Warning: This post contains spoilers for series four, episode three of Sherlock. Please do not read this post until you have watched ‘The Final Problem’.
As mentioned in my review of The Lying Detective, the mid-series episode always tends to kill time with a plot that builds up the excitement for the series finale. The first episode in the trilogy tends to solve the previous cliffhanger before introducing us to a new villain, whilst the finale tends to see Sherlock defeat another criminal. Yet, with The Final Problem, the episode not only continues this arc, but provides a sense of closure and conclusion which could mean that it’s the last series of the quality British drama.
At the heart of tonight’s episode was the emotions the detective had concealed and suppressed whilst he was carrying out his work. Euros was the perfect final villain for Sherlock to confront, because she played with Holmes’ ’emotional context’ – his weakness, as it were.
The case with Culverton Smith showed us that the smugness of a villain can really aggravate the sleuth, to the point where he lashes out.in anger. In this episode, the frustration came with the scene with Molly, as Sherlock destroys the coffin. It’s almost as though feelings are something which he cannot handle, and so, as he is locked in a room with Mycroft and John, he is forced to let emotions get in the way of a case. It’s the one thing he cannot comprehend – take the case with Irene Adler – and as a result, he gets angry at his own confusion.
Yet, there’s a sense that Sherlock has finally come to terms with this in the end. The death of Mary was the wake-up call to him and he is now focussed on relationships and friendships with other characters. John and Sherlock’s companionship is stronger than ever despite the blow in episode one, Holmes finally seems to be getting Greg’s name right and the sub-plot with Molly had a surprising resolution too.
Aside from the development of the show’s protagonist, Mycroft finally had his chance to shine. The mind palace scene describing Euros was sheer cinematic brilliance – delivered with confidence and not cockiness, unlike the first episode. Then, with the dilemma of whether Sherlock would kill his friend or his brother, came the last drop of character progression. Throughout the episode, it was clear that everyone disliked Mycroft (this allowed for some hilarious comedy, by the way) and all this attention on the character made this scene rather poignant. The Walking Dead taught us that when someone’s life was getting a little too cosy, things would go wrong. In the Sherlock universe, the death of Mary told us that this would be the series where normality was no longer a thing, and that the ‘one big happy family’ image which ran throughout the last three series would not be happening. With all this in mind, it did seem, for one second, that it would be the end of Mycroft.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but it was another moment which aimed to give us an insight into Sherlock’s moral compass and compassion (the fact he then turned the gun on himself showed this). Other intense moments included the ‘justice’ scene, where Holmes had to condemn one of the three brothers suspected of a crime, and the scene with the governor. In a way, it did feel a little old – the usual ‘value of a life’ ethical dilemma is something which has been done countless times before. That being said, it was clear what Moffat and Gatiss were hoping to achieve with these scenes, and it was somewhat successful.
Some other things to mention were Mrs Hudson continuing to be rather rebellious in nature (as if her flash car wasn’t enough, hoovering to Iron Maiden took things to another level) and the return of fan favourite, Jim Moriarty – albeit in flashback form.
Now, the main plot point: Euros. Much like how the A.G.R.A plot point from episode one was hard to understand, the backstory surrounding the Holmes sister is another one of those stories which will probably take a second or third viewing to fully comprehend. The mystery surrounding Redbeard was finally solved – a sense of closure which was satisfying to see. Although, aside from that, there’s a sense of confusion which comes from a lengthy backstory being crammed into part of a one hour and a half long episode. Whilst Sian Brooke did an incredible job of playing such an evil character (the point about Euros being able to ‘enslave’ people and how she convinced one man to kill himself and his family was brilliantly dark and sinister), the conclusion that it was just another case of sibling rivalry and another nonsensical metaphor – something about planes, apparently – was a little disappointing, no matter how much closure the character brought to the plot.
It’s this sense of disappointment which continues as the final montage plays. We see Sherlock and John continuing to solve crimes together as Amanda Abbington’s Mary narrates the last bit of her farewell message. It’s not clear whether this feeling of ‘numbness’ was because of the closure the series provided was unexpected, because there was no indication of another series or because it looked as though another great BBC drama had called it a day. Either way, no clear came out on top as the credits rolled.
There has been talk about a series five being plotted and some more episodes in the future. However, with no end-of-series cliffhanger this time round and hints from the show’s writers and Cumberbatch that it may be the final series, it looks likely that this is the last time we’ll see the Baker Street boys in action – and what a goodbye it was.