My eventual reaction to the final scene of this episode was pretty simple:
I feel like the real title of BBC Sherlock should be "Sherlock Holmes: Special Treatment." Or perhaps, "Sherlock Holmes: No Consequences."I love Moriarty, and I'll be psyched to see more of him next season. But his presence is indicative of one of Moffat's worst flaws as a writer: his complete inability to allow serious actions to have serious consequences. Sherlock coming back from the dead is a given, but Moriarty recovering from a gunshot to the mouth? Although, I suppose, he may not actually be "alive" next season. Perhaps he's committing crimes from beyond the grave. Luckily for the purposes of this review, there's another extremely obvious example of the total lack of consequences in this show: Sherlock's near-instant return from "exile" at the end of the episode.
— Hello, Tailor (@Hello_Tailor) January 13, 2014
My immediate assumption after Sherlock shot Magnussen was that next season, we'd be in for some kind of Hannibal-style crimesolving scenario where Sherlock is incarcerated but is occasionally sprung from jail to help solve the puzzle of the week. This would be an interesting development both for Sherlock as a character and for the show, because the reason why everything seems like such a hot mess right now is because there are no restrictions on anything. Sherlock has too much freedom, the writers have too much power, and everyone would benefit from cooling their heels in narrative prison for a while.
Of course, then it turned out that instead of going through the normal legal processes, Sherlock would be sent away to die in "Eastern Europe," that well-known bastion of dastardly criminal peril. At this point, one would expect him to fade tastefully off into the sunset, giving us a cooling-off period before he inevitably returns for the next season. Except a) that would be too similar to the gap between seasons two and three, and b) there are no consequences in Sherlock Land. So he's brought back after a mere four minutes, once again learning that he can do whatever he likes, as long as it's for a Good Cause. He doesn't need to feel guilty about Janine, he doesn't need to feel guilty about Magnussen, and he doesn't even need to feel guilty about that whole thing where he faked his own death and lied to his best friend about it for two solid years.
So. Sherlock is right and good and cool and awesome, and lives to play another day. Meanwhile, twenty to thirty people from the British government, Magnussen's personal staff, and Mycroft's team of soldiers, all get to live with the knowledge that Sherlock Holmes shot a man in the head in front of multiple witnesses, but will get away with it because he's famous and has a powerful brother. And that, really, is the true underlying message of this show.
This episode, and a great deal of the basic concept of Sherlock as a show, reads a lot like a story written by a young boy who has only ever been exposed to fantasy-fulfillment male antihero fiction. Sherlock is a stylish, witty, misunderstood genius who doesn't care (doesn't HAVE to care) what anyone thinks, and can be as rude as he likes and get away with it. He doesn't need or want women, but women become obsessed with him anyway, proving his desirability and superiority. He has a loyal best friend who stays with him even when he's acting like a total asshole. The world shapes itself around him. And sure, we know that Sherlock isn't a total Mary Sue because he has a multitude of very obvious personality flaws. The problem is, they just don't matter. They are window-dressing. Unlike the far less objectionable Sherlock Holmes of Elementary, Sherlock never learns or evolves, because there are never any long-term consequences to his behaviour.
It's pointless to say that Sherlock should be more like Elementary, because that would require the main characters to go through a massive personality shift. But there are certainly things this show could learn from the way Elementary portrays its central characters and relationships. Yes, BBC Sherlock is more extreme than Elementary Sherlock, and that's why we like him. He's a wish-fulfillment fantasy, existing in a heightened reality where everything eventually bows to his power, while Elementary Sherlock lives in the real world. I'm not suggesting that BBC Sherlock should aspire to Elementary's level of realism (or even to its admirable levels of emotional authenticity), but it would be a good idea for them to take a leaf out of Elementary's book when it comes to punishing their lead character when he goes over the line.
In Elementary, when Sherlock is needlessly unpleasant to someone, that unpleasantness has consequences. It has actual impact on his career and his relationships with other human beings. Ditto when he acts outside the law. Not only does he see actual real-world legal and practical consequences to his actions, but there are emotional and social repercussions when he acts without considering the lives and feelings of other people. When he and Joan Watson have an argument, he generally ends up apologising and learning from the conflict. His basic nature doesn't change, but he matures and evolves thanks to his life experiences and growing relationships. Now, I don't think it would be realistic for BBC Sherlock to suddenly develop empathy (or even an ability to treat other people with basic human decency), but the show would actually improve A LOT if his actions had serious consequences. In the Reichenbach Fall, we saw that. But this season? Not so much.
If Sherlock's behaviour doesn't have the potential to negatively impact the world and his own life, then any positive impact feels meaningless. Magnussen's death was inevitable from a narrative standpoint, because much like in the original Holmes story, the ONLY way to defeat him was to kill him. But if Magnussen's death was inevitable, then Sherlock's comeuppance should've been inevitable as well. That's the whole point of this kind of scene. The hero goes to the villain's lair, teeth gritted because he knows he has to make the ultimate sacrifice and do a Bad Thing, and once he's followed through with that Bad Thing, he faces the consequences. Sadly, Sherlock is immortal, undefeatable, and can do whatever he wants without running the risk of serious punishment. I just hope that next season, Sherlock's writers remember that without Kryptonite to make things interesting, Superman is the most boring superhero of the lot.
- Child Sherlock was a terrible idea. I assume it was meant to humanise him, so we'd feel more sympathetic once we'd seen cute baby Sherlock crying and playing with a dog?? Terrible. (And apparently the child actor was Steven Moffat's son? Good lord.)
- I loved Mycroft's suit in the Christmas scenes. Very Lord of the Manor. Whereas Sherlock looked convincingly awful in his drug-den outfit.
- Once again, I am in awe of the number of white men in this show. They introduced this Billy Wiggins guy... for what reason, exactly?? And why on earth is practically everyone in this show white. IT'S SET IN LONDON.
- Did you guys notice that Magnussen's scrolling info screens for John and Sherlock both included "Porn Preference: Normal." WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?? "Normal" porn preferences?? So many questions, oh my god. Particularly for Sherlock, who is characterised as uninterested in sex and generally dismissive of women.
- For that matter: did Janine and Sherlock have sex, or not? The shower scene at the beginning suggested yes, but then in the hospital she implied that they'd never slept together. Ugh, I am so sick of Moffat's way of writing Sherlock's sexuality.
- Appledore House was INCREDIBLE. Although all the way through, I just found myself wondering who the hell would want to live in such an enormous, sterile house. Apparently it is some millionaire's actual house, though.
- How long has Mary been pregnant, exactly? This episode ended at Christmas. John and Mary got married in the summer. I'm confused.
- I'm a little confused about Mary's backstory. Are we meant to believe that she decided to retire from her life as a spy/assassin... and then spent the past five years working as the receptionist at a medical practise, building a social circle of blandly normal British people? Like, of all the things she could've picked, she picked the one job where you have to deal with crying babies, pissed-off methadone addicts, senile old people, and STDs?? And you probably only get paid about £10/hour?? Unless she's working there because of John, in which case: oh, for fuck's sake. It makes sense from the perspective of that's how she fell in love with John, but it does not REMOTELY make sense in the new context of her being a former intelligence agent with a Dark Past.