Review: Sherlock, the final problem

The Final Problem

I wasn’t planning to write more about Sherlock season 4, but the season finale was so mindbogglingly terrible, I have to take to the pen again.

I’m not even going to try to keep this spoiler free. The show contains so many tiny twists and call-backs to previous episodes that I can’t do it justice without spoiling things.

So, read on at your own peril. I will spoil the final Sherlock episode ‘the Final Problem’.

The final problem

In the second episode of the season, we found out that Sherlock has a sister we knew nothing about called Eurus *gasp*. I was completely flummoxed that Sherlock had not recognized her, but as it turns out in ‘the final problem’, he has blocked his sister from his memory completely.

Eurus killed Sherlock’s dog when he was a child and burned down their parental house. She was committed afterwards, and Sherlock blocked it all out. Later, Mycroft Holmes faked his sister’s death and locked her up in a secret black-site prison, keeping it secret from everyone, including their parents.

Sherlock, Mycroft, and John travel to the island to see their sister. Things escalate quickly, as Eurus has brainwashed the guards and takes control of the prison. Eurus send Sherlock through a deadly puzzle-maze filled with death and horror. Oh, right, and it turns out that she and Moriarty were friends. The puzzles are deadly, until Sherlock tries to shoot himself instead of Mycroft/John. Then Eurus takes John and Sherlock to Sherlock’s old home, where there is another twist: she did not kill Sherlock’s dog, but his childhood friend. Now she wants to re-enact this with John.

Sherlock uses his powers of deduction to solve his sister’s riddle. It leads back to her, because it turns out that all she wanted was a friend. Everybody is saved and they live happily ever after. More or less.

A list of smaller issues

First off, a list of the tiny annoyances I experienced. They’re not in any order, but I really need to get these off my chest.

Why does Eurus try to blow up Sherlock, John, and Mycroft with a grenade? She goes ballistic later, when Sherlock tries to kill himself, so why take the risk of killing him here?

Why doesn’t anybody point out that faking your sister’s death and keeping her locked up in a prison like Mycroft did is a serious crime. Mycroft should be doing years of jail time for that kind of crap.

Mind control doesn’t exist. At least not the mind control in this episode, which works by five minutes of talking with the target aware they are being controlled and still unable to resist.

If Mycroft, Sherlock, and John feared that the island prison had been compromised, why didn’t they march in with a small army? They could have prevented a lot of grief.

If Eurus is so insane, how can she have pretended to be John’s psychiatrist?

Why didn’t Eurus brainwash John? He was alone with her for hours when she pretended to be his therapist.

Why does Sherlock only refer to his childhood friend as ‘Redbeard’? How many childhood friends do you remember by their nicknames from that one time you played pirates?

Why is there a graveyard with strange dates in front of Sherlock’s family home?

Why on God’s green earth would Sherlock’s parents never discuss Eurus? Sherlock forgets all about her, but the rest of the family play at some kind of silent treatment.

How does a young girl overpower a young boy in secret without anybody knowing a thing? If there is a well nearby, wouldn’t that be a good place to check?

What happened to Redbeard’s parents? Wouldn’t they have spent their lives searching for their son? Wouldn’t they go to Sherlock at some point? Don’t they deserve closure?

Why did Mary make another video for John and Sherlock? Was she completely off her rocker? And if she was so obsessed with her own death, and so capable of predicting the future, why didn’t she make one for – I don’t know – her daughter?

The big issues

The story could have survived most of the above issues. However, this episode is broken at a more fundamental level.

At the end of season 3, Moriarty took to the stage. Had he somehow survived or was he going to strike back from the grave? Well, now we have the answer: he made some videos for Sherlock’s sister. I think Steven Moffat wrote himself into a corner with this one. He built up suspense for episode after episode, but he couldn’t deliver. Instead he tacked Moriarty onto the plot. Events would have turned out exactly the same way without him. The appearance of Moriarty on the scene turns out to be a flashback… a few minutes in. It’s a deliberate scam to try to deliver something that wasn’t there. Quite the anticlimax.

The next problem is motivation. Sherlock’s sister put together this insane plot to mess with Sherlock, confirming once more that the world revolves around him and nobody else. But if you step back, you start to wonder: why not Mycroft? Older brother locked her up for most of her life. He faked her death so her parents would not come to visit her any more. I’d be pissed at him, not at Sherlock.

Of course, the whole mess was actually a call for help. All that Eurus really wanted was a friend. But that doesn’t wash. She’s clever enough to escape from the island and pretend to be John’s psychiatrist, his love interest, and to walk around with Sherlock for a night as another woman. If she’s clever enough for that, she could have just ingratiated herself into Sherlock’s life. It would make a lot more sense for her to do that, instead of that way-too-elaborate-over-the-top-psycho-puzzle-tour. Also, if you’ve been in prison for a large part of your life, why go back to that same prison voluntarily to screw over your brother who has done nothing to you?

This leads to the third problem. The whole puzzle-of-doom thing is a terrible cliché, and for me it took the fun out of the entire episode. You see, puzzles in a detective story have to follow one basic rule: the viewer has to feel that they could have solved the puzzles themselves. That’s not possible for any of them. A mad-woman thought up the challenges with no clear motivation and accompanied by a set of Moriarty-fan-service tapes. There was no foreshadowing or build-up. The writer pulled the scenes right out of thin air. They threw in some Molly, of course, and a choice between John and Mycroft, just for fan-service. But it didn’t feel real. And it wasn’t a puzzle, just forced conflict.

Finally, there’s the girl on the plane. Sherlock is master of deduction, but he does not recognize that the girl has the same voice as his sister. Worse, he just assumes it’s real. We viewers actually see scenes with the non-existent girl, in an airplane, which feels like a cheap cop-out when the twist comes. It’s another non-problem pulled out of thin air.
It also complicates the character of Eurus further. Eurus is capable of mind-control, but is also an off-the-rails-psychopath with a split personality. I don’t think it’s possible to be all three things at once.

Conclusion

What it boils down to is a hodge-podge episode filled with smoke and mirrors, pandering to dedicated fan’s wishes at the cost of story, and a lot of non-plots. The characters are all very one-dimensional, and are – again- all obsessed with Sherlock. They don’t solve mysterious crimes through clever deduction, just nonsensical puzzles through special effects and hand-waving.

No young girl is in danger, Moriarty is not back from the dead, nothing changes between Molly and Sherlock, and Eurus is still illegally locked up. Nothing really changes in this episode.

All in all, a very dreary end to one of my favorite shows. Now, fingers crossed that it is the end.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands