Fans of Sherlock are experts in waiting – they wait a minimum of two years for every new miniseries, each bringing only three new episodes to sustain them. Since the airing of Season 4, however, it remains unknown whether or not "Sherlockians" will have anything new to wait for. The unconfirmed status of Season 5 begs speculation about the future of the show, and whether the show, as it stands, warrants a future at all.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Season 4.
The Introduction To A Genius
Sherlock introduced its titular character way back in Season 1 in an indirect manner – he was the man behind a torrent of text messages sent to the police, upstaging Detectives Lestrade and Donovan. They were understandably irritated, dragged their feet admitting that they needed his help, but at the end of the day, he was quicker than they were, and really how could they say no at the expense of people's safety?
Sherlock Holmes was a crime junkie – one who could do without the mess of humanity, yet still found laughs in showing up the police at every turn. He raced ahead of the game, bringing John, and the audience, along for the adventure.
Flash-forward to "The Final Problem," the most recent episode. This chapter focuses on the long-missing Holmes sister, Eurus, and we are told that she is very, very smart. Mycroft, one of the highest-ranking men in government, speaks of her in whispers, telling us she is an "era-defining genius." Eurus is so volatile, such a concentrated dose of intelligence and evil, that she has her very own Azkaban-like prison located somewhere off the coast of England. We hear about her mostly from the lips of the men in charge of her incarceration (you can draw your own conclusions from that) but we are given very little evidence of the supposed power she wields.
This is just one example of the issues with the recent Sherlock. Season 1's introduction of a genius was impressive because it was underplayed, just a guy in a coat who likes puzzles and the police can supply them. Season 4 needs to tell the audience on no uncertain terms, with a glass prison and a wide-eyed genius in white pajamas, that this is the real deal.
Reality Not Found At 221B Baker Street
That real deal, however, doesn't feel terribly real. The entirety of "The Final Problem" (and honestly most of Season 4), feels very low stakes, even amid super-spies and grenades and serial killers. This is the issue with Sherlock having made friends with everyone in the room: there is no longer a team of people to temper Sherlock. Back when it was just him and John against the clock, Mycroft would sometimes come in to remind them that there were real world powers at stake, but now, Mycroft joins them on the adventures.
This is nothing against the character of Mycroft, but putting him on the investigative team makes it seem as though Sherlock and John are now essentially working as national security. This is combined with Lestrade and Molly Hooper being marginalized even further, thus shrinking the outside world and creating an enclosed space for three grown men to play without stakes. Removing them from the real world highlights the unrealistic aspects of them fighting an unrealistic villain.
Emotional Gutting With Emotional Disconnect
It was a shock for viewers when showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss killed off a beloved character, former super-spy and current Mrs. Watson, in the first episode of Season 4. John is now a single father, but you wouldn't know it from all the time he has to scare Mycroft with clowns. The show doesn't take a closer look at his grief, guilt or responsibilities, but still trots out footage of Mary to evoke a sentimental response.
For a series about a detective without empathy, Sherlock has never been short on emotional moments, but those moments no longer feel earned. At the end of Season 2, John speaks to Sherlock's grave, a deeply affecting scene that betrays just how much he will miss his best friend, and shows the burden of grief placed on his shoulders. This is the sort of depth is missing from later episodes.
This is true on a meta level as well, as all the characters and plotlines bend to the greater will of the show. Sherlock used to be about a self-proclaimed sociopath who didn't understand the point of caring about people. Now it centers around a man who speaks in soft, comforting words to a frightened child on a plane. Yes, this is partly an effect of character development, but it's starting to feel like pandering without any meaning. The show wants him to be effortlessly cool, but it also knows that "Sherlock with a heart" moments are very popular. In attempting to have it both ways, it loses depth and authenticity.
Where Should 'Sherlock' Go From Here?
All this said, Sherlock is still a show focused on its own intelligence, and this makes it a challenging and fascinating watch, regardless of how it treats its characters. Another three episodes to unpack and dissect is still much better than the majority of current television being aired. The real question is, does the audience want to watch Sherlock if the main character isn't the man he used to be? The most devoted fans will probably pull a posthumous Mary Watson and overlook any faults, smiling proudly on the "Baker Street Boys." But a more critical look at the show could save fans from an even more soulless season of Sherlock.
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