The Game is On
January 1st, 2017 marked the release date of the premiere of season 4 of BBC Sherlock. In case you don’t know, BBC Sherlock is a modern reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson. A show that first debuted way back in 2010, Sherlock still only has 13 existing episodes, yet has managed to garner a gigantic fanbase. I’m proud to call myself a member of the fandom!
Following is my semi-review of the new season. I wouldn’t call it a full review because I’m only talking about a few topics, which certainly don’t embody the entire the series. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun (and stress) writing this, and I hope you enjoy!
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD
REALLY, GO WATCH THE SHOW IF YOU HAVEN’T YET
(PS. none of the following images or GIFs belong to me, credit to rightful owners!)
The new season started off with a bang (literally, RIP Mary/Rosamund) with The Six Thatchers. Somebody is going around London destroying busts of Margaret Thatcher, and Sherlock assumes that this is some shenanigan of Moriarty’s- but it turns out to actually be a man called Ajay, who used to work with Mary when she was a freelance assassin.
While the the Mary/Rosamund storyline was interesting (it’s hard not to like Mary Watson, even if she did shoot and kill Sherlock that one time), I kind of wish that it Sherlock had turned out to be right and that it had really been something to do with Moriarty. All the way leading up until this season, we were teased about the return of our favourite villain in some way, shape, or form, but season 4 didn’t really live up to the hype. Despite this, if I absolutely had to choose a favourite episode of the season, it would probably be The Six Thatchers, simply because it had the best pacing and unique Sherlock-esque flair to it.
(The term Sherlock-esque flair is a term that, to my knowledge, is only employed by myself. It’s really nearly impossible to explain. Essentially, it’s the magic spark that BBC Sherlock has that no other fictional work, be it cinematic or television or written, has ever held for me. It’s what sends chills down your spine when you hear the first few notes of the theme song; it’s the comfort and at-home feeling you get as you follow the characters along on adventures; it’s the gut-and-heart-wrenching when you watch (and then rewatch) your favourite scenes. It’s like going to Disneyland as a kid- just truly magical. In short, this spark is what made me fall in love with Sherlock in the first place, and it is why I will never stop loving it.)
Unfortunately, I can’t say that this was my favourite season of Sherlock. In promotions for season four, the showrunners had often stated that this was the darkest that they had ever taken the show, and they sure didn’t disappoint in that aspect. There were secrets revealed, enemies brought to the light, and huge plot twists. Now, normally I like the occasional plot twist. For example, in A Scandal in Belgravia, the plot twist where Irene Adler turned out to be in love with Sherlock is one that I certainly didn’t see coming but still enjoyed (I know, I know, Irene Adler was supposedly gay and so it didn’t quite make sense for her to fall in love with him, but her sexuality was never explored very deeply and there’s some room for interpretation).
However, this season’s big plot twist was just… wow. Actors and writers claimed that it would ‘change the history of television forever’, called it ‘groundbreaking’ and said it would be ‘amazing if they can pull it off’.
Quite the contrary. It was, in my opinion, an enormously huge disappointment.
The plot twist that they were speaking of turned out to be none other than *drumroll*… Sherlock’s secret sister, Eurus ‘East Wind’ Holmes (…?) Who’s been locked away on a remote island and somehow miraculously erased from Sherlock’s memory (…?) That sounds sketchy already, and I haven’t even gotten into the real reasons behind the disappointment that is Eurus Holmes. Casual watchers of the show may have enjoyed this plot twist, but I am no casual watcher, and let me tell you, so many things were wrong about the very existence of Eurus Holmes. Too many things for me to completely recount in this post, or else it would go on for literally fifty pages. So I’ll just talk about the things that bothered me the most.
A Small Nitty Gritty Detail + 1000 Other ones
You know how the entire point/plot of The Final Problem was that Eurus trapped Sherlock, Mycroft, and John in her little maze in Sherrinford? Well, if her intent was to watch them scramble about in there like a couple of lab rats, then why oh why did she send a bomb to 221B in the first couple minutes of the episode? The bomb says “I want you to die instantly”, but the fact that she had spent time and effort on creating the Sherrinford ‘maze’ for them says “I want to keep you alive to see you squirm”. So which is it, Eurus? Do you want them dead or a alive? Make up your mind, girl! (Or better yet, the Sherlock writers, figure out your characterization!)
