Sherlock recap: 'The Final Problem'
The season 4 finale provides some very strange answers to long-running mysteries
And so we come to the end of another Sherlock season. It always makes for an intoxicating experience, since each hour-and-a-half is chock-full of mysteries and plot twists but it’s all over in less than a month. Last episode finished with one of the greatest cliffhanger reveals in the show’s history. How did the season 4 finale follow through on that?
Strangely, to say the least. Instead of picking up right where we left off with the newly unmasked Euros Holmes shooting John Watson from point-blank range, we enter with a little girl on a plane, realizing that everyone else is asleep. She makes her way to the stewardess station, but every adult she passes is unconscious. When she picks up the phone, she’s greeted by the voice of none other than Jim Moriarty, welcoming her to “the final problem.”
From there, we go to Mycroft watching an old movie in his personal basement theater. Lady Smallwood is nowhere to be seen, which begs the question why the show made such a big deal out of their prospective date in the last episode. Anyway, Mycroft’s viewing session is interrupted by a message saying “I’m Back” spliced into the film. Then someone calls his name, and the lights start flickering. Mycroft goes to investigate, and draws a hidden sword out of a nearby umbrella — pretty cool, but no replacement for an armed and trained security force, you would think. For someone who is ostensibly the key to the British government, Mycroft rolls with pretty light security. The prospect of Euros’ return terrifies him, and he’s convinced she couldn’t have “gotten out.” Turns out she didn’t — the whole thing was a ruse put on by Sherlock and Watson, to force Mycroft to admit he’d been hiding the existence of the Holmes sister. Watson is fine, by the way — apparently Euros’ gun was only a tranquilizer or something. Seems like a waste of a perfectly good cliffhanger, but okay. Watson and Sherlock explain to Mycroft that Euros did in fact get out, appearing to both of them in disguise. They tell Mycroft to take his case to 221B Baker Street.
And so the next morning finds the three of them together again at the Baker Street flat. For the first time in history, he’s there as an actual client, although he grumbles about having to sit in the traditional client chair. He’s also uncomfortable revealing family matters with John present, but Sherlock insists that John stay. Eventually Mycroft gets with the program and explains that even as a young child Euros was seen as an “era-defining genius,” with the potential to surpass such intellects as Isaac Newton. She had dark tendencies, however. She stole Redbeard, Sherlock’s beloved dog, and wouldn’t say where he was. When that continued into expressing a desire to kill Sherlock, she was taken away — to Sherrinford, an Alcatraz-like island prison designed for “uncontainables.” It sounds like Azkaban or Arkham Asylum or any number of fictional superjails; indeed, Mycroft even explicitly compares it to Hell itself.
Before Mycroft can say any more, however, the crew gets an unexpected surprise gift from Euros: a drone that flies into the Baker Street loft, singing the song from Sherlock’s recent dream sequences about Redbeard and carrying a bomb on its back. Using their sterling powers of analysis, the boys realize that the bomb is a motion sensor set to go off the moment it detects them, which will leave them only three seconds before the explosion engulfs the flat. Somehow they manage to plan it perfectly, and Sherlock and Watson go jumping out of the windows just ahead of the flames like heroes from an ‘80s action movie.
That cuts to a fishing boat in the middle of stormy weather. The two-man crew gets an alert they’re passing by Sherrinford prison, but when they go up on the deck they’re greeted by an unscathed Sherlock and Watson. The famous detective? They ask. No, Sherlock responds, the pirate.
He and Watson aren’t fooling around with that pirate bit, either. They commandeer the boat, take it to Sherrinford, and scrawl “Tell My Sister I’m Here” on the beach sand. When the island’s governor sends men to investigate, they find Watson standing alongside a bearded fisherman. Assuming the man is Sherlock in disguise, the governor has them both brought to an interrogation cell – only for the fisherman to unmask himself, revealing Mycroft. Sherlock had been disguised as a worker at the prison, and he just walked away with the governor’s keys.
The governor is a little peeved that these guys snuck into his prison undercover, but that’s nothing compared to Mycroft’s anger that he somehow compromised his most dangerous prisoner. Mycroft directs Sherlock to Euros’ “prison within a prison,” and soon Sherlock finds his sister playing violin in her own specialized cell, like she’s Magneto in X2 or something.
