Sherlock is quite a popular show, you’ve probably heard of it.
For a show with such a massive cultural impact, it is interesting to think that there has only been 13 episodes of Sherlock, and unlikely to be any more if the showrunners are to be believed. For the record, I don’t believe them. The two main stars may be busy being big Hollywood stars, Benedict Cumberbatch in particular will be busy with Marvel films for the next decade or so, but they surely have time to fit in a Christmas special every now and again?
With the fourth season coming to a close last week, I wanted to revisit the show and go back through the episodes and pick a favourite. Doing this with most TV shows might be a touch redundant but Sherlock plays out less like a TV show and more like a series of TV movies.
Two quick points before we begin;
- These are my opinions and please feel free to disagree with them.
- Beware, many, many spoilers ahead. So if you aren’t up to date, don’t read any further!
Very well, the game is afoot!
“The Sign of Three” (3×02)
Starting odd with a controversial entry, as I know many fans are quite partial to this episode. I am not. Not one bit. The episode focuses on John Watson’s marriage to Mary Morstan, and much of it is played as comedy and farce, it feels like a spoof of the main show, the plot points involving dead soldiers is forced and plagued with convoluted coincidence. Sherlock’s best man speech manages to amuse but otherwise I’d happily see this episode struck from the record.
“The Hounds of Baskerville” (2×02)
Easily the most famous Sherlock Holes tale. And this modern spin on it has promise, a nice guest turn by Russell Tovey, but the story doesn’t work and barely makes sense. Worse of all, the reveal halfway through the episode that there is in fact no hound at all, is later completely ruined by the horrible CGI abomination that appears at the close.
“The Abominable Bride” (Special)
A lot of pressure on this before it aired. This was an episode that was necessary to fill a 3 year gap between seasons 3 and 4, and early leaked pictures showed us the story was set during the classic Holmes era of Victorian England. A great set-up to be sure but an episode that excels in the worst types of nonsense (mind palaces) the show has become associated with. The only positive note here is that “The Abominable Bride” is genuinely creepy at times and drips with atmosphere and menace from the opening.
“The Six Thatchers” (4×01)
We hadn’t a full episode of Sherlock since 2014 and there was a big build up of hype leading up to the return, this probably didn’t help the episode. But overall, the plot was a disappointment, entirely hinging on a USB thumb drive and ending with a DVD message from beyond the grave. Mary meets her maker in “The Six Thatchers” and her death was largely met with a collective shrug from much of the fanbase. It felt awkward and a deliberate attempt to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. One of the least Arthur Conan Doyle like stories the show has ever done.
“The Blind Banker” (1×02)
There’s one incredibly simple problem with this episode. It isn’t that it’s bad, more that in every way imaginable it manages to be completely forgettable. Nothing memorable or particularly interesting happens. 90 minutes of… Something.
“His Last Vow” (3×03)
So much build up in this episode and then it pulls the rug out from under the audience, and characters, by bringing a truly stupid plot twist (there’s no gigantic vault of information, it is all Magnussen’s own mind palace), wasting a gruesome and intelligent villain and generally missing the mark. It’s a shame really as the finale is quite exciting and Sherlock’s violent solution to the problem remains dramatic. Good concepts and acting don’t feel served by the story, leaving it adrift, forcing an ending that doesn’t really work. A surprise appearance at the very end by Moriarty brings up possibilities for the future, and once more stoked the fanbase into frenzy. Not the worst episode but fails to break into the better half of this list.
“The Empty Hearse” (3×01)
So. Just how did Sherlock survive his fall from the hospital roof? Everyone had a theory. Somehow he swapped identities with Moriarty and through the latter’s corpse off the roof in a mask? Plausible, I thought. Basically, any whacky idea felt like it might be the answer. Months of speculation were over, and the answer was finally ours. Except it wasn’t. We are presented with several possible ways in which Sherlock could have survived, most of which are ludicrously amusing. We get no definitive answer, and while that is frustrating, very, very frustrating, it was a clever move by the writers. We get an exciting and tense resolution to the case with a bomb and tube train. At the heart of this episode, what makes it work, is the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, their friendship takes a serious battering, testing the pair to their limits. And let’s not forget John Watson and his dreadful moustache.
