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Sherlock S4E3 The Final Problem – Spoiler Review * 15 January 2017

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So, he was dead all along.

But that didn't mean we had to miss him, as Jim Moriarty led us on a merry game that he ultimately masterminded and was a deceased spectator to simultaneously. And that is just one revelation in a string of shocks and twists that make up this meaty episode of Sherlock.

As the last stage in Moriarty's plan, The Final Problem is a superb exercise in action filmmaking (yes, it's TV, but it may as well be a film) thickly layered with extended, almost unbearable sequences of tension. There is no real case, but there is a mystery, filled out with devilish, horrible puzzles. Chiefly, the main question is whether James Moriarty is dead. Once we know he is, and it isn't twins (despite a knowing, playful aside about his brother), there's a risk of the wind going out of the episode, but the realisation that Eurus Holmes is the final revenge he has loosed upon Sherlock with his explicit and constant involvement is another mark of his ridiculous forward planning. Or, from that superbly ambiguous off-the-books meeting between the pair, was Moriarty actually set loose as an agent of revenge on the part of Eurus? It's a question that we'll never know, possibly along with much else about Jim Moriarty.

The revelation about the nature of Sherrinford is also an intriguing one. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are clearly pulling again from wider influences than just Conan Doyle, with the island prison obviously reflecting the craziness of a Bond villain lair, while also recalling other more Holmesian influences, especially the action adventure tones of Basil Rathbone's adventures as well as the espionage heavy plotting of their beloved The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It's also clear Arwel Wyn Jones had an utter field day on this episode, effectively building a secret base on a soundstage. As we mentioned in our spoiler free piece, it strongly recalls the tone of The Hounds of Baskerville, with Sherrinford itself a more imposing place than the titular facility of that episode, heavy stone a constrast to the stark cleanliness of the research lab.

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What else can we say about the cast that hasn't been said? Benedict Cumberbatch brings Sherlock back to his best after last week, discovering the flaws that made him in highly emotional scenes while rattling through deductions at a rate unseen since earlier series. Martin Freeman is the conflicted, noble John Watson that we love, the moment where he steels himself to execute Sherringford's warden (the brilliant Art Malik) bringing his humanity and strength to the fore, in the face of the weakness of Mycroft. Mark Gatiss is a delight here, getting the most to do that he has ever done onscreen - Eurus isn't the only Holmes who likes disguises - while fulfilling many beats of fan service at long last. The finally revealed secrets of his weaponised umbrella display a go-for-broke outrageousness that signals this is no ordinary episode, and his presence in the thick of the action as a result is massively welcome. Also welcome is that show-stopping scene with Molly. Louise Brealey hasn't had quite as much to do in this series, but that astonishing sequence - easily the best in the entire episode - cleaves so deeply to the heart of this beloved character it risks breaking our own.   

There are also definitely flaws to the episode, despite the strength of so much of it. That shocking cliffhanger from S4E2 The Lying Detective is skipped over and solved with such casual confidence it was almost pointless including it. Why destroy 221B (in an admittedly superb sequence), only to rebuild it exactly the same by the close? (At first glance, we took this as a great way to solve Arwel Wyn Jones' problem of running out of the iconic wallpaper, but nope, it's all back up at the end). Eurus' abilities are also rather nebulous - looking like the terrifying ghost child Sadako from Ringu (1998) much of the time, her almost supernatural powers of suggestion and control are played up to a crazy degree with little explanation. An interpretation is she is effectively a super-malevolent Derren Brown - a nice idea to be sure, but this tips the balance of the realms of plausibility for us. Couple that with her vocal performance of the girl on the plane who didn't even really exist, and we're into the realms of truly being nasty with an audience - suitably apt, for such a malevolent, self-spited character. 

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But despite all that, the greatest strength of this episode is to finally bring us to a point of understanding. The Final Problem makes a strong attempt at solving the ultimate mystery that lies at the heart of Sherlock Holmes.

What made Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes?

Both Mycroft and Eurus share a similar view. Emotion is dangerous. Mycroft believes this because of what happened to his younger brother. Eurus believes it because she could break her younger brother so easily, as she was so neglected by her siblings. As portrayed here, Sherlock was a normal young boy, the middle child between two polar opposites that matched each other in chilly temperature. He was different as he was emotional, and he has been running from the loss of his childhood best friend for his entire life, with the trauma of the murder wiring his brain into the analytical machine we know best. This revelation, hinted at throughout the third and fourth series, and delivered here with material dating back to The Great Game, is a both a masterstroke in misdirection as well as a total reinforcement of the strength of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. The fact that Redbeard was not a dog, but a little boy who effectively stood in for John in the childhood adventures of the young Sherlock is a deeply affecting idea, and a demonstration of why the elder pair of friends need each other. A friend humanises Sherlock in ways his siblings could not even begin to comprehend. The pair are playing detective, not pirate, but it cuts deeply to the heart of these characters in a new and fresh way.

Indeed, Mark Gatiss remarked after the BFI screening that the entire show that he and Steven Moffat have created could be read a background origin story for the iconic, archetypal Holmes and Watson that we are most familiar with. Though we have travelled through versions of many of their most famous adventures, we have ended up back at the 'beginning', but not in a cheap way. Shorn of the details that make up both the canon and other adaptations - marriage, babies, siblings - the series at the close has created the characters as we know them best, in both a beautiful ending and a wide open door to new adventures.

A Detective and his Doctor best friend, solving mysteries. 

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