The much anticipated season four of Sherlock draws to a close with “The Final Problem.” There’s no definite announcement yet of whether the show will return for another season or it’s finally goodbye. The episode ends in a manner in which if it’s indeed the series’ finale, it attempted to provide a sense of “wrap up.” Personally, I wish it’s still not the last season. Not only because I tremendously love this show since it came to be in 2010, and I want more of it, but because “The Final Problem” is, in my opinion, the least of Sherlock’s episodes. If it had been a gratifyingly terrific episode, I might have not minded (much) if it’s indeed the end. But I’m truly not satisfied with “The Final Problem” serving as its very last episode.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t intend to imply that “The Final Problem” is a terrible episode. It’s not. By itself, it’s a solid, immersive watch. But with the quality of the other episodes prior it and of the show as a whole as benchmarks, “The Final Problem” doesn’t quite reflect the excellence that Sherlock is known for, in my humble opinion.
I’ve been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was a gradeschooler, after reading the two volumes of Sherlock Holmes stories that my parents bought from the legendary floating bookstore MV Doulos (I’ve long completed and read – several times over – all Sherlock Holmes volumes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as a couple of non-canon ones). So when I first learned back in 2010 that a TV show was made that reimagined the character and the mythos in a modern setting, I promptly sought it (thanks Internet!) and immediately fell in love with the show (actually, the first episode I got to watch was the unaired pilot, which somebody had uploaded to Youtube; thus, when I first rewatched the series I was surprised when “A Study in Pink” didn’t go as I remembered). From then on, Sherlock has been one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on the iconic detective has become one of my most favorite TV characters, and I’ve been a fan of Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who are one of my three favorite depictions of the duo of Holmes and Dr. Watson on screen).
Sherlock is objectively one of the most brilliant shows ever created. It’s consistently well-written, and its storytelling is reliably gripping and creative. Its allusions to both canon and non-canon Sherlock Holmes elements – whether they’re delivered in a subtle or evident manner – are always clever and amusing. But, among all of the praiseworthy things about this show, the two things that really make this stand out from other Sherlock Holmes depictions and reinventions are: 1.) Cumberbatch and Freeman’s very winning characterizations and chemistry as Holmes and Watson; and 2.) its amazing visuals in portraying Sherlock’s thought processes. Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes has the “fight simulation” thing going for him, and it’s awesome, but it has nothing on Cumberbatch’s “mind palace.”
So knowing how great Sherlock is and what it could do, I’m not truly satisfied with “The Final Problem.” I had problems with it (SPOILERS from here onwards.) Here are the major ones (aside from these, there were other things that seemed to be plot hole-y. But I was able to think of somewhat plausible explanations for them):
- The “fake glass cell” trick was an exciting twist. But, really, the over-observant Sherlock fell for that? Even with the throat mic, surely, he should have noticed her voice “passing” through the glass.
- I could buy into the unbelievably, ultra-competent, super-geniusy stuff that characters like Sherlock, Mycroft, and Moriarty can do. But the extent of Eurus’ ability to manipulate people – that she was even able to take complete control of the entire maximum security prison that she’s in – brought cracks to my suspension of disbelief. It was simply a superpower.
- To pull off everything Eurus was able to do in this episode require mindboggling logistics, funds, and conspirators. These things never had a concrete presence in the episode. It doesn’t make sense. Unless she has superpowers.
- Euros could impeccably change her voice into a little girl’s? Superpowers?!! (Also, it wasn’t made clear if Eurus has a split personality condition or something. She obviously has, but a definite mentioning of it would have been better.)
- I think one of the many things that make Sherlock Holmes a very interesting character is his mysterious past. I personally don’t want any detailed backstory provided for him. I would have preferred if any references to his past remain subtle.
- There was a lack of tense interaction between Watson and Eurus. I expected Watson to show more emotion – guilt, bitterness, resentment – when encountering Eurus again after she led him to cheat on Mary.
- I would have loved to have an idea even a glimpse, of the scale of how Eurus has helped Mycroft and the British government, that it warrants being constantly rewarded with gifts – even something like “five minutes of unsupervised time” with Moriarty.
- It definitely would have been better if the episode showed how those five minutes between Eurus and Moriarty went. Because I don’t think that was enough time for Euros to convince Moriarty to collaborate with her, then record all those video clips.
- My biggest gripe: the entire episode is pretty dire. It has no humor. I understand that Sherlock is not a comedy show, but one of the things that made the show great is its impeccable, thoughtful comedy. I know it’s not something unusual for the show to get dark and depressing. But, if I can remember it correctly, every episode has moments of humor. And I can’t remember any humorous, light-hearted moment in “The Final Problem” (the epilogue sequence doesn’t count). The closest thing was Moriarty’s “I Want to Break Free” scene.
- This is a mini-nitpick: the significant time skips. Made me believe there was a plot twist somewhere in the episode – like a revelation that Sherlock has set up a plan to be one-step ahead of Eurus all along during the time between “The Lying Detective” and “The Final Problem”, or between the explosion in 221B Baker Street and the Holmeses and Watson’s infiltration of Sherrinford.
Again, “The Final Problem” isn’t necessarily a bad episode. It does have many great things going for it. And the thing I like best about the episode is how Mycroft Holmes shined in it. I love that he, in his own way, genuinely showed care for Sherlock and his family. The thing with continuously testing Sherlock, who erased the traumatic childhood memories in his mind, with trigger words is a nice reveal, and how he tried to provoke Sherlock into shooting him instead of John is just beautiful. Also, Eurus is actually a fascinating character, and has some fantastic, chilling lines (“I loved it when you [Sherlock] laughed. Once, I made you laugh all night, I thought you were going to burst. I was so happy. Then Mummy and Daddy had to stop me, of course… Well, turns out I'd got it wrong. Apparently, you were screaming”).
But, overall, I was disappointed. I don’t know. Maybe I expected too much from it. I just think that Sherlock could – should – have done better, especially if “The Final Problem” will indeed be its last episode. I admit, though, that if a season five had been a certainty, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered by the flaws of this episode, and just be happy by how entertaining and exhilarating it had been.
Or maybe I’m just annoyed because Irene Adler didn’t return in the finale.