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TV Review: Sherlock "The Lying Detective"

The Holmes just keep on coming.

Review by Brandon Wolfe

As predicted, the rift between Sherlock and John was indeed short-lived. It had to be, of course, since the season finale is next week. And that’s ultimately what “The Lying Detective” has as its endgame, repairing that pivotal relationship in the wake of Mary Watson’s death. However, the episode has a lot else on its mind peripherally, some good, some less so. As with any episode of Sherlock, it’s a grab-bag of overstuffed delight mixed with curious unevenness.

John has taken to seeing a therapist to cope with Mary’s death, keeping to himself that he’s regularly having conversations with his deceased wife within the confines of his grief-stricken head. Sherlock, meanwhile, has fallen hard into illicit substances, leading him to act more erratically than ever before. The sleuth has a new plaything in the form of obnoxious British television personality Culverton Smith (Toby Jones, chewing up the scenery with ghastly Austin Powers choppers), whom Sherlock has concluded—based on an encounter with Culverton’s concerned daughter Faith (Sian Brooke) that may or may not have only transpired in Sherlock’s drug-addled mind—is a serial killer. A concerned Mrs. Hudson gets Baker Street’s two broken halves together out of concern, but a chilliness lingers between them. Sherlock blames himself for what happened to Mary. John doesn’t put up much of an argument to the contrary.

Uneasily embarking together on the Culverton case, the two learn that Smith, while a shameless media whore, isn’t exactly playing coy about his sinister shadings. He invites the duo to the morgue of the hospital that he owns and all but rubs their faces in his malevolent proclivities. Sherlock cockily believes he has Culverton dead to rights, only to find that the daughter he thinks he met was not the daughter whom he meets at the hospital, leading to a brutal fight between he and John that sees Sherlock end up hospitalized. All the while, Culverton gloats his vile head off.

Of course, Sherlock’s missteps and downfall are all an act, with him actually having been in control all the while, and that move feels a bit tired at this point in the series, I must say. Sherlock constantly playing long cons that involve feigning failure, despair and declining health in the pursuit of pulling off a grand caper is a well this series has gone to a bit too many times now in its relatively short lifespan. An intricate detective story often thrives on tricking the audience, but it’s gotten to the point where each time things seem to be going poorly for our hero, you can count on it being by his own design when the curtain is about to drop. Not only does this trope’s repetition grate on the audience, but it also affects our sympathies for John, who is always as much in the dark on these plans as we are. After awhile, you wonder why he continues to stand for all this treachery, even in the name of crime-fighting.

Worse is that John is the brunt of several long cons in “The Lying Detective.” He discovers the posthumous recording Mary sent to Sherlock last week wherein she implores Holmes to “save” her husband. We see more of the message this week and learn that Sherlock falling into a state of physical and emotional despair was not just part of his own machinations, but Mary’s as well, who decides that the only way for the detective to save his friend is by allowing John to think that Sherlock needs to be saved himself. It’s all very convoluted, while also patronizing to John as a character. Plus, in a related note, the device of Mary as a ghost haunting John’s psyche is mostly a bust, even if it does allow Amanda Abbington to have a grand time.

Finally, there’s one more elaborate scam that John is on the receiving end of. This one is courtesy of his newfound therapist, whom, it turns out, was not only the woman that Sherlock thinks he hallucinated, but also the woman on the bus that John had an affair with last week (he didn’t recognize her?), also has some sort of Moriarty connection, and, most pressingly, is the long-lost third Holmes sibling, the one that the series has been awkwardly hinting toward for a couple episodes now. Holding John at gunpoint at episode’s close, Eurus Holmes looks to be our final villain next week to take us out.

Adding an evil Holmes sister into the stew is one of those things that is as yet unclear if it will be a pleasure or a groaner, but the character does seem a touch like supervillain overload, sprung onto us as a means of tying together too many disparate strands at once. But a feeling of seam-bursting aside, “The Lying Detective” is a lot of fun, and a welcome surprise for a series where the middle episode is traditionally always a bit of a whiff. The gradual reconciliation of the two partners has much dramatic oomph and Sherlock is a cocky hoot all throughout. Culverton Smith is also a fun villain, even if he seems like a campy regurgitation of last season’s Charles Augustus Magnusson. Sherlock frequently reveals itself as an often ungainly series, lacking the surefootedness that the best shows exhibit, but as long as it remains this much fun, why quibble?

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.


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