TV Review: Discussion of Sherlock (spoilers galore so enter at your peril!)


I mentioned in my review of the last episode of Sherlock that there were some gaping plot holes in the storyline. For those of you who have seen the series and are as puzzled as I am about some of the decisions made by the writers, at the suggestion of Eric Riley, I decided to open up the discussion because sometimes there are subtle and fleeting references that address some of the issues that one misses on the first go-round. I picked up some of them when I watched some of the episodes the second time. I hope that those who have not seen the show yet will come back here later and join the discussion.

It used to be the case that when Sherlock made some deep inferences, they would become at least somewhat plausible when he explained his deductive reasoning. But as Marshall said, as the series went on even after he explained, you would realize that it was highly improbable. One specific example was the way that Sherlock knew that Watson would be having a counseling session at that location two weeks before it happened, and had told Mrs. Hudson and Molly Hooper and Culverton Smith to go there at that specific time.

Here are some of the things that I thought made little sense.

  1. It is true that our childhood memories can be unreliable but is it likely that Sherlock would not recall that he had a sister or confuse a childhood friend with a dog?
  2. If the story his parents were told was that their daughter had died in a fire, surely they would have had photos of her and talked wistfully of her from time to time, even if she were psychotic? Why would they obliterate all traces of her?
  3. If Mycroft was the one behind her incarceration in a secret prison and the fake story of her death, that would have had to have occurred after he was a big shot in the government, which would mean that he, and thus Sherlock, would have been quite old when it happened.
  4. How was Eurus able to get in and out from her isolated maximum security prison for extended periods seemingly with no one noticing?
  5. If she had taken control of the prison because of her enormous mind-control powers (itself a highly absurd plot device), why did she remain there?
  6. What was the point of spending so much time setting up a flirtation with Watson starting on the bus?
  7. What was the point of setting up a fake counseling practice on the remote chance that Watson would choose her? Eurus seems to have used the home of a stranger to set up her fake practice. How could she know that the homeowner would not come back? And if her schedule was available for Sherlock to find out when Watson would be there, that would mean that she had planned it a long time in advance. What was the point if all she wanted to do was shoot Watson with a tranquilizer?
  8. Why did Sherlock, Mycroft, and Watson hatch up that elaborate scheme with the fishing boat to get into Sherrinford? We are told that Mycroft outranked pretty much everyone in the British government. He could have just walked into the place and taken charge without the disguise, like he did after revealing himself to the prison warden.
  9. Wasn’t Watson’s feet chained at the bottom of the well? How come throwing down a rope enabled him to escape?
  10. What was Eurus’s motivation for everything she did? Just to get Sherlock to pay attention to her? Was that why she killed his friend Redbeard and then tried to kill Watson, out of jealousy?
  11. What was Eurus’s connection with Culverton Smith? She says that he gave her the note that his daughter had written to set up the meeting with Sherlock. Was Smith using her to entice Sherlock to investigate him? Why would he need her to achieve that end? And wouldn’t it mean that the elaborate series of deductions Sherlock made in the street about her life based on that note were all wrong?

On the plus side, Moriarty is well and truly dead, despite the scene with his reappearance that suggested that his earlier death too was a massive hoax.

So many questions! These are the items that came to my mind without any effort at all. I am sure that more questions will come to mind later and I am looking forward to hearing what others have to say. Surely these shows have script doctors who would have noticed these things also and pointed them out to the writers? Marcus Ranum says that after a while these show runners tend to not write for the audience but to impress others in the business with their pizzazz by putting on something spectacularly new and different. He may well be right.

If the show does return, I hope it gets back to bread-and-butter detective work without adopting the James Bond tropes of super-villains and action heroics. As Sherlock says to the children in the hospital scene in the second episode, it is the deductive reasoning, the drawing of inferences from the data, that is fascinating in crime stories. We can do without all the glitz.

Comments

  1. invivoMark says

    Oh my, it sounds like I’m not missing anything by skipping this season.

    I watched most of the first episode of the season, but I found that it committed the gravest sin of TV: the sin of being boring. If everybody is a super-spy with god-like intelligence and reflexes, then the super-spy-ness of the characters becomes uninteresting and even annoying.

    Sadly, the show has long since leapt over the carnivorous chondrichthyan, and there is no returning from that. It will never be good like the first few episodes.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    If the murdered boy’s body had been in the well for decades, his skeleton would have decomposed.

  3. Eric Riley says

    For me, this final episode started off on the wrong foot. The charade played out in Mycroft’s house (which looks far different from what I expected when we saw him in a dingy kitchen, but … OK) was all wrong. Mycroft has been shown throughout this series to be smarter than and at least as observant as Sherlock. Someone edited a film and he didn’t notice as he was setting up the projector? Doors were locked throughout his house and he (ignoring that he didn’t appear to have any security – wouldn’t someone high in the government have a couple of guards around?) didn’t notice it happen? Didn’t notice the ‘little girl’ was actually an adult? And worse – responds with panic rather than thinking.

