Sherlock – Season 4 Episode 3
“The Final Problem”
Sherlock closes off the fourth season -and possibly the series itself- with a deeply personal case for Sherlock and Mycroft when they are faced with none other than their sister.
A previously unknown sibling coming out of the woodwork often marks the point that a series has completely run out of ideas so manufactures family drama by having the protagonist have to get used to a member of their family that they didn’t previously know. I mentioned last week that this was a possibility and in some ways this episode doesn’t really do anything to dispel that belief. In many more ways it captivates as a really tense and involving experience that highlights the strengths that this show has.
Eurus is a really interesting character but she also goes largely unexplored until very near the end of the episode. We find out her backstory which establishes her motivation for behaving the way she does but it takes a long time for us to get a real sense of who she is as a person and that counts against the episode in a really small way. The important thing to note is that she is basically Sherlock gone completely wrong. He is cold logic with enough feeling to make him somewhat functional in society but she is entirely cold logic without any feelings to add context to the people involved. She repeatedly mentions that she’s on a quest for context and that’s a really good way to describe her end goal.
Where the episode really works is is putting us in Sherlock’s position. For once he doesn’t have all of the answers right away and is facing an opponent he can’t possibly understand. Eurus sets the whole scenario up as a game to test his powers of deduction as well as attack everything he’s built in his life.
This plays out really well with his home being the first thing to be taken from him. 221B Baker Street is iconic and it’s a place that Sherlock feels safe in because the surroundings comfort him when he is at his most fragile. The fact that he approaches the conversation about Mycroft about his sister as if it were any other case shows that Sherlock is in control when in his flat and is able to create some distance between the events and the personal connection he has to them.
Once the grenade drone appears everything Sherlock values is at stake since Mycroft and John’s lives are in danger with the flat’s destruction a certainty. The only way for Sherlock to solve this problem is to lose something that he values which sets the tone for the rest of the episode as Eurus’ challenges all follow that pattern. She wants to attack him but she also wants to understand him.
It is established that Eurus doesn’t understand feelings and what makes one different from another. Mycroft shares an anecdote about Eurus cutting herself so that she could learn something about anatomy. When asked if she feels pain she has to ask what that is. Basically she knows all the definitions but doesn’t understand them the way we do. It’s a fascinating outlook and I wish it had been explored more as it informs the entire story but doesn’t quite become a part of it until the end.
Sherlock and Eurus don’t have a pre-existing relationship since they were separated when they were very young and Sherlock doesn’t even remember her which makes the conflict between them all the more interesting. If Sherlock was close to his sister and was able to understand how she thinks then this episode wouldn’t have been quite as powerful. The idea that a familial bond is generally a close one but is completely perverted in this case is a strong one and resonates really well.
Despite his eccentric nature Sherlock has always had a pretty good idea of his family and his relationship to them. Mycroft is a constant presence in his life who offers him comfort and backs him up when his behaviour gets out of hand. His parents are also there when he needs them and offer him the emotional support that he would never really admit that he needs. Eurus is a complete mystery and the unpredictability that she represents clearly scares him.
I’ve mentioned that she goes after everything Sherlock holds dear starting with his flat. Once that part is over she puts them into a really sadistic version of the Crystal Maze. It’s a comparison that I never thought I’d make but the procession of puzzle rooms with a clear solution allowing them to progress make me think of this. The scenario also invites comparisons to Shutter Island and the Saw movies as well as the comparison the episode makes itself, Silence of the Lambs.
These are all solid sources to draw from -yes, even the Crystal Maze- because all of them -except the Crystal Maze- have a deeply psychological component that adds to the terror. Sherlock is being terrorised by his sister so the comparisons are relevant and the asylum setting really enhances this aspect. Lunatics taking over the asylum is a common trope and is reused so often because it works well. This is an instance where it works really well.
The puzzles themselves weren’t all that interesting which isn’t ideal for a show about a detective but some ground was made up by the fact that the stakes were important and it all contributed to Eurus’ understanding of Sherlock’s behaviour. Strangely the first puzzle didn’t really offer any insight from her point of view other than the fact that she learns how others value life. It does outline the stakes really effectively though. Failure to do what Eurus says means that she will carry out her threats. We don’t learn until subsequent puzzles that she is also true to her word when it comes to the promises she makes. It’s interesting that there is no animosity in her actions simply because she doesn’t understand what that is and she sees every outcome as being something fascinating.
Eurus’ most effective puzzle in terms of emotional investment was when she made Sherlock toy with Molly Hooper’s feelings in order to save her life. Molly’s feelings for Sherlock have been a part of this show pretty much since the beginning and the fact that he is unable to return them has always been difficult for her to deal with. The conversation that Euro engineers is pretty much the worst thing that could be done to her as she has the man she is in love with demanding that she tell him that even though she is feeling very vulnerable.
She asks him to say it sincerely and he has to in order to save her life. Sherlock decides to emotionally destroy someone he is close to because he survives. It’s entirely the right choice and we understand why he does it but Molly may never know and probably wouldn’t be able to accept it even if she found out the truth. It’s a heartbreaking scene to watch and ties in with Eurus trying to deconstruct Sherlock by removing everything he holds dear. Molly will likely never forgive him so he has essentially lost someone close to him.
Another fascinating puzzle is the choice to kill either Mycroft or John. It is established in this episode that Sherlock considers John family which brings their relationship to a natural endpoint that lets them continue to support one another. If they feel that they are brothers then that’s a bond that isn’t easily broken and has been achieved through years of hard work and tolerance on John’s part. This has allowed Sherlock to become close to John and trust him to say the right thing that challenges him when he needs it. They are essentially two sides of the same coin which is where their relationship should be.
