“The truth is never plain and very rarely simple.“
Contains full spoilers for The Final Problem – please do not read until after you have watched the show.
After last week’s rug pulling climax in which we discover that the hinted at third Holmes brother was actually a Holmes sister all along The Final Problem has a hell of a lot of story to tell in a scant 90 minutes. And what a marvellous tale it is. The episode plays out like one of Moffat and Gatiss’ much beloved Basil Rathbone films. The Final Problem is a proper old fashioned potboiler. A stirring tale of evil masterminds, lost siblings and long buried family secrets as relationships are strained to breaking point all set against a ticking clock of potential calamity.
The tone is set by the marvellously creepy opener as Mycroft watches an old black & white detective noir with a striking femme fatale (he clearly adores these films-the relish on his face as he mouths the lines!) Sherlock puts Mycroft through a horribly unpleasant charade in order to deduce the truth about Eurus. If I were Mycroft the presence of the clown alone would have resulted in a terrible vengeance. How fun though to clear up the mystery of Mycroft’s ever present umbrella which is revealed to have not only as many suspected a hidden sword but also a gun. But sadly this is only the first of many grotesque and emotionally taxing charades the characters will have to undertake.
We get a brief bit of joy with Mycroft VERY reluctantly visiting 221B Baker Street & trying his best to avoid setting in the client chair while Mrs Hudson looks on highly amused “You have to sit in the chair. They won’t talk to you unless you do. It’s the rules“.
From the moment the drone crashes through the window the pace never lets up for a second & the tension ratchets higher & higher to frankly unbearable levels as the Holmes family have to try & survive Eurus’ evil games.
The Final Problem is all about relationships and in particular Sherlock’s relationships. For a man who declares that he doesn’t have any friends in A Study in Pink , The Final Problem shows what a terrible liar he is as every one of his key relationships is put under the microscope. It’s an episode littered with character beats each more wonderful than the next.
It was great to see Mycroft working with Sherlock and John throughout. It’s the most screen time Gatiss has had on the show and it was very welcome, they make a charming trio. Apart from Sherlock and John’s friendship the Mycroft/Sherlock relationship has always been my favourite. All that childish bickering and feigned indifference hiding a very deep affection for each other. I loved the beautiful understatement of Sherlock complimenting Mycroft on his acting as “Lady Bracknell” in a school play when they’re all stood in 221B facing probable death. No tearful declarations of affection – just a genuine compliment being given and very much appreciated. We also get to see another facet of Mycroft as he gets to indulge his acting side with an elaborate disguise (and who didn’t cheer at Sherlock finally getting to be a pirate?)
We’re so used to seeing Mycroft in control of every situation that it’s deeply unsettling to see him reduced to reacting on instinct in this episode as Eurus runs rings around him. “She’s very clever -I’m beginning to think you’re not“. Mycroft has kept Eurus locked away for everyone’s safety and she wants her revenge. And she’s not above forcing Mycroft to confront such pesky things as his own emotions in the process. Mycroft has always been very much the general but he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. In the prison he is completely horrified at the prospect of shooting the governor (a stoic Art Malik) and vomits after his suicide. Mycroft may well be in a position to order the death of others but he has always done so from a distance. The ugly reality is devastating to him. And yet for all his unexpected squeamishness once a gun is placed in his hand he remains brave to a fault. The scene where Eurus instructs Sherlock to shoot either John or Mycroft is pure agony with Mycroft being hateful about John in the hope that it would make it far easier for Sherlock to shoot him. Mycroft is guilt wracked over Eurus’ treats & understands that his brother needs John in his life. It’s such an affecting scene with Mycoft feigning nonchalance as they discuss his death “I’m sure I have a heart in there somewhere. I’m sure it’s not much of a target but why don’t we try for that“. Gatiss has always been woefully under-appreciated as an actor and I confess the whole scene made me cry. Mycroft has always said that his priority was looking after Sherlock and Eurus shows that Mycroft really has been protecting Sherlock from extraordinary evils his whole life.
The big scene with Molly was so nerve shreddingly tense I was grinding my teeth throughout. Poor Molly has to say the trigger words “I Love You” or hidden explosives will cause her flat to explode. The lovely Louise Brealey has been hugely underused this series and I was delighted that she got one hell of a chance to shine. It’s the most painful scene in the episode and shows how Sherlock can be utterly devastating and brutal without a single drop of blood being spilled. I was remarkably proud of Molly that she didn’t immediately answer Sherlock on the first call (whilst simultaneously internally screaming “pick up the phone”). It was so upsetting to watch her horror at the thought of Sherlock mocking her feelings, her pain that this was just another casual humiliation on his part. So impressed by Molly’s determination not to be hurt by him again. Molly admitting that it was true that she loved Sherlock was just agonising to watch. Although she clawed back one tiny victory in making the ever proud and disdainful Sherlock Holmes say it first. To tell her that he loved her (by which time I was yelling “Just fucking say it Molly“) We’re not terribly clear at the end of the scene whether he meant it but his absolute rage at having to make her go through that hell as he rips her fake coffin to shreds with his bare hands was quite something to behold. It was a really beautiful scene and wonderfully acted by both Benedict and Louise (especially as presumably each was acting to thin air).
