Sherlock, Season 4, Episode 3
“The Final Problem”
Posted by Sage
I considered breaking with our recap naming convention to call this post an “in defense of” piece. I can’t divorce my experience watching “The Final Problem” from the high rate of angry feels (and dearth of good feels) stirred up by the first two episodes of the season. So when the first few minutes of “The Final Problem” felt like a return to form for Sherlock – at least a return to the more madcap storytelling of season 3, which I loved – I produced my ticket, loaded up my luggage, and got on board. Did it make any sense? Barely. Was it a blatant attempt to have it all ship-wise? You better believe it. But this finale had all the nerve and zip I’ve come to expect from this show. I’ve been down enough on this season; I deserve to get a little enjoyment out of what might have been the last ever episode of Sherlock, in spite of its manifold problems. Sometimes nostalgia deserves the win.
The show’s primary concern has always been the humanization of Sherlock Holmes. Above all. And while I don’t believe that all antisocial people are created by a traumatic childhood incident, I believe the series was always determined to give us a REASON for the consulting detective. (“The roads we walk have demons beneath.”) If that weren’t the case, there would have been no job for Eurus Holmes, a lost sister drawn in the fashion of Hannibal Lecter. (And even he was allowed to have books.) Sherlock incorrectly diagnosed himself as a high-functioning sociopath – he’s just a big softy with an avoidance complex. Eurus is the only sociopath produced by her family. And while her empathy chip is busted, she can do virtually anything she sets her mind to. There’s always been a somewhat rational explanation for events on Sherlock (“It’s never twins.”), but Eurus breaks that mold. Mycroft and Sherlock’s sister introduces a supernatural element. Her brain has advanced to a state that’s beyond what we’d call possible. Her will is extraordinarily potent, as is her intellect. Eurus isn’t magic in this context – just an anomaly. But she may as well be a sorceress. Seeing her standing expressionless in her cell, hair hanging around her face, I couldn’t help thinking that Eurus is a grown-up Matilda Wormwood, if her story had gone very, very differently.
Funny that Moffat and Gatiss were deadset on over-explaining Sherlock’s emotional state, yet let the entire episode run wild under the broad hand wave of Eurus’ powers. On the other hand, I was perfectly happy to set rationality aside for the 90 minutes. We’re asked to right at the beginning, when it comes to light that Eurus dressed up as Faith Smith, exchanged texts with John, and then pretended to be the grieving man’s therapist just to announce her presence to her big brother. (Bus Girl is the inexplicable piece and a transparent effort to persuade the audience to forgive John because it’s not REALLY cheating if you’re swapping emojis with the criminally insane. I RESIST.)
Look, it’s frustrating that – in a season where one female character was thrown in the fridge and another handed mostly recycled material – Eurus Holmes exists in order to make men REALIZE things about themselves. The narrative isn’t any kinder to her than it has been to Molly and Mary, and Mofftiss stepped WAY out of bounds with that unproductive conversation about Eurus’ deviant sexuality. But I could also argue that Eurus’ Saw murder spree happens as a direct result of one man deciding that he knows what’s best for her and another deciding that what’s best for HIM is to erase her existence entirely. She couldn’t be handled. They couldn’t burn the witch, so they locked her away. Then Mycroft USES her brilliant mind whenever it is convenient for him. Eurus is called upon to save people living lives she won’t get to have. Like, I know she’s remorseless, but I also get why she’s angry.
Eurus does succeed in dismantling the stories the three men in her web tell about themselves. His sister is Mycroft’s most fatal mistake. He’s one genius level under “telepath killer” and his claim to fame is that he’s always in complete control. But The British Government’s approach to the largest problem ever to plague his own family turns out to have been tremendously wrong. (“I’m not asking HOW you did it, Idiot Boy…”) John still believes he can be a “soldier today” when the situation calls for it, but his practicality stops right before the ability to execute a man to save another life. And Sherlock, as has been pounded into our heads by now, is not immune to sentiment at all. He feels things very deeply, even though he tried to force those emotions out of himself the first time they became too much to bare.
