I didn’t like the first episode of the new season of Sherlock, but I sincerely hoped having the risible nonsense of the Mary Watson/AGRA storyline tied up would free things up a bit. I think the Culverton Smith case might have delivered, but they went all in on the “I’m so beset by grief I’m hallucinating my dead spouse” gambit. Really? In what we keep being told is “clever” television? Grief is about absence, about a space that can’t be filled, about feeling trapped and asphyxiated by it. But we were never actually shown Mary and John’s relationship, so all the emotional heavy lifting is being done retroactively, and it’s heavy-handed, saccharine, out-of-character claptrap. John being with Rosie, struggling to parent alone would have had me in floods, but Moftiss always chooses exposition when there isn’t a gun being pulled or a joke being cracked. There is something about genuine, non-sensational emotion that seems to make them uncomfortable; it always has to be book-ended by effacing humour. As much as I dislike the “I see dead people” shortcut to exploring grief, I understand that it probably worked for most of the viewing audience, but Moftiss could have at least allowed some of those moments sink in. They just had to cut off the opening scene in the therapist’s office with police sirens and helicopters in service to a gag about Sherlock’s penchant for grand entrances.
The “Culverton Smith is a serial killer case” was serviceable (in spite of the horrible pun they worked in), and I liked Toby Jones’s performance, but they oversold him as a villain, and it didn’t really live up to the hype. There was too much extemporizing – all that soliloquizing in the boardroom had me staring off into space after a while. Giving Toby Jones all the scenery in Greater London to chew isn’t the same as making his character “evil”. There being no victims was a huge omission, in my opinion. You have to see what they’ve done, whom they’ve hurt or none of it really matters. Them erasing all of Smith’s victims sits really poorly with me, and it goes back to the heart of my problem with the direction of the show – the people don’t matter. Not really. Nevertheless, the story held my interest, and (before the twist at the end) I actually quite liked Sherlock’s interaction with Culverton’s “daughter” (even though it was a bit drawn out).
The middle episode of each season tends to be the weakest, and The Lying Detective was definitely one of the better offerings, and I loved Mrs. Hudson deducing Sherlock, her recognising that he’s not a “cold reasoning machine”. So why am I actively hate-watching?
That third act…
Where to begin?
“I killed his wife.”
No you didn’t, Sherlock. Stop making everything about you. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the potential source of the guilt – he thinks he should have seen it coming and is gutted that he didn’t. That feeling that there’s something incongruous about his reaction stems from Moftiss’s story being driven solely by plot. The entire premise of The Lying Detective is that, even off his head on drugs, Sherlock can predict other people’s behaviour a fortnight out. So why the Norbury deduction, then? You didn’t have to be a genius to see that de-escalation was the only play. So, is Moftiss’s Sherlock clever or isn’t he? It depends on what direction they want to take the plot. They play up his intellect for style when it suits them and ignore it when it gets in the way of having a trigger pulled. If he’d given it all he had, used the full power of his mind and still failed, Mary had still died, that twinge of the ego and John’s irrational feeling of betrayal would have been more warranted. All the stubbled, Byronic theatrics would have been earned. He would have been replaying everything in his mind to see what he missed. But he didn’t miss anything. He just acted like a not very clever arrogant cock.
I’ve made it pretty clear that I think the Mary Watson/AGRA storyline was a steaming pile. I didn’t like or believe her character. The character is head-spinningly inconsistent because they keep shoving her around in the plot and not reconciling the conflicts that arise. Nevertheless, I’m sickened by how ill-used she’s been. If The Six Thatchers didn’t already demonstrate it, Mary’s story was all in service to ramping up the man-emo quotient – to get John and Sherlock to gnash their teeth and rend their garments. The loving spouse, smiling beatifically and giving emotional advice from beyond the veil – that’s where they decided to take the BAMF assassin. They can take that nonsense straight back to the vomitorium where they sourced it. But that’s not really my biggest problem with the narrative.
“The only way to save John is to make him save you.”
