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SHERLOCK’s ‘The Final Problem’ is the Most Apt Title of All

SHERLOCK’s ‘The Final Problem’ is the Most Apt Title of All


For the last week, I’ve been harping on about two things with regard to Sherlock series 4: I’ve been saying that the show is truly great when it returns to putting the crime-solving front and center (as was done in the masterful “The Lying Detective“), and that “The Final Problem” would very likely be the end of Sherlock as a series. These things still hold true; “The Final Problem” seemed perfectly tailored to be the end of the show as a regular thing, but it back-burnered crime-solving in favor of character revelations. It was Sherlock‘s “final problem” indeed.

The first problem with “The Final Problem” came from using that title, hearkening back to the very famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story in which he introduced Professor Moriarty in order to kill off Sherlock Holmes. This evoked something very specific for Holmes purists, which was especially odd given that the series had effectively done the Moriarty story twice before, in “The Reichenbach Fall” and “The Abominable Bride.” But because they were using the title, they had to have Moriarty in there somewhere, even though he’s been dead for a real long time.


The second problem is, after the revelation that Sherlock and Mycroft had a sister, whom Sherlock had entirely forgotten, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat needed a contrivance to get everybody to where she was–the island penitentiary known as “Sherrinford,” finally an answer to that riddle. Eurus Holmes (Sian Brooke) is name-checked as being like Hannibal Lecter: incredibly compelling and able to effectively enslave people just by speaking to them. Hence, she had completely taken over her prison (and can leave and return as she pleases) waiting for Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft to arrive. The details of how she has done this, or the fact that only a FIVE MINUTE conversation with Moriarty five Christmases ago enabled her to have all of this craziness set up, including a ton of pre-recorded video and audio inserts by him… Huge leaps in logic, there.

The third problem is really that the entirety of the “mystery” and resolution hinged on things that neither we nor Sherlock knew, and couldn’t be figured out using his usual deductive methods. Scant few times in the episode did he actually use his powers of observation–the violin Eurus is holding, determining which of those three MacGuffin brothers actually committed the murder, that almost needless deciphering of song lyrics–leaving the rest to be either told to Sherlock flatly by Eurus herself, or to having the outcome hinge on emotional resonance rather than actual detective work.


This leads inextricably to the fourth problem with “The Final Problem,” which is that the episode cheats more often than it doesn’t. Sherlock is always a show full of red herrings and double bluffs, but in this case, it’s almost all bluff and the red herring is us for trying to figure out what the red herring is. We don’t get to see how the boys survive the patience grenade; they just show up on the boat to Sherrinford later. We don’t get told how Eurus transports Sherlock to their old house or Watson into the well; they just wake up and they’re there. We ARE, however, shown a little girl aboard a slowly crashing airplane, with everyone else aboard completely incapacitated, but that ends up just being a metaphor for Eurus…which she somehow is able to talk about with Sherlock in the voice of a little girl. And perhaps the biggest one of all: we didn’t know Sherlock had a sister until the last episode, we didn’t know he had a dog until this one, we guessed Eurus killed the dog, only to find out it was actually Sherlock’s childhood friend Peter she killed. Okay…so what? It’s awful, it’s a gut punch of sorts, but it didn’t really change the ultimate issue at hand which is that Eurus is too dangerous not to be locked up.

Now I don’t want to be wholly negative here, and there were things I liked. I’m always a fan of Gatiss’ portrayal of Mycroft and this episode gives him tons to do, even starting with a creepy Gothic ghost story scene (that we find out was completely concocted by Sherlock and John…). I like the set-up of the three of them having to work together to get out of their predicaments, and the realization that for all of Mycroft’s heartlessness, he’s actually completely incapable of performing violence or even witnessing it. We saw it coming a mile away, but Sherlock having to choose whether to kill Mycroft or John made for a good scene and showed Mycroft will do the right thing ultimately, even if he’s a dick about it.


The episode also–being the last one and all–brought back every one of the major players in some fashion or other, most notably Moriarty (Andrew Scott), yes, but perhaps most heartbreakingly Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), forcing Sherlock to create an emotional problem for himself later by needing to say those three little words in order for her to reciprocate. It’s a cheat, though, that we never really got to see the end of that issue. Contrived and unlikely as it was, Mary (Amanda Abbington)’s last DVD message to Sherlock and Watson provided a nice sum-up of the series, with flashbacks to the first episode ever, and lays the groundwork for what could be a few more one-off adventures years from now. They could always come back.

Which truly brings me to the final problem with “The Final Problem”; in the end, after 12 previous episodes–which essentially are 12 feature films of sleuthing adventures–the writers of the show didn’t trust in what Sherlock truly is: a detective series with amazing characters. There was nothing to figure out here, no grand and final Riddler-esque series of clues to track down and decipher, and no triumphant end for the world’s greatest and only consulting detective. I almost feel like “The Lying Detective” would have made a better finale, because it was an actual episode of Sherlock but with our hero having to pull himself up by his bootstraps and win. All he did here was figure out what his crazy sister was doing.


This episode hardly felt like Sherlock at all, instead becoming a less gory Saw movie or something, where the big shocking reveal was only shocking in how unsatisfying it is. It was going to be very difficult to properly finish up such a beloved series; hell, the gap between series 2 and series 3 ensured that fans had become rabidly particular about what they liked in the show. But I can’t imagine anyone is truly happy with this final bow, save the nice montage at the very, very end.

If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments. How did you like this series of Sherlock overall? Let us discuss!

Images: BBC/PBS

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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