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Monday, 16 January 2017

Sherlock S4E3: The Final Problem.


Sherlock
Series 4, Episode 3



So, we reach the end of this series of Sherlock, with the next one likely not for at least a year, possibly two. It's entirely possible -- even probable -- that once Moffat has left Doctor Who (I am thankful every day that he's finally leaving) we'll see more frequent series of Sherlock, but at the same time, the show is rapidly reaching the point where it has nowhere else to go, since it's not really a series that's built for sustainability.

In this week's episode, Sherlock learns from Mycroft that he had a sister, Euros, who was imprisoned on the island of Sherringford after Mycroft and his uncle, Rudy, came to believe that she was a danger to others. As Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft go to visit Euros, who has the ability to brainwash anyone she talks to, they learn that the island and its staff have long been under her control, and quickly find themselves imprisoned by her and forced to play a series of games about 'emotional context.' As they make their way through the games, with the life of a young girl on a plane at stake, they learn that this plan was hatched five years prior, when Moriarty visited Euros.

Okay. Right. So.

This episode has a really interesting premise. The idea of someone who is to Sherlock what he and Mycroft are to the regular cast is a really fascinating one, as is the idea of someone who is possessed of a superhuman charisma to the point where they can brainwash people through conversation -- and both those ideas do mesh pretty well with the weird semi-fantastical setting of Sherlock. This could have been a really interesting conceit for an entire series of Sherlock, let alone an episode.

Mycroft, why are you watching random old films.

Unfortunately, it immediately hits a roadblock that just about anybody who isn't in denial about Moffat's flaws as a writer saw coming: Euros is a woman, and Moffat can't and won't write women well, or even like they're actually people.

Foregoing any interesting motivation or tactics, he instead sets her up as just being obsessed with Sherlock and wanting to hurt him through a series of death games, thus constituting the most boring combination of a bland motivation and dull methodology it's possible to have. Moffat manages to write Euros such that she never actually comes across remotely like a real person, so much as a cartoon monster, and while that could have been interesting in the hands of a better writer, here it's just very obvious that there's a limited number of ways that Moffat knows how to write women. It's obvious not least because we've seen nearly this exact character before: She was called Missy, although Missy wasn't quite as bad in this regard. Unlike Euros, Missy had previous character development as the Master that made her being obsessed with the Doctor make a degree of sense -- Euros, meanwhile, is the same concept recycled without any of the years of build-up to it.

The early part of the episode, with Sherlock talking to Euros in her cell in the manner of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter -- and I can't even be annoyed at how much of a cliche that is now, because it's a cliche I personally adore -- is actually pretty interesting and engaging to watch. It doesn't last: As soon as the death games start, the plot begins to just meander, wandering pointlessly from set piece to set piece with no real sense of plot progression, and no real sense of stakes, until it finally reaches its pay-off.

Watson, being boring.

The pay-off, in this instance, is twofold: Firstly, it's Euros revealing that the dog Sherlock thought she had killed was actually a human boy, Sherlock's best friend, that he had forced himself to remember as a dog -- this isn't how memory works, but I'll let it go, since it's potentially a pretty good reveal. Secondly, it's Euros revealing that her entire motivation is just wanting to be loved, which is the point where I just lost all patience with this episode.

This is a recurring problem with Moffat. His male villains get to have either practical motivations -- blackmailing others for power, etc -- or interestingly layered shades of unhingedness -- Moriarty's combination of frustration, obsession, and suicidal ideation -- but his female villains, indeed his female characters, good or evil, always have a single motivation: They want love. If they don't want love at the start of a story, you can be sure they do at the end.

This is part of what I mean when I say that Moffat doesn't write women as people. In real life, nobody is driven solely by a desire for love, people are more complex than that -- in Moffatland, though, women aren't fully fleshed out people, but receptacles for men to put affection (and sometimes bodily fluids) in. Moreover, in Moffatland, men can be superhumanly smart and still have a range of motivations and mental states, but if a woman is smarter than average, she will always be psychotic. Always.

Sherlock, also being boring.

The other big problem with the plot is that it sets us up for a plot reveal that Moriarty is still alive, and teases the audience with it, only to reveal that he was really dead all along. This is not how plot reveals work: The pay-off has to be worthy of the build-up, so building up to a reveal only to then have that reveal be 'what the characters all thought was the case all along was true' fails on a fundamental level. A plot reveal has to do more than surprise the audience, and in this case, that's all it does. Surprise and disappoint.

The episode ends on basically just the status quo being restored: Euros is back in Sherringford Prison, Sherlock and Watson are back as a team, now sans Mary who has fulfilled her Moffat-obliged role of creating a child and can now be consigned to Woman Hell for all eternity, and nothing really having changed. It is the most boring end possible for an episode.

It's all just an absolute waste of some really good ideas, and a series finale that is both absurd and deeply, truly boring. Even Wagner's cinematography -- which is noticeably less inspired in this episode -- can't do much to save it.

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