The final episode of the fourth season of Sherlock, ‘The Final Problem’, and quite possibly the series as a whole, was a pretty unconvincing end to an altogether forgettable season.
Viewers were treated to what was supposed to be one-and-a-half hours worth of action-packed fun, and an emotional look into the past of Mr Holmes to boot, but will have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths considering the huge expectations for the series finale.
The success of Gatiss and Moffat’s interpretation of the famous detective was built upon engagingly modernising the original Arthur Conan Doyle series with strong performances from Cumberbatch and Freeman as the main leads, and clever cinematography to visualise modern-day quirks like text messages and, of course, the brilliant thought processes behind Holmes’ solving of cases.
While this episode retained some aspects of this formula, the license of its writers to go off-script, in delivering original stories bearing no resemblance to the traditional detective-mystery format popularised in the Doyle novels, has let fans down.
Other than the ridiculous, but somehow also clichéd, plot, the fourth episode of the series suffers from one main problem: there is no mystery for Sherlock to solve. Instead of giving us a traditional Sherlock Holmes story adapted to the modern day, Gatiss and Moffat have delivered a story that takes Holmes out of his normal London surroundings to a completely unrelatable super-prison environment, where his observation skills are of little relevance to what is actually a horror plot.
The problems of this episode have, unfortunately, been evident across the entirety of the fourth season. That is not to say that there have not been any good points to the last series. The first case of the series was uninspiring; and its remarkably coincidental link to a second case may have also left the audience uninterested, serving as more of a vehicle for character development than an interesting plot in itself.
Similarly, while episode two hinted at a return to the detective-mystery model, it ultimately rested on an unsubtle and unoriginal, Savillian antagonist: a TV personality who used his wealth and fame to allow him to infiltrate hospitals (that he funded) to carry out his sinful crimes. One has to wonder why Moffatt and Gatiss didn’t stick to the tried and tested method of updating Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories in the way previous seasons were able to do so captivatingly.
This is where “the final problem” of the season seems to lie. Faced with writing what appears to be the last season of Sherlock, the creators of the show were forced to deal with the dilemma of how to keep the show new and exciting, while retaining the elements that made previous seasons as popular as they are.
As a fan of the first two seasons of the show I find myself disappointed that the old observation-reveals made by Holmes in the new series now feel stale, and that the writers have chosen to focus on overly-dramatic character developments and relationships instead of the traditional mysteries written by Doyle.