Review contains full spoilers for the episode. Please do not read until you have seen The Lying Detective.
After the tragic events of The Six Thatchers Sherlock is suffering in his own personal hell. Back on the drugs he publicly accuses millionaire philanthropist Culverton Smith (Toby Jones) on twitter of being a serial killer. Has Sherlock completely lost it or is Culverton every bit as diabolical as he claims?
A new episode of Sherlock is usually a cause for unbridled enthusiasm. However I will confess that for the first time ever I approached this episode with some trepidation. The trailers and marketing materials had made it sound very grim and depressing and after last weeks episode which was a lovely culmination to the Mary storyline but strayed from the case elements and John/Sherlock interaction that made me fall in love with the show I wasn’t sure I was up for 90 minutes of misery.
Which just goes to show you should never pay the slightest bit of attention to trailers as not only was The Lying Detective a cracking episode it was one of the best Sherlock episodes in years. Entirely case based but with so many wonderful interactions between the characters it really was Sherlock at its very very finest.
Last episode Mary posthumously set Sherlock a task – to save John Watson. Her final remarks “Go to hell Sherlock” turned out not to be a curse but a suggestion on how to save him. Knowing that John would need Sherlock after her death but equally knowing that he is far too proud to ever seek out help she encouraged Sherlock to find a case to catch John’s attention. And so he did. That of Culverton Smith, a prolific serial killer hiding in plain sight who regularly confessed his sins to a group of confidantes who were drugged to the gills with a drug that would cause them to conveniently forget everything he said immediately afterwards. Except for his daughter Faith who struggles while under the influence of the drug to scrawl out what Culverton tells her and then goes to visit Sherlock to get him to take the case.
Only she doesn’t. And this is where the plot gets confusing.
As we find out noone connected to Culverton Smith contacted Sherlock at all. It was in fact as the explosive last 5 minutes explained actually his sister Euros (Sian Brooke – Benedict’s Ophelia from his recent run as Hamlet at the Barbican) in disguise as Faith who got him to take the case. But for what purpose exactly? Sherlock orchestrates every single thing in this episode from nearly killing himself with drugs to putting himself at Culverton’s mercy so he can capture his confession to fake attacking Culverton to allow John to take out his rage at Sherlock’s involvement with Mary’s death physically. But he wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without “Faith” visiting him. As we find out Culverton gave Euros the note after a “mutual friend” put them in touch. Does mutual friend stand for Moriarty? I very much hope that it does. Is Euros Moriarty’s apprentice, lover, partner? (It would be fun if she was actually Moriarty but well… that’s been done) That doesn’t really explain why she came back into Sherlock (and John’s) lives in this way (other than to fuck with them) or why Culverton would pass the note to her (did he want to see if he could go toe to toe with Sherlock and win? Or was he just super excited at the prospect of getting Sherlock in his kill wing at the hospital?) More to be revealed next week I’m sure but as the plot slightly makes my brain hurt let’s leave it there and focus on the acting which was beyond stellar this week.
Benedict is so good as Sherlock that it always becomes slightly redundant typing it. It still pains me that he doesn’t have a BAFTA for this role (and won’t be eligible until 2018) and sometimes I think that everyone just expects him to be so good that he doesn’t really get the credit for pulling off such an incredibly difficult role as well as he does. Can you imagine Sherlock in the hands of a less gifted actor? The character would be utterly unbearable. And yet in this Benedict managed to make Sherlock clever, manic, achingly vulnerable, haunted, funny, guilt stricken and yes a complete “cock”. And he did it effortlessly. He was huge fun as Sherlock smacked out of his head riding around his flat, gun in hand reciting Shakespeare. But he was also wonderful in that beautiful scene with John in 221B.
