I had acknowledged in my review of “The Six Thatchers” that Mary’s death could be good for Sherlock in the sense that Holmes and Watson’s relationship could once again become the focal point. It’s a shared character arc with a relevant history; one that we, as fans, have greatly appreciated since the moment they took on their first case together. Considering the separate instabilities of both gentlemen (Holmes and his drug problem, Watson and the loss of his beloved wife), it’s only appropriate that the show hone in on their woes, and “The Lying Detective” does that with impeccable craftsmanship.
There were many defining moments in “The Lying Detective” that convinced me of Sherlock‘s return to glory, but those mean nothing without the episode’s mesmerizing first thirty minutes. The way Sherlock mentally undresses the state of his latest client, “Faith”, and then quickly becomes keen of her suicidal disposition is wonderfully presented with the visual of his heroin usage hindering his thinking process. The casual stroll down the streets of London is book-ended with a pair of fantastic scenes where Sherlock continues to peel off more underlying factors in his client’s life while she acknowledges his growing empathy for her. Sherlock visually deciphering the dimensions of her apartment in-between all that is a marvel for the eyes to behold, especially when considering the heightened presence his drugs have started to take. The twist at the conclusion of this act, with Mrs. Hudson apprehending Mr. Holmes and interrupting Watson’s therapy session, brings every element the episode initially touches on together. From this point on, I was virtually at the edge of my seat in a way Sherlock hasn’t demanded in quite some time.
For pretty much the entirety of this week’s episode, everything seemed to just…click. Even if you took out the discovery that “Faith” the client was actually Sherlock’s secret sister, Eurus, I’d still love the way she quietly encouraged Sherlock’s explicit curiosities and suppositions. Seeing Sherlock both remain on the Mount Olympus of deductive reasoning and establish his genuine care for her well-being, even in his relatively unstable state, was remarkably effective. Ditto for Holmes’s elaborate scheme revolved around Watson, which would have been pretty darn enthralling even without the exposition of Mary’s “Miss Me?” DVD. His uncanny ability to both surmise Culverton Smith as a serial killer and manufacture a proud display of media-crazed contempt against him perfectly aligns with the fractured condition of his friendship to John.
The brilliance in this specific series of events was hiding in plain sight, but Sherlock makes it work in cohesive bliss by playing off of tired tropes. Toby Jones’s gradual descent into revolting maliciousness makes it far too easy to bet on Smith’s wicked turn against Sherlock at the end – yet that’s the point all along. Holmes drags John up, down and around Culverton’s hospital to milk every ounce of festering vile the foul-toothed gentlemen possesses, knowing that his immense wealth and social stature will retract all of the detective’s hostile accusations. Watson is little more than a witness to the increasingly intense animosity between Holmes and Smith, yet that’s exactly what Sherlock wants.
The drug-infused disposition coupled with the publicized baffling Sherlock generally experiences during this sequence is the perfect fuel for John’s eventual lashing out, and the show gets there at the height of his anger. The residual effects of watching Culverton do stuff like proudly advocate a discussion about serial killers in front of innocent, young children still lingers with Watson. However, the moment where he punches his longtime partner in the face is produced from an exclusive outlet of emotions; this couldn’t be more personal. Here, Watson truly realizes what it’s like to be in a position to make a difference, and decides to act on that impulse. Mary is dead in part because he didn’t do enough to protect her, but Sherlock – regardless of his efforts – shares some of that responsibility, yet here he stands wasting his genius and making a mockery of himself. For Sherlock, that feeling, that perception, is the expectation of weeks’ worth of planning; for John, that’s the reality. (Side note: Having re-watched this episode, it’s really impressive how layered [and how much more enjoyable the second time around] Sherlock’s plan is.)
Mary’s overall involvement in all of this is very polarizing, but I can’t help but be amongst the minority who are neither pleased nor bothered by her hallucinogenic appearance. I kinda see what Sherlock was after by giving Watson a voice in his head that he could see, but this is such an overused technique that it became frustrating to have at all. Personally, I don’t think Mary was around long enough to be a convincing figure in this light, and I felt that both the therapy sessions and the reluctant team-up with Holmes carried enough emotional ties to Watson’s plight; there’s not much else we could’ve possibly gotten from seeing him mentally wrestle with a ghost. This is a complaint that’s pretty much cancelled out, however, by Watson’s reveal that he merely cheated on Mary by simply texting the girl on the bus, and that he is prepared to be the man Mary “thought he was”; a gripping little instance that hits home thanks to Martin Freeman’s touching delivery.