Does Sherlock’s sister know the difference between a game and a massacre? The show tries to have it both ways with Eurus. Sometimes she seems not to understand the full effect of what she’s doing. But in other moments she’s downright Moriarty-sinister. She’s the most interesting villain we’ve had all season, but the fuzziness of her character is set in high relief when that guy actually shows back up. Jim Moriarty is shoe-horned into this story to within an inch of his (ended) life. Just for fun. But that tracks, because fun is his number one reason for doing anything.
Sometimes you don’t know how starved you’ve been for a character until you openly weep at his five minute cameo. The flaws of this episode are many and dumb, but god, I could watch that helicopter entrance on a loop for the better part of a day. I might have, actually. The glasses. That suit. The soundtrack. His love of theater. I don’t buy that Eurus would send for Moriarty or that Mycroft would allow it, but I DO buy that Moriarty would show up to Sherringford practically panting with desire to find out what’s up. (“You’re a Christmas present.” “How do you want me?”)
(I did fear for one brief moment that Eurus had dominated Moriarty like she does everyone else and had been controlling him for the past five years. But I suppose she can turn it on and off and what she needed from Jimbo was his own personal expertise. It would have broken my heart if they’d erased everything about him.)
Moriarty didn’t live to see it or gain anything from it, but the booby-trapped haunted house he designs with Eurus does bring Sherlock’s carefully constructed facade crashing down. She’s obsessed with her brother’s deductive skills, which she must have noticed about him when they were children. What seems rather pointless while Mycroft, John, and Sherlock are racking their brains over Eurus’ puzzles is explained to some degree when we learn what she did to get herself locked away. Victor Trevor was the game. Young Eurus reasoned that if she took something away from Sherlock that he loved very much but left a trail for him, then he’d be playing with her while he followed it. But she overestimates her brother’s abilities and underestimates his emotional distress. She didn’t mind that Victor Trevor died, even if her original intent wasn’t necessarily to kill him. Either Sherlock would be enticed by her brilliance or she’d lose him forever. When her experiment failed, Eurus literally set her life on fire. There was nothing left.
Johnlock fans who were hoping for something more definitive from this episode were disappointed. (Hey kids, death threats are what we might call an overreaction. Also illegal!) But all these connections between John and Sherlock’s “Redbeard” point to the arrival of John Watson in his life as the moment that Sherlock began to untangle himself from all those emotional security systems he put in place. He blocked out all memories of Eurus and turned Victor Trevor into a trusty dog because he couldn’t live with what had happened. That ought to have closed him off completely to someone in serious danger of getting as intimate with him as his childhood bestie.
That tragedy and Sherlock insulating himself from the aftermath of it is why John was summoned by Mycroft in “A Study In Pink.” It’s why Sherlock’s brother often makes reference to John as Sherlock’s playmate or a tagalong he needs to impress. He was testing the waters, just as he did by dropping hints about “the East Wind.” Mycroft never stops trying to protect Sherlock, in his own way. But he knew as soon as he met him that John would give Sherlock something that Mycroft couldn’t. And of course, the genuine nature of that friendship bled into the rest of Sherlock’s casual acquaintances, none of them casual anymore.
There are so many parallels to his childhood, down to Sherlock and John playing pirates on the way to the island prison. Lestrade, Mary, and John have all poked fun at Sherlock’s stunted growth, but they had no idea how right they were. Eurus ensured his loneliness by forcing Sherlock to simultaneously grow up too fast and become mentally trapped in a youthful experience. These are the dragons that Sherlock needs to slay in order to achieve happiness. It’s not something I think he’s ever seriously considered for himself before – not since he was splashing around in the tide with his ginger friend and chubby Mycroft, at least.
It’s a new Sherlock we see making his way through these rooms. He checks in with John often, not just about his physical state but how he’s mentally holding up. (When John drops the gun away from the governor, Sherlock IMMEDIATELY tells him, “It’s alright.”) He recognizes Mycroft’s kindness and attempted sacrifice for what it is. He’s so gentle with the scared little girl on the phone. And he’s always had an acute sense of justice, but these unnecessary deaths are chipping away at his resolve. But the only moment where he truly loses it is when he’s forced to let down a woman he’s now keenly aware he’s disappointed so many times before: Molly Hooper.