This was just one small continuity in a sea of them. People on Twitter and Tumblr have compiled lists of both technical blunders and plot holes. Here’s another one, just as an example:
Should Have Been Johnlock
Secondly, in what way exactly was Eurus’ existence ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘making television history’ as was promised?
If you have watched Sherlock, it’s easy to see, through both layers of subtext and context, the prospect of a romantic relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. When I first started watching this show, way back in 2015, as a fandom newbie without any prior knowledge of things like OTPs or queerbaiting, even I could see the romantically inclined relationship between John and Sherlock. From the dialogue that they exchanged, to the things that they committed and sacrificed for one another, to the subtextual clues, it was never anything but obvious.
My belief was cemented in 2016 by Rebekah TJLC, a series of Youtube videos by a young lady called Rebekah. These videos analyzed each and every aspect of Sherlock to prove that Johnlock is, has always been, and will always be canon. I really must thank Rebekah for making these wonderful videos, because not only did I enjoy watching them and enjoy believing in Johnlock and TJLC, but I also learned a lot about how to analyze fiction in general. As someone who is passionate about fiction, in literature and other mediums, this meticulous and articulate analysis really opened my eyes to ways of thinking and seeing that I’d never experienced before. I highly recommend you give the videos a look.
Anyways, what you need to know is that Johnlock was perfectly, perfectly, perfectly set up to become canon in season four. And no, this wasn’t all musings and abstractions by crazy fangirls. There’s no way a conviction like this, shared by so many intelligent and critical-minded people, could be based from nothing. There was an abundance of evidence to support the thesis that audience perceptions of John and Sherlock’s romantic and sexual tension was not unfounded (although just watching the show by itself could be enough to convince anybody- just scroll back up to those photos of them staring at each other, for God’s sake).
Here is just one piece of evidence out of many: on an official report unearthed by a member of the Sherlock fandom, it was revealed that one of the BBC’s big goals for their shows was to have them represent LGBTQ+ people more often, in a variety of both diverse and iconic roles. (Read here for more on that.) What better way to do this than to make Sherlock Holmes, one of the most prominent fictional characters ever, queer? That would be the ‘groundbreaking’ they promised, that would be ‘making television history’, for sure. Add this tidbit to the overwhelming amounts of the evidence in the canon that pointed to Johnlock, and you have a nearly unsinkable ship.
Unless, of course… the writers are queerbaiters.
That’s right, Johnlock was not made explicitly canon this season, much to the crushing disappointment of fans everywhere.
Instead, we got Eurus Holmes.
Long-lost sister formulated out of a plethora of cheap plot conveniences and plot holes (seriously, go search up some articles, or do a little digging Twitter or Tumblr, and you will have the glaring mistakes pointed out to you very concisely), and not ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘making television history’- unless they were promising that series 4 would be ‘groundbreakingly’ similar to poorly written fanfiction, or ‘making television history’ for being the most disappointing, out-of-the-blue, incongruous writing mistake ever.
Okay, okay, I’ll back off a bit on the aggressive front. Series 4 wasn’t completely ruined by Eurus Holmes, of course it wasn’t. There were beloved moments from the characters we know and love, and even some redeeming lines from Eurus. It certainly was no My Immortal, but- there’s always a but- it is still something to get worked up about, in my opinion. When you’re promised something amazing and you’ve looked forward to it for ages, and then it turns out that you’ve been misled (c’mon, don’t even try to tell me that there was no queerbaiting- the showrunners are definitely smart enough to know what queerbaiting is and how it works), and lied to (One teaser from the Sherlock twitter account released right before the final outright said: “Sherlock is in love… but with who?” but when the final came around, Sherlock wasn’t in love with anybody. That teaser was the legit most useless thing ever. Why did it even exist. Oh I know, to lead people on and get them hyped over something that wasn’t even happening.), it is justified to get a little angry.
