Sherlock recap: 'The Lying Detective'
Still reeling from last week's tragic ending, Sherlock and John must nevertheless muster up the wits to deal with a terrifying new villain.
Many Sherlock fans probably still feel hungover from last week’s gut-wrenching premiere. They shouldn’t worry; the characters are, too. When “The Lying Detective” begins, John Watson is talking to his therapist — a new one, not the one we’ve gotten brief glimpses of over the previous three seasons. Watson needs all the help he can get because he is not handling Mary’s death well. He doesn’t sleep or wake up so much as lie down and get back up. Baby Rosie is spending most of her time with friends (but not Sherlock, as Molly explained at the end of the last episode). Most importantly, though, John is still talking to Mary — or rather his figment of her, who follows him everywhere despite her own insistence that he acknowledge her very real death.
John says no one’s heard from Sherlock — the detective is apparently confining himself to his loft. Perhaps that’s because Sherlock’s only friend in the world told him he would rather talk to anyone but him? I’m just asking questions. Anyway, John insists Sherlock isn’t trying to get in contact with him, because if he was, people would notice. And right on cue, there’s a commotion outside; John and his therapist run out to find a fancy sports car being pursued hotly by the police, with a helicopter hovering threateningly overhead.
After the credits, we get our first glimpse of episode villain Culverton Smith (Toby Jones). There are quick hits of him appearing on the news, and then a full-on scene of him talking to a group of close associates gathered around a conference table. He’s got something on his mind and he wants to confess it to these people, but in his opinion, revealing a dark secret is the worst thing you can do to a friend — if they don’t accept it, you can’t un-say it. His solution, therefore, is to infuse everyone around the table with a special drug so they’ll forget whatever he says almost immediately. Everyone seems to agree to this, even Culverton’s daughter Faith, though she seems understandably creeped out. Later, a drugged-out Faith tries to remember what her father said. All she knows is he said he had a problem, one he could only solve by killing someone.
That was three years ago. In the present, Faith visits Sherlock’s loft to tell him the story and beg for his help. Sherlock has taken Mary’s death even worse than John and is now living with a nameless junkie in a kitchen that looks a bit too much like a meth lab these days. He’s also not quite the Sherlock we all know and love. He keeps making deductions, but his brain moves faster than he does at the moment and he can’t quite keep up with it. Nevertheless, he still finds a connection with Faith. When he realizes he really is her last hope — that she’s feeling suicidal and might just disappear into the night rain — Sherlock decides to take Faith on a nighttime stroll to discuss the case further.
Mycroft dispatches a drone to track them, so Sherlock takes a route that spells out ‘f-ck off’ to the (literal) Big Brother watching him from the sky. Mycroft then calls John for help, but Watson’s a little tired of everything being about Sherlock all the time, even in the midst of other people’s tragedies. John sarcastically compliments Mycroft on his ability to “hijack the machinery of the state to look after your own family” (the latest indication season 4 is really taking Mycroft to task for his inhuman coldness) before hanging up to reclaim whatever sleep is available to him these days. Back at base, Mycroft talks with Lady Smallwood, who asks him about the mysterious third Holmes sibling (to whom Mycroft keeps mysteriously alluding). Mycroft says he gets “regular updates” about Sherrinford and the third Holmes is “secure,” whatever that means.
Sherlock is interested in Faith’s case because she says her father uttered “one word” that changed her life: The name of the person he was going to kill, which she’s desperately trying to remember. Except most names aren’t just one word. So, what did Culverton really say? That’s what has Sherlock’s attention. For payment, he demands the gun Faith was hiding in her handbag, which he proceeds to throw over a bridge. Well-acquainted with grief now, Sherlock says thinking about suicide as a selfless act is exactly backward — your death “is something that happens to everybody else.”
He starts tweaking shortly after this, and we get another clip of a young Sherlock running on a beach singing an indecipherable song. It’s the same memory that popped up when Mary drugged him last week. For someone who does a lot of drugs, Sherlock sure seems to have some powerful repressed memories. A strange, possibly volcanic combo. Does this memory have something to do with the third sibling?