There is only one interpretation of The Molly Scene that really works, and it’s the only one I’ve ever entertained. The posh boy loves the pathologist, ya’ll. He wasn’t sure of it until she demanded he examine himself. And then there it was. Eurus chooses Molly for a reason. She didn’t get the idea from Moriarty, obviously; he underestimated Molly’s importance in his one crucial Reichenbach error. And Eurus’s goal isn’t to break the girl, it’s to break Sherlock. (“It will be, as I understand it, a tragedy.”) I don’t much care what any *cough*-writers-*cough* say about this scene. I call them like I see them and what I see is Sherlock’s shame for how he’s treated Molly in the past and his hysteria over the prospect of making her feel smaller and less significant again. (“Yes, but it’s ME calling.”) I see Molly dictating that this agonizing conversation go her way, somehow. If she’s going to lay herself bare, she won’t be alone. I remember how John views Molly as the first person – of ANY of them – to see through Sherlock’s bullshit and call him out on it. And if she asks Sherlock to say the words that he needs her to say “like you mean it,” then I think she knows something else we don’t.
Speaking of that montage, it did appear to be a series ender. But the door is left wide open for a possible series 5 and beyond. Both Moffat and Gatiss (the former especially) learned from Doctor Who how to write like change is happening, while really keeping everything the same. Destroy, rebuild. Destroy, rebuild. Just like John and Sherlock’s relationship. Just like 221B Baker Street.
Mary’s final message to John and Sherlock is about identity. Having had so many herself, it’s something she should know a lot about. But it’s also about perception. I hate this monologue because Mary had to die to give it. (The entire season could have played out similarly with her alive and well.) But I like what she has to say about the value of letting the men and the legend coexist. Sherlock has always had the latter, John always the former. John can’t turn off his badassery to live a completely quiet life, daughter or not. Sherlock has let himself be known by the people close to him and he can’t close the door on them now. It’s not a normal life, but it’s a good one. And while the detective used to consider his potential clients a brief reprieve from his perpetual boredom, now he can admit to himself that he actually has a bit of a thing for helping the broken, the confused, and the desperate. He includes his sister in that grouping, in spite of what she did.
If that’s where we leave Sherlock, I can live with it. This maybe-ending lets US grab a hold of the story. (Which is why I’m kind of baffled by the negative Johnlock reaction; that montage is the prologue to a co-parenting fic if I’ve ever seen one.) “The Final Problem” is an honest-to-god mess and too ambitious by half, but at least it’s upfront about that. At least the SHOW has always been upfront about that. And now one of the most passionate fandoms in TV gets to take it from here.
- Of course Mycroft has a Howard Hughes private screening room.
- “You have to sit in the chair. They won’t talk to you unless you sit in the chair. That’s the rules.”
- Uncle Rudy sounds like a real dick.
- But the way Benedict rolls the “r” in “Eurus.”
- When you’re about to die and you finally get a review of your high school theater debut: “Yeah, you were great.” “You really think so?” “Yes, I really do.”
- “It was trial and error, we had to find the right waistband.” No one ever talks about this part of the costume ruse!
- Don’t even get me started on the glass thing.
- I love Andrew Scott’s Moriarty posture. Shoulders back, tummy out. Like a bored kid at a school assembly.
- “Also, cowboys in black hats. Darth Vader!”
- I rewound three times to make sure Sherlock really said “true dat.”
- Sherlock’s face when he sees Mary again on the tape, kill me.
- I was going to get into Sherlock’s sexual chemistry with Irene vs. the emotional hold Molly has on him, but The Woman wasn’t physically in the episode so who cares.
- “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.” I know that’s the traditional order, but you WERE married to one of them.
Were you satisfied by “The Final Problem”? Feel free to yell at me (nicely) in the comments!