    Mycroft’s characterization was broken completely when he refused to shoot the warden. He has been in charge of clandestine operations and even gone into the field at least once (and watched his brother being tortured) – are we to believe that the same man that just a couple of episodes previously said, “People die, that’s what they _do_” was too squeemish to pull the trigger? Especially when the warden had both disobeyed his express orders, handed them over to his sister, and was practically begging them to kill him to save his wife? The Mycroft we have see until now wouldn’t have hesitated.

    I can forgive a lot of silliness for solid characterization. Likewise, I can forgive weak character development in a series like this where we all kind of already know who the characters are (like Sherlock and Watson – though development of minor characters that are new or little-recognized from canon would be nice, it’s not absolutely necessary to have something fun to watch). But the characters shouldn’t break completely out of who they are without good cause.

    There’s been a few times in the last few episodes where Sherlock has missed or outright ignored clues – that’s his whole shtick – it’s been bugging me since we watched the last episode of season 3. He should have immediately recognized Watson’s therapist as ‘Culverton’s daughter’ – because as has been said in a couple of episodes, ‘disguise works because people see, but they don’t look’ – but Sherlock *does* look. He notices things. Even if he were too stoned to notice right then, it would have come to him – a loose end like that? Even granting he wouldn’t recognize her as his sister, he should have identified them as the same person and drawn inferences.

    So -aside from the plot holes, there were also glaring character holes. Euros too, even though we are being introduced to her – for being so brilliant, her motivations were opaque and the writers too lazy to set anything up to really show off her intelligence.

    About the only good things were the scene with Molly and Mrs. Hudson (rocking out while cleaning the house).

  4. sonofrojblake says

    Agree totally that this was not Mycroft. Mycroft, in the books, is the smarter one, not the bumbler portrayed here, and he absolutely would have taken the gun and drilled the governor without a second thought. Dreadful. But they lost me completely at the “I love you” sequence. Including and especially the “breakdown” at the end, with all the slo-mo and emotional music. Nope, sorry, don’t care. I’m sure it was meant to be a soaring moment, but it left me completely cold and impatient.

    In answer to some of your holes:
    1. Eurus programmed him to forget/confuse. It’s consistent with her abilities. But she should have said she did so.
    2. Eurus programmed Mycroft to spin them some story that would make them think mention of her would be psychologically damaging to Sherlock and blah blah why am I bothering?
    3. Euros is what? Eight? Which would make Sherlock nine and Mycroft sixteen, and probably already at Cambridge. Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister at 24… someone of Mycroft’s potential would likely already be in contact with the security services and already be in a position to make suggestions.
    4. Everybody at the prison noticed. Everybody at the prison was already in thrall to her, and have been for years. She’s been able to come and go as she pleases for ages, clearly.
    5. She didn’t remain there – she went back there to mess with Sherlock’s head, to move him into a position where she could lock him up there and play her game.
    6. Ruin his life a bit? Damage his relationship with his wife? Get at Sherlock via him? Seems reasonable.
    7. Eurus knows the homeowner won’t come back because she killed her, didn’t she? I thought she was pretty specific about it. The point of it all was to additionally mess with Watson’s head, and as a bonus Sherlock’s for not spotting her.
    8. They knew security at the prison was compromised, but not by how much or by whom, so Sherlock had to get in to see Eurus “covertly”. They assumed the governor was NOT compromised, and additionally wanted to make him look incompetent.
    9. I’m guessing after the camera cut someone abseiled down that rope with some bolt cutters. Wouldn’t have killed them to show it, though.
    10. Bitchez be crazy, amirite? *
    11. She says he gave her the note. He didn’t. He never met her, I assume. At this point, I literally can’t be bothered to go back and check, but my guess is that the note and the story behind it was entirely cooked up by Eurus.

    * This is the most annoying part. In general, Steven Moffat’s writing history is one of positive female characterisations, rounded characters, complex plots with (usually) satisfying payoffs and good jokes. And this episode had none of those things. Molly was pathetic, Mary was practically a speak-your-weight machine, and Eurus was a nutter-of-the-week with “madness” as her motivation. And frankly, from the first moment the little girl started interacting with The Team, I hoped the damn plane would crash.

    And to top it off, having Sherlock and Watson do their slo-mo hero run into camera past a couple of plaques marked “Rathbone Place” wasn’t a sly reference for the fans, it was a massive ten ton weight dropped from on high. Deeply disappointing.

  5. tkreacher says

    Yeah, Mycroft falling for that charade in the beginning was blisteringly stupid. He was made to look like an oaf. Similarly absurd was his inability to shoot the warden. Totally out of character.

    I did like that young Euros cut her self open to see how her muscles worked. I also liked how she said, “you look funny grown up”, or something to that effect in Mycroft’s flashback. I interpreted that as she had said that at the time, knowing that he would remember one day and would be freaked out by her saying that in that context.

    Other than that, a bunch of hogwash was going on in that episode.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Here’s the single most annoying thing (to me): it’s spelled EurOS. With an O. Not a U.

