It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for. ‘Sherlock‘ the series MAY be gone for good, but ‘The Final Problem’ certainly went ‘big’ with its story, homages and end-game…
What do you do when you realise that a sister you’d completely erased from your memory is the cause of all your recent problems? That’s the remit for the end of Sherlock‘s latest tv run and an exploration that asks whether blood is thicker than water.
Having tied the Time Lord continuity in knots for Doctor Who and had the major hand in ‘afooting games for Sherlock, it seems that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss want to try their hands at James Bond and Batman.
The Final Problem – the season and possibly series finale for Sherlock – might be devoid of actual cape and cowl but it reminds us that Gotham’s caped crusader was so supposed to be a master of deduction as well a square-jawed vigilante with a history of family tragedy. Add to that the kind of coastal annex that Blofeld would love to time-share in, a raft of explosions, devilish moral quandaries, private armies, age-spanning masterplans and grand estates and we have the kind of story that probably keeps Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan awake at nights.
With key scenes that echo the more personal moments of comic-book landmarks The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke we have a show built around a complex web of deceit, lies and counterbalance as ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ explore how they’ve affected each other and what the world might be like without one of them in it. They trade concepts and outlooks rather than fists and kicks. There was a point where the ‘big bad’ would have to have been Moriarty, but though actor Andrew Scott makes an appearance here, it’s newly-revealed sister Eurus (Sian Brooke) that holds those real keys. Blood is ever thicker than water.
The episode, which managed to rather effectively knit together a support-structure of cliches and screen homages (Shutter Island, The Cube, Spectre are others), promised an explosive final story and certainly delivered on such, lobbing both real and emotional grenades into the mix. In doing so, it amazingly proved itself to be simultaneously busy and lazy, exciting and dull, silly and serious, adult and childish, precise and scattershot, often in the same scenes – and that in itself is quite an achievement. Sherlock continues to be the show that confounds in so many ways – both good and bad – rarely has a show been quite so great at some things while floundering on others. Set-pieces and character-studies are penned and presented with flair, but the compelling deductive skills that the character and series has had missing in action for a long while now are white noise to snark.
While Benedict Cumberbatch and Freeman are so talented they know they could do this in their sleep, Sian Brooke is the best performer on screen – a quiet, child-like yet sadistic presentation of not ‘evil’ but dangerously disappointed indifference, a ‘villain’ both fascinated and frustrated by her inability to grasp emotional connections. The most chilling line refers to her as a child, one who burned down her own home and was believed to be self-harming… and was asked ‘Don’t you feel pain?‘ to which she’d responded: ‘Which one is that?‘ Brrrrrrrrrr. The character may be the unlikely, handwavery kind solely created for such high-concept thrillers, surrounded by toys and disposable extras, but she makes a good adversary. Co-writer Gatiss continues to paint his Mycroft as both sinister and comical, the kind of character to which he always seems to return and most enjoy – the despicable cad with a sense of pragmatism and irony, an official who may have sent hundreds to their death but doesn’t want to get blood on his hands for moral reasons. In some scenes he seems a perfect fit… in others, to have wandered in from a more fanciful pantomime. Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson and Louise Brealey as Molly are used sparingly but effectively, the latter in one of the stories most restrained but tightly-wound scenes.
Having set up a feature-film like plot, the episode annoyingly fizzles a little in its dying moments, a climax that feels more like the story noting the time and reailsing it has ten minutes to wrap everything up after having blown the budget, but otherwise it’s a fun enough romp with a coda designed to draw a line under the stories to date without negating the chance to return one day. Action fans will like the big-screen action moments as much as those who want Sherlock to actually solve a crime will despair at the lack of deduction, but as ‘finales’ go, it seems to be a statement of intent as the cast and crew exit stage-right muttering something about the critics just not getting it despite all their hard work.
Much has been made over whether this will be the last ever Sherlock – its cast now drawn by their success to other projects. If so – and not taking back any of the criticism about the show’s priorities of late – it is a suitable note upon which to bow out… beautiful performances and bizarre stories played out, as they always should be… on a violin.