And you know what? What bothered me the most about Eurus wasn’t even that she was what we got instead of Johnlock. I’ll admit that I am, in fact, butthurt over not getting Johnlock. I feel like a baby whose candy has been snatched from its chubby little fingers. But this butthurt-ness isn’t even the founding principle of my anger and frustration and disappointment. No, it was Eurus Holmes’ crappily, messily slapped-together characterization and redemption arc. To be frank, it was the horrible writing.
I Would Almost Rather Read My Immortal, TBH
So first, she’s introduced as a Big Bad. She’s in cahoots with Moriarty, she’s killed loads of innocent people, she’s supposedly the smartest Holmes sibling, and she has the ability to manipulate everyone around her, leading to her eventual control over the entire Sherrinford compound.
And that’s just it. Eurus’ power as a villain comes from her ability to… mind-control people? I don’t see how this proves her brilliance, or her appeal as a villain opposite the protagonist, Sherlock.
On Sherlock, we’ve seen some really well-written baddies: James Moriarty, Charles Augustus Magnussen, and Culverton Smith. They’ve brought out Sherlock’s worst fears, his weaknesses, and they’ve made the audience feel afraid for the protagonist in all the ways that are most emotionally satisfying for said audience. That’s exactly what a good antagonist does.
But what is going on with Eurus? First of all, where the hell did she even come from? Moriarty, Magnussen, and Smith all have very logical, credible, possible appearances, but Eurus doesn’t. She is Sherlock’s literal sister, and there is no explanation strong enough to convince me that Sherlock could have somehow completely erased all memory of her from his mind. Sure, Sherlock’s brain can do extraordinary things, and what happened was traumatic enough to warrant some mental response, but complete and utter annihilation of memories of a sibling for something like thirty years? That’s just poor writing. Poor, lazy, we’re-out-of-ideas-so-let’s-use-amnesia, bad writing. Consider me amazed, BBC Sherlock, by you pulling the old amnesia trick out of the hat. How groundbreaking. How awe-inspiring and clever. Wow.
Then after, to explain why Eurus Holmes has suddenly popped out of nowhere, we get a convoluted and barely credible tale about Sherlock’s past. We learn that Eurus drowned his childhood dog, Redbeard, causing Sherlock to have recurring memories about a dog. Except surprise! Redbeard wasn’t a dog, he was Sherlock’s best friend, a little boy called Victor Trevor. Boom, there goes another plot twist.
(Sidenote, how the hell did they not find Victor Trevor in the well, nevermind him being dead or alive? If my kid went missing, I’d search the ends of the earth for them, and I’d definitely go looking down creepy, possible dangerous wells. Did anyone even actually look for this missing child?)
It’s almost like we’re on the Oprah Show for self-indulgent plot twists or something. “You get a secret psycho-murderer-mind-controller sister! You get a dead childhood dog that’s actually a dead childhood friend! You get writing that’s riddled with more holes than swiss cheese! You get an extremely, conveniently convenient case of convenient amnesia that conveniently erases all memory of your sister, conveniently! And you, and you, and you! Everybody gets shitty writing! Everybody gets bad characterization! Everybody gets major disappointment, woohoo!”
Homicide is Okay if You’re Lonely
Sound ridiculous yet? No? Okay, so maybe up until now, you still think Eurus has been an okay villain. After all, she is evil, and she is pitted against Sherlock. That’s what an antagonist does, yeah? And we can just turn a blind eye to the fact that she’s unreasonably overpowered and lacks plausible reasoning behind both her actions and abilities. Mhm. Yes.
But wait- guess what happens next? At the very end of the episode, when John’s about to drown in the well, surrounded by the bones of- guess who!- Sherlock’s old buddy Victor ‘Redbeard’ Trevor, and Sherlock is at his wits’ end, everything suddenly (conveniently, who woulda’ guessed) clicks into place.
The answer is simple as pie: Eurus was just lonely all these years, and that’s why she is the way she is, and that’s why she did the things she did.
Voila, c’est la solution! Because of course it makes sense that Eurus, the evil psycho who literally murdered a child when she herself was a child, was only ever lonely this whole time. Puzzle solved. Just like that, Sherlock finds her in her room, speed-talks through this complicated-ass, unnecessary-ass little-girl-on-a-plane metaphor, placates her with the offer of his brotherly love which is apparently all that she’s ever wanted all these years, and boom! Villain resolved and redeemed!