People say that the two sides of the same coin description sums up the dynamic between Holmes and Moriarty traditionally but that doesn’t really apply to this show since Moriarty is a relatively small part of it. He’s still significant but hasn’t been established as the dark mirror of Sherlock that people might expect.
When Sherlock is given the choice between killing Mycroft and John it proves to be an impossible one since he is effectively asked to kill one of his brothers. Eurus sees the scenario as a fascinating one as she feels the choice will tell her a lot about Sherlock. She seems particularly interested in Moriarty knowing what Sherlock’s choice would be years before he would be faced with it. Moriarty knows Sherlock better than she ever will and it has to do with the fact that he understands how emotional connection works when she doesn’t. It’s a point I keep coming back to as it’s important to remember that about Eurus. She isn’t evil by nature -even though her actions are- because she has no context for what evil is.
There is another problem that Eurus has apparently caused while this is going on in the form of abandoning a little girl alone on a plane that will eventually run out of fuel and crash. It’s a problem that Sherlock, John and Mycroft can do nothing about because they are only allowed limited contact with the girl and she is too terrified to be be of the help they need her to be.
At first this problem seems completely random because it doesn’t have a personal connection to Sherlock and is so far removed from the puzzles he is working on. All it initially represents is a ticking clock and a reminder that Eurus is completely in control.
It makes sense later once it is revealed that the little girl was Eurus all along and the plane scenario was a metaphor for her mental state. Sherlock puts it as her being above everyone else and understanding everything except how to land. This sums up what I’ve been saying about Eurus throughout this review. She understand everything about people except how they feel. She can’t land because she doesn’t understand her own feelings and Sherlock offers her exactly what she needs in that moment when he gives her the support that can only come from a brother. Sherlock gives her unconditional love and that starts to give her the context she is lacking. It’s a great way to properly start their relationship and I like the way this continues through him communicating with her through music as it is something they both understand.
I mentioned last week that it was possible there was a fourth Holmes sibling and I was right but not in the way I thought. Mycroft’s story of the memories that Sherlock had repressed involving a dog that Eurus had killed were actually a cover for the memories of a brother that she had killed. It all comes to a head towards the end of the episode and doesn’t actually feel all that satisfying when it does. Eurus uses at as his final mystery but also his first mystery which does add some symmetry to his life up to this point but doesn’t quite work because the reveal comes far too late. It also doesn’t seem to have much emotional resonance for Sherlock when it does happen so it feels like a wasted opportunity.
This episode definitely has a lot of craziness to it but the performances of the actors help to keep things grounded. Sherlock is the most human we’ve ever seen him since this show began which makes sense since he has to tap into his emotions in order to solve this problem. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent throughout this episode as a version of Sherlock we haven’t really seen before. Seeing the arrogance stripped away as he lacks control of the situation shows how strong the character is when he is left with only his skills. The best scene was the heartbreaking conversation with Molly which also boasts a moving performance from Louise Brealey who comes across as completely broken.
Mark Gatiss is able to stretch his acting legs and deliver the best performance he has in the entire run of the series. Mycroft is vulnerable yet trying to keep control of the situation but aware that it’s slipping through his fingers. Gatiss does this brilliantly and his brotherly chemistry with Cumberbatch is the best it has been. Sadly this isn’t such a great showcase for Martin Freeman who is dependable as always but doesn’t have the opportunity to bring anything extra to the character. I understand why but for a finale such as this John should had more to do.
Sian Brooke is great as Eurus. She is able to match the intensity of both Cumberbatch and Gatiss while adding an unhinged quality to her overall performance that completely sells everything about her. She is a memorable character and very much a match for the Holmes brothers.
As I’ve already touched on this episode wasn’t flawless. I found the idea of Eurus programming people to do her bidding to be an interesting idea in theory but in practice it suffered from being underdeveloped. We were just supposed to accept that she was able to do that when spending time with people and it doesn’t entirely work. The only function of it was to explain how she was able to escape and return so easily but it felt like a rushed way to get out of a plot hole.
Moriarty also failed to impress me. I do like that he stayed dead and the threat of him was false all along but the episode could have been done without him. I’m not a fan of this version of the character so the scenes that featured him felt tedious and there were too many teases that he was still around.
I also think the ending could have used some work. Mary’s monologue was very self indulgent to the point that it completely stopped working and it all felt a little too “happily ever after” which clashes with the overall tone of this show. It’s good that the door is left open for new adventures but the easy rebuilding of 221B Baker Street and the fact that pretty much everything resets to what we’re familiar with feels far too convenient. The best concluding part of the episode was wehn Lastrade said that Sherlock was a good man as well as a great one echoing him hoping that he could remain a great man and become a good one back in season 1.
A well paced and captivating episode that closes off the season as well as possibly the series in a mostly satisfying way. Euros is a compelling antagonist as she is a dark mirror for Sherlock since she has all of the cold logic and none of the feeling. Her goal to achieve the context that comes with feelings is an interesting one and having Sherlock be the one to help her achieve that through him giving her emotional support is a solid way to end things.
In general seeing Sherlock act the most human we’ve seen him is welcomed and works well. Benedict Cumberbatch plays this brilliantly and Mark Gatiss turns in a series best performance as Mycroft who is also tested in ways his character normally isn’t. The episode isn’t flawless as there is a lack of actual puzzle solving for the most part, parts of Euros’ character don’t come through as strongly as they should and the ending could use some serious work but if this were to be the last episode of Sherlock ever then there are worse ways to end things.
- characters tested in ways they normally aren’t
- a really powerful and heartbreaking exchange between Sherlock and Molly
- Eurus as a character and her fascinating plan
- excellent pacing
- clever reveals
- parts of Eurus character feeling underdeveloped
- not as much detective work as there should be
- an ending that could use a lot of work