‘Sherlock’: Past its prime?

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NO SPOILERS WE PROMISE!

Because I court controversy I’m going to go out there and say it: the latest Sherlock was a bit rubbish wasn’t it. I’m not alone – a surprising amount of the press reaction to series 4 opener The Six Thatchers was hostile. By turns needlessly dramatic, unfunny and predictable, it all built to a twist that anyone with a vague knowledge of Conan Doyle’s books could see coming a mile off.

This corker of an episode begins with a top secret government meeting and ends with a showdown at an aquarium (because bad guys like fish?) – you know that subtlety is not on the cards. There’s a nice little twist for viewers who’ve read the source text (The Adventure of the Six Napoleons) which is completely lost on anyone who hasn’t; other than this there are few redeeming features.

Series Co-Creator Mark Gattis – who also wrote excellent series 3 opener The Empty Hearse – has really managed to mess things up this time. Plot points are repeated insistently: it’s so important that we don’t forget Sherlock has made a vow to protect John, Mary and their baby that we need to be reminded of this five or six times. The jokes are also repeated: Sherlock rattling off a complex explanation for a feat of logic that he actually solved by mundane means is pretty funny the first time – not so much the seventh.

The case is also a bit dull: there hasn’t been such an unsatisfying denouement since the very first episode where it was blatantly obvious to everyone but the genius detective that it was the taxi driver. Even Sherlock seems to be thinking with his fists, sensibly choosing to get into a punch-up with a trained assassin in a swimming pool. Why did he turn up alone and unarmed? More to the point, how did he get into a fight with a trained assassin and come off better? So many questions.

To be fair this opener leaves several interesting directions for the new series to go in, but forgive me for being slightly irked that out of a meagre three episodes in potentially the last ever series of Sherlock, we now know that one of them is terrible. Plus the post-mortem menace of Moriarty seems to have fizzled out and you begin to suspect that the series 3 plot twist just functioned as a convenient reprieve from Sherlock’s job offer/death sentence. Perhaps that would be cynical.

I like Sherlock. I can kind of forgive the queer-bating; the insane things it produces on the internet; the fact that I’ve had to wait three years for a new series. But at the moment it feels complacent. A bit like Hillary Clinton and the Remain campaign. Look what happened to them.

Sherlock used to be slick, gripping and cerebral. What happened?

Think we’ve been a bit harsh on Cumberbatch and co.? Email film@palatinate.org.uk to respond to this article in defence of ‘Sherlock