Tori Brazier reviews the second episode of Sherlock series four…
After the rather uneven opening episode of Sherlock series four, Sunday’s ‘The Lying Detective’ managed to provide its audience, on the whole, with what we came to expect of the show in earlier series: namely a clever and more coherent plot which, although acting as a bridge between first and last episodes (so soon!), had its own pacing, tension and resolution within this episode. Throw in villain Toby Jones and his maniacal glee, plus a couple of genuine and well-executed shocks, and even ardent Sherlock fans should be satisfied. If you’ve not yet seen the most recent episode, read no further as key plot details will be covered!
‘The Lying Detective’ started off, as of old, with a peek into the crime and criminal: a teaser of what’s coming Sherlock’s way, if you will. Dubiously slimy media ‘personality’ and philanthropist Culverton Smith (Jones) confesses his desire to kill in a personal board meeting – but all of the attendees are hooked up to an IV filled with a handy memory-wiping drug; Smith is allowed the ritual of unburdening without the fear of consequence. This plot point did feel a bit too convenient, especially when his daughter Faith (Gina Bramhill) is then shown scrawling down as much as she can remember, desperate to not give in to the creeping memory-wiping fog.
Sherlock, meanwhile, is in pieces and Watson (Freeman, doing so well as the thinking woman’s crumpet) is in therapy. As the genius detective struggles to fire on all cylinders with so much smack in his system (the dealer’s moved in, setting up shop in Sherlock’s kitchen), things seem to be going rather better for Watson and his new therapist. Barely a few minutes into the episode and there’s a quick lurch of shock when he appears to have company in bed (immediate reaction: it’s ‘M’) and then it’s revealed to be Mary (Amanda Abbington) he’s hiding (immediate reaction: wait, she didn’t die after all?). These are clever and devious nods to what theorists might have predicted unfolding, before it’s revealed that Mary is a figment of John’s grief. A sensible and affecting writing choice: he can’t let her go yet.
Sherlock’s crumbling mind palace has meanwhile been invaded by the troubled Faith with – would you believe it – a fragment of memory from the meeting! The detective’s somewhat uncharacteristic pity for her results in a trip for chips and a stroll around nighttime London, which has the fabulous dual purpose of spelling out ‘FUCK OFF’ to Mycroft (Gatiss) and his tracking Spooks. There’s quite a thought-provoking musing on the phrase “taking one’s life” in this scene as suicide, points out Sherlock, “happens to everyone else” so “your life is not your own, keep your hands off it.” This depth is always welcome alongside the entertaining glibness of Sherlock – as is Cumberbatch in Shakespeare-spouting mode.
The intricate plot weaving that follows Sherlock’s ‘anyone’ brainwave with the case is quite impressive, as he calls out Culverton Smith online (and Twitter, much to John’s horror) whilst ‘summoning’ Watson, Molly and Mrs. Hudson together – which he managed to mastermind weeks previously with a bit of the old deduction. Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) is also surely now the owner of the best entrance into an episode of Sherlock, speeding and swerving like a total bad ass in her luxury sports car – give that woman a spin-off; the mind boggles at the full extent of her backstory! Although last week’s prayers for Mrs. H were answered, Molly (Louise Brealey) still had little to do other than examine Sherlock and display her best ‘oh Sherlock!’ pained expression when warning him that he was weeks from death if he kept shooting up. Fingers crossed for her come the finale!
Having the climax of the episode – the confrontation between Sherlock and Smith – take place in the hospital wing that Smith has built summoned a sense of foreboding; a predator inviting its prey into its den. The conversational foreplay ratcheted up the tension as Smith’s obsequious mask slipped neither in front of the children on the ward nor its staff (including the wonderful Katy Wix as a nurse – vaguely brutal, as always, and here in her assessment of John’s blog having gone “downhill” recently). Culverton Smith then got plenty of time for goading and bragging and gnashing those mesmerizing yellow teeth in the macabre setting of the morgue (his “favourite” room) before Sherlock’s final nerve snapped in the wake of the revelation that he never did, in fact, made Smith’s daughter – the lynchpin of his case.
As Sherlock is forced to recover in the hospital from, amongst other things, the almighty punch Watson (finally) gave him in the ensuing ruckus, a classic ‘slowly unfolding peril’ scenario was set up, whereby John finally begins to figure out Sherlock’s behaviour – with help from Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft and his agents poking around, and the re-discovery of Mary’s DVD. In the meantime, Sherlock is being slowly strangled in a secure room by Smith, who entered through a hidden door (naturally). Mrs. H also gets another ‘arse-kick’ moment when she throws the “reptile” Mycroft out of Baker Street – her hidden depths, while somewhat baffling, never cease to entertain. Mycroft is also clearly being built up for something shattering next episode as all he really does in ‘The Lying Detective’ is lurk around, mention Sherrinford in deliberately ambiguous terms and phone to nag Watson – oh, and receive advances from the mysterious Lady Smallwood (Lindsay Duncan), who is after ‘a drink.’ Interesting.
Once Watson has swooped in to save Sherlock and locate the recording device with Smith’s confession (now) on, the creepy philanthropist is in custody – and confessional mode. As with all nutters, he appears or be quite happy about it too, but it remains to be seen whether or not this will be the last we see of him. Toby Jones does such a fabulous job of being unhinged that it’s a little frustrating that Culverton Smith is confined by both script and space – he must be satisfied with a lot of grandstanding in his own hospital wing – and we never see any of his murders or victims (which is weird and oddly dissatisfying) – just lots of his talking and showing off.
The explanation for this lack of prominence, however, is pretty clearly delivered by the – shock horror! – sister reveal. Watson has already prodded at the issue earlier in his questioning of Mycroft, but to hide the newly-discovered Euros (Siân Brooke) in such plain sight was a bold and brilliant move. She’s not a therapist! She was ‘Faith’! She was Watson’s text buddy ‘M’! She’s probably in cahoots with Moriarty! It’s all beginning to hint at coming together for the Sherlock series finale, with clues you cooould have worked out in the past two episodes , or at least worked out that something needed working out… well played, Mark Gatiss. It was also a bold yet simple move to make it a Holmes sister – somehow this was never considered. She has also, as of yet, not been identified as Sherrinford, so there’s that intrigue for next time. Is Sherrinford a fourth sibling? A place? A weapon? Something tells me it’s all going to be wrapped up with a nice Moriarty bow next week.
The final bombshell of the night was the suggestion of a return for Irene Adler, busy texting Sherlock at the episode’s denouement (and on his birthday, apparently). Her re-introduction would certainly be exciting, especially with the way she manages to befuddle Sherlock – although it is a bit of a bolt out of the blue considering that we’ve known all along that she’s alive. It’s either a genius move to tease the possibility of bringing her in again, or a little clumsily handled. There is undoubtedly lovely handling, however, of Watson and Sherlock’s reconciliation. Watson admits to Sherlock that he doesn’t hold him responsible for Mary’s death. Sherlock admits to Watson that he cares: “it is what it is.” They hug. Internet fan fiction explodes.
Well. Roll on next week!