Season finale of Sherlock (no spoilers)

I watched the third and final episode of Sherlock last night. Like the others, it was entertaining and kept me engaged. It also ended with a two teasers (one major and one minor) that suggest that a fourth season is in the works. The way the major teaser was presented, like the previous episode, seemed to be drawn from the film V for Vendetta. It has been two years since the previous season so one does not know how long it will be until the next one is released, especially since the two lead actors are now in high demand for other work.

While I am enjoying the series, the stories are getting a little wild and over-the-top in terms of plotting. I am also not a big fan of arch-villains with grandiose plans, which seems to be the direction in which the series is headed. Much of the appeal of the original Conan Doyle stories (for me at least) was in the smaller crimes, sometimes not even crimes at all but merely puzzles. I used to prefer them to the stories involving the evil genius Moriarty or international espionage. But perhaps those stories, often taking place in small towns involving ordinary people, lack the potential for action and glamor and exotic settings that modern TV seems to require.

There are a couple of amusing touches in the casting that reflect reality. The two people who play Sherlock’s parents are the real-life actor parents of Benedict Cumberbatch. The actor who plays Mary Marston is the real-life partner of Martin Freeman. You almost expect to learn that series co-creator Mark Gatiss, who plays Mycroft Holmes, is Cumberbatch’s real life brother under a stage name, though they don’t look at all alike.

Many of the best British TV series tend to contain very few episodes per season. I think that this enables them to be tighter and have higher production values but it also means much longer waits for fans. But if the quality is good, then people are willing to wait and then come back. I myself tend not to watch normal TV series because I don’t like to commit myself to watch a show for 22 weeks, which is what a normal US TV season consists of. But setting aside three Sunday nights to watch Sherlock was not a problem. I am not sure I would watch as faithfully if it went on and on.


  1. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I am also not a big fan of arch-villains with grandiose plans, which seems to be the direction in which the series is headed. Much of the appeal of the original Conan Doyle stories (for me at least) was in the smaller crimes, sometimes not even crimes at all but merely puzzles.

    Agreed, but I do think the short 3 episode season structure of the series lends itself more to arch-villains than standalone shows, especially if you want the audience to stick around during the 18 month gaps.

    WIRED has had two now, maybe three in the next week, pretty decent articles explaining the original Sherlock references embedded in the series which is good, it’s been decades since I read the originals.

  2. flex says

    I agree that the episodes are starting to get a little over the top. Which is a shame because there is so much good material which could have been used from Doyle which was only used as throw-away gags in the first season. I’m thinking that the mystery of the Geek Interpreter could have been a fun episode, but it was used for a laugh.

    There appears to also be a tendency, and I’ve noticed it in many other films/television shows, that as sequels are made, a certain amount of, well, incestuousness, forms around the characters. The writers entangle the characters in ways that maybe make the earlier episodes somewhat,… disturbing. Rarely is it more obvious than in the Star Wars films, where Luke’s passionate kiss to Leia in the first film becomes a bit squinky when we learn that they are siblings.

    I’m not certain why writers would do such things. It may not be lazy writing, it may be related to contractual agreements with actors/actresses for a specific amount of screen time. It may be that the writers really think it is an amazingly great idea which will surprise audiences, and then becomes poorly executed because much of the script justifying the twist was left on the cutting room floor.

    But I do deplore the path which seems to be developing with the Holmes boys basically being the head and heart of the British government. I much preferred the first season and the Doyle interpretation where Mycroft may be the de-facto British government, but only because he was a middle-level bureaucrat who insinuated himself into the position where all the government paperwork converged, allowing him to see trends and advise other government agencies as to what was going on. Not to establish policy or direct activities, but simply to know everything.

    I think this season’s middle episode was still the best one of the nine, it was tightly scripted. If everything was a little too pat and interconnected, from a story standpoint these are usually good traits. Leaving loose ends hangings makes most stories less satisfying. Sure, it doesn’t model reality very well, but it doesn’t need to in order to be a good story.

    This last episode had it’s moments, but was not nearly as satisfying as some of the previous episodes. The main cliff-hanger was trite, and I felt it was more about popularity than good writing. The best part of the episode, as far as I felt, was the sequence in the middle where Sherlock has what could be described as a lengthy introspective experience which in real time lasts 3 seconds. That writing was good and the depiction of the process was both interesting and reflected my own experience in a similar (albeit not nearly as dramatic) situation.

    Then, of course, the sequence with Sherlock’s parents was a nice touch as well. And, of course, Billy Wiggens was the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars in the Doyle series. That was quite an enjoyable call-out.

    But there was one thing which did puzzle me. There was obvious cigarette smoking in this episode, and I thought that Britain had forbidden the depiction of cigarette smoking on television. Was I wrong, or have the rules changed?

  3. wtfwhateverd00d says

    FWIW, I felt this season was the best so far in terms of my own enjoyment, but also that the stories were less over the top and actually puzzle oriented rather than devoted to an arch-villain.

    First episode was there to bring Sherlock back with two puzzles (how he faked his death being one) , second episode was a puzzle (how the murderer murdered) and mainly devoted to celebrate Watson’s story, and the third episode a puzzle adventure (defang the blackmailer).

