So the BBC production of Sherlock roared on the scene in 2010, delighting me with its modern take on the great detective—surprisingly so, considering the Robert Downey, jr/Jude Law movie of 2009 should have made me feel tapped out on the character and concept… at least for awhile (tell Elementary how not interested in it I am, deservedly or not).
Cumberbatch has his own zany, manic take on the character, with enough indications of humanity brought out by Martin Freeman (and the rest of the cast) to make you want to spend time with him, to hope he might become something more than an often egomaniacal brainiac that turns to drugs to make his overpowered brain slow down for a time.
Which is why Series Four (Season Four, for us noobs across the pond), carried much hope for me. Other than a rather fun special in 2016, we’d all been waiting three years for things to pick up where they left off, with Moriarty maybe, possibly, not being dead as we all surmised.
More than that, in Series Three, Watson was challenging Sherlock’s destructive ways more than ever, backed up by an excellent addition to the cast, Watson’s fiancee (then wife), Mary Morstan. It was just the change the show, and Sherlock, needed. While there were still weird things going on in Series Three that worried me, Series Four was set up to take things in a good direction as a potential finale for the show.
Instead, it royally bollocksed it up.
Bollocks #1: Watson emotionally cheats on his wife, Mary. This might—might—have made sense in Series Three, when Watson first finds out about Mary’s secret past. But no, this is Series Four. The two have a child, and more, Watson forgave Mary all her secrets in Series Three, saying “the problems of your past are your business, the problems of your future are my privilege.” Sure, people can have moments of doubt even after saying something that romantic and loving (and Watson even said he was still angry after he said those words), but one of Watson’s main characteristics is loyalty. He sticks by Sherlock despite all his shenanigans and he shows the same loyalty and love to Mary. The show’s creators even seem to realize how much of a bollocks this is, as they couldn’t go so far as to have any physical cheating going on, just some texting after a woman on the bus takes a shine to Watson and gives him her number.
Infidelity does happen, sure, but it’s an all too common tactic used by lazy writers (particularly TV writers) to shake things up when needed: whether the shoe fits for a particular character or not… and it really does not fit for Watson.
Bollocks #2: Mary’s fate in episode one, “The Six Thatchers.” Good lord, talk about lame. An elite super spy/assassin, taken down by an office drudge—even if said drudge was smarter than she appeared. Extra cookie points for selflessly saving someone else, I guess, but it was a terrible send-off to a character that was a much needed addition to the show (more on this below). It’s made even worse when you consider all of “The Six Thatchers” is incidental to the main villain and plot of Series Four!
Bollocks #3: The main villain of Series 4, Eurus, is inadequately developed and doesn’t have enough screen time. She’s hanging about in little ways throughout Series 4, but she really only has screen time in the final episode. This would be okay if she was a villain of an episode, like Culverton Smith or Charles Magnussen, but she’s not. Compare with Moriarty, Sherlock’s other main nemesis: Moriarty was a factor and had plenty of screen time in Series 1 and 2, and the show plumbed the depths of the connection between the two more than adequately.
With Eurus, we have someone that was foundational to Sherlock and who he is—which the show took pains to note—and all we get is one episode to deal with her, which is mostly filled with nasty little puzzles, like a wannabe Saw. She’s also taken care of far too simply. She apparently has no remorse or conscience, but getting a hug from Sherlock is all that it takes to stop her extremely convoluted and drawn out methods of revenge? Not buying it. The show simply ran out of time to adequately deal with her and what she represented to both Sherlock and his older brother, Mycroft.
Bollocks #4: Sherlock’s emotions and treatment of others receives little recognition or closure. Series Three was aiming in a clear direction: Sherlock’s actions were self-destructive and pushing him away from those who were close to him. Even Molly Hooper—meek Molly Hooper who is hopelessly smitten with Sherlock—literally slaps him upside the head for wasting his gifts.
The show’s main writers, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, remembered this well. They even brought in Molly to up the emotional stakes in the final episode of Series Four, but other than a short, visceral reaction from Sherlock, his harmful treatment of Molly receives no follow through.
As noted above, Mary was a terrific foil for both Sherlock and Watson (and how their friendship was going), but her rather pointless death didn’t even do anything for the show and its two main characters other than to be a cheap upping of the emotional stakes for an otherwise red herring of an episode. At one point, Sherlock notes that Mary’s sacrifice conferred a value upon his life that he hadn’t yet been able to calculate, but just like Molly Hooper, Mary Watson is cast aside so the show can spend more time on crazy, brilliant Sherlock antics.
What always set this show aside wasn’t just its production values—fun and frenetic as they always were—it was its relationships. Despite some weird moments in the first three series, the show paid good attention to those relationships and how Sherlock was endangering them. The pieces were there for Series Four to deal with those effectively (you can see them on the drawing board: how Eurus affected both Sherlock and Mycroft, Mycroft maybe starting a relationship, of all things, etc.), but it simply didn’t focus on them. Instead, it focused on the surface—convoluted plots, Sherlockian hijinks, and vicious villains—mistaking its production values for the real heart of the show.
The final episode ends with an odd fan-service type of superhero shot, with Watson and Sherlock racing out the door to solve another crime. It might have worked, albeit schlockily, if the show had adequately dealt with its emotional center. Instead, it left me feeling hollow—so close, and yet so far from what it could have been.