Sherlock S4 recap: Sherlock and John make up over death

BBC

Sherlock Season 4 | “The Lying Detective” | Aired Jan. 8, 2017

Talk about an episode!

I really liked this second episode of Sherlock Season 4, “The Lying Detective”. The pacing and the amount of story depth took me right back to earlier seasons, and for that I couldn’t be happier. Also great: The Dynamic Duo are back together again, both a little worse for wear, but still in fighting form.

Let’s talk about the big bad of this episode, Culverton Smith, who I think rivals Jim Moriarty in terms of villainy. Culverton, though is a little scarier to me than Moriarty actually; Moriarty was a broad villain. But Culverton is someone who loves existing in plain sight (as Sherlock said twice in this episode). He’s a philanthropist billionaire who also loves awful puns at his own expense. If I’m being accused of murder, I wouldn’t then think to brand myself “the cereal killer” to sell what looks like a box of straight-up oats. But then again, I’m not Culverton, who thinks he can get away with anything…even murder (said with a Dr. Evil-esque hand gesture to the mouth).

Also, there was something a bit more eerily human about Culverton’s villainy. I feel like there could be an argument made about whether Culverton is another villainous portrayal of someone with narcissistic disorder, which could go in line with other stereotypes of people with mental disorders (see the upcoming movie Split for another depiction of a villain with a mental disorder). This could be its own post, since many villains throughout media history have been portrayed as such because of a general fear of mental illness. Of course, I’m not excusing Culverton’s penchant for killing people; he is a murderer and should be in jail. But I’m just raising a point to think about.

In any case, Culverton is someone who relishes in being a serial killer, or does he? He does seem to have a bit of conflict about killing people, even though he enjoys it. As he tells Sherlock, it’s something he’s just compelled to do; it makes him happy. That’s already disturbing, and even more disturbing is how excited he is to tell Lestrade all about it. What he craves is power and glory, and becoming a world-famous serial killer is something that appeals to that narcissistic side of himself (again, we’re going back to a clinical mental disorder as a trait of villainy).

What I found most intriguing about this episode is how it was actually John’s time to grow as a character, not Sherlock. What I’ve found is that over the course of these seasons, some episodes are just set up to have Sherlock act as the emotional McGuffin, leaving us to forget, then be surprised by, John’s own mental turmoil that he has to work through. This time, Sherlock-as-McGuffin was for us to see how much Sherlock’s been affected by John’s absence to a theatrically expansive degree, only to be surprised to remember how much John has been quietly suffering over his choice to have a texting affair with the woman on the bus. John’s grief, while not as explosive as Sherlock’s, is just as deep, if not more so, and we finally see John reach the depths of his sorrow when he finally admits to Mary’s ghost (inside his head) that he cheated on her. Seeing Sherlock console John is just what this episode needed; Sherlock might be the star of the show, but he’s come far enough to learn when to give someone else an emotional moment. It was nice to see that growth within the character. It’s nice to see how much Sherlock actually cares for John.

It was also interesting to see how Sherlock completely deteriorated because John wasn’t in his life, and his deterioration also acted as a self-punishment because he felt like he killed Mary. I’m glad John finally tells him he didn’t actually kill Mary, because he didn’t. I found it personally amusing that when Sherlock shows up at John’s therapist’s house, and John eventually asks him what’s wrong, Sherlock’s answer is that he’s “burning up.” There’s a fanfiction I read that had Sherlock saying kinda the same thing and for a similar reason—he was apart from John because of a big boo boo—but the line in the fanfiction, “I’m on fire,” was because Sherlock was in love with John and couldn’t stand to be a day without him, much less weeks. I doubt Steven Moffat read that fanfiction and decided to paraphrase the scenario of Sherlock pushing John away from him by accident, but that’s what the scene in this episode reminded me of. Long aside, I’m sure, but that moment in the show just tickled me.

I have to say, though, that the storyline bugs the longer I think about it, despite my being thoroughly entertained. It made for great drama, sure, but when you start thinking about it, it gets kinda How to Get Away with Murder-ish; it’s entertaining, but does it make any sense for real? Not really. Why did Sherlock have to save John by nearly killing himself? Why go through such lengths to nearly be offed by a serial killer? That’s a lot for a friendship. But, of course, Sherlock isn’t about normal people salvaging their friendship by telling each other “You’re not at fault for your wife’s death.” Otherwise, we might as well watch something like This Is Us, right?

