Sherlock kicked off the new year with the first episode of its fourth season. It had been precisely a year since we were treated with the delightfully absurd period piece, The Abominable Bride, and nearly three years since the finale of the previous season, and it’s apparent that they have been hard at work on this episode. While the episodes have always been as long as a feature length film, this particular episode actually feels longer, but not necessarily in a bad way. The episode has twists and turns that keep the story engaging for those who don’t mind the occasional (frequent) change of pace and topic. A word of warning, what follows will not be a spoiler free analysis of the episode. Please watch first.
From the start of the episode, Sherlock doesn’t quite seem to be himself. He’s plucky and giddy. He flashes his bizarrely triangular smile that I was almost convinced was CGI in Star Trek: Into Darkness. While he quickly regains his classic, dickish demeanor, I couldn’t help but notice that we were still seeing a very different Sherlock throughout the episode. He’s distracted by the threat of Moriarty’s return, but there’s more to it. Sherlock has, admittedly, developed “people skills” throughout the previous three seasons, but much of it has proven to be something of a performance. He makes necessary adjustments on a case by case basis, in order to maintain the structure of his immediate surroundings. However here, we see Sherlock ACTUALLY caring. He shows compassion and concern for those around him, and it feels genuine. You can see that he actually feels connected to John and his family. This serves to show a very strong contrast between Sherlock and Mycroft during certain scenes of the episode. As Sherlock states at the end of season three, which is reiterated at the start of this episode, he is a “high functioning sociopath”. However, through their conversations, Mycroft shows himself to be the true sociopath of the pair, as he mocks Sherlock for being “sentimental”, and openly admits that he’s “never been very good with” humans, whereas Sherlock chastises Mycroft for having a dismissive reaction to a photo of a baby. The show further emphasizes Mycroft’s cold, stony interior through setting. Both his office and what we assume to be his home in the episode are minimalistic, contemporary dungeons.
We see another side of John, as well, the bulk of which is fortunately saved until nearly the end of the episode, as it is difficult to watch. Perhaps it’s because John is something of a moral pillar for the show, or maybe it’s because I love Martin Freeman, and John Watson being such a believable character makes it hard to separate the two in my mind. While we don’t quite know the extent of it, we do see that he engages in some form relationship with another woman. There are a few reasons for why this is so frustrating. For one, as I mentioned, John is supposed to be the good one. Not that I can’t abide a show where no protagonist is perfect, but it’s a sudden and drastic shift for his character. Second, the events of the story don’t seem to put John in a “reasonable” position to pursue this relationship(not that there’s an excusable circumstance. Just that there are some that could make sense, from a story standpoint). He and Mary aren’t constantly fighting. They seem as loving and devoted as ever. He just shares a glance with a moderately attractive woman on a bus, and boom, he’s texting her. Finally, Sherlock says nothing. The world’s greatest detective can’t tell that his best friend is having an affair. I know I said he’s distracted, but he’s still Sherlock, and sniffing out affairs is something he can do with the slightest indicator, but John throws up no red flags. In the very least, Sherlock would at least know that there is something that he doesn’t know. It wasn’t a bad plot point, but the delivery didn’t exactly feel natural.
As a whole, the episode is perhaps one of the most well-rounded episodes in some time. I will be honest, most of season three did not hold my interest, to the point that I hardly remember any of the episodes without really putting some thought into it. The episode is heavy, but it’s also got many lighthearted and funny moments. Ultimately, it’s one of the most emotional episodes, partly due to Sherlock’s newfound glimmer of humanity. As I mentioned, however, the story can tend to be a bit scattered, at times. While this can be characteristic of an episode of Sherlock, I was mainly lost on the focus of the Black Pearl case, and a few other matters that continued to crop up, but never became central to the story. I attributed most of the digressions to be Easter Eggs, alluding to original works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which my research later confirmed. However, it doesn’t help to explain what, if any, significance some of the more focal side-cases may play in the future, or if they were only meant to throw us off as much as they did Sherlock. I’m looking forward to seeing where this season takes us, but I’ll admit, it will be difficult to watch how the consequences at the end of this episode reverberate through the season, particularly with the relationship between John and Sherlock.
What did you think of the episode? Did it stand up to the three year wait? Have you got any ideas about the connection between the Black Pearl and the Tbilisi incident? Share your thoughts in the comments!