NEXT: My favorite room
The drug trip does seem to help Sherlock’s thought process about the task at hand, however. The more he thinks about it, the more realizes the “one word” Culverton said must have been “anyone.” In other words, the famous billionaire who’s smiling on TV all the time is a serial killer and has to kill people to satisfy his urge. Sherlock notes there’s a stereotype of serial killers as eccentric and sloppy and outcast, but that’s just the ones we catch, after all. What if you were a rich person with resources and had that same urge to kill?
(Aside: I somewhat disagree with the episode’s premise — a rich person with a desire to cause death has plenty of means to do so. They can fund drone programs, hire a private mercenary firm, lobby against life-saving services, or finance violent authoritarian governments in other countries. Most serial killers seem like they’re making the most with what they have. Anyway…)
Then there’s a “three weeks later” time-skip and we arrive at the beginning of the episode when John Watson and his new therapist rush outside to find the source of the car-chase commotion. They find none other than Mrs. Hudson climbing out of the bright red sports car. She hands a phone call from Mycroft to the irate cop behind her and asks for John’s help with Sherlock. Apparently, he’s been high out of his mind, running around the apartment quoting Shakespeare and shooting photographs of Culverton Smith (conveniently hung around the Baker Street apartment like Rust Cohle’s Carcosa wall). Mrs. Hudson asks John to examine Sherlock as a doctor, if nothing else, and John reluctantly agrees. Mrs. Hudson then opens the trunk of her car, revealing a handcuffed Sherlock.
John asks how she found the therapist’s address, and she responds that Sherlock gave it to her two weeks ago. Given that John only started seeing this therapist a few days ago, he’s understandably irate at Sherlock’s continuing ability to seemingly predict his every move. It gets even funnier when Watson demands Sherlock be medically examined by Molly, too. Right on cue, she shows up at the therapist’s office — Sherlock also gave her the address two weeks ago.
Sherlock, predictably, is not as interested in his own health so much as the Culverton Smith case. He calls Culverton “the most despicable human being I’ve ever encountered” (though surely Jim Moriarty and Charles Augustus Magnussen would have something to say about that), and, in fact, he’s already gone public with the serial killer accusation. Just then, Culverton sends a driver to pick up John and Sherlock to meet him for lunch. After Molly finishes her examination and declares she’s seen corpses healthier than Sherlock’s current state, they meet up with Culverton, who’s all smiles and hugs. In fact, he’s already turned the “serial killer” accusation into a new commercial for cereal.
Culverton then takes Sherlock and John to a hospital he supports and brings them to the children’s wing. Sherlock tries to tell some stories of their past adventures to entertain the kids, but he’s a terrible storyteller and they all fizzle apart. That’s why John writes the stories, after all. Culverton, mischievously, asks Sherlock how he would catch a serial killer — “hypothetically” and all that — and it predictably creeps everyone out. Afterward, Culverton offers to take Sherlock and John to his “favorite room” in the hospital. As they speed away, Ghost Mary notes the game is afoot again and John is barely thinking about her.
Culverton’s favorite room in the hospital turns out to be the mortuary. After shooing away the medical examiners, he starts an evil-sounding monologue about the Chicago World’s Fair killer who built an entire murderous hotel to murder and dispose of his victims. In Culverton’s opinion, that’s way too much effort — why build your own beach to hide a pebble, when you can just find a beach? John asks him if he’s confessing, and Culverton laughs at him: Are you going to believe Culverton Smith, popular and charitable billionaire/TV star, or Sherlock Holmes, who’s spent the last few weeks drugged up to his eyeballs? And that’s when things really go south.
When Culverton hugged Sherlock at their initial meeting, the detective snagged his cell phone and used it to text Faith to come meet them and finally hear her dad’s confession. Faith Smith arrives at the hospital right on cue, but she’s not the woman who visited Baker Street earlier. This Faith has no memory of meeting Sherlock and is actually a completely different person. Sherlock is confused, and once Culverton starts laughing at him with that maniacal yellow-toothed cackle, he loses it. He grabs a nearby scalpel and lunges at Culverton, only to get beaten down by John. Sherlock says he deserves it because “I killed his wife,” to which John replies, “Yes, you did.” A brutal moment.
NEXT: Miss me?