    Season 4 certainly seems to be an arch-villain season. Maybe in the long run we’ll be able to figure out which seasons worked best.

    It’s been sometime since I read the stories, while I enjoy this series and I certainly enjoy Sherlock, I don’t recall reading the stories as a kid and having such an urge to paste Sherlock’s face with a grapefruit. Was Doyle’s Sherlock as clearly sociopathic as Moffat’s?

    The evidence appears to me that Mark Gatiss is a better writer than Steven Moffat. Have you seen Gatiss as a huge hulking alien (Viking)?

  4. colnago80 says

    Actually, only 2 of the Doyle authored stories featured Moriarty, a short story, The Final Problem and a novelette, The Valley of Fear and one featured his right hand man, Colonel Sebastian Moran, The Adventure of the Empty House.

    Three of the Rathbone movies featured Moriarty, in all of which he died, played by 3 different actors, George Zucco, Lionel Atwell, and Henry Daniell.

  5. Nick Gotts says

    Was Doyle’s Sherlock as clearly sociopathic as Moffat’s? – wtfwhateverd00d

    No: he was described as unemotional, but was clearly shown as capable of empathy with clients, and had had friends other than Watson (Victor Trevor, as recounted in The Adventure of the Gloria Scott was one). He also gets on well with Mycroft. However, Stamford, who introduces Holmes and Watson, does say he can imagine Holmes giving a friend “a pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid” in order to observe the effect.

    I think this season’s middle episode was still the best one of the nine – flex

    I thought it was complete crap! The bromantic theme is present, but subtley so, in the original, not blared from the rooftops; and watching drunken people make fools of themselves, as in the “stag night” sequence, is just boring – my wife and I gave up in the course of that.

  6. colnago80 says

    Re Nick Gotts @ #6

    Another friend from his university days was Sir Reginald Musgrave of The Musgrave Ritual, which occurred before he met Watson.

  7. says

    Another show where the short seasons with three ninety minute episodes works very well is Foyle’s War. There’s plenty of time for solid pacing and building an interesting story. In fact, I think the longer showtime gives any mystery/detective show a much nicer framework than the 40ish minutes normally available. It worked for Broadchurch because Broadchurch focused on one mystery for the entire 9 episode series. But between Foyle’s War, Prime Suspect and Sherlock, I haven’t been able to watch American crime drama at all.

  8. flex says

    Nick Gotts wrote, @6,

    I thought it was complete crap!

    Different tastes I guess. I thought it was tightly written, didn’t involved the fate of the free-world (i.e. the crime was personal and small), and the antagonist showed good sense in planning and execution. I thought Sherlock was a bit slow in catching on, but we are viewers, not caught up in the action.

    Although I agree that the stag night sequence was a bit over the top, even with the punch line that they were only on the town for 2 hours. The sequel to that sequence was also unnecessary, there was no reason why they couldn’t have asked the client to return when they were sober. No reason other than narrative rule of funny (which didn’t work for me at least). But I still thought it was the best episode to date.

    I would second the recommendation of Foyle’s War as well. I started watching them a few weeks ago on streaming Netflix and have thought they have been really well done. None of the crimes are earth-shattering, or even particularly villainous (at least as far as I’ve gotten in the series). Most of them are simply people taking advantage of other people on a small scale or using the backdrop of the war to justify a certain disregard for law.

  9. Mano Singham says

    And don’t forget that in US commercial TV, a ’60 minute’ episode is only about 40 minutes which forces writers to compress even more.

  10. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Much like recent series of Doctor Who I find myself rather rapidly torn back and forth between “wow, that cool!” and “but it doesn’t make any sense…” with the latter almost inevitably outweighing the former. As with the first two seasons I thought Gatiss’ episode was the best written of the three and I wish that Moffat could get over his obsession with JJ Abrams style plot twists and just tell a good story.

  11. moarscienceplz says

    Mano, I can’t disagree with anything you posted. However, I would like to recommend that you check out Elementary which is on CBS and has the usual number of episodes per season. (However many that is nowadays; years ago it used to be about 24 e.p.s., but now it is down to, I think, as few as 13.) I find it just as much fun as Sherlock. If you do this though, I recommend you get the DVDs to start at the beginning.

  12. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    I must say that the writing on this final episode was disappointing.

    Without risking any spoilers I will simply saw that:

    (1) Professional killers who hesitate to pull the trigger are not credible.

    (2) Covering up the murder, with multiple witnesses, of a very wealthy individual is difficult at best.

    (3) Resorting to murder is the action of a failed mind.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write


  13. colnago80 says

    Re Singham @ #10

    This becomes obvious if one watches reruns of the Rockford Files where, in order to accommodate current commercial time and stick to 1 hour, at least 5 minutes worth is cut out. E. G. there are at least 5 minutes more allotted to commercials per hour today then there were back in the 1970s when the program aired. Rather then watching reruns, I suggest downloading the full versions, which are about 50 minutes long from the Internet which are not only uncut but commercial free.

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