    I wouldn’t mind so much but Moffat is the showrunner and Gatiss is a major contributor to Doctor Who, and some of Moffatt’s early episodes were directed by Euros Lyn. With an O. Is the U supposed to make it feminine? My Greek is rusty…

  7. sonofrojblake says

    Every single character who mentioned it specifically said the name was Greek… ach, whatever. I often find the smallest mistakes in otherwise dreadful things to be paradoxically the most annoying. This is just one of those times.

  8. Eric Riley says

    The English typically use the Latin form for Greek words.

    But speaking of Eurus, and super-smart characters in general. One thing often ignored by writers is that, however strong one’s reasoning and observation skills are, you still need something to reason with. No matter how clever she is, after being in prison for most of her life, how would she know what ‘Twitter’ even was to look for anything? Or ‘terrorists’ for that matter? She has the experience of a child brought up in an English countryside, then a prisoner. How would she be able to reason out the cues necessary to discover a plot via twitter? Similarly with Mycroft learning Serbian in 2 hours – that’s a lazy writer’s way of saying he’s super-smart. But that’s not really how intelligence works. There are some well-written super-intelligent characters – Hannibal Lecter, Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting), and Edward Morra (Limitless) come to mind. The key is to be able to take the same information as the viewer (or reader) has and show the inferences that, in hindsight, how it fits together (as Hannibal does) or to highlight how deliberately holding yourself back to fit-in is not necessarily the best strategy – especially if it causes you to miss experience (Good Will Hunting – one of the best lines is Robin Williams pointing out that, however smart he is, he does not have the experience of the smell of the Cistine Chapel – i.e. there is more to knowledge than just what you read). Limitless takes a very different tack – here the genius is not natural to the character, and it may or may not be a good thing. “Flowers for Algernon” is another great story of what happens when genius is imposed from without and then lost. Super-intelligent characters can be deep and well-written, but sadly Eurus has so little depth to her character, what is there to say about it? She can magically dominate people with just a few minutes conversation (did she do that with Moriarty? Could she? Or does it only work on us ‘normals’?) She is a mistress of disguise. She is intensely curious (cutting open her own arm to see how the muscles work), and completely unfeeling (another lazy-writer trope for ‘superintelligent’ – see Spock and Data, Sherlock and Mycroft in this series, the horrible-horrible “Lucy”, and (while in a lot of ways, well written, it was not without problems) “Limitless” – where being super-smart also makes you quite unempathic.

    And ultimately, we have Eurus’ motivation being ‘I want my brother to play with me’. Because superintelligent people don’t mature because they do not (or cannot) feel emotion properly. Ugh.

    We can also see Irene Adler as ‘super intelligent’ (pretty much on par with Sherlock, though not *quite* because, evidently, we cannot have a woman be better than a man in “Sherlock”.) Her story was fairly well written in a way to show her intelligence, but because of her secretive nature, we get vary little of her character, which is a shame. Since she’s still alive, we could have had her be a foil for Sherlock, but again – the writers are a little on the lazy side, and it’s evidently easier to create a crazy sister engaging in torture-porn with weak motivation.

  9. screechymonkey says

    A disappointing finale for most of the reasons brought up here.

    sonofrojblake @4 covered most of what I would have added in response to your questions, just a few other thoughts:
    3. I believe there was a reference to Mycroft carrying out what “Uncle Rudy” had started re Eurus’s incarceration. I took that to mean that this Uncle Rudy had a Mycroft-like position in government and was able to pull the necessary strings until Mycroft was old enough to take over. (Not being familiar with the Holmes canon — is there a “Uncle Rudy” in the books?)
    5. Despite being free to leave anytime, she may have remained at the prison because (1) Mycroft checks in occasionally, and she didn’t want him being alerted before she was ready with her scheme; (2) perhaps her “mind control” requires reinforcement, such that the governor and guards would have sounded the alarm eventually if she stayed away too long; and (3) not being one for pleasure to begin with, she’s as comfortable there as anywhere else anyway.
    6&7. I assume that she was trying to gather intel on Sherlock. Approaching Sherlock directly was too risky except for when he was very messed up on drugs. I imagine that Molly and Lestrade and others have had encounters with her recently, too. Perhaps Lestrade’s mystery woman? Oh, and I figured that the homeowner was actually a real therapist — easier to pick a likely one to kill rather than to construct a fake profile.
    9. I figure that the rope alone didn’t save Watson, but it did allow him to pull himself up straight and keep his head above water longer, and allow a rescuer to come down with boltcutters or whatever else was needed.

  10. Mano Singham says

    screechymonkey,

    Thanks for jolting my memory about the reference by Mycroft to Uncle Rudy. That would explain the age thing.

    I have read the entire canon, some stories several times, and in them there was only Sherlock and Mycroft. No other siblings, no parents, and no Uncle Rudy. This website devoted to listing all the minor characters in the stories supports my memory.

  11. Sunday Afternoon says

    The best part of the episode for me was the “musical interlude” leading up to Moriarty’s arrival by helicopter. It was completed with the homage to Freddie Mercury as Moriarty strikes poses after getting out of the helicopter. Completely irrelevant to the plot, but very nicely done for an old Queen fan like me…

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