Talking about the incident with Lestrade later, John is surprised to learn Culverton isn’t pressing any charges against Sherlock. Instead, he’s giving him top-notch care in the hospital. John visits the sleeping, IV-laden Sherlock, and leaves his old walking stick (from way back in the series premiere!) as a parting gift. On his way out, he gets another call from Mycroft and ends up meeting the older Holmes brother at Baker Street, where government agents are busy combing over Sherlock’s Carcosa wall and cleaning up the drug supplies in the kitchen. Once again, John calls out Mycroft for, among other things, being an a–hole and lying about the third Holmes brother. That’s nothing compared to what Mrs. Hudson has to say, though.
This episode might actually be one of the best Mrs. Hudson showcases in all of Sherlock. Having previously defended her fancy car to John by saying “Oh, please. I’m the widow of a drug dealer, I own property in Central London, and for the last time, I’m not your housekeeper,” she now provides the best character analysis of Sherlock anyone has ever done. Contrary to popular perception, she says, Sherlock is not all about thinking and rationality. He gets emotional, he lashes out, he shoots the wall. And when he can’t figure something out, he stabs it.
John’s eyes follow to the most recently stabbed thing in the apartment: Mary’s “Miss me?” message. Mrs. Hudson demands the government spooks leave so her friend can watch a video from his departed wife. She saves the best for Mycroft: “Get out of my house, you reptile.”
We now see Mary’s message in full, and that “Go to hell, Sherlock” clip from the end of last week finally makes sense. As we know, she told him to save John — but the only way to do that, she said, was to get John to save him. She told Sherlock to pick a fight with a bad guy and put himself through “hell” so he really would need John to save him.
Perfect timing, because back at the hospital, Sherlock could really use some help. Culverton has slid into his room and explains he not only paid for this whole wing of the hospital, he kept firing the architects so no one person would know the entire layout (yeah, this dude literally built a hospital using the same construction method as the Red Keep from Game of Thrones). This is his “Murder Castle,” done right.
Sherlock asks Culverton to kill him, and the villain seems to take visceral, almost sexual pleasure out of dialing up Sherlock’s drug dosage. That turns out not to be enough to satisfy Culverton, however, and he soon starts suffocating Sherlock…at which point John bursts in to stop him. Sherlock reveals the IV was just saline, and he was only doing it to finally get Culverton to confess. Culverton thinks he’s still won, having previously removed recording devices from Sherlock’s clothing, but Sherlock reveals the final one — in the head of John’s walking stick. The bad guy has been caught and Sherlock and John are working together again. Well, kind of.
Talking about the case at Baker Street later, Sherlock and John are clearly still awkward. John wants to get out as soon as possible (he and Molly and Mrs. Hudson are taking shifts making sure Sherlock stays clean), but he stops when he hears Sherlock get a text message from none other than Irene Adler. John tells Sherlock to take advantage of a woman liking him while he still can because the opportunity vanishes before you know it. John then admits to “cheating on” his wife with that woman on the bus from last week, although he confirms it never went farther than texting. After some crying, he and Sherlock hug it out. The pain of Mary’s death will never truly go away. It is what it is.
The episode ends as it began, with John talking to his new therapist, but this is where things get really weird. The therapist asks if John ever got an answer about the third Holmes sibling, but John is convinced he never mentioned it to her. Well, maybe Sherlock told her. After all, they did spend a night together. That’s right, she’s the fake Faith! And that’s not all: Once she pulls back her hair to reveal the plastic flower John had been wearing on the bus, she reveals she’s also the woman he had his “affair” with.
And that’s still not even the end. When John asks for her name, she reveals she’s called Euros, after “the East Wind.” Strange name, but her parents did love weird names like that — Sherlock, for instance, and Mycroft. While she appears to shoot John at point-blank range, Sherlock recovers the note she gave him as “Faith” and finds a secret, ultraviolet message: “Miss me?”
That’s right, the Holmeses didn’t have a third brother; they had a sister. And it was never Moriarty after all.
Fans seemed divided on the season premiere last week, but I think this episode proves the fourth season of Sherlock is up to great things. The trippy visuals; the haunting mystery; the sense of the secret truth just out of reach, only to be deployed perfectly, made this episode another standout. And Toby Jones was fantastic as Culverton Smith, supremely creepy and slimy.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman star in the celebrated U.K. series