Sherlock season 4, episode 2, “The Lying Detective,” puts a spin on the canon original and breathes new life into the tale of the East Wind.
To say Sherlock season 4, episode 1 was a disaster is giving it too much credit. Even disasters hold some merit in the grand scheme of things. But for all that “The Six Thatchers” lacks, “The Lying Detective” makes up for ten-fold.
From Culverton to Sherrinford, the episode is a study in what adaptation can and should do for characters and story.
“The Adventure of the Dying Detective” plays a much larger role in the episode than I initially thought. It is the premise for solving a case that puts John at the center of observation while Sherlock pushes himself to the brink of death to bring a killer to confession.
Culverton Smith is not the overarching villain of the Moffat-Gatiss universe. That is the genius of this role. He is a means to an end to get Sherlock and John back in each other’s orbit. The game forces itself upon John. As he mentions to his therapist, “If Sherlock Holmes wants to get in touch, it’s not something you fail to notice.”
In order to achieve this, Sherlock sends himself down a rabbit hole fueled by a toxic mix of meth and whatever Wiggins whips up in the kitchen that day. Using Mrs. Hudson as his pawn, Sherlock eventually works himself into a place where he can no longer resist the help of his friends.
But is everything in his head or is it reality. One of the more brilliant aspects of this episode is the direction. Sherlock does drug trips well. “The Abominable Bride” set a mark for blurring the lines between Sherlock’s drug trips and Sherlock’s reality.
Hopping timelines, clever costuming, and emotional turmoil all make for a bait and switch scenario for all characters including the villain. For a character who looms large over the trailers and in the first episode, he turns out to be nothing special. Though he would confess, ad nauseam, to the contrary.
The East Wind
“The fact that I’m his brother changes nothing. It didn’t the last time…” The utterance of “the last time” looms over the conclusion of season 3 and set the internet a flurry into researching Sherrinford. The mythology surrounding the third Holmes brother is not lacking on the internet. But it turns out that “Mythology” was the keyword not “Sherrinford.”
The story of the East Wind taking Sherlock away is all about Eurus, not Moriarty. Eurus, as it turns out, is the sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. A woman who is as fine at practicing the deceptive and deductive arts as her brothers. After posing as Culverton’s daughter Faith and John’s therapist, she has shown a bit of her handy work.
But what she wants and who exactly she wants to harm is a story for another week.
However, something to keep in mind, she did seduce and assault John Watson on two emotional fronts.
Your life is not your own
Death is a sweet release from the pain of living through the daily onslaught of emotion. This sentiment echoes in episode 2 over and over through many channels. Sherlock tells Molly that stress plagues daily life, but death only one. Your own death is only a problem for other people.
But Sherlock is working through a much heavier problem in light of that final realization. His death, would be a problem for someone else. Not just John Watson, but Mrs. Hudson, Molly, and shockingly, many others. John Watson, however, is where we are placing our focus.
Mary Watson’s message, “Got to hell, Sherlock,” is only part of her message. It is a problem for him to solve– how does one person save John Watson? He goes to hell. In order to save John Watson, John Watson must save Sherlock Holmes. But in order to do such a thing, Sherlock must bring John deeper into the darkness before he can let a little light back into his life.
The insults continue, the game moves forward, the stress piles on until John can do nothing but move a piece on the chess board Holmes left out for him. He removes the knife and gets to work on Mary’s final case for the duo. She was always a fan of them sticking together wasn’t she?
A need to confess, a need to forget
Culverton’s finds joy in confession. The people he chooses to confide in are high ranking officials. For a personal touch, he also adds the person he cherishes the most — his daughter Faith.
If they know his darkest secrets, he keeps the danger at an all time high. It is better than drugs, money, success, even the act of murder. The serial killer who frequently shows his entire hand.
The final confession between Sherlock and John is the most important. Sherlock, surprisingly, meets John halfway. For the Holmes-Watson duo it means that John releases the demons in his closest and Sherlock admits to texting Irene Adler.
But John admitting that he is not the man that either Sherlock or Mary thought leaves him exposed and angry and vulnerable. And Sherlock, finally, embraces him in a brief moment of compassion. While it may not be obvious to his more intimate circle of friends, Mrs. Hudson has always had his number.
Holmes is an emotional person. An emotional person who will celebrate his birthday to make John Watson feel better.
It’s easy to jump for joy watching Sherlock and John navigate their pain. Cumberbatch and Freeman gave fantastic performances finally fell into place. But Una Stubbs’ Mrs. Hudson stands above the fray. She is a fast-driving, gun-wielding, badass landlady who is not your housekeeper, but will clean your therapists counters if she desires!
She tears down everyone from John to Mycroft and keeps her home in line. On Sherlock the opening paragraph of “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” describes his occasional revolver practice, his science experiments, and the “atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant.”
Bless you, Mrs. Hudson. Never let John use your car.
And just like that we are near the end of the Sherlock road. Are you ready?
Watch Sherlock season 4, episode 3, “The Final Problem,” Sunday, January 15 at 9:00 p.m. on BBC One in the U.K. and at 7:00 p.m. on PBS in the U.S.