlock was a good man, a thread left from the first episode of the series, and didn’t leave us with a single cliff hanger (except the emotional fallout of Sherlock and Molly’s exchange which unfortunately was likely never intended as more than a dramatic prop). Even if the show continues, this season marked the end of a chapter in the show. This sense of ending may be for the best and hopefully is the reset the show needs to get back on track, should it continue.
Brynn Richter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.