What also still bugs me is that Mary is still advocating for Sherlock and John to be together, if not in a romantic sense (which the show is going through great pains to make clear), in a platonic-soulmate sense. But why? Mary didn’t really know Sherlock that long or that well. Why is Mary always advocating for John to be with Sherlock? Even weirder—why is Mary-in-John’s-head advocating for him to be with Sherlock?

To me, this show is once again going through a lot of hoops to say “Sherlock and John aren’t gay for each other.” Okay, I guess. I mean, yeah, John got married and and yeah, Sherlock’s supposedly still texting Irene Adler. But did the women in their lives really mean anything aside from giving certain fearful audience members an excuse to believe that Sherlock and John don’t have some underlying tension? On the surface, I get that they’re really good friends, but even without the romantic element, their souls are two that are tied to be together in some way, shape or form. I wish the show didn’t feel like it had to rely on women characters to allow for John and Sherlock to be close, whether that’s in a brothers-in-arms type of way or an actual romantic way. Two men can be close; the world won’t fall apart because Sherlock’s hugging John.

In any event, the show isn’t helping itself by having John have an affair with the woman on the bus, who turned out to be John’s new therapists, who turned out to be none other than Sherlock and Mycroft’s long lost sister. John is having an affair with the female version of Sherlock. Let that sink in.

Again I ask: Why is this show so afraid of same-sex attraction and homoeroticism? Having “the sister” of a male character as the love interest for the best friend of that male character is a little beyond cliché, don’t you think?

However, John did beat Sherlock up over Mary out of grief, so I don’t know how a relationship, much less a friendship, can recover from that.

Anyways, they’re back together because they can’t leave each other alone, and we the audience are better for it. We wouldn’t be able to take a lot of moping John and moping Sherlock because seeing them apart is no fun. Without John, Sherlock acts like a maniac and without Sherlock, John acts like a boring, normal person, like the rest of us.

Even still, I have to assert my disappointment with the treatment of Mary. Much like Irene in this episode (who thankfully didn’t make a guest appearance), Mary is a fridged woman, only there to help the man move on and surge ahead in his life. Even after John admits his dalliance to her, what does Mary-in-John’s-head say? Something to the effect of, “Well, you best get moving along.” Okay….what? Couldn’t fake Mary be mad at least, not sad-yet-understanding? Understanding of what, pray tell? That your husband cheated on you while you were taking care of your baby? Sigh.

And for Sherlock to tell John that it was only texting? Well…it’s only texting if you don’t have anybody, like how Sherlock texts Irene. But John was emotionally cheating on his wife, and while it wasn’t physical, it was still cheating. John is right to chide himself because he’s completely in the wrong.

And can we talk about Mycroft possibly having a love connection? No. That shouldn’t be happening in my book. Why?

It sounds like I didn’t like this episode, but I actually did. I thought the writing was much tighter than the first episode of this season, there were much less of the strange transitions, and I think Toby Jones played Culverton spectacularly. I’m intrigued to see how Sherlock and Mycroft’s sister will be handled in the next episode. Hopefully she won’t become a fridged woman as well.

What did you think of this episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

  • Kate

    Absolutely spot on. I always ask straight friends/relatives who watch this show “so do you really buy Sherlock and John as platonic friends” and they just start laughing. Until of course I tell them how much the writers insist this to be the case. I do worry that I’m projecting on characters at times but with how often this show treats being gay as a joke or coded for “villain”, I don’t think it’s all in my head. Especially with how cold and impersonal these two characters were with each other this season. In the final episode, they both act as if they didn’t used to rush to each other’s aides above any other obligation from the first time they met.

    Also, you would’ve hoped after The Abominable Bride and it’s seeming admission of how poorly this show treats female characters (what few there are who stick around) but this season feels like a complete regression. Not that it’s acceptable to use women to drive the mens’ stories, but with the queerbaiting cop-out of Sherlock and John, their suffering really was for nothing.

    I’m glad you mentioned the high quality of The Lying Detective and yet it’s complete implausibility. Not on a level of implausible as The Final Problem of course, but surely if Mary’s word was all that was needed to finally drive John to let Sherlock back in his life, then simply spending the first 20 minutes of the second episode on Mary leaving John a DVD urging him to let Sherlock back in as one of her dying wishes then we could’ve enjoyed the case without the Sherlock and John fallout? Mary leaves a DVD, Sherlock and John have the hug moment, and Culverton Smith is just as in need of stopping as he would be regardless. Am I missing something??