“The Final Problem” (4×03)
Another divisive entry as it would seem a lot of people absolutely hated this episode. It does differ substantially from the format and features the single worst special effect, the destruction of 221b Baker Street and our heroes subsequent escape, but when the dust literally settles and we reach the meat of the episode, it becomes something different. A claustrophobic nightmare as the sad tale of Eurus Holmes is explained and her terrible revenge is revealed. This is an episode that wears its heart on its sleeve, from Sherlock forcing Molly to say “I love you” in devastating fashion, to Mycroft willing to sacrifice his own life. This episode is less about a case or mystery, and more about these characters as people, who they are, where they came from, and ultimately, about family. “The Final Problem” might very well be the last episode of Sherlock and it ends on a positive note.
“A Study in Pink” (1×01)
Our first foray into the world of this new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. Ballsy and confident from the get go, the pilot episode managed to convince just about everyone that a modern take on this character could really work and no longer needed to be consigned to the 1800s. Great character introductions and one of the best mysteries lays the groundwork for everything that is to come. Most pilot episodes are decent but lacking, not coming fully formed, but Sherlock was confidently constructed from the beginning, and it shows.
“The Lying Detective” (4×02)
Is this episode ranked so highly because it manages the most unexpected plot twist in the show’s relatively short history? Partly. The reveal that three characters we have been introduced to in the first 2 episodes of season 4 are in fact the same person is brilliant enough, then compounding that by explaining that this woman in none other than sister to Mycroft and Sherlock was a real left field out of nowhere ending. It gives us a slimy and repulsively unpleasant villain in Culverton Smith, gamely played by Toby Jones. Also, this episode follows Mary’s death and could have ended up being sad and mopey, instead it is a lot of fun and really builds the characters. The standout here though, is Mrs Hudson and her Aston Martin.
A Scandal in Belgravia (2×01)
I consider no.2 and no.3 on this list to be almost entirely interchangeable. They’re both excellent but in different ways. Belgravia has the slight advantage of introducing Irene Adler to the series, and what a delight she is, a character who doesn’t really ever reappear onscreen but leaves a lasting impact on the audience and Sherlock himself. Fast paced, exciting and more than a little raunchy, this episode might be the most fun of the entire run, featuring some the cleverest visuals for solving the case.
“The Great Game” (1×03)
At the centre of this episode is Moriarty. Sherlock knows his nemesis exists and has been behind many of recent woes, and when he is co-opted by his brother to retrieve some sensitive military plans, Moriarty is revealed at last. Andrew Scott’s performance is unique and has become as iconic as Cumberbatch’s Holmes. Whenever Moriarty appears, he brings with him a level of danger and unpredictability the other villains seem to lack. He is possessed of a friendly and quite affable evil, exuding menace and charm simultaneously. Another reason this episode works so well is that the case is interesting and leads us on constant twists and turns. Sherlock doesn’t work if the cases aren’t gripping and intelligent.
“The Reichenbach Fall” (2×03)
Best cliffhanger in television history?
I have never seen fans react the way they did to this episode, myself included. It lead to a fantastic near two years of speculation. We saw Sherlock Holmes leap to his own death, after Moriarty had shot himself in the head. The tension oozes in this episode like no other, you can feel it building to something amazing and it doesn’t disappoint. The rooftop confrontation/conversation between Sherlock and Moriarty is quite possibly the greatest scene the show has ever produced, the music swells and we are desperately trying to think of how Sherlock, and his friends, are going to get out of this one. And the kicker is, apparently, he doesn’t. Of course, before the credits have begun, we see Sherlock alive and well, although everyone else believes him to be dead. I genuinely do not think the show can be better than “The Reichenbach Fall”, it remains a truly spectacular piece of entertainment.
And that’s it. My definitive (until I rewatch them again and change my mind) Do you agree or disagree? Or just a casual indifference?