That and Benedict Cumberbatch’s predictably brilliant performance headline an extraordinary tabling of acting in “The Lying Detective” that elevates the rest of the episode’s shifting plates. Sian Brooke faces no easy task as the secret Holmes sister, but she champions the role with a gravitating, deceptively commanding approach to the script. Whether she’s parading around glaring vulnerabilities to Sherlock as Faith, or slowly taking over an innocent-turned-tense therapy session right before Watson’s eyes, Brooke quickly leads us to determine that Eurus is quite the compelling individual. The aforementioned Toby Jones comes off a bit stale at first, but once the script grants him more flexibility later on he absolutely takes off with the character’s malevolence. We even got Una Stubbs stepping out of the Baker Street residence and into an Aston Martin(!), showing us a more refined side to Mrs. Hudson (“You’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock Holmes!”) and flaunting that endearing chemistry she’s always shared with the main cast.
Few episodes in this entire series could top the highs displayed here, and part of that has to do with the excellent way it closes out. Sherlock and Watson’s hug not only resurfaces their relationship back on solid ground, but gives it an added depth: by seeing the worst in each other, they’ve emerged more enlightened than they once were, and are more emotionally entangled. To snatch that away so suddenly with Eurus murdering Watson would be a stretch – even for a show of this caliber – but I love the volatility behind the cliffhanger. We have to question the note and the tiny living space in which it presided, as well as the former lover Eurus once had – all of which could factor in the season finale in a huge way. There’s an open-endedness to those final seconds that should have many heads spinning, because if nothing else Eurus could be synonymous with far more variables than we could imagine.
Here are a few extra notes I’d like to cover before I conclude:
- “And you know why they dropped you, dear? Because they know you.”
- The scene where Smallwood leaves her private number with Mycroft is obviously an invitation for something more than a few drinks, but I can’t help but think that there’s a deeper intention at play. I have terrible memory with secondary characters, and I haven’t seen “His Last Vow” since the night it originally aired, so I have very little to tack on my suspicions – but surely this potential fling Smallwood is pursuing is for non-intimate reasons, right??
- I’m still bothered by the severe lack of supervision over Sherlock on Myrcroft’s part. At one point, he says that Sherlock going rogue is a legitimate security concern, yet his little brother is roaming the streets high off of heroin with a roommate who supplies him behind closed doors. I get that Sherlock purposefully used as a part of his grand scheme, but I would think big brother would be on top of keeping him clean above all else.
- Mrs. Hudson reaches unforeseen levels of badassery this week, and it really doesn’t stop with the car. The way she effortlessly figured out where Sherlock laid out his latest “unsolved problem” was just awesome, and she even had a chance to embarrass Mycroft (“He has no idea what an idiot you are!”)
- Watson now knows that Irene Adler is still alive, and the first thing he tells Sherlock to do is text her back. This was a proud moment for me, seeing as how John uses the tragedy of his own marriage to give his close friend solid insight. He wants what’s best for Sherlock, and realizes that he may be missing out on the kind of special relationship he had just lost with Mary. If Sherlock could also have that, John would rather he did; stubbornly brushing it aside with occasional texts seems insulting to Watson.
Sherlock came back in full form this week, placing its attention back on its central dynamic in a dark, riveting ninety minutes of expertly-written entertainment. The use of this week’s latest bad guy lent to the growing conflict between Holmes and Watson in the best possible way, while the eventual resolve was met with a brilliant character reveal and a (potentially) devastating cliffhanger. “The Lying Detective” still consists of a few ill-advised decisions, but I can’t remember the last time I watched Sherlock and was as immersed in what was currently unfolding and excited for what’s to come afterward.
+ Toby Jones as Culverton Smith
+ Sherlock’s grand scheme to get Watson to his boiling point
+ Faith, and then that Eurus reveal!
+ Basically every scene with Mrs. Hudson
– While not a terrible idea, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ghost Mary
– Would like to see Mycroft watch over Sherlock more intently, drugs or no drugs