Spoiler warning: This post was written after the last episode of Sherlock series 4, and is kind of a response/riff on that. If you’re a big Sherlock fan, like I am, or just want to view it unspoiled at some point in the future, you might just give this one a pass. On the bright side? No politics in this one!
The character of Sherlock Holmes is among the most famous in all of literature. I would venture to say only a handful of Shakespeare’s creations, a couple of superheroes and two or three horror icons have stood the test of time alongside Mr. Holmes. It’s not just the iconography — the hat, the pipe, the magnifying glass — that makes him so well known, nor the individual cases written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We know Sherlock Holmes’ character: His hauteur, his uncanny perception, his unfailing intellect, his lack of social graces, his dalliances with drugs, his relationship with Dr. John Watson and, of course, his ongoing search for justice.
The latest iteration of the Holmes mythos, BBC’s Sherlock (seen here in the U.S. on PBS’ Masterpiece), is not only the best modern interpretation of Holmes, but one of the best interpretations of the character ever done. Benedict Cumberbatch had the tall task of inhabiting an icon, and yet not only succeeded, but made his Sherlock perhaps this generation’s definitive take on the character. And Martin Freeman had an even more daunting task — to turn the perpetually confused and amazed Dr. Watson and breathe life into that character, to make him more than just Holmes’ cheering section. He did so beyond any expectation — while Jeremy Brett fans may quibble with Cumberbatch’s interpretation, Freeman’s Watson is hands down the best of them all.
This is why the last episode of Sherlock series 4, “The Final Problem,” is so disappointing. It’s not because it’s poorly written or poorly acted, but because the entire concept of it, from soup to nuts, neatly disregarded all the excellent work Cumberbatch, Freeman and writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done with the characters for the 12 episodes prior. “The Final Problem” had so many interesting ideas and moments, but ultimately became a case study in how you really shouldn’t sacrifice your characters on the altar of plot expediency.
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