Monday, January 9, 2017

In Which I Review Sherlock (4x2)

Ah, now that's a bit more like it. Last week I complained that the season four premiere was decidedly lacking in the interesting case department but this week's episode "The Lying Detective" had a bit more of that meaty mystery that is a hallmark of any Sherlock Holmes story. The fact that the case of the week was bolstered by some deep, emotional, and character moments from Sherlock and John only made this episode that much sweeter. The show still has a tendency to get a bit too self indulgent in its direction and the way it presents a story, but I simply cannot deny that my jaw dropped several times while watching this week. The biggest question I have--apart from the obvious questions about Sherrinford's (or Euors? I'll use that name throughout since that is the name she used to John) existence and what exactly Sherlock's secret sister wants--is about Sherlock's inner psyche. It has been an often repeated phrase that Sherlock is a high functioning sociopath but the question that lingers after an episode like this one is, was Sherlock ever a sociopath or just an ordinary--if brilliant--man who simply hid all his fears and insecurities behind an ice wall of indifference? The answer to me is pretty clear; it's not okay, but it is what it is. Grab your deer hat (after all, it's Sherlock Holmes and he wears the damn hat) and let's go!

While sitting in front of Greg Lestrade, John Watson reminds the cop that "not that long ago, Sherlock shot Charles Magnussen in the head. We always saw it coming; we thought it was fun." Sherlock is not exactly opposed to violence; he's always willing to do what is necessary to solve the case and close the book on a criminal, though I think Sherlock likes the satisfaction of sending a criminal to jail and getting to take some measure of credit for stopping the evil doer more. So what made Charles Magnussen different? What made him worthy of that bullet in a head? It wasn't just that Sherlock himself was in danger or even the fact that Sherlock wouldn't be able to put Magnussen behind bars (how do you prove that someone has an elaborate mind palace with information on every powerful person in the world at their disposal?) No, there was another factor. Well, two if we're being honest: The Watsons. John and Mary were at the forefront of Sherlock's mind when he made the decision to kill Magnussen on his back porch. If ever it seems like John Watson is in danger, Sherlock steps up and does the unthinkable. This is nothing new; in fact, I'm pretty sure I said the exact same thing in my season three finale over a year ago. The bond between the two and the deep--if quiet--affection Sherlock feels for John has never been kept a secret or at arms length. That same connection between Holmes and Watson is under enormous strain with Mary's death; John places blame for his wife's death on Sherlock's shoulders and, despite being drug into Sherlock's insanity, John cares very little for his former friend's state of being and life. And what does Sherlock do when he feels that bond beginning to break? He fixes it; he saves it. With just a little bit of prompting from Mary-beyond-the-grave, Sherlock saves John Watson, gives him something to do and reminds John that while Mary is gone, life is not over. The game is still on. But to bring us back to the original premise, does this mean that Sherlock is actually a sociopath, high functioning or otherwise? After all, one of the traits of sociopathy is a reckless disregard for safety and Sherlock did beg a serial killer to kill him after he downed a shocking amount of drugs. He also exhibits anti-social tendencies and keeps most people at an arm's length, up to and including his older brother Mycroft, his parents, and Irene Adler, someone who got so under his skin that he can only refer to her as "the Woman." But, that's the rub, isn't it? People get under Sherlock's skin; he's not immune to his feelings toward them. He does love Irene; he does love his parents; I suspect he does love Mycroft and there is absolutely no question that Sherlock Holmes loves John Watson. So if Sherlock isn't a sociopath, if he genuinely cares for people and his reckless regard for safety has more to do with protecting those he loves (and because he's an addict who needs a rush, never leave that factor out!) then what kind of person are we really left with? Let's talk about Euros.

Secret siblings are tricky. They reek of soap opera type theatrics and as if the writers simply couldn't think of a new storyline so they invent a totally new person to "spice" things up. In the Doyle canon, there is another Holmes brother but as far as I remember, he never shows up in the narrative. There's flexibility here, in other words, because another Holmes sibling is canon compliant but with enough room for Gatiss and Moffat to invent the character as they see fit. Who else thinks Euros is smarter than Sherlock and colder than Mycroft? I did not expect the woman on the bus, Faith, and John's new therapist all to be the same person, let alone be Sherlock's secret sister. Hats off to the writers for that, but the most important part of this reveal is not the twist but rather trying to puzzle out what sort of relationship Euros has with both Mycroft and Sherlock. We've gotten a sense that Mycroft stays in touch with Euros (side note but is Sherrinford some sort of code word or the name of a hospital?) and makes sure that his sister isn't making any sort of trouble but Sherlock is the more troubling Holmes brother in this scenario. We've been getting flashes of two young kids on a beach, playing like children are wont to do. I had thought that maybe these kids were Rosie and another kid, a flashforward instead of flashback, but upon a closer look, the bloodhound dog is a dead giveaway that it's Sherlock's flashback to his childhood. Sherlock has never discussed a sister or any sort of trauma about another sibling so my prediction is that Sherlock has blocked out this sister; the memory of her is so powerful and so tragic (whatever happened between them) that his mind has stored her in the deep recesses of his mind palace, a corner of his paradise that even Sherlock does not know exists. It this early childhood trauma of Euros that has made Sherlock, at least in part, who he is. So much of who we are and how we react to the world and the people in it comes from our childhood and what happened to us there. What if Sherlock's antisocial tendencies and his cold and cockish behavior stem from an unconscious and unremembered trauma involving his sister? It's like Sherlock told John at the end of this episode, "I have this idea that, from time to time, we might just be human." Sherlock Holmes: human being; I never doubted it.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Lying Detective 

--Our serial killer/villain of the week sums up Sherlock's state of mind and being pretty well, "once you open your heart, you can't close it again."

--Also, how about some major props to Toby Jones for his work as Culverton Smith! I talked very little about the case of the week, but it was strong and interesting and very tense.

--"You're suicidal. You're allowed chips."

--Mrs. Hudson jumping out of the Aston Martin was not a thing I expected but it was a thing I simply loved.

--I need to put on my feminist hat for a moment and state that the writing for Molly this year is pretty sad. Is her only role to be a nursemaid and babysitter?

--Euros means "east wind" which is also Doyle-canon compliant; in the final Sherlock Holmes novel, the detective speaks of an east wind coming to destroy England before it is rebuilt. Doyle was speaking of World War One but it takes on a different flavor now that it has been latched on to Sherlock's sister.

--Anyone wonder if we'll see Irene Adler in next week's episode?

--The JohnLock hug was completely different than the first one they shared on the day of John's wedding. This one felt...more raw and completely visceral. I can't deny that I was crying throughout that whole scene.

--Next week is the finale of season four. Several years ago, both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stated they were on for a fifth season but, since then, both actors have become mega stars in Hollywood and it's hard to know whether or not they can keep taking time off shooting big and expensive movies for a BBC drama. See you next week!

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