Warning: This post contains spoilers for series four, episode two of Sherlock. Please do not read this post until you have watched ‘The Lying Detective’.
A three-episode series has its advantages and disadvantages for the BBC series, Sherlock. Like the ‘beginning, middle and end’, each time the large, underlying plot is developed until it climaxes in the final episode. Yet, at the same time, it must try hard not to be an episode which is just filling space. Much like a good novel, the beginning must draw us in and the ending must be dramatic, but the plot points in-between have to be intriguing too. The Blind Banker, The Hounds of Baskerville and The Sign of Three either failed at having an interesting case or that sense of progression we needed as we neared the series finale. At last, The Lying Detective has solved that problem.
It started with Culverton Smith, another villain who fits perfectly into Sherlock’s rogue gallery, but in a way which sets him apart from Moriarty and Magnussen. If there are any similarities to be struck between the previous two villains, then Culverton shares Magnusson’s business mindset and the feeling that he is untouchable. This time, however, it comes with a new twist. Unlike Magnusson, who was secretive in both his blackmail and affairs, Smith was in the public eye whilst concealing his murderous background. The blackmailer was elusive, and now the serial killer is too. However, Culverton goes one step further by boasting in the spotlight about how evasive he is from Sherlock Holmes. It’s a smugness that frustrates Sherlock – as explained in the episode. It’s what led to him killing someone at the end of series three and in this episode, him almost stabbing Culverton. Nevertheless, Toby Jones’ portrayal of such a villain was commendable and brilliantly unique.
It was a case which had us all intrigued: how was Sherlock going to wipe that grin off of Smith’s face? The answer lied with John Watson, in a scene that was reminiscent of the doctor saving the day in series one, episode one (where John arrived just in time – conveniently – to shoot the cab driver). Although, this repetition was justified, as the ghost of Mary allowed us to see John’s character develop even more. At first, I was a bit disappointed that yet another character had been revived (either in a spiritual form or in a more literal sense), but Mary’s moral support revealed a part of John Watson we’ve never seen before: the man he wants to become. It was a brilliant sub-plot for character development and coincided with the main plot perfectly.
Speaking of character development, another fan favourite who really came out of her shell was Mrs Hudson, who seemed to have reached breaking point in tonight’s episode as she finally told Mycroft what she thought of him. Well, then there’s the scene with the high-speed chase and the car, which made me respect the landlady even more. The first episode of this series offered a sprinkle of character development for the landlady with the whole ‘Norberry’ codeword, but now Mrs Hudson moved away from being some light comic relief, as she gave John the wake-up call he needed in the episode.
Finally, there was the plot twist at the end which no one was expecting. Granted, the three-year wait since the last series gave the fanbase plenty of time to speculate about the third Holmes sibling (thanks to Mycroft’s comment about ‘the other one’ in series three), but once again, Moffat and Gatiss remind us not to be too set on one particular theory, as it wasn’t a brother, but a sister.
Three years is a long time for the Sherlock fandom, but seven days is enough time for them to debate and discuss the previous episode. In amongst the talks about Mary not being dead (which this episode debunked), people picked up on the poster by the bus stop in the scene with the mysterious ‘E’ and John. Some of us may have predicted that ‘E’ would play an even bigger part near the end of the series, but none of us knew that the ‘E’ stood for Euros, and that she, along with Faith and the therapist were all the same person. Whilst we may know who was behind the ‘miss me’ message, what we’re yet to find out is this: what does all this have to do with ‘Sherringford’?
It’s these questions, mixed in with character development, emotions and twists, which made The Lying Detective the best mid-series episode yet. With another shocking cliffhanger, it builds up to a finale which brings the phenomenal trilogy to a close in the best way possible.