Review: Sherlock Season 4

Nothing beats a good plot twist. Carefully built up to, and seemingly inevitable when revealed, the Good Plot Twist can be engaging, exciting, and satisfying. Sadly, there’s a difference between this variety of the technique (“Who hunts in the middle of a crowd?”) and the sort employed by both kids playing ‘Consequences’, and Moffat in The Lying Detective. “…[Sherlock] met a [hallucination] in [Baker Street]. He said [something Postmodern and Relevant because, did we mention, he’s on drugs]. She said [something quirky and girl-next-doorish, because she’s a girl and thus, in this show, a plot device]. He [accused a celebrity of being a serial killer]. She [never existed…or did she?]. The consequence was [confusing, long-winded, and ultimately unexplained]. The world said [at least they didn’t attempt to teach us about feminism this time].”

Repeatedly, this series has been heralded as the ‘darkest yet’, but Moffat and Gatiss would do well to remember that ‘dark’ and ‘powerful’ are not necessarily synonymous.

The episode did have its better moments. John’s struggle with his wife’s absence was consistently moving, and Sherlock’s exploitation of GPS tracking was quite entertaining. The hallucination reveal could have been shocking. But it’s hard to appreciate clever moments when the show is so dense with self-aware ‘cleverness’. It’s as if Moffat and Gatiss, having baked a lovely ‘Series 1’ salted caramel cake and been complimented on the interesting flavour added by the salt, have now decided to give us all a big bowl of salt and a spoon. In a single episode we’re bombarded with hallucinations, drugs, power abuse, memory alteration, grief, violence, and the threat of suicide. All of which deserve thoughtful exploration, rather than to be utilised like paintballs at a twelve-year-old’s birthday party. Repeatedly, this series has been heralded as the ‘darkest yet’, but Moffat and Gatiss would do well to remember that ‘dark’ and ‘powerful’ are not necessarily synonymous.

By the end, I’d lost interest in whether Culverton was in fact a serial killer. I was struck not by the ‘shocking’ conclusion of the mystery, but by a sudden jarring emphasis on getting them all into heterosexual relationships. Sherlock – who in Series 1 had, almost uniquely in the TV-hero world, no desire for any romantic attachment – was unexpectedly rehashing his interest in Irene Adler, and being preached at by John about the importance of a conventional relationship (“Romantic entanglement…” / “…would complete you as a human being!”) Even Mycroft was on the cusp of a nice old heterosexual romance. Oh, but still. The show is so relevant and modern! We’ve got drugs and, er, darkness!

As the credits rolled, the main mystery in my mind was actually, ‘where the hell did John’s baby go?’. In an episode which could have explored the day-to-day reality of loss – a single parent coping with bereavement and a child – John’s baby had been resigned to trite mentions now and then, as if a continuity supervisor had suddenly gone ‘oh wait, wasn’t there-?’ Those small moments which made earlier seasons connect so well with the audience have been thrown out, in favour of a darkness with little more emotional resonance than a crust of burnt toast.