In Mycroft’s telling, Euros is so smart that she basically brainwashes anyone she talks to, which is why he instructed everyone at the prison to avoid her. The governor responds that Mycroft is actually the one who set her off, by bringing her a gift on Christmas a few years ago. Euros explains to Sherlock that he was always her favorite, because she made him laugh — or was it scream? He asks her what happened to Redbeard, and she asks him to touch the glass between them. When he does, their hands touch… there’s no glass at all. At the same moment, Watson realizes that if everyone who talks to Euros is automatically compromised, that must include the governor, too. And, indeed, he summons armed guards to restrain Watson and Mycroft. Euros is in charge here — so much so that the guards allow her to leap from her cell and beat Sherlock into submission.
NEXT: The Christmas present
We then get a really unexpected transition, of Jim Moriarty arriving on Sherrinford and greeting the governor. Just as it seems like his comeback was real after all, a dateline informs viewers that this took place on Christmas five years ago. Moriarty himself was the gift Mycroft brought to Euros (this being sometime after Mycroft had imprisoned Moriarty and found nothing verifiable) for five minutes of unsupervised conversation. In return, Euros promised to tell Moriarty the secret of Redbeard.
Then we flash back to present, where Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft are all in a cell together along with the hapless governor. They are then connected to the girl on the plane from the beginning of the episode, via a recording of Moriarty’s voice — Euros explains that the consulting criminal made her many such custom recordings before he died. She disconnects them from the girl, with the promise they have to earn more phone time to help save her by completing Euros’ tasks. She introduces the first by revealing the governor’s wife bound and gagged behind her. They’ve been given a gun; Sherlock has to choose either Watson or Mycroft to shoot the governor, or else Euros shoots his wife. Mycroft doesn’t have the constitution to actually kill someone, so looks like it’s up to John. The governor tries to make it easy for him. He and Watson bond over the whole “dead wife” thing — wouldn’t John do anything for the chance to save his wife’s life? But when it comes down to it, Watson just can’t bring himself to murder a man in cold blood. The governor desperately grabs the gun and kills himself with it, but unfortunately that didn’t satisfy Euros’ cruel demand. She kills the wife, too. Euros then mocks Watson’s moral code — didn’t his desire to keep his hands clean actually end up costing more lives? Sounds like somebody’s been watching a little too much No Country for Old Men lately.
Euros lets Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft out of their cell and into a new room. After briefly reconnecting them with the girl on the plane, she proposes another challenge. This one is much more of a traditional “case.” A man named Evans was recently murdered, and the culprit was one of three brothers: Nathan, Alex, or Howard. Given pictures of the men and the murder weapon itself, Sherlock needs to figure it out. The detective quickly sees that Nathan wears glasses, which meant the recoil from the gun would have broken them and damaged his eye. He’s a no-go. But as he inches closer to the solution, Euros reveals a new twist, and reveals the three brothers dangling bound and gagged outside the window, poised above a deadly drop. Name the culprit, and she’ll send him to a watery grave. It’s an experiment: What difference does a knowledge of context and consequences make to solving a crime? Sherlock would say none — he and Mycroft analyze that Howard’s drinking problem and twitchy fingers meant he would’ve missed his target, so it must be Alex. In response, Euros drops Howard and Nathan, the innocent ones. She then drops Alex as well. What difference does it make? Killing the innocent and the guilty feels the same to her.
The third challenge is the strangest one yet. The boys are sent to a new room, and this one has a coffin in the center. The lid says only “I Love You” – combine that with the measurements for the coffin, and Sherlock realizes it must refer to Molly Hooper. So Euros calls Molly and connects her to Sherlock, with the assignment that Sherlock must get Molly to say “I love you” or she’ll be killed by bomb. Sherlock tries to get Molly to say it, but she refuses… partly because she senses some sort of trick, but also because it’s true. She makes Sherlock say it first, which he does after much internal consternation. So Molly reciprocates, just in time to stop the deadly timer with only two seconds remaining — at which point Euros reveals that there were never any bombs at all. She just did that to screw with Sherlock’s emotions. It worked. He’s so mad he destroys the coffin with his bare hands.