Martin Freeman got his best material as John Watson in years in this episode. It was difficult to see him at the beginning of the episode back with a therapist and seeming every bit as low and depressed as he was when we very first met him. Literally haunted by Mary (Amanda Abbington being really really wonderful as “Ghost Mary – loved her continual insistence that at least one of them should wear the bloody hat) John was hanging by an absolute thread in this episode only coming to life when he was forced into the Culverton Smith drama by Mrs Hudson. It was very hard to see his bottled up rage over Sherlock’s part in Mary’s death exploding in the mortuary. He doesn’t just hit Sherlock once. John gives him a serious beating and has to be stopped by Culverton of all people. The fact that Sherlock allowed and even orchestrated it didn’t make it any less agonising to watch. The scene between the two of them in 221B was absolutely heartbreaking. The painfully strained, agonisingly polite conversation (and Sherlock doesn’t do polite) under the watchful eye of Ghost Mary as John finally admits what a rough time he’s having “No I’m not OK, I’m never going to be OK but it is what it is. And what it is is shit.” John absolves Sherlock of any part in Mary’s death telling a devastated Sherlock that it wasn’t his fault (something I think Sherlock really needed to hear “In saving my life she conferred a value on it, it is a currency I do not know how to spend”).
Then a clever callback to A Scandal in Belgravia with Irene’s text notification (“Ooh the posh boy loves the dominatrix! He’s never knowingly under cliched is he?”) and John’s deduction of Sherlock’s birthday starting a conversation which spirals quickly into John imploring Sherlock to grab any romantic opportunities afforded to him or before he knows it they’ll be gone. Just as Mary is gone.
I’m still not thrilled at all that they effectively made John Watson a cheater. Even if the person he was texting was indeed an evil mastermind as I guessed last week. John Watson may be a ladies man in the books but he’s also a decent man. Our gateway character and this is a flaw that I’m not sure he really needed to have. That said the dialogue where he apologises to Mary for cheating and says that he wanted to be a better man for her is beautiful. Steven Moffat gets a lot of stick but his gift as a writer has always been superb dialogue and he’s at his best in this scene. By the time John Watson was crying in Sherlock’s arms I was crying with him. BAFTA’s all round.
In amongst all the tragedy and doom and gloom I also enjoyed John being annoyed at all the trivial things, like everyone referring to his blog as Sherlock’s and not giving him credit for it and him good-naturedly coping with cracks about his intellect (Oh he knows you’re an idiot but you’re a lovely doctor). Small moments but they felt very human and were played wonderfully.
As Culverton Smith Toby Jones was clearly having an absolute whale of a time. Smith was a satanic amalgam of Trump, Simon Cowell and Jimmy Savile and Jones just ran with it. All the hospital scenes are incredibly chilling. Jones conveys the absolute power Smith has by terrifying people by doing nothing more than calling them by name. All the non Moriarty villains the show has had so far have been a bit lacking. Not so with Culverton whose delight at having captured Sherlock in his H.H. Holmes inspired kill wing in his hospital and his almost sexual glee at the thought of getting to murder the great Sherlock Holmes was truly horrifying to behold. Toby Jones was a riot and will go down as one of the best villains the show has produced.
The entire episode though belongs unequivocally to the wonder that is Una Stubbs. The woman is a goddess. My jaw dropped at the sight of Sherlock locked up in the trunk of Mrs Hudson’s fancy sports car and at the clever way she got the drop on him “You’re not the first smackhead I’ve dealt with Sherlock Holmes”. Every scene with her is an absolute joy. She gets the drop on Sherlock, cries crocodile tears to John and stares down Mycroft. She is a total and utter fucking bad ass and I love her dearly.
Not enough for Molly and Lestrade again but there never is sadly. Nick Hurran was superb as director. So many clever touches such as the clipboard appearing in the middle of the street when Sherlock was deducting. The whole episode looked very cinematic.
And then there’s that ending. With all the speculation about Sherrinford I wondered if it would be a place not a person. I certainly didn’t see the reveal coming that Sherrinford would turn out to be Euros – Sherlock and Mycroft’s sister. It’s impossible to judge the reveal without seeing next week’s episode. There are certainly aspects of it that don’t quite work at the minute. Wig, glasses and accent aside it was clear to me from the beginning of the episode that the therapist and fake Faith were the same actress. That reveal was a bit Superman putting on a pair of glasses to pretend to be Clark Kent. (Although I didn’t immediately see that she was the woman on the bus – her styling there was very different). I mean why doesn’t Sherlock (even smacked off his head) recognise his own sister? Why doesn’t Mycroft recognise her on the security cameras? (I had thought fake Faith was entirely in Sherlock’s head and was wondering if they had cast Sian as the thearapist as well for imagery purposes) What the devil is going on? And there had better be an actual pay off to all the Miss Me references than just a crazy sister. Until next week dear readers…