Did ‘Sherlock: The Final Problem’ feel like ‘Sherlock: The Final Outing’ to you?
For weeks now, both writers and cast have been saying this fourth series, which went out with a monumental bang last night, will probably be the last. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt, who first came up with the idea of setting the Victorian sleuth in contemporary London, have both said they’d need a really good reason to continue with further episodes, while Benedict Cumberbatch told GQ Magazine last year that he felt there was something “very, very final” about these most recent episodes.
Inevitably, with millions continuing to tune in for the latest visits to Sherlock’s mind palace (9.53million has now been recorded for last week’s Episode 2) and the undisputed continued delights of deduction and dialogue between the main characters, not to forget the belated joys of Mrs Hudson’s rock anthems and sports car, talk has turned to future stories... with writers now starting to hedge their bets, describing the characters as fully formed, ready for more action. Mark Gatiss has even called the entire catalogue of Sherlock and Watson’s odyssey up to now “a back-story”.
Really? I’m not sure. There were six main narrative arcs we followed, in last night’s Episode 3 alone, that appeared to come to a neat, almost elegiac conclusion. Namely...
1. Sherlock and Mycroft
After years, and four series, of conflict, competitiveness and contempt between the two brothers, last night’s episode finally saw Sherlock and Mycroft working together. Throughout previous series, Mycroft’s support has always been on the sly, and with his own agenda. Last night, it became explicit, with Sherlock refusing to shoot Mycroft during one of their most deadly challenges, and finally defending him to their irate parents over his decision to keep Eurus’s fate secret. With this chemistry forever altered, there’s no going back to some of the most fun sources of tension in the show.
2. Moriarty is truly dead
One of the recurring themes of the series has been Moriarty’s tantalising appearances, even, so it seemed, from beyond the grave. However, this series proved, definitively, he is no more, with Sherlock’s most defining, well-matched Nemesis consigned, finally, to history.
3. Sherlock and Watson
Their friendship, like that of Mycroft and Sherlock’s, has never been spelt out. Fans have had fun creating a homoerotic vibe, while Watson has always been the human side of Holmes’ cleverness. However, things last night became more equal, as John Watson proved what a soldier he was, and Sherlock uncovered his compassion, even as John Watson finally forgave him for Mary’s death. There is nothing else to be done here.
4. Sherlock and Molly
After four series of Molly’s silent adoration of Sherlock never being given a voice, last night’s challenge brought her words forthcoming. And then Sherlock responded in kind. Just as other characters from Ross and Rachel to Moonlighting’s Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis have proved, such a declaration is also the time for the curtain to fall.
5. Rathbone Place
The very final frame of last night’s epilogue saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman running out of a building called Rathbone Place. While Mark Gatiss is selling this as a kicking off point for a new kind of Holmes, more in the tradition of the most revered big screen Sherlock - Basil Rathbone in the films of the 1940s - this seems to me instead a jumping out of the narrative we’ve been losing ourselves in, and instead sharing fans’ meta-awareness of a long list of Holmes, of which Cumberbatch is but the latest, temporary baton-holder. And therefore one destined to hand it on.
6. Mary’s tribute
Was there ever anything more of a fond farewell to adventures had, risks taken, lessons learnt, cuddles earnt than Mary’s final description of her two ‘Baker Street Boys’? It was designed to bring a wet tear of gratitude to many a fan’s eye. And, with it, goodbye.
Catch up with ‘Sherlock’ Series 4 on BBCiPlayer.