The next task is even more intense, as Euros demands that Sherlock kill either Mycroft or Watson. Mycroft tells him to kill Watson, but Sherlock detects his nasty attitude is just a front to make it easier for Sherlock to kill him. Mycroft’s only request is that Sherlock aim for his heart, since he’s donated his brain to science. But at the last moment, Sherlock takes a cue from the late governor and turns the gun on himself. He demands that Euros stop the game, but instead she tranquilizes him.
NEXT: Redbeard revealed
When he wakes up, Sherlock is in a dark room. He’s connected to the girl on the plane again, and he tells her to make her way to the front of the aircraft. In the cockpit, the girl sees they’re coming up on a river. Sherlock realizes he’s going to have to direct her to fly the plane. But his connection with the girl keeps getting replaced with a connection to Watson, who’s now found himself at the bottom of the well. John realizes he’s surrounded by bones just as Sherlock finds a dog bowl labeled “Redbeard.” Sherlock quickly realizes they’re no longer on Sherrinford at all, but back at the Holmes family estate. Euros, who claims to be Moriarty’s revenge incarnate, declares that Redbeard is both Sherlock’s first case and the final problem, and he’ll have to solve it before John drowns in the now-onrushing water.
Together, they untangle the mystery. Watson tells Sherlock that the bones are actually not dog bones, at which point Euros reminds him that their dad was allergic to dogs and refused to let them have one. The dog story is one Sherlock told himself to feel better. “Redbeard” was actually his childhood friend Victor. They would play pirates together (Sherlock was “Yellowbeard”). Euros, jealous at being left out of the games with no friends of her own, trapped this kid in a well where no one ever found him. This is why deep water has played such a symbolic role in Sherlock’s life (cue flashbacks to the giant pool where he met Moriarty, and the waterfall from “The Abominable Bride” climax). As Mycroft told him at the beginning of the episode, Sherlock has spent the years since acting like Euros (a cold, friendless intellect) instead of who he really was (a boy eager to play with his best friend). Sherlock then figures out that Euros’ song was actually a cipher, and the Holmes family gravestones were the key. He realizes the song is actually a cry for help — the girl on the plane exists in Euros’ head. She’s way above everyone else, and needs help figuring out how to land. Sherlock approaches her and together, they free Watson and Mycroft.
After that, things go back to normal, or rather a slightly updated status quo. Mycroft explains his decision to hide Euros’ existence from his parents (and does a bad job of it, because it’s unconscionable). Sherlock visits Euros and plays violin with her. Watson rebuilds the Baker Street flat, and together, he and Sherlock find one final message from Mary. This one is labeled “Miss You,” and features her declaring that she knows who the two of them really are: “a junkie who solves crimes to get high, and a doctor who never came back from the war.” Together, they’re there at Baker Street, a last refuge for the hopeless, just like they’ve always been.
And so we’re either back to square one, for the creators to pick up again at any time … or we’ve finally reached the end of the road. This episode clearly didn’t know whether it was supposed to be a series finale or a temporary stopgap. While it found a nice middle ground there, the rest of the episode was similarly indecisive about what, exactly, it was supposed to be.
This episode was just plain weird. The characters rarely acted like themselves, the dark child murder upon which the whole plot turns was mentioned briefly and then quickly forgotten, Euros’ villainous attempts to interrogate the heroes’ morality was reductive and half-hearted. There’s never been much chemistry in the Molly/Sherlock ship, and it’s never felt very important to the show. As this very episode demonstrates, Sherlock’s most important relationships are with Mycroft and Watson, and his flirtations with the likes of Irene Adler are sexier. Speaking of The Woman, the fact that the callbacks to her (both at the end of the last episode, and in this one) went nowhere, makes it seem like creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss weren’t really sure where they were going with any of this.
The Moriarty conspiracy went through several iterations over the course of these episodes (a distraction from Sherlock’s real problems, to a fake-out obscuring the return of his sister) before landing on the most boring one possible: An evil plan that went nowhere, featuring some minor posthumous assists from Moriarty (who nevertheless stayed dead).
This season had its high points, but ended on a pretty lackluster note. If the show does come back, hopefully it can leave the melodrama behind and return to the complex, thrilling mysteries that first drew fans to it.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman star in the celebrated U.K. series