Literally, all it takes is this: “Look how brilliant you are. Your mind has created the perfect metaphor. You’re high above us, all alone in the sky, and you understand everything except how to land. Now, I’m just an idiot, but I’m on the ground. I can bring you home.”
This and this alone convinces a psychopathic murderer to suddenly become subdued and change her ways?
No. No. No!
I’m calling BS! This is the equivalent of someone telling a person with depression to ‘just choose to be happy’, and then that depressed person suddenly becoming cured of their mental illness. It just doesn’t work like that! People don’t work like that!
How does it make sense for Eurus to suddenly have a 180 degree pivot in character?! We know that she was a psychopath from the time that she was a young girl, what with dissecting and torturing frogs for fun and playing mind games with her little brother and, y’know, committing homicide. But suddenly, when Sherlock says this, Eurus is no longer the psychopathic murderer of dozens of people. She’s just an innocent little girl who was just lonely and misunderstood. All she ever wanted was to be ‘brought home’ by her brother, Sherlock, right?
Her ‘loneliness’ is implemented to make her into a pity case. The audience sees her all decrepit and sad, hugging her knees and crying in her bedroom, and thinks “Awww, what a poor girl. She’s just so lonely! I completely pardon her for her actions now, the precious poor thing.” And then Sherlock goes up and (completely stupidly, in my opinion, way too stupid for it to be something that the Sherlock Holmes I know would ever do) falls into the same trap that the audience is supposed to fall into. He forgives Eurus, and is later even seen bonding with her- despite the wholly unforgivable things she’s done to him. The audience then thinks “Oh, look, Sherlock is forgiving Eurus. That makes me love Sherlock even more for having such a big, kind heart, and it makes me like Eurus, because if Sherlock loves her, then I love her. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.”
We’re made to feel sympathy towards Eurus- because even though she’s supposedly extremely smart, especially when it comes to understanding and manipulating people- she somehow never could figure out how to get along with her family, and this led to her being extremely lonely and sad, which somehow pardons her for murdering people and burning down her family’s home with her family still in it.
Concrete argument there, totally.
The Sherlock Holmes that belongs to the BBC Sherlock writers can be twisted into a puppet that makes irrational, uncharacteristic decision to satisfy the writers’ own indulgences. He can go play violin with the same sister that murdered his best friend and left him psychological scars that have lasted him a lifetime; he can suddenly become the responsible one, the stable link between Eurus and the rest of the Holmes family; he can do a 180 degree pivot in character for the sake of denouement. He can do that, okay, sure, I can’t stop him. (*Shakes fist at writers*)
But I am sure as heckydizzle not following in those footsteps. Sorry, but I refuse to be led like a sheep into feeling pity and affection, however begrudging, for a literal psychopath.
None of the other villains I named had redemption arcs like Eurus’. They were villains, plain villains, until the end- and it made their defeat satisfying. In Eurus’ case, her crimes number so many, and have impacted Sherlock so terribly, that it simply doesn’t make narrative sense for her to get a redemption arc. Why not let her stay a villain instead of hastily tying up her storyline with a redemption arc? This isn’t a Disney princess movie, it’s a show that is not only allowed to a have dark, imperfect ending, but might even greatly benefit from it.
Final verdict on Eurus Holmes’ Pity/Redemption Arc: it’s not necessary, it’s not realistic, and it’s not satisfying.
(Burn it with fire, please.)
Sian Brooke is the Only Redeeming Factor Here
I’m sorry that this is turning into an ‘I hate Eurus Holmes’ rant, and by relation, an ‘I Hate BBC Sherlock’ rant. Eurus is just written so poorly that I can’t help but feel cheated. You know what was actual good writing, most contextually and subtextually? Johnlock. But we didn’t get that, and oh well, that’s what happened.
To put it in John’s words, it is what it is. Even if what it is is… shit.
Which it’s not, not completely anyways. For the most part, it’s still the most brilliant show on television.
