Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sherlock: Series Four. An Overview


I’ve long argued that Sherlock, far from being this brilliant, intelligent, well-crafted adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of The Great Detective, was intellectually weak bordering on the nonsensical, consistently confusing ‘convoluted’ for ‘complex’.  A lot of Sherlock, if one looked at it removed from any sense of ‘feels’ or emotional investment, would not stand up under scrutiny.  There is a delightful irony that a show based on a character that was a cold, calculated thinking machine could build a fanbase made up almost entirely of people who measure how successful an episode was by whether if and how much it made them cry.

There are one or two Sherlock episodes that I thought were good, but by and large I have not been converted into a ‘Sherlockian’.  Quite the contrary: I find myself a lone voice in the wilderness, continuously crying out in the desert that Sherlock has no clothes.  Virtually every other critic lavishes Sherlock with praise.  It gets Emmy Awards, gets held up as this monumental work of television, and gets on my nerves. 

Despite my long arguments about how a great deal of Sherlock does not make sense, even in its own world, people continue to tout it as if it were practically perfect in every way; it is as if Sherlock is something to almost worship.  I cannot convince people that many Sherlock episodes, along with the characters’ motivations and behavior, is irrational to the point of being insane.  That’s not even touching the character of Sherlock Holmes himself, as he has described himself as a ‘high-functioning sociopath’ (though I would argue about the ‘high-functioning’ part myself).

There is a kind of hubris in Sherlock, its fans, and its creators, a sense that they cannot be questioned in their brilliance, that any dissenting voice is at best a naysayer and at worse an evil being.  For too long, all this acclaim, all these awards, all these cheering children at Comic-Con squeeing at how Sherlock and Moriarty keep coming back from the dead without becoming zombies has inoculated Sherlock from criticism. 

It has given the show more than a false sense of security.  It has made it believe it was invulnerable, that it could do anything and get rewarded for it.  It is at a point now where Sherlock co-writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat could have an entire episode take place on Atlantis and Sherlockians would take to Tumblr to speculate whether Sherlock was in reality Aquaman and how he could be Sherlock, Aquaman and Doctor Strange all at once.

Never mind that neither makes any sense, or that Sherlock Series/Season Four makes no sense.  The important thing about such a scenario is, ‘What part was the most emotional for you?’

At last, at long last, Sherlock Season/Series Four has finally brought about a pause to all this, at least to some but not all.  It is long past time to really examine Sherlock and find that it has left internal or external logic and slipped into farce.  Sherlock Season/Series Four is a smorgasbord of ineptness, unintentional comedy and simply daft leaps of logic.  Even whatever good there was in Sherlock overall: the supporting characters, the ‘Mind Palace’, were all abandoned to give viewers awful spectacle, bombast, and literal bombings to cover up that Sherlock has no clothes.

This series/season will probably be the end of Sherlock.  Part of that is due to the busy schedules of its two leads: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  Part of it is also, in my view, due to the outlandishness of this series/season, one filled with such flat-out unbelievable turns and downright goofy moments that only thoroughly devoted Sherlockians would continue on the ‘Sherlock is BRILLIANT!’ road.

In the three feature-length episodes The Six Thatchers, The Lying Detective, and The Final Problem, I came across the issue of plot.  There weren’t any.  Of particular note in this aspect was The Six Thatchers.

As a side note, apart from Churchill I can’t think of any Twentieth Century British Prime Minister whose bust could genuinely exist in people’s homes.  The Six Blairs?  The Six Edens?  The Six Chamberlains? The Six Heaths? The Six Attlees?

The Six Thatchers lurched from one story to another, as if the episode needed gobs of padding to justify its length.  We start with what we think is an intriguing mystery: a young man who was in Tibet is found dead in his own car on his father’s driveway, with the added twist that he had been dead for a week.  What could have been an interesting mystery, one that might have tied in with what was the main story was dismissed with a few words and no sympathy.

He was never in Tibet, died suddenly while going through an elaborate hiding scheme in his car, and no one knew he was dead until a car crashed into it a week later.

I’m not touching the cruelty of the idea of a dead young man left in a car to rot, though I do wonder whether the stench would eventually have alerted someone that there was a corpse in there.  We can even gloss over how Sherlock himself was particularly unsympathetic towards the grieving parents, even for him.

What I find hard to accept is that Sherlockians, indeed anybody, would not notice how this seemed a bad way to get the main story about the title figures rolling.  Gatiss and Moffat could have just started out with an exhibition of Thatcher, or someone delivering said bust to this family as a birthday gift for our Conservative MP.  Instead, we get a tease for something that is quickly shunted out of the way.

Even more scandalous is how AGRA came to be.  I'm supposed to believe John Watson, dimwit that he is, doesn't know his wife's real first name is Rosemund, or that despite all sense he would ask the atheist, obnoxious, generally unpleasant Sherlock to be his daughter's godfather.  AGRA, this code name for a super-secret, super-elite hit squad, was built around the member's real names.

