Sherlock ended its fourth season — and possibly its entire series — with the intense “The Final Problem,” which put Holmes and Watson through the emotional wringer, explored the great detective’s mysterious childhood, and ultimately set the stage for a more traditional version of the iconic mystery tales moving forward (should stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman ever agree to return). Below showrunner Steven Moffat takes our burning questions about the episode and the show’s future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So this was a rather tense and diabolical finale, what were you most proud of?
Steven Moffatt: I dunno — people will blog about how evil I am if I’m proud of anything! I like the density of plot. You got a lot of actual plot for your entrance fee. The final sequence running around trying to stop a plane crash, trying to solve a puzzle, and John Watson drowning — I just thought it was breakneck and fun.
A quick question about episode 2: Some have speculated that Culverton Smith was inspired by Donald Trump, was that a thought anywhere in your creation of him?
Only in the sense of a general disquiet about how celebrity seems to erase all other sins — in that sense, I suppose, it’s about the rise of celebrity. And now we have a completely unqualified man to be running America. It’s extraordinary and possibly fatal for the human race — that’s not an exaggeration. It might be the biggest mistake made in human history, giving that man the nuclear codes. So I think the idea is that celebrity allows you to transgress in ways that normal human beings are not allowed to. [Trump’s] admitted to sexual predator behavior — sexually assault, really — and that’s extraordinary to me. He’s not the only celebrity like that. He’s just about to become the most powerful one.
Back to the finale: Does Mycroft have a clown phobia we don’t know about?
My wife does, she’s terrified of them. But nah, it’s just that clowns are always scary.
It felt like by bringing back Moriarty you to have your cake and eat it too — he’s back but in flashback so you don’t violate that he died. Can you talk about the decision to bring him back?
There was some unfinished business there, but we were always absolutely clear he was dead. People said we were making that up, but the power of that rooftop scene would have been destroyed in retrospect if he hadn’t really killed himself just to win an argument, which is what happened. It was great to get a bit of Andrew [Scott] back, it didn’t occur to us until quite late in the day that we could just do it. But we needed the flashback to fill in how this had happened. And you’ve got the perfect opportunity to bring back Moriarty and for two minutes to make it seem like he was arriving in the present day. It was fun.
Was it a bit of a cheat to have a different actress play Euros in the plane vs. in the flashbacks?
No, because that’s a dream, she doesn’t need to look the same. A dream image of yourself you don’t dream of yourself looking as you necessarily are. So I didn’t think so at all.
Some of the elements, from Redbeard to the water motif, extend back further into the series. How long did you know about the major elements of this finale?
We started talking about him having a sister fairly early on. What if Sherlock had a sister? What would that be like? But we didn’t take it madly seriously. During the planning of [season] 3 we came up with the plotline that we wanted to do. But there are elements from it we’ve been kicking around forever. Some of them have accidentally worked out well. If you go back to “A Scandal in Belgravia” and look at Mark Gattis when he reflects that Sherlock originally wanted to be a pirate but suddenly looks very sad and haunted, it’s very much a long game.
And since we didn’t get any closure on this: What’s now going on with Mycroft and Lady Smallwood and Sherlock and Irene Adler, that we’re not being privileged to witness?
Well, that you’re not privileged to witness it means you’re not going to know! With Lady Smallwood and Mycroft, we might never find out what happened there, and I’m quite content to leave it that way. We don’t have to know everything. And as for Sherlock and Irene Adler, I have no reason to suppose that Sherlock is not telling the truth, that he loves ignoring her texts. There was no new information there. We always known he rescued her and she wasn’t really dead. And if you paid attention you’d have known they’ve remained slightly in touch because there’s a rose — when he’s injured — there’s a single rose in the room. If you think about it, he saves her life, they must have escaped together, obviously there’s some form of contact.
If there is something fans seem upset about with this episode it’s that there’s no resolving scene with Molly after that very effective devastating call to her while she’s in the kitchen. Did you consider doing one? Is it fair to leave her that like that?
But that’s not how we leave her. People need to learn to face their televisions, we see her later on–
We see her skipping into the room but–
She gets over it! Surely at a certain point you have to figure out that after Sherlock escapes tells her, “I’m really sorry about that, it was a code, I thought your flat was about to blow up.” And she says, “Oh well that’s okay then, you bastard.” And then they go back to normal, that’s what people do. I can’t see why you’d have to play that out. She forgives him, of course, and our newly grown-up Sherlock is more careful with her feelings in the future. In the end of that scene, she’s a bit wounded by it all, but he’s absolutely devastated. He smashes up the coffin, he’s in pieces, he’s more upset than she is, and that’s a huge step in Sherlock’s development. The question is: Did Sherlock survive that scene? She probably had a drink and went and shagged someone, I dunno. Molly was fine.
You’ve said you originally had a completely different scene originally for that Molly sequence that you scrapped, what was it?
It was a rather boring one in retrospect. It was clever — Molly was actually trapped inside the coffin and they had to solve a puzzle to get her out. But while it was a clever puzzle and we liked it, we were the only ones who liked it. It was just another puzzle and it wasn’t something Euros would be particularly interested in putting Sherlock through because she’s more interested in the emotional then why he’s clever. So we scrapped it and I’m glad we did because I rather like the replacement scene.
Speaking of Sherlock’s development, there’s a sense that with this episode — and maybe based on a quote I read of yours — the series has all been a bit of prequel to Sherlock becoming the traditional Holmes, the Basil Rathbone-style Sherlock? Is that a fair assessment?
Yes, it is. I don’t know that we quite set out to do that story. But in the end it becomes Sherlock Begins, doesn’t it? He’s now where we’re most used to those characters being — Watson is the brave widower and Sherlock is the wise and humane version we’re most used to. They’ve grown up a bit and got older. If we ever make any more, it will be about two blokes in their mid-40s, which is the more traditional Sherlock Holmes. So yes, it’s sort of an extended origin story. We’ve always kept our version a bit ruder and less formed than the Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone versions — both of whom are a bit more gentlemanly and kinder.
There are no cliffhanging items left over, not that I can think of?
No. There isn’t something we have to come back to address. Which is quite good for us. Because if we do come back, we can just start with a knock on the door and a new client, and they can go and investigate.
So I know there’s been various backs and forths about whether this could be the final season. If it does end up being the last one, are you content with the place where you’ve ended it on, story wise?
It’s certainly the first time we’ve ever ended a season thinking, “If we never come back, this is fine.” As endings go, all it does is say, “And they carried on solving crimes on Baker Street forever.” If we want to come back and solve more crimes we can do it, that’s no problem. We’re not allowed to end Sherlock Holmes. As Mary says, they’ll always be in that flat solving crimes, played by different actors. So the only ending you could ever have is, “And the legend continues, forever and ever …”