Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Sherlock’s weakness has always been the fact it is only ever allowed three episodes at a time to run. It always feels like a pebble being thrown into an ocean, blasting onto our TV screens, but drifting away from the memory shortly after it is wrapped. There is no time to get traction on a narrative arc; no time to start a slow-burning character discussion. However, with Season Four, the writing style is altered slightly and as a result, the three episode limit is no longer a weakness, but Sherlock’s biggest strength.
The theory is simple: let’s treat every episode like a stand-alone movie. Running at an hour and a half each, Sherlock is pretty much a feature-length adventure anyway. All it takes is a slight changing of the mind-frame and Steven Moffat finds an approach that suits the series perfectly. Usually series over-stay their welcome, especially American ones that last between 22 to 24 episodes a year. Sherlock acts as a quick one, two, three jab of television beauty, coming in strong and getting stronger. There is no longer a safe episode, where we can relax into some light entertainment, every time the opening credits kick in, Moffat and Gatiss working their damn hardest to give us the best episode possible with the time and budget they have been given. Season Three was infamous for rolling in the fun and playfulness of the premise, a Sherlock with the mind of a child, the intelligence of a genius and the modern day setting, but only ever embraced what the show could be in a final episode shocker. Moffat has his cake and eats it, keeping the light touch where possible, but always making sure the viewer is treated to an episode that is not only good; but matters. Take the first episode, for example. It feels like a standard opening gambit from the team. A narrative arc is dropped into the mix (Moriaty may be dead, but it is clear he laid in place an evil scheme that could still operate after his death), but for the time being, the show is focused on business as usual. Several cases are thrown into the mix, including but not limited to, the corpse of a holidaymaker in Tibet showing up in England, Sherlock ticking them off with the ferocity of a man who needs constant distraction. Then suddenly, a twist in the plot of a case involving a vandal breaking into seemingly random houses and smashing specific busts of Margaret Thatcher is dropped that drags us kicking and screaming from the playful Sherlock we know and spends the rest of the episode, heading down a rabbit hole that ends with a crashing shock revelation that breaks the show wide open.
Episode Two doesn’t slow down; in fact, it gets faster. Before we have a chance to revel in the aftermath of the first episode’s game-changer, Sherlock has launched a war on the villain dominating the marketing of Season Four, Toby Jones’ deliciously evil Culverton Smith. The entire episode is a battle of wits between hero and foe, both outmatching each other at every turn. The episode takes a different approach than usual. The ‘who’ is clear from the off-set, but Sherlock’s challenge is proving his theories. This means that Toby Jones is given front and centre for a fantastically chilling performance as the week’s villain and the audience aren’t given a last minute after-thought of a baddie, like we could argue Episode One gives us. However, that isn’t to say that this episode isn’t devoid of a mystery. Sherlock, trapped in a downwards spiral after Episode One, finds his mentality breaking apart and his friendship with John Watson in tatters. It becomes the director’s show as a result, as the cinematography and visual effects work over-time to give the audience an insight into the detective’s mind as it falls apart around him. As a result, the writers are allowed to hit us with a wonderful bit of misdirection that distracts us from the opening to Episode Three. The true villain emerges from the shadows of the story. No, it’s not Culverton Smith; it isn’t even Moriarty. But the final episode is television at its best, a gripping, heart-in-mouth adventure that will have you squirming in your seat for the entire running time. The light touch is all but gone, reduced to a few quips wherever the dark scenario allows. The rest of the episode is devoted to Sherlock taking on his greatest challenge yet. We are trapped in a mystery that baffles not just us, but Sherlock, confounded by the villain of the piece (someone who gives a good go at out-acting both Cumberbatch and Freeman), taunting them with some revolting trials. It lays the way for some beautifully horrific nightmares. Yes, the show does go down the tired route most horror movies have gone down after Saw: forcing our heroes to commit horrible acts for the greater good. But what it does do is give Cumberbatch, Freeman and even Mark Gatiss, some wonderful moments where their performances can hit home with shocking precision. You are left more than captivated at the horrors unfolding on the screen. You are transfixed. If the rumours are true that this will be the final season of Sherlock (that budget must surely be breaking), then it will be a damn shame, but at the very least, it is bowing out on the strongest season yet.
Final Verdict: Every episode is television genius, a gripping three episode roller-coaster that boasts the high points of the series.