Warning: major spoilers ahead.
A story retold and rehearsed so tirelessly even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle feels its fatigue. Yet who would’ve thought, in the 21st century, that a lanky, almost alien looking British boy would fit the bill well enough to succeed where Robert Downey Jr. failed?
Our intrigue with BBC’s interpretation of the savant at 221B Baker Street started in 2010, just when the modern superhero era started to reach its peak. Perhaps it is the fascination that a mere mortal can somehow have superhuman-like abilities that invigorated history’s most famous detective to the frontlines of modern television. The actor playing such an “advanced being”, so to speak, doesn’t even really look human – and he knows it.
But with all the hype focussed on the titular character, the depth of each handcrafted Sherlock story can often get overlooked, because a tale can’t always lean on its lead actor as a crutch, no matter how much charm he exudes (who can forget 2013’s “worst movie ever” The Fifth Estate?).
“…from witty British quips to rapid fire crowd-pleasing sleuthing, a plot that was complex yet engaging enough for us to want to keep on watching to its exciting final twist…”
And that is the premise of BBC’s Sherlock, as it embarks on its fourth season. After seven years on the telly plus a dissatisfying Christmas special, writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had to prove that their Baker Street chap had a different, more nuanced (and twisted) story to tell than the numerous other Holmes adaptations B.C. (Before Cumberbatch). Different they strived to achieve, shattering the ideal mold of a perfect Sherlock to keep the show from entertainment stasis.
Based on the Sherlock Holmes’ short story The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, the third season opens with a daring new episode that harkens back to the brilliant story artistry we saw in the show’s incipience. The Six Thatchers gave us everything we were expecting in the ninety-minute Sherlock episode: witty British quips, rapid fire crowd-pleasing sleuthing, and a plot that was slightly complex but wickedly engaging. This new instalment not only gave us old favourites, but something rather new as well – the undying legacy of Moriarty.
Lingering in the back of Sherlock’s mind (and ours), this unsolved unknown casts a dark shadow of uncertainty over the new season. It also makes Sherlock less objective and more conspiracy theorising, which envisions a new era of Sherlock stories, an era where the beloved detective fails to live up to expectations.
This new side of Sherlock that we are slowly getting to know isn’t new. We’ve seen a Sherlock extend cold formalities and distancing himself from the warmth of the human world, often leading to dysfunctional relationships in his love life, with his closest friends and family, and difficulty in coming to terms with himself.
Brushed aside by his impatience with those he considers of a lesser intellect and an ego big enough to make the Iron Lady seem like Britain’s sweetheart, The Six Thatchers gives us a fitting development by dint of Sherlock’s own hubris. This recurring fault eventually ends in Mary Watson’s shocking death and the breakdown of his and John Watson’s friendship, so aptly depicted by the undeniable on-screen chemistry that both Cumberbatch and Freeman have, resulting also in the breakdown of Sherlock’s own mental health.
In other words, our superhero is now having a mid-life crisis.
We’ve seen a Sherlock extend cold formalities and distancing himself from the warmth of the human world
Enter the next chapter: The Lying Detective. Our fallen hero, choked up on meth, hallucinating, living with a junkie (still at 221B Baker Street, of course). He’s not the only one grappling with the demise of Mary – John is too, and so is Mrs Hudson. And in dealing with a serial killer hiding in plain sight as well as the harrowing close shave with death that the detective encountered, Moffat and Gatiss still manage to slip in another secret in the already vulnerable reputation of Mr. Sherlock Holmes – a past involving the clandestine Holmes family tree.
An action-packed and highly riveting finale season has already set up a crazy premise that will undoubtedly shed more light on the flawed vigilante in the anticipated season finale. Take a break from watching your superheroes save the world and watch Sherlock try to save himself.