As, Moftiss has written it, the entire construct of the Sherlock-John-Mary relationship is organised around John being an object – there to be manipulated. Mary couldn’t advise Sherlock to treat John like an adult and be patient and do the unsexy, heavy lifting of being a best mate. That would mean treating John like a person, not a series of buttons to push. Do you know what works with most non-personality disordered people who have “trust issues”? Persistence. But that’s not flashy enough, though, is it? Telling a drug addict who has a history of reckless behaviour that might reasonably be classified as self-harm to put himself in terrible danger to spur John into action is something a psychopath would suggest. That is Moftiss’s vision of the loving spouse whose spectre is haunting John. Except I honestly don’t think they even see the deeply disturbed psychology they’ve conjured. In their minds, Mary has been completely rehabilitated, and her egging Sherlock into self-harm is noble, just like shooting and nearly killing him somehow was. Are mature adults who’ve actually been in relationships or who’ve just interacted with other human beings for any length of time really meant to be taking any of this seriously? And then there’s the notion that someone as warped as Mary had much to teach John about being a good man – that her vision of him was somehow superior to what he already is. John Watson isn’t perfect, but this idea that he needed Mary to improve him and get him up to scratch is not only unsupported by everything that’s come before but relies on the grotesque stereotype that every man is a bumbling dumb fuck who needs a “good woman” to straighten him out. Disgusting. Moftiss have constructed a reality in which a person who is willing to shoot and kill people to hide her past ill deeds has a superior moral compass to someone who inappropriately texted a woman he met on a bus. All the brutal violence Mary did to the eponymous hero of the show is inconsequential, but John flirting via text is of great importance. It’s no wonder the story is careening out of control. The things that should matter don’t.
The return of Irene Adler.
A few months ago, in an Instagram post, I theorised that Sherlolly was the ship Moftiss would most likely go for (there was never going to be Johnlock). I knew an attractive woman was always going to be their play, so, barring a newcomer, I assumed it would be Molly. Irene Adler would be next in line. Sherlolly just seemed like the likeliest outcome given Molly helping Sherlock fake his death and the way she came out of her shell and started calling him on his bullshit. But I underestimated just how much Moftiss esteem flash over substance. I do not like the handling of Irene Adler in any of the recent incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and will continue to argue until there is no breath left in me that: Irene Adler is not Delilah to Sherlock Holmes’s Samson! In the original Arthur Conan Doyle story, A Scandal in Bohemia, she beats him while keeping all of her clothes on and by outstrategising him, not by distracting him and drugging him. Not-quite-dead Mary cackling, “I bet you saved her! The posh boy loves the dominatrix!” made me want to rage puke. The whole point of Irene Adler, what makes her “The Woman”, is that she doesn’t need anyone, least of all Sherlock Holmes to White Knight for her. She handles her business better than he ever could.
I can’t believe they actually had a middle-aged adult tell another middle-aged adult: “romantic entanglement would complete you as a human being." Our relationships (romantic and otherwise) should enrich and improve our lives, but this notion that we’re all hobbled and shambling through life and need to be repaired by our “soulmates” has got to stop. It’s why so many people can’t have healthy romantic relationships grounded in reality – they’ve set their significant others (and themselves) unmeetable, fairy tale standards, and their disappointment and ensuing resentment are foregone conclusions.
Take it all straight back to the vomitorium.
No, Jim. I don’t. Whenever a show circles back to the vanquished supervillain, Fonzie is prepping his water skis.
The secret brother is really a secret sister whose name is The East Wind, and she’s completely unhinged and may be Moriarty or is at least connected to him, and there’s some weird psychosexual element between her and her brother who doesn’t seem to know what she looks like, and…
Once Mary Watson said “It’s a skip code”, a preposterous story became virtually inevitable, so I’m not surprised Sherlock has descended into near pantomime. The real reason I’m pre-emptively upset about the finale is because I know Eurus’s mental illness will be treated solely as a plot driver. Moftiss will only scratch the surface of the pain, the fear, the feelings of failure, the societally enforced shame, the hopelessness that a family goes through when one of them is diagnosed with a mental illness serious enough require long-term institutionalisation. Really think about what it means to be related to someone who is criminally insane and how much good drama lives there. There will be helicopters and gunfights and fisticuffs, maybe even abseiling, in the finale, but virtually no real examination of the damage done by the emotional claymore mine that went off, kept going off and is still going off in the Holmes family after Eurus was diagnosed. And Eurus herself? Maybe they’ll show her as a child strangling a cat or hurting Redbeard (if they even pay her that much attention outside of letting her gorge herself on the scenery), but she’ll be a caricature, a monster with no inner life. How do I know they’ll do this? Because they spent this entire episode using visual and auditory hallucinations – signs of extreme mental disturbance and distress that require urgent psychiatric intervention – as shorthand for “I’m grieving the death of my spouse”. They couldn’t show John alone, struggling with a newborn, suffering through the feelings of abandonment and intense isolation that underpin grief because it’s too ordinary.
Everyone has been pointing out all the call-backs to previous episodes and what they mean. Here’s my go at it: I predict that John’s grief and psychiatric issues are now magically fixed, just like his limp and his PTSD. Moftiss told us from the very beginning that Sherlock was shallow and emotionally incoherent. But:
Thank goodness for the palate cleanser of Elementary…