(Okay, here’s where my intense, angry dragging of the show stops. I’ve laid out my criticism, and now it’s time for the flipside. The redemption arc, if you will, but this one is actually deserved.)
BBC Sherlock is still my favourite show. I’ve really been hailing on it in this blog post, but don’t get me wrong- I adore it. It’s just important to be able to be able to criticize something at the same time as you appreciate it.
Sure, maybe this season was lacking a thing or two in terms of writing and plot quality. Sure, Johnlock was not made explicitly canon (and may never be, since the ending of The Final Problem, plus the name of the episode itself, made it seem like this was the last ever installment of the show). Sure, Eurus Holmes wasn’t a great character. And sure, the queerbaiting done by the showrunners is detestable and saddening. There were flaws upon flaws upon flaws. But I have a firm belief about it (and out life in general). And that is that outlook is often more important than reality.
Television is made for a variety of reasons. It’s a reflection of our cultures, standards, trends, history, politics, and values. It’s made to showcase talent and artistry. It’s made for enjoyment; it’s made to make people laugh, cry, scream, and yes, occasionally it’s made for people to fangirl over. Each individual viewer is allowed to take different things of each show that they watch. Fifty different people looking at the same painting can come away with fifty different interpretations, and it’s the same for television.
For BBC Sherlock, we only got a few hours’ worth of peeking into the lives of Sherlock and John. In the fictional world in which they exist, they have existed and will continue to exist for years and years and years, experiencing time and changes and happenings that we as viewers will never know of. This is where outlook comes in. That invisible time that we will never know is ours to imagine, ours to extrapolate, and ours to create. Things that have happened in the canon are not necessarily set in stone, because the canon itself is just as much fiction as your interpretation of it is, and that makes them equally credible, valid, and valuable.
In a situation like this, we can choose to dwell on the parts we didn’t like, or we can choose to look past them and find ways to change our outlooks to our advantages. Just like how life is largely what we make out of it, fictional worlds, fictional characters, and communities sprung from fictional works are 99.99% what we make of them.
So, what will you make of it? Did you love the show, hate the show, stan Johnlock, Sherlolly, John x Mary? Who creeped you out more, Moriarty or Magnussen or Culverton? What did you think of Eurus Holmes? What has BBC Sherlock, or any other fictional work for that matter, meant to you?
I’ve already expressed my opinion on most of these topics, but now I’m going to touch on one last aspect of BBC Sherlock, the aspect that I think is most vital and iconic and crucial to the fictional narrative and its resulting cultural impact.
What do I make of BBC Sherlock? This is what: I believe that, at its very core, this show majorly is about one thing and one thing only: the love between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
This is Sherlock. This is the show that we all fell in love with, that created a beautiful fandom.
These are the characters that we had the privilege of knowing as they grew to know one another. We laughed with them and at them, we cried because of them, we stayed up to unorthodox hours blogging about them.
We watched them undergo change and pain and joy over the course of four seasons. We were there for the inside jokes and the funny little clever moments.
We welcomed them back into our lives every time despite the long waits between seasons, and it was always like they’d never left in the first place. Every face was a familiar and fond one, and there was never a moment wasted in this world.
This lovely world of BBC Sherlock, where the Baker Street boys solve crimes together, John Watson blogs about it, and Sherlock Holmes forgets his pants.
An Legendary Internet Family
Art, fanfiction, meta, textposts, memes- all that good stuff that comes with a fandom- has brought us all together as a community, as a family. Sherlock is one helluva fandom, and we should all be proud. None of this can never be taken from us, and we can never be taken from each other.
SherlockedCon – source
Comic Con- source
Everything that we stand for? Everything we’ve created and discovered and analyzed and pointed out? None of that has gone to waste just because the writers didn’t do what we wanted. I am still so proud to be a part of this wonderful community, and you should, too. The fanon is just as important as, if not more than, the canon.
Who we as a fandom- since the very beginning of Sherlock, to now, to forever and always- really are? It matters.
And it always will.
Thank you, Sherlock and fandom, for creating an experience that I will always think on happily.
To the very best of times, and don’t forget:
The game is never over!