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Sherlock Season 4 Episode 1 Review: Benedict Cumberbatch explores new depths, loses deduction in the process

Sherlock Season 4 Episode 1 Review: The consulting detective faces his greatest enemy - his arrogance

Written by Ram Sarangan | New Delhi |
January 2, 2017 8:30:18 pm
Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock Season 4 Episode 1 Review: The show’s fate now depends on how well it can handle the sudden emotionality that has been injected into it.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

Making its return after a three-year hiatus, Sherlock treads new territory even as it revisits its old bag of tricks, delivering high-paced energy and real emotional impact, despite stumbling many-a-times along the way. It is rather odd for a 3-episode series to spend one-third of its overall screen time focusing on anything but the main reason for its commissioning. But that is what happens with The Six Thatchers. It begins with an abrupt turnabout where Sherlock has no choice but to wait for the next move in Moriarty’s “posthumous game.”

What follows is a sequence of highly entertaining mini-cases that Sherlock and John run through – though in most cases, Sherlock manages to solve them without ever looking up from his phone. The birth of John and Mary’s child is similarly treated fleetingly through snippets largely chosen for humorous impact. Throughout it all, we see in Sherlock, an impending sense of doom, even as he narrates pieces of The Appointment In Samarra in a very overt plot device. The realms of intuition and premonition – which the original Sherlock Holmes would have dismissed as flights of fancy – is even more jarring when associated with Cumberbatch’s version of the character, who makes a few half-hearted stabs at trying to justify this. Perhaps there is nowhere to go but inwards for the character, now that he has already slain his ‘dragons.’

Also read | Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer Sherlock series 4: New trailer is full of dark, gripping promises

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Perhaps it is in keeping with the tone of the episode, then, that there was more detective work in the ‘mini-cases’ than the rest of the episode put together. Apart from a strangely adorable scene where Sherlock, Mary and John traipsed through London with a dog and a baby, everything else comes down to a matter of suspiciously convenient coincidence, luck or shortcuts such as a hacker or a conveniently well-placed tracker. It is clear that whatever the episode is meant to be, a well-told detective story isn’t one of them.

Sherlock, steven moffat

It is a far cry from the first two seasons, where the focus was largely on the cleverness of the problem-solving process and the twists and turns in an investigation. Becoming the latest victim in a spate of seasonal character killings, it is Mary who falls at the end of the episode, though the show’s approach in creating an impending sense of doom left very little room to guess on who the sacrificial lamb would be. While the episode does go further into Mary’s mysterious past, perhaps the real shame is that the character has never quite been explored on her own terms.

In the season 3 finale when she is ‘outed’ regarding her false identity, the focus swiftly turns to John and his “attraction to danger.” And even her death isn’t a tie-up to Moriarty or Toby Jones’s Culverton Smith, which would atleast have instilled a bigger sense of purpose to her death. Her death is merely fodder to advance Sherlock as a character and explore the new depths of bizarreness that is his relationship with John at the end of the episode. This is something the show justifies with a very odd posthumous video from Mary, who assigns Sherlock a “case” and asks him to “save John Watson.”

Watch: Sherlock Series 4 Promo 1 “My Brother is a Murderer”



Left reeling from the sudden shift in tone from light-hearted banter to the death of a beloved character (who acted as a commendable third side to the Sherlock-John bond, despite never being fully allowed to explore that role), the realisation that absolutely nothing of the main plot is explored only sinks in much later. Perhaps this was intentional, for in his longstanding arrogance of assuming that he would always “know when the game is on and love it”, Sherlock’s “knightly oath” of swearing to protect the Watsons was broken. This creates a fragility that Jones’ Culverton Smith will no doubt take advantage of – and ruthlessly so.



While season 4’s start has already set it apart in a class of its own – for better and worse – its fate now depends on how well it can handle the sudden emotionality that has been injected into it, without further losing the cleverness in narrative that made it a success in the first place.

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First published on: 02-01-2017 at 08:30:18 pm
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