Luke Owen looks at last night’s Sherlock and how it’s making death irrelevant….
Last night’s Sherlock (and indeed, the whole of series 3) certainly divided its audience. While some felt the show was packed with high drama, twists and turns, others simply wanted to see Sherlock and Watson solve some crimes and felt cheated by the Mind Palace. However the biggest point of contention from many was the final reveal that Moriarty (the Joker to Sherlock’s Batman) is alive and well. Yep, just like Holmes, Moriarty is back from the dead.
No doubt there will be a #MissMe campaign for series four.
For those not in the know, at the end of series 2 of Sherlock both Holmes and Moriarty died which led to the central gimmick of series 3 being how Sherlock faked his death. Of course there was little doubt coming out of The Reichenbach Fall that Sherlock was actually “brown bread”, but that didn’t stop it being a shocking moment to see this iconic character throw himself off a building to his splattery death. However, here we are a mere three episodes later and not only is Sherlock kicking around like nothing happened (he even survived a fatal gunshot like it was a light kick to the shin) but Moriarty is also back as if the dramatic end of series 2 never happened.
So, if Moffitt and Gatiss have the power to bring back supposedly dead characters, then why should we care if anyone dies?
As soon as you open up the idea of dead people returning from the grave, all drama and threat in death is lost. If Moffit and Gatiss decided to kill Mary or John Watson in the next series, would it have any sort of impact? Probably not because there is a chance they’ll be back in series 5 with some wacky story of how they survived.
This idea of bringing back characters from the dead is nothing new and it’s not unique to Sherlock, but it is an idea that is taking away all forms of threat and/or drama. There are no stakes anymore. Sherlock has been a great thing for the world of television drama as it validates the medium here in the UK, but this cheap shock tactic is taking away any form of investment.
A couple of years ago, Chronicle writer Max Landis posted a parody video on Youtube remembering the legendary comic book series The Death and Return of Superman which raised some great points about this very subject. While the video was played 100% for laughs, he does posit the idea that DC Comics didn’t kill Superman and instead killed the idea of death. People often forget just how groundbreaking The Death of Superman was. This wasn’t just a comic book event, this was a story that was told on national news around the world – DC Comics were going to kill off the most iconic comic book character ever created. However when they brought him back just a few issues later, it allowed for comic book writers to kill off any of their characters because they could just bring them back at a later date no harm, no foul.
The problem with this is that every time they did it, the deaths had less impact to the point where they became groan inducing. It just became a plot device for when they’d run out of ideas. For example, did anyone really think Captain America would stay dead after the Civil War? Or that Bruce Wayne would remain in the ground so Dick Grayson could take over? Last year Marvel ‘killed’ Peter Parker only to announce that he will be returning to The Amazing Spider-Man in the next couple of months – and that was obvious from the get go. It’s hard now to find a comic book character that hasn’t died at some point in their history. Subsequently, there is no drama in comic book deaths because the threat is never validated. The Peter Parker example is perhaps the best as when Dan Slott ‘did the deed’ the first set of responses from comic readers was, “well, it’s not like he’ll stay dead” because no on ever does.
Apart from Uncle Ben of course. He’ll remain dead forever.
Sherlock, and shows like it, could face the same problem. Gatiss and Moffit have opened the floodgates now – they could bring anyone back so long as they had a “clever” story to go with it. They could have a reveal at the end of the next series that Magnussen is alive despite being shot at point blank range by Mr. Holmes himself. Death isn’t a powerful storytelling tool in the world of Sherlock anymore.
There aren’t a lot of compelling stories left and devaluing one as powerful as someone dying just seems silly. Granted, the reaction to Moriarty’s return has prompted some positive feedback as it means the next series of Sherlock might have some actual crime solving, but at the same time its treading the “how is he still alive” gimmick that we’ve just been through. And ten quid says that the next death in Sherlock will have zero impact because the threat no longer exists.
Just like DC and Superman, Moffit and Gatiss have killed death.
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.