It's almost ghastly to think that AGRA couldn't be code names for these elites: Avon, Glastonbury, Richmond, and Ashford.  THAT makes sense, and we could say they came from each city.  Instead, we opted to make things so shockingly simplistic as to just go with their names.

With Series/Season Four, we also got a most fascinating trope in Sherlock: the ‘Sherlock is Smart or Stupid Depending on When It’s Convenient’.   This Sherlock, who can deduce the most outlandish things about someone by the scent of their soap, and be right in his deductions, could not figure out that Mary Watson was a professional assassin.  Mycroft, who is supposed to be smarter than his 'brother mine', fell for some pantomime tricks involving the clown from IT and apparently has the Penguin's umbrella collection. Neither of the Holmes Boys could figure out that there was no glass in their hereto unknown sister's Magneto-type cell or that she had bamboozled the entire staff, putting them under her spell.

Again and again, Sherlock loves to dazzle us with its sense of brilliance, but when this collection of geniuses are required to be absolutely, positively moronic, they will be so. 

I also note, with great dismay, how little Sherlock thinks of both John Watson and other supporting characters.  Inspector Lestrade was essentially a series of cameos, who thought Sherlock Holmes, the man who has spent years dismissing him to his face as an idiot, was 'a good man' because after four-plus years, Sherlock finally remembered that Lestrade's first name is 'Greg'.  Molly Hooper, irrationally besotted with Sherlock (unless of course she just wants his body, which is plausible), gets a 'big' moment when the unfeeling Holmes has to trick her into saying 'I Love You', but as soon as that's done, she goes back to wherever she goes when she's not pining for our favorite jerk.

It's John Watson who seems to suffer the most at the hands of a man who can pinpoint to the second two weeks in advance where Watson will be but who got his wife killed when Mary made her sacrifice for someone who has been unpleasant to the Watson family.  Maybe, after writing that, the Watsons are just lapdogs to any Holmes.

I never thought I'd live to see a Watson more moronic that Nigel Bruce's version, but I didn't count on Young Bilbo.  I have long argued that Freeman's Watson is generally a wimp and an idiot, and Sherlock Series/Season Four gives more evidence to this hypothesis.  He's shot at, again, chained up at the bottom of a well, and sees his wife killed in front of him, all as a result of his association with Sherlock Holmes.  Yet, despite all this, he still stays loyally by his side.

That isn't counting the other times he's been shot, kidnapped, drugged, and psychologically tortured by the man he thinks of as 'his best friend'.  At times, I think Jim Moriarty would treat John Watson better than Sherlock Holmes.  

The man is an absolute blithering idiot, forever flummoxed by the goings-on around him, and worse, he rarely if ever stands up to Sherlock.  For heaven's sake: he put up a balloon to take his place and Sherlock didn't notice for hours on end, and despite Sherlock's near-total lack of interest, John Watson still would follow him to the ends of the Earth.

As a digression, it's interesting that in Elementary, Joan Watson is if not Sherlock Holmes' equal at least his partner in crime-solving, able to reach conclusions with her own intelligence.  Sherlock's John Watson, conversely, is essentially Sherlock's admiring worshiper, who looks on admiringly while praising him often.  I never got the sense that John Watson was respected by his Sherlock Holmes, while Joan Watson was respected by her Sherlock.  One cannot imagine John Watson telling Sherlock off or deflating Sherlock's ego the way Joan could.

The worst of Sherlock is The Final Problem.  Not even Kyle Anderson at The Nerdist, who specializes in being the Watson to Gatiss/Moffat's Sherlock, could praise it like he normally does.  It's such a shambles, with nothing in it making sense. Here again, I have argued that a great deal of Sherlock as a whole doesn't make sense, but  I think too many have been so besotted with Sherlock, confusing as I've said 'convoluted' for 'complex' that they care more about feelings than logic.

However, I think even the most forgiving viewer took a step back when The Great Detective not only survived an explosion unscathed, but failed to notice there was no glass separating him from his Missy-type sister, whom he couldn't remember despite being only a year older.

I think so much of The Final Problem was so out there that no one could go along with it.  I also think that maybe, just maybe, those same critics who constantly sang the show's praises perhaps thought they were played for suckers, that maybe Gatiss and Moffat thought they could get away with anything and no one would call them on it.

I simply cannot believe that Gatiss and Moffat could have written The Final Problem and thought it was excellent.  The mind boggles at such notions.  

As I look back on Sherlock Series/Season Four, I think, how can so many people say that all this was a hallmark of excellence, something to aspire to?  I've never been able to shake off the idea that Sherlock is the most overrated, over-praised program: one that masks its serious leaps of logic, its awful characterizations, and its generally nonsensical storylines behind a posh exterior of elegant baritones and cocked eyebrows.  

Should Sherlock Series/Season Four be the last we will see of these two, even I, who have been steadfast in my criticism for the series, feel the show and its fans deserved so much better than it got.

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