TV review: So long, ‘Sherlock’? Thoughts on the fourth (and maybe final) season of the BBC show

nintchdbpict000284501699I’ve been a huge fan of “Sherlock” — and its star, Benedict Cumberbatch — since the beginning. I joke that it’s the only time in my life that I discovered something before it was cool. 😉 During my post-college graduation trip to the United Kingdom in 2010, my friends and I were staying at a hotel in London and were channel surfing when we stumbled across the very first episode of “Sherlock.” Something about it caught our attention, and we were hooked (and, of course, we had to come home and tell all our other American friends about it). It took a risky premise — updating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories to modern-day London — and turning them into a thrilling, clever, and buzz-worthy show.

We’ve only gotten four seasons of the show in the past seven years, due to the hectic schedules and ever-increasing star power of its lead actors. Although the season four finale that aired Sunday isn’t the official final episode, a fifth season hasn’t been formally announced yet and the last episode has enough closure to serve as a series ender if more episodes can’t be filmed. So, is season four a fitting send-off for this iconic show?

Seasons one and two of “Sherlock” were generally well-received by fans and critics, sending consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his best friend, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman), off to solve puzzling cases. Season three was a little more polarizing, and season four hasn’t quite won back the fans who were skeptical. I personally had mixed feelings about it. I’ll always enjoy seeing Cumberbatch and Freeman take on these characters, and the acting continues to be top-notch. However, I feel the show has strayed a bit farther than it should from its roots, which is Holmes’ impressive detective work and his friendship with Dr. Watson.

Interestingly, this whole season had a rather “Bond” feel to it, which isn’t in itself a bad thing but the tonal shift felt a bit jarring. The character of Sherlock actually felt more like James Bond than Sherlock Holmes at times, getting into fist fights in a finely tailored suit, escaping explosions, and visiting a top-secret island prison. It was thrilling to watch, but it didn’t quite feel like the “Sherlock” fans are used to.

Perhaps the problem with an event show like “Sherlock” is that the show runners feel an increasing pressure to up the ante; I think perhaps they introduced (and killed off) Moriarty too soon in season two. It’s tough to know exactly where to go after such a dynamic and intriguing villain who’s such a game changer for your main characters. Although there are some really big plot twists — and I mean, REALLY big plot twists — in season four, they were almost a bit too over-the-top.

I will say that while I had some issues with the plots in the first and third episodes of the fourth season, the second episode was to me one of the highlights of the whole show. Without giving too much away, this episode felt like a return to form for the series, with a truly terrifying villain and some nail-biting final moments. I don’t know how much I’ll rewatch this episode, just because it was so creepy, but the writing was excellent and Toby Jones was a great guest star.

sherlock-season-4-sherlock-with-dog

Regardless of how I felt about some of the storylines this season and the fact that at the end of it Dr. Watson felt a bit underused, this series has given us a really fascinating character arc for Sherlock Holmes. When we first meet him, he seems cold and analytical without the ability to form attachments, though we see hints of deeper feelings. By the final episode of season four, we’ve learned some of the reasons why he is the way he is and that he really does care — deeply — about the people around him, far more than he likes to let on. This season also managed to humanize Mycroft and featured some very nice moments between the brothers, particularly in the final episode.

So whether we get anymore episodes of “Sherlock” or not, I think it’s been a good ride. Part of me would like to see one more smaller-scale season with Holmes and Watson solving regular cases, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what other projects Cumberbatch and Freeman decide to take on, and, of course, their further appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

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6 thoughts on “TV review: So long, ‘Sherlock’? Thoughts on the fourth (and maybe final) season of the BBC show

  1. Great post! I’ve loved following Sherlock over the years so if it truly is the end I’ll be gutted, but it was a good point to stop at! Perhaps we’ll get another Christmas special in the next couple of years?

  2. SPOILERS: You’re right that episode two was the strongest of this season (the villain), but I really like the last episode. I liked the sister and the back story of how she was more psychopath than sociopath and gave him his first problem to solve but he couldn’t and his best friend dies because of it. I like how she’s in every episode. I knew the girl on the bus was trouble (because I was watching a TV show). Didn’t notice that she was the therapist and the fake sister though. And I absolutely loved the no glass bit. You hear her voice through the speaker but you hear the violin like it’s in the room with you but you just don’t notice. The first episode I didn’t like at all, however. And I still kind of feel that the show jumped the shark when Moriarty shot himself in the head. But you know how I love Sherlock Holmes. I could stand another season or two.

    • I thought the secret sister was a really interesting twist; I had no idea the one actress was playing multiple characters, they got me good on that one! Right now I’m rewatching some of the older Sherlock episodes and it’s interesting to note the shifts in tone/style that have occurred in seasons 3 and 4 versus 1 and 2. I really think Moriarty peaked too early; they should have teased him more before showing his final confrontation with Sherlock. But like you said, I love these characters and would not turn down a chance to see them again. Maybe every once in a while they could give us stand-alone episodes with Holmes and Watson just solving a fun case without the stakes needing to be so high.

  3. Some great points here. I have to agree the second episode was the high point of season 4 with a strong antagonist and a relatively standalone story, which reminded me of the cases in seasons one and two.

    I think in many ways this is why season 3 divided fans so much in the sense it paid much more attention to the emotional journey of the characters as opposed to the cases themselves. Usually, this would be a good thing on a show, particularly on a crime procedural, as you need characters you can invest to prevent things from become stale and repetitive. But I think things are bit different when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.

    In Conan Doyle’s work the singularity of each new plot and the methodological way in which Holmes approaches each problem is essential to the storytelling and so it can be a little jarring for fans when the cases take a back seat. What’s more, it’s through the cases and the way they interact through the unique set of circumstances they put our protagonists in, that we learn the most about the characters and their complex relationships.

    Sorry for this mammoth post! Just love the character of Holmes.

    • Thanks for stopping by! 🙂 “Sherlock” is definitely a tough balance because you do want strong character development and to see the characters grow throughout the series…yet you also want to see analytical case-solving that is such a trademark of the Sherlock Holmes character. I feel like the second episode from season 4 really captured both those approaches – some nice character development plus a really interesting case and a terrifying villain.

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