Saturday 28 January 2017

REVIEW: Sherlock 4-3 - The Final Problem

Named for "The Final Problem," and incorporating elements of "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual" (both 1893).

Tonight on Doctor Who, our hero faces the ultimate challenge when he is caught in a trap by "The Two Masters!"

Sherlock reaches another season finale, and very possibly the final episode of the series altogether. Over the years the series has drifted from an action-detective programme to a contrived melodrama. This isn't a complaint - there's been a tremendous amount to enjoy during the last two series - but it's a far cry from how it started. There's precious little of the consulting detective left, and although logic puzzles abound, this is more about the interactions between increasingly bizarre characters. Characters that include an increasingly Doctorish Sherlock, and two arch villains who bear a significant resemblance to the last two iterations of the Master. Sian Brooke's entertainingly chilling portrayal of Eurus Holmes is very similar to Michelle Gomez's performance as Missy, while Andrew Scott's version of Moriarty has been basically just John Simm's Master with less restraint since the beginning.

There's a lot wrong with The Final Problem, which detracts little from how enjoyable it all is. The plot is contrived to the point of nonsense, but it pelts along from set piece to set piece, quickly enough that you don't notice how paper-thin it all is until after it's finished. Benjamin Caron's direction isn't as elaborate or as original as his predecessors', but it's stylish and works perfectly for a mostly enclosed, claustrophobic episode. There are some very impressive scenes; the opening sequence in particular stands out, both as being unsettling and dreadfully cliched. Which perhaps sums up this episode; cliches performed perfectly. (One wonders how Sherlock and John would have explained away the situation if Mycroft had stuck the killer clown with his swordstick.)

Having revealed Eurus as the hitherto-unknown third Holmes sibling, the mystery of Sherrinford is answered. It's the name of the island prison in which she is held captive (and not her codename, which I had suspected). It's this which paints Mycroft in the most terrifying light yet, even in an episode that humanises both him and Sherlock more than any other. Not only is he capable of locking away his sister in maximum security solitary confinement for almost her whole life, but he tells their parents she's dead. Well, she did say Sherlock was always the kind one. (The setting also lays Gatiss's influences open; the island prison screams The Sea Devils; another way that Eurus evokes the Master.)

Eurus is a disturbing character; Mycroft and Sherlock's worst aspects without any humanistic redeeming features. Her intellectual prowess, which apparently stretches to the power of precognition, far outstripping Sherlock's own astonishing development in this area, receives little exploration. The script is of the "tell, don't show," school in this regard. We hear of how Eurus can reprogram someone's mind just by talking to them, but other than the actions of Art Malik's prison governer, we don't see it demonstrated. She's spent weeks as both John's seducer and therapist, but has made seemingly no impact on his psyche at all.

Nonetheless, she's far more impressive in every respect than Moriarty. I approve of the villain being kept dead (although that was a splendid bit of misdirection), but having him just pop up on tape every now and again leaves only the character's irritating aspects, and none of his power. For a genius, Mycroft can be exceptionally stupid, allowing Eurus and Moriarty their brief tete-a-tete, although perhaps he was hoping his sister would reprogramme the man to be less of a threat. Other elements work extremely well, but stand up poorly to scrutiny. Why would Eurus try to blow up Sherlock, John and Mycroft, if she wants them to come to Sherrinford and play her games?

All I can think of is that she knew them all well enough that they would survive the attack, but needed it so that they would believe the similar threat to Molly.  Poor Molly. Perhaps the episode's standout scene and a wonderful performance from Louise Brierly. It's simplicity makes it more believable than, say, the truth about Redbeard or Sherlock's remarkable memory fugue. The strength of the episode is in the performance of the central trio. It's Cumberbatch, Freeman and Gatiss who sell all this nonsense and make us believe in it. All three are now so attuned to their roles that they can find new aspects to their characters, although it's Martin Freeman's powerful last turn as John Watson that stands out.

So, will this be the end of Sherlock? Somehow I doubt it, although it may well be some time before it's possible to get Freeman and Cumberbatch together again for long enough to film anything. I imagine there will occasional one-off specials for years to come. For now, though, The Final Problem, for all its flaws, makes for a triumphant send-off for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Stray thoughts:

The use of the little girl on the plane is the most contrived element of all, yet actually very effective. Cinematic pseudo-psychology at its finest.

It's great to see Cumberbatch/Sherlock's parents back again, although they seem to forgive Mycroft's decades of lying rather quickly.

This is the first season of Sherlock to end without an actual cliffhanger as such, although the dynamic duo are mid-adventure. Given how poorly the cliffhanger between The Lying Detective and this episode is resolved, this is perhaps reassuring.

Rathbone Place: lovely touch.

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