Sherlock – Season 4 Episode 2
“The Lying Detective”
Sherlock picks up from the death of Mary last week and explores what effect it has on the people who were important in her life.
The main people of importance were John and Sherlock as you might expect. It’s not surprising that they both react in very different ways while having their grief process connected in some complex way. The episode does a really good job of showing how they individually deal with loss in ways that are interesting while also feeling completely in character.
Since the episode opens with John I’ll start by talking about him. At first it seems like a typical coping story when we see John with his therapist (Sian Brooke) and for a long time it is very much that but it does fit with John’s character since he is far more conventional than Sherlock so his coping strategy would logically be a more conventional one. Interestingly we have never seen him socialise with anyone outside of Sherlock, his late wife and various members of the police force so it makes a lot of sense that he would be lacking in people to hear him out which means that he needs therapy.
Therapy clearly isn’t helping him since he is haunted by the memory of Mary who talks to him and follows him everywhere. It’s a fairly common plot device in fiction and it’s pretty much used as you would expect it to be here. She is there as a reminder of what John has lost and her presence in his day to day life clearly tells the audience that he isn’t coping well with it.
Does the episode do anything more interesting with it and give us something we haven’t really seen before? Actually it does. We see on more than one occasion that Sherlock’s influence is starting to rub off on John in significant ways. He observes things that seem small and insignificant in the same way that Sherlock does but it’s Mary that points them out. Since she is part of his subconscious it suggests that he at least partly understands how Sherlock’s observation skills work and is starting to learn them himself. This echoes Jude Laws version of John Watson in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows where Watson used Sherlock Holmes’ methods flawlessly. I wonder if this version is building to the same sort of thing and if so then it’s an interesting way to do it. The Mary hallucination may disappear but the skills could remain.
Sherlock has a much more theatrical reaction than John does and it’s really interesting to watch. At first it looks like he has completely lost his mind and retreated into rambling like a madman, talking to people who aren’t there and abuses his body with various substances. He has basically gone fully self destructive and is told that he’s well on the path to killing himself.
This plays out in fascinating ways when he goes after the philanthropist Culverton Smith (Toby Jones) because he’s sure that the man is a serial killer. He is put onto the case when spending an evening with his daughter Faith (Gina Bramhill) who gives him the necessary clues to pursue the case. This evening happens when Sherlock is at his most self destructive so he initially seems reluctant to take on the case but the visceral memory of Mary’s death literally rings in his ears and he decides that it’s better to make sure that Smith isn’t allowed to kill anyone else.
Toby Jones is excellent as Culverton Smith. Jones plays him with a really slimy demeanour that makes it easy to believe that there’s something off about him. Every line of dialogue he has is laden with subtext and there’s almost a moustache twirling villain quality to him. The beauty of this is that for the longest time he seems to be a compassionate businessman who is very charitable but is also really off-putting. It’s entirely possible that someone could be really kind and generous while also being repulsive and that seems to be the character that Jones is playing to absolute perfection.
His interactions with Sherlock are some of the most entertaining parts of the episode as both actors really put everything they have into them. Smith completely indulges Sherlock’s antics because he genuinely feels that he’s untouchable and Sherlock continues to go down the path of him being a murderer even though it looks less and less likely as the episode progresses.
Sherlock’s credibility is completely called into question when it seems to be revealed that his conversation with Faith was entirely in his head. The reveal comes late on through some uncomfortably edited flashbacks and seems believable enough given that Sherlock tends to live inside his own head most of the time. He has a hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy at the best of times so that must be compounded when he’s on drugs.
The idea that Sherlock is manufacturing a villain because he needs to bring someone to justice so that he can save lives instead of feel responsible for people being killed. It makes sense for him given the current situation and the scenario seems to back up that he is completely delusional in this case. At one point he is the only one who still believes that Smith is a murderer and his mental state seems so fragile that it could all be in his head.
I didn’t think for a second that Sherlock was wrong because this show has a habit of doing some fake reveals before it turns out that Sherlock was right all along and everyone else was being completely led astray. Surprise surprise that is exactly what happens here and it all turned out to be part of the plan. I was somewhat disappointed that this turned out to be the case as I really liked the idea of Sherlock manipulating evidence to fit what he wanted the truth to be while being wrong all the way. His political connections through Mycroft means that it’s easy for him to go on these disastrous flights of fancy without suffering any major consequences. He was able to get away with murder just last week very easily so harassing a rich guy shouldn’t be a problem for Mycroft to deal with.
That wasn’t the only twist in this episode but I’m not sure it really qualifies as one since it’s a common plot device for this show. As common as something can be when there are only 10 episode anyway. If you go into every episode thinking that Sherlock is right no matter how raving mad he seems to be then chances are you’re one step ahead of the reveal.
It was mentioned early in the episode that there might be another Holmes sibling somewhere out there. Mycroft is asked directly by John if there’s another brother and Mycroft replies with a stern “no”. After that point I was waiting for the reveal that there was another bother and I was terrified that it would turn out to be Moriarty. Thankfully I was wrong and there is another Holmes sibling but it’s a sister named Euros. This calls back to Mycroft saying that “East Wind” as coming to get him in last season’s “The Last Vow” which now counts as a reference to Euros as per what she is named after. This is really clever seeding as it seemed really cryptic back then but makes a lot of sense now. East Wind was mentioned in the previous episode as well so it’s all starting to come together.
Euros seems to be up to no good as shown by the reveal of her role last week and this week. She was the woman John met on the bus and was texting, the woman Sherlock thought was Faith as well as being John’s therapist. It’s unclear what her plan is but she definitely want to mess with both Sherlock and John. Having a previously unknown sister enter the lives of the characters often signifies that the writers have completely run out of ideas but that’s not the impression I get here. It’s too early to tell if Euros will turn out to be a good villain or not but so far what has been done with her is compelling.
She almost seems like the dark opposite of Sherlock in a way that Moriarty isn’t as her disguises can get around his observation skills and she can slip around unnoticed despite the impact she has. Sherlock’s lack of observation could have something to do with him being on drugs but I don’t think so since he was still making all sorts of astute observations at the time.
There was a specific mention of people always stopping at three in reference to murders but I wonder if this is a clue to Holmes siblings as well. Euros has been revealed but that could be a sort of red herring to stop viewers from assuming that there is a sibling yet to be revealed. It seems like an oddly specific thing to say so I think that there is another sibling yet to come. I really hope that it doesn’t turn out to be Moriarty because that would be far too much.
One of the reveals really didn’t work for me. Seeing the entirety of Mary’s message to Sherlock where she tells him that helping John would be appearing to go off the rails, latch onto a bad person and put himself in danger so that John is forced to come to his aid. It is supposed to show that both Sherlock and Mary know John well enough to be positive that this would work while showing how deep the bond between Sherlock and John is. Sherlock is able to trust him so completely that he risks death at the hands of an unhinged murderer who confesses everything thinking that it will never be heard.
The scenario is really contrived and it just feels like one reveal too many. It also ruins the deeply honest conversation that Sherlock has with Smith where he asks Smith to kill him before honestly admitting that he doesn’t want to die. It could have shown that Sherlock can be all talk when it comes to certain things and give some insight into his complex yet damaged mind instead it seemed to be an elaborate deception to fuel Smith’s murderous tendencies by taking joy in Sherlock begging for mercy. It was a waste of some really fascinating character development.
John rescuing Sherlock does allow him to make a kind of peace with Mary’s death. Up until that point he had blamed Sherlock for Mary’s death but processing his grief allows him to realise that Mary died saving Sherlock’s life and that’s something that he should be proud of. In essence she died a hero and that’s how John should remember her. The scene between Sherlock and John where John breaks down is one of the finest scenes that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have ever shared in the history of this show. There’s a really visceral and emotionally honest edge to it that shows the bond between these two characters. They need each other and this scene shows it. Having it come after John accepts that the Mary hallucination isn’t healthy and stops himself from seeing it makes the moment all the more powerful.
I also really liked Sherlock’s advice to John when he breaks down. It’s very simple “it is what it is” but there’s no better way of putting it. John and Sherlock are in a lot of pain and need each other to work through it but the loss shouldn’t be downplayed and the fact that Sherlock offers the platitude “it’s ok” just before it suggests that he was trying to comfort John by telling him what he thinks he wants to hear. It’s a great character and actor moment for both of them and the importance of it can’t be understated.
There’s another plot point that seems to be going somewhere. It turns out that Sherlock has been texting Irene Adler off and on which suggests that she will be returning at some point. To what end I couldn’t speculate but John encourages Sherlock to seek her companionship since it will complete him as a human being. It does pay off in the context of this episode when Sherlock makes John feel better about texting another woman by telling him that it isn’t necessarily a betrayal. Whether it is or not is up for debate but it’s important that Sherlock is trying to help his friend.
There was no room for it anywhere else in my analysis but I had to mention how great Mrs. Hudson was in this episode. The logic surrounding her owning an Aston Martin was wonderfully delivered and she had other equally great moments throughout the episode. Her line about how useful women are ended up paying off in the reveal that the unknown Holmes sibling was a woman so her contribution was significant. She kept the episode from becoming too grim as well which was most welcome.
A fascinating episode that explored the central characters in compelling ways. Sherlock and John’s different approaches to grief were really well played and tied together in ways that made sense. Having Sherlock play the whole thing up to help John deal with the loss didn’t quite work and I would have liked it if Sherlock hadn’t been right all along about Culverton Smith but it all came together well enough.
The reveal that Sherlock and Mycroft have a sister was also nicely done and sets her up as a really interesting threat in the next episode. How it plays out remains to be seen but I’m interested so far. This episode also contains a really powerful moment where Sherlock comforts John and helps him move on that could be the best work either actor has done for the show.
- effective reveals
- the powerful moment between Sherlock and John
- different approaches to dealing with grief
- Toby Jones’ performance
- Mrs. Hudson
- some reveals not quite working
- potentially compelling character beats not paying off