I think it’s over – Season four in my opinion has brought this show to an end. Season four felt like Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (the writers of the show) had forgotten what got them to the dance, considering the extreme swing from incredible writing to the worst the show has ever seen. The simplest way to describe this season is that they shit the bed. Sherlock has been declining in quality since season three (even though I wasn’t massively disappointed it), and just the simple errors of judgement when it comes to plot design make the whole purpose of The Six Thatchers, and partially The Final Problem as well, redundant. A series that was designed around a consulting detective who solved crimes in a gritty, dark London, became about everything else that the show didn’t represent. Sherlock tried to change its tone, but completely forgot about the premise of the show in doing so.
[Spoilers for season three, and the first half of Season 4, Episode 1 from here on]
What was received by the public as a mediocre season, season three, left us with the cliffhanger that made you genuinely miss the show over the next three years – Moriarty was alive, and back to wreak havoc on the people of England, thus making the consequences of the season three conclusion obsolete for Sherlock. I was willing to forgive the fact this ending made the whole episode pointless, and made you ask what are the stakes, but Moriarty was back so what did it matter? Like, how did he do it? What are his plans now? Then the first visual sign that you were on a jetski rapidly approaching a shark came in the form of The Abominable Bride. The first lesson I thought we all learned in school about storytelling was that you can’t end a story and say “and then I woke up.” Apparently Gatiss & Moffat didn’t get this lesson, because this episode had the pacing of a horse on cocaine jumping from reality to the dream to elsewhere within the dream. Then Sherlock gets off the plane, says Moriarty is definitely dead and Sherlock knows what’s coming next. Did he know what was coming next? Of course not, because the writing made it feel like “oh yeah we forgot about that – we’ll just made Sherlock a loose cannon at the start of season four by being suspicious of anything that moves being Moriarty’s doing. “
And here comes my main gripe with The Six Thatchers – they give you a normal case, just like season one or two, but it’s suddenly solved! Then out of nowhere, there just so ‘happens’ to have been a break-in where a statue of Margaret Thatcher was destroyed, so maybe Moriarty set up that case so that Sherlock could follow a trail of breadcrumbs – but where does this lead to? Mary Watson. I’m sorry, but what were you thinking of, writing that plot? It is built on a series of coincidences – in episode two of season three, Mycroft ironically said “What do we say about coincidences?” to which Sherlock responded “the universe is rarely so lazy.” Mark Gatiss wrote this episode, and is also the actor playing Mycroft – that is one of the worst set of connections I’ve seen in a story in a long time. This necessity to spend more time on Amanda Abbington’s character of Mary is the one of the biggest flaws of the season – she got her time in the limelight in season three, episode three, why did you think we have to spend another episode on her character? Mary Watson provides a host of consequences for this season that prevents Sherlock from doing what the fans want – solving cases that are completely separate to each other, this obsession to keep making the plot about our central characters is a constant hindrance. Don’t even get me started on the conclusion of The Six Thatchers, the laziest, most clichéd scene that’s ever appeared on the show.
In terms of what this season was going for by deviating from the original formula, The Lying Detective provides the best possible vision of this “new” Sherlock. Casting Toby Jones as the menacing Culverton Smith was the best decision the showrunners made – the episode is a battle of personalities. And while I enjoyed the character, he isn’t Moriarty – but that asks the question: why did you kill Moriarty if you just try to replace him with a lesser character? I know change is good, but all they did was make it slightly more sinister, contrasting Moriarty’s psychotic personality with the charm of Andrew Scott’s character. The twist at the end of the episode also left me very excited for the next one.
I can’t really get into The Final Problem without spoiling it, but I do think they had a nice idea at heart, which ended up feeling a bit farfetched, and the conclusion was evidently rushed. By the time you finish this season, you’re left feeling a bit empty; this season was kind of like trying to inflate a balloon – the show was losing air rapidly, started to fill back up for a moment, but it couldn’t save itself, finishing as a limp, void, shell. The ending is open-ended in terms of anything could happen after this, including putting the story of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson away for good. The motivation to return isn’t there, obviously the popularity of Cumberbatch and Freeman being the main obstacle, accompanied by the fact that Moffat and Gatiss haven’t provided an excellent season in five years – unless they can listen to fans (which Moffat has never done before properly with Doctor Who), or they just make a genuinely good script, simply don’t come back.