Martin Freeman has never been better in this episode. John is Sherlock’s equal partner in every respect throughout. He is the one to put Sherlock up to scaring Mycroft knowing he’ll never confess the truth unless forced too. It is John who keep’s Sherlock focused throughout the episode – reminding him of the bigger picture “we’re soldiers.” He is utterly stoically in that horrible scene with Mycroft bravely telling Sherlock to shoot him instead. John is Sherlock’s equal and he is, as Sherlock wonderfully admitted, his family. Eurus is so wrong when she verbally dismisses him as a pet (aping Moriarty’s insults) even though by targeting him she acknowledges that he’s the one thing Sherlock cares most about. I’ve had some major issues with John’s characterisation this series but the John of The Final Problem is the Watson we fell in love with in A Study in Pink. The one true, strong & brave friend.
As evil genius masterminds go Eurus is intriguing. I’m pleased that the show referenced The Silence of the Lambs meaning that noone has to point out just how much of an “homage” Eurus is to Hannibal Lecter (the glass prison, the character who can get in people’s minds & get them to do anything in much the same way that Lecter could talk people into suicide). Her character introduction was perhaps not the strongest in The Lying Detective but here Sian Brooke is remarkably chilling. Eurus is the sort of evil genius who really just doesn’t understand human emotions. She thinks the notions of good & evil are entirely redundant and toys with people simply for something to do. “I used to love to make you laugh. Once I made you laugh all night. I thought you’d burst. Only I got it wrong. You weren’t laughing. You were screaming.” Her first scene parallels the fantastic first scene of Hannibal meeting Clarice. The scene is very cleverly framed so that we don’t even get to see her face for some time but she’s still controlling Sherlock before she’s said one word to him-her violin screech halting his movements as he steps too close to the cage. In all the scenes with Eurus we have never seen Sherlock so off guard, so young, so vulnerable. Eurus is what Sherlock could be if things went very very wrong. Sherlock can’t read her at all which visibly discomforts him and he is not used to being the dimmest person in the room. It means he’s not really top of his game (Sherlock even I worked out there was no glass in that cage long before you did – no reflections! Although I am pleased that I guessed correctly that Sherrinford was a place and a place much like the hidden prison in Face Off no less (stunning work from Arwel there) Eurus forces Sherlock to acknowledge just how undercut he is by the “emotional context” in his life. Just how important the various relationships in his life are to him. While Motiarty is a fun outlandish villain Eurus is still and quiet and frankly just plain horrifying. Mycroft’s explanation of what happened to Redbeard was devastating enough so it was disquieting that Eurus kept hinting that something worse had happened. After all what could be worse than drowning the family pet? As it turned out the truth was beyond horrendous as Redbeard was revealed to be Victor Trevor, Sherlock’s childhood friend who was drowned by Eurus in a jealous rage.Because for all of her lack of understanding of human emotions Eurus can still feel jealousy and loneliness. How fitting that the reveal to her riddle was simply for Sherlock to find her. She was always just looking for a friend. Sherlock Holmes the worlds greatest detective solves the case and saves John not through his powers of deduction but by finally understanding human emotion and understanding that his very ill sister needed her family. How very far he’s come…
(Although did it occur to neither of the brainboxes that a rope isnt going to help John much when he was chained to the bottom of that well?)
In all honesty Moriarty is completely superfluous to this episode and it could have very easily been done without him. But I can understand how Moffat & Gariss simply couldn’t resist the siren call of having him back. Andrew Scott is just such fun in the role & his helicopter entrance at Sherrinford soundtracked to Queen’s I Want to Break Free is fabulous with a capital F (the preview screening I was at absolutely roared with approval at the first glimpse of him). Supremely camp (complete with entertaining comments about his “boy’s” stamina and suitably creepy (loved his glee at the prison housing cannibals and the amazing bit about the nativity “The Hungry Donkey”) Moriarty lights up the screen whenever he appears. No wonder they kept bringing him back. It’s a brief cameo and ultimately a redundant one but who can remain grumpy about that when Andrew is having so much fun.
And by our ending everything has come full circle. Sherlock and his greatest enemy (Mycroft) now understand just what they mean to each other. Sherlock’s family is complete (only the Holmes family could have violin recitals in secret prisons). Sherlock Holmes has learned how to feel. He has become as Inspector Lestrade cheerfully tells his underling a great man-just as he hoped he would in A Study in Pink.
It felt like a very very final ending (did you spot the appearance of Mod icon Paul Weller at the end there as the dead viking in 221B?) and if this is the last we see of Sherlock a fitting one. But equally it could be a new beginning.
The tale started in A Study in Pink comes full circle and we leave our intrepid heroes – the Baker Street Boys, 221B rebuilt, where they should be. Sherlock Holmes & John Watson side by side fighting crimes, forever.