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Monday, 9 January 2017

Sherlock S4E2: The Lying Detective.

Series 4, Episode 2
The Lying Detective.

Am I going mad, or have Sherlock episodes been getting longer? If they have, everybody else has probably already realised and discussed this already, but it's only just occurred to me that I could have sworn that in the first series, they were only an hour long, and now they seem to consistently be an hour and a half -- with the finale liable to be even longer. I'm not even necessarily complaining, it just seems odd that this is now effectively Midsomer Murders

In this week's episode, some time after Mary's death, Sherlock has fallen back into serious drug addiction and is losing his grip on reality, while John is struggling to cope with raising a child on his own while grieving. When Sherlock is visited by a woman who claims to be the daughter of a murderer, he quickly comes to the conclusion that philanthropist Culverton Smith is a serial killer, and sets out to prove this. As Sherlock's obsession leads him deeper and deeper into madness and danger, John is forced to return and assist him.

This episode leans heavily on the use of 'reality is breaking down' segments, which are one of the few things Moffat is any good at writing. It's true: While he's an abysmal writer in general, the man does have a genuine talent for playing with audience perceptions and creating a sense of logic and reason becoming unhinged. I suspect he knows that, too, since it's constantly showing up in both Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Toby Jones is a pretty great villain actor.

That having been said, it's a bit that Moffat uses far, far too often. Remember that in the last six episodes, three of them have involved this kind of gimmick in a major fashion -- in fact, for The Abominable Bride, it was the entire conceit of the episode -- and two more have utilised it in a more minor way. That means that five out of twelve episodes in the entire series, nearly half, have in some fashion involved hallucinations, delusions, or Sherlock losing his grip on what's real or what's not. It's thematic, sure, but there are more subtle ways to show that theme.

The gimmick is saved in this episode by, once again, Fabian Wagner's stellar cinematography, which turns what could have very easily been an interesting but repetitive segment of the story into something that was quite engaging to watch, with a sense of -- admittedly very overstated -- menace and suspense.

It's telling also that this is another episode which doesn't utilise a mystery plotline in really any fashion, instead opting for a psychological thriller plotline with elements of horror. The killer is revealed in the earliest scenes of the episode (and while we don't see him properly confess or try to kill anyone until the very end, it's fairly obvious that he's definitely a murderer, given that we do see him drugging people, and given that Toby Jones plays him as a hammy, pantomime villain, the Child Snatcher filtered through Hannibal Lecter filtered through Rolf Harris), and the thrust of the plot is instead a combination of proving that the character in question is the killer, while managing an unpredictable, drugged up Sherlock.

A bedraggled Sherlock.

As I said in the last episode, I'm not against that as a genre shift. Neither Gatiss nor Moffat are especially strong mystery writers -- Moffat can just about do a mystery box or evil jamjar plot, but murder mysteries are entirely beyond him -- but they can, by and large, do thrillers, and the shift from mystery to thriller has seen us to a fourth series that is considerably better than the third series was. So, by all means, keep doing thriller storylines, guys -- it's not like Arthur Conan Doyle didn't sprinkle a fair few adventure stories amidst all the mystery.

There are a few standout actors in this episode, most prominently Amanda Abbington, appearing as a hallucinatory version of Mary and easily out-acting both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and the aforementioned Toby Jones, who chews the scenery every moment he's on screen and, once again, manages to easily out-act Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I mean, it's not difficult to out-act Freeman, the man is the acting equivalent of the colour beige, but still.

These two people.

The end of the episode also gives us a plot twist, as the woman John was having an emotional affair with, his therapist, and the fake version of Culverton's daughter who visited Sherlock are all revealed to be the same person: Eurus, apparently Sherlock and Mycroft's older sister, and possibly this universe's version of Sherrinford Holmes? It seems to beggar belief somewhat that Sherlock, observational genius, wouldn't recognise his own sister, but maybe they've never met before. That's me giving the show the benefit of the doubt.

The end of this episode also gives us slightly creepy moments where John tells Sherlock he needs to have sex to be complete as a human being, followed by Mycroft getting a date, and honestly the juxtaposition of the two together just makes me think that Moffat is obsessed with that nobody can be asexual.

Anyway, The Lying Detective certainly isn't a terrible episode? A bit less of John having deep, angsty manpain and it might have even been good. At the very least, this series is shaping up to be a fairly solid one.

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