TV Review: Sherlock: The Final Problem (no spoilers)

I watched this final episode of season 4 last night and frankly found it disappointing. You can see it online in the US here until January 29. Unfortunately, the writers have once again succumbed to the temptation to go in for surprise plot twists at the expense of plausibility, which was also the big problem with their Christmas special The Abominable Bride from a year ago.

The penultimate episode last week ended with an implausible plot surprise and I thought that it would resolve itself into something believable in the final episode. But instead the writers cranked the preposterousness up to to 11, creating new plot holes all over the place. (One example is the relationship between Eurus and Culverton Smith.) Furthermore, I have said before that I have little sympathy for the cliché of the evil arch-villain who lacks any human feeling and seems to be all-knowing and all-powerful, able to manipulate events remotely. This episode created an even more unrealistic arch-arch-villain.

As a result, I became so disengaged from the story that during the middle section of the program where Sherlock, Mycroft, and Watson have to urgently solve a series of problems in order to save a child who seems to be the only sentient person on a plane, I was actually bored and waiting for them to get it over with so that we could get to the denouement. When it did come, though, it seemed very rushed and unsatisfying. Given that the entire series is designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats with excitement, my reaction was not a good thing.

Like most of the episodes, there are allusions to the original stories but in this one, the connection to The Musgrave Ritual seemed highly forced, tacked on to the end in an artificial way.

There are mixed signals as to whether the series will return or not. There were no cliffhangers that would signify a definite commitment to produce new episodes and the ending was such that this episode could serve as a closing bookend to the show. But if it does return, the writers would do well to go back to the model of the very first episode in the first season and ditch Moriarty-like super-villains.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    There was nothing else on telly, and I was curious to see whether it would be better or worse than I expected, so I watched the whole thing. It was worse, even with the low bar set by preceding episodes (or rather, the bits I could stomach watching).

    The contempt I feel for the writers is only exceeded, I think, by the contempt the writers feel for their fans. Barf, puke.

    That said, I bet it was fun for the actors. Lots of emoting!

  2. says

    I listen to the “writer’s panel podcast” a lot and I get the impression that there’s a great deal of pressure on the “writer’s room” or a “show runner” to keep things lively and continue to earn high ratings. Which, ironically, turns into pressure from the studios to do something different. Because, if your show is winning awards and people love it, you should, I dunno -- mix it up, go for cliffhangers, stupid plot-twists, surprise gotchas.

    The way the TV/Movie show business works appears to be optimized away from actually producing material people want, and toward topping other shows, which means avoiding well-worn tropes (that people sometimes want) in quest of edginess. In Hollywood that equates to more explosions, of course. In TV that equates to surprise endings.

    Here’s a game I play. When I am watching some piece of dreck, I imagine “who is the least likely culprit?” It’s always that person. Especially if they have a minor walk-on background appearance early in the show. It’s predictably unpredictable which is really quite funny when you think about it.

  3. says

    BTW, to my #2: The only time the show is not predictably unpredictable is when the show runners actually haven’t done a story arc, and are just doing like George Lucas and trying to sell the studio on the idea that they have an idea but it’s secret. Then they come up with the most unusual thing that makes sense, in the last season of the show. E.g.: The Mentalist, Dexter, whatever.

    I’m thrilled to see TV is trying to produce high quality entertainment, and its budget constraints have kept them away from Michael Bay explosion-fests. But today’s TV mostly looks great compared to 80’s TV because 80’s TV was insultingly bad.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @3:

    But today’s TV mostly looks great compared to 80’s TV because 80’s TV was insultingly bad.

    I watched TV through the 80s. Nothing I saw was as insulting as the new Doctor Who or Sherlock or Lost or Battlestar Galactica or The Walking Dead. Or most of the other dreck currently on display.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    The mixed signals are because they really don’t know -- the BBC simply doesn’t have the clout to interrupt (and, harder, synchronise) the schedules of Bilbo Baggins and Dr. Strange to do their little TV show.

  6. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#4:
    Oh, picture me clutching my forehead in pain. I had forgotten those. Ow. Ow.

    I think today’s viewing audience are willing to forgive a lot in return for a bit of softcore sex and cruelty. They mistake it for drama.

    I’m very fortunate that low bandwidth in my area means I only get my media on DVD.

  7. Marshall says

    I watched the first episode of this season last night, and I’ve downloaded the other two. I’m mostly going to watch them out of curiosity out of hearing how bad everything is. I completely agree that the series has been in steady decline. Season 2 was the turning point, where the writers started realizing that they could turn the series into a self-indulgent mindfuck with no plausibility. At the time, I think some people loved it, but over time their need to cling to the absurd pushed all sensibility aside.

    Sherlock has gotten more and more annoying. His schtick of reading people and noticing small things on their person and coming up with his absurd inferences, once a fun activity for the viewership, has become annoying. It’s not an “aha! what good observation!”, it’s now “Jesus Christ there are so many other explanations for that observation.”

    I was only half paying attention because I knew the plot was going to be stupid, and I’m pretty sure it was although I’m not completely sure, because I wasn’t paying attention. I’m guessing eps 2 and 3 will be more of the same. My girlfriend is gone for a few days so I need some filler TV; these will do.

  8. Eric Riley says

    Will there be a ‘with spoilers’ discussion at some point? There are specifics about the writing I would like to discuss, but it would require spoilers.

  9. Mano Singham says


    I am going to start a new post right now that will discuss all the spoilers. It should be up shortly.

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