Sherlock, S4 Ep3 – The Final Problem

The Final Problem threw Sherlock, John, and Mycroft into a labyrinth of a case as they were subjected to the twisted mind games of the secret Holmes sibling, Eurus. This episode also revealed the traumatic event of Sherlock’s childhood that made him become the man that he is. There were explosions, high-security fortresses on secluded islands, locked rooms, airplanes on the verge of crashing, hanging men, personalized coffins, and grenade-bearing drones. Too many things happened and none made sense or felt earned.

I had a number of problems with The Final Problem. As mentioned in last week’s review, I was excited about what the episode and the character of Eurus might bring but I was also apprehensive about how this twist would be handled. And it turned out even worse than I had anticipated. So much was problematic about Eurus (more on that later) and the horrible trope of someone with “special” abilities being taken away and institutionalized was used in this episode. There was also the damaging stereotype that people with mental illness turn out to be evil psychopaths (doubly problematic to see such a standard applied to a female character while the male geniuses are hailed for their brilliance, at least on Sherlock).

There were some references to the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories like the Three Garridebs and the Musgrave Ritual. But the episode took so many liberties with the source material that it can hardly be called an adaptation. It played out, as another reviewer mentioned, like some sadistic game show.

“Heaven may be a fantasy for the credulous and the afraid, but I can give you a map reference for hell.”

Is the map reference this episode? Because it certainly felt like it. The episode was even more convoluted than usual and was riddled with plot holes, mostly surrounding Eurus herself. Eurus serves too many purposes but never feels like a real character we can relate to or sympathize with. She’s not a character, she is several plot devices.

We are supposed to be amazed by her cleverness and omnipotence and then to be moved by her innate loneliness and fear. But instead, for most of the episode, I felt annoyed, not just by her but by the writing in general. Because everything was so far-fetched and Eurus seemed like some sort of god: she “enslaved” everyone in Sherrinford, escaped the facility, flirted with John on the bus, pretended to be Faith Smith and spent an evening with Sherlock, pretended to be John’s therapist, shot him (WHICH WAS BARELY MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE THOUGH IT WAS THE CLIFFHANGER TO THE PREVIOUS ONE), kidnapped the Garrideb brothers, had a coffin delivered, painted the walls, transferred them all to the Holmes home, chained John Watson in a well, and so many other things. She’s clearly adept at multi-tasking but this was ridiculous and the writing was all over the place.

And I would go so far as to call the writing misogynistic, with its poor treatment of female characters, particularly Eurus, and Molly!

Poor, sweet Molly Hooper who has been through so much and who has been such a true friend. She did not deserve that twisted game where she is forced to confess her love for Sherlock when it hurts her to do so. It even hurt Sherlock to force her to say the words, but he had to because Eurus threatened her life. (And I also found it a bit weird to see Molly in such anguish when in previous episodes she and Sherlock seemed to be getting along fine. She could have easily have just said, “Fine, I love you,” nonchalantly because they were okay and they were in a good place. But apparently not. There had to be maximum drama).

Sherlock, S4 Ep3 – The Final ProblemAs a kind of origin story for Sherlock Holmes, how a traumatic event in his childhood caused him to detach from human emotions to become the cold, calculating genius he is, this episode could have worked. Learning about the tragic death of his only childhood friend could have very well have pushed him to denounce all human relationships because of the pain these cause.

And the final, emotional scenes could have worked to humanize Eurus and to show how, despite everything, she was just a frightened, lonely child, isolated by her cleverness, and wanting only for her brother to play with her. But the reveal didn’t resonate with me as it should have, because most of the episode had been spent showing us how sadistic and twisted Eurus was and how little regard she showed for human life. Sure, she felt all alone and frightened, but this doesn’t excuse her villainous actions and all the death and pain she caused to play her little games.

Though the whole “girl on a crashing plane” bit was quite a stretch, even as an elaborate metaphor. Sherlock must have sensed that there was something off about the little girl, the only one conscious in a plane full of passengers, and how she didn’t mind not being contacted for hours and hours. But because this whole scenario was merely a symbolic one, the stakes did not feel high enough and instead of having Sherlock solve a seemingly impossible case and save the day, he merely found a way to bond with the sister he had forgotten.

But only after remembering that he never had a dog named Redbeard but a human friend named Victor Trevor, who Eurus DROWNED. How was this not investigated at the time? And why should we feel sympathy for a girl who killed her brother’s playmate because she wanted to play with him instead?

“This isn’t torture. This is vivisection.”

There are so many questions that were never answered, among those:

  • How involved was Eurus in Moriarty’s revenge plan? And how much did she contribute to his crimes? (Also, while it was fun to see Andrew Scott as Moriarty again, the flashback with him felt like such a contrived way to bring him back.)
  • Why was Eurus allowed “treats” like unsupervised conversations with criminal masterminds? What was Mycroft thinking? (And he’s supposed to be the clever one!)
  • Was there really no one else they could ask for help from during major crises than a psychopathic genius? Was it really worth it to get Eurus’ assistance considering her capacity for chaos?
  • How many posthumous DVDs of Mary are we going to see? When did she have time to make these and then send them at various intervals? And why does she get to do the narration for the final montage? How does she know John and Sherlock more than anyone else?

We may never find the answers to all these. And honestly, at this point, I don’t even care anymore. We never got proper answers to Sherlock’s faking his death after Reichenbach anyway. I’m past expecting that much of the writers.

The best parts of the episode were the great performances by the cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman giving their characters more depth and emotion than the script provided. Sherlock, in particular, displayed a wider range of emotions than usual and it was very moving to see Benedict Cumberbatch flex those acting muscles.

The montage at the end, although very self-satisfied, felt more like Sherlock than the entire episode. I wish we had more of those instead of this whole secret-sibling drama. But no. And so even the montage felt tacked-on to elicit maximum feels. But at that point, I was already too frustrated with the show to care.

If this is truly to be the last ever episode of Sherlock, then it is a sad sendoff to what started out as a brilliant show. As one writer of The Guardian pointed out, it’s become an “annoying parody of itself” and it barely resembles the sleek, clever Sherlock Holmes adaptation it started out as several years ago. And this transformation wasn’t so much because of character growth and development but more to serve exaggerated gimmicks and to deliver shock value in endless plot twists that hardly feel earned.

It’s saddening that all these years of the brilliance Sherlock have ended in such a lackluster and messy finale. The characters we have come to love may have said their good-byes and the adventures we have so eagerly followed are now over. Who knows if there will ever be another season of Sherlock? But for me, this last one was far from the best, and I will be re-watching the first two seasons to remind myself why I came to love the show in the first place.

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