TV Review: Sherlock: The Lying Detective (no spoilers)

The second episode in the latest series was shown on PBS on Sunday and is now available online. This was a good episode, even if Sherlock was more manic than usual. There were, as has become the custom, some major surprises at the end that left a lot of questions open, presumably to be resolved in the final episode of this series to be shown on Sunday. I am not sure if that marks the end of the run for this show or whether future series are scheduled. The two main stars have other engagements and they may not want to be too identified with their roles here.

This episode featured a wealthy entrepreneur/philanthropist as the villain, someone who has a dangerous compulsion and also a desire to tell others about it. While that was the main thread, there were other storylines that intersected with it. As expected, the mild flirtation in the first episode between Watson and a woman he met on a bus and that went nowhere was expanded upon somewhat dramatically but still with no resolution, setting the stage for next week. As is often the case, the writers seem to overplay the surprises at the risk of plausibility, dropping vague hints in early episodes that suddenly explode in later ones.

It strikes me that many of the characters have a lot more knowledge about the actions and movements of other people than they are likely to be able to acquire normally and the explanations that are sometimes given are not that plausible. I have been watching a few of the old episodes again the past week and they seem to be better the second time around, since one can see the fore-shadowing better. The surprises are gone, of course, but one gains a better appreciation of the way the shows have been produced and more willing to overlook its excesses. It is a good or bad sign for a TV show or film when a repeat viewing is required for a full appreciation of the plot?

In seeing the old episodes, what struck me as a major weakness was the absurdly implausible backstory that the writers gave Mary Morstan. It was just too much. I can sympathize with the writers’ plight. The original stories were set in Victorian England and the women were almost always (with the exception of Irene Adler) stereotypical of the literature of that period, damsels in distress whom Holmes and Watson help rescue. I can see the desire for a series set in this day and age to have a recurring female character who would act with agency and not merely be a foil for the two men. But the only truly recurring female character in the stories is Mrs. Hudson and she could not play that dynamic a role. This left only Mary Morstan as the wife of Watson, though in the original stories she pretty much disappeared after her initial appearance in The Sign of Four and was merely mentioned in passing a couple of times after that and then died quietly offstage with no explanation.

While using her was an excellent idea, I think the writers went a little overboard with their attempt at creating a contrast to the Victorian stereotype. The 2015 Christmas special The Abominable Bride also tried to give women more agency than Arthur Conan Doyle did and again it seemed a little too extreme and lacked plausibility. The character of Molly Hooper, the pathologist, maybe should have been used more. Her expertise, while overlapping a little with Watson’s, could have been used a lot in the stories.

But all in all, this is a clever series and I for one was never bored, even though at times I raised my eyebrows in incredulity when watching it, like when Mycroft turned up in Serbia in The Empty Hearse. I am looking forward to see what next week’s series climax has to offer, whether it leaves any open story lines for any future development.

Here’s the trailer for last week’s show.


  1. says

    One of the things that the show Elementary did right was instead of trying to give a woman who was barely mentioned in the books a bigger role, they gender-swapped a couple of major roles. Lucy Liu as Joan Watson has been great, as was Natalie Dormer as a combined Irene Adler/Moriarty.

  2. Mano Singham says


    You are right. The first episode that set up the premise of Liu as Watson was a little strained but after that it has gone well.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    To this Brit the parallels to Jimmy Savile (esp. hospital connections) were a bit on the nose. Toby Jones continues to be one of my favourite actors, though. Also, without spoiling anything, if *I* recognised the actress Sian Brooke, I’m suprised nobody else did.

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