I’ll be honest, my first thoughts after watching ‘The Final Problem’ were not totally coherent. I wrote down a few things immediately after the episode finished and the phrase that jumps out at me as most pertinent is “absolutely batshit insane”.
I was disappointed with the episode, although not particularly surprised given the generally reduced quality of the series, and it’s a sign of that disappointment that I was so quickly able to zero in on the elements of it that I did not like. Normally, after an episode of Sherlock I’m left with a certain feeling of high strung excitement- during the golden age of the first two series I would be on agonising tenterhooks throughout- but after this episode my overwhelming sensation following the last scene was numb disbelief.
I did rather like the Victoriana gothic horror element to the episode, the gang being trapped on a literal asylum in the middle of dark stormy waters and having to navigate depraved tasks set by an unstable puppet master, though that aspect did irresistibly remind me of the CBBC game show Trapped. I also liked the first scene which initially increased my hopes for the episode; the idea of Sherlock and John staging an elaborate sequence to scare Mycroft was completely in character and hilarious. The ending- as tonally dissonant and fanservice-y as it was- I also liked. So what about the middle?
My main issue with the episode, and more generally Sherlock, comes down to its treatment of female characters. Mary had already been killed off as a plot device in ‘The Six Thatchers’, continuing the long tradition of using the deaths of women in relationships with the main character for the man’s emotional development. Euros presented a myriad of other challenges. From her appearance at the end of the previous episode I had high hopes for her possibilities as a character; she appeared to be cool headed and clever, with the same penchant for disguise as her brother, and a sense of mischief that appeared promising. These hopes were abruptly destroyed after her first appearance in this episode and with her long bedraggled hair and violent tendencies I got a strong ‘madwoman in the attic’ vibe from her, a return to the recurring and irritating literary theme of locking away uncontrollable women and their ‘madness’ (in its common perception and portrayal in various media). A friend pointed out to me that the point was made again and again that she was the cleverest of the Holmes siblings, like the writers were saying, look, we know women can be clever too so we’ll make her the smartest person that has ever existed in the history of the world! Some people will say, oh, obviously they’re not saying that she went mad because she was a woman and point to Moriarty’s similar characterisation, but, when the idea of the female tendency to instability has been so pervasive in literature and real life until relatively recently, images such as this have indisputable power. The neat and tidy resolution of her limited arc, when it turned out all she needed was a hug and she quietly returned to her cell leaving Sherlock and John to happily get on with their life together, I have huge issues with in its inconsistency and attempt to gloss over and rewrite everything that had just happened.
I’ve been avoiding mentioning this for as long as I can, as it still makes me feel upset when I think about it now, but the worst thing that this episode did was the disgusting treatment of Molly Hooper. I wholeheartedly agree with the amazing Louise Brealey and what may be the best tweet ever, but Molly deserved more in what could be the last ever episode of the show, or at least the last one for a long time. Just compare her role in this episode compared to Series 2 and 3, in which she was an instrumental part of Sherlock’s plan to fake his death. There is nothing wrong in Molly still loving Sherlock, but a part of me dies a little that her last scene involved her tearfully asking him to say “I love you”, and that we didn’t see a conversation between her and Sherlock afterwards exploring the aftermath of what happened or even see her in her professional capacity at the lab.
I had no real problem with the ridiculous situations and plot twists that played out in the episode, and was genuinely shocked by the revelation that Redbeard was a child (!). It’s been clear that Sherlock has not been taking place in the realms of reality for a while now and this episode fully embraced that. The strong sense of exploring childhood trauma in this episode was enhanced by the fairytale motifs throughout; epitomised by the image of Sherlock rushing to save John, trapped down a well with a skeleton no less, lamp in hand and dark overcoat flapping in his wake. The ‘reveal’ that Euros was the girl on the plane seemed like a bit of a cop out to me; I would have preferred it if they fully committed to the unhinged supervillain theme and she was hauled away in a straightjacket to Arkham Asylum before making a daring escape- sorry, wrong show.
I did enjoy some elements of this final series of Sherlock and the last episode, but, on the whole found myself yearning for the simpler days of detective work, giggling at crime scenes and indeterminable numbers of cab rides. Now, excuse me as I go and re-watch the first episode.
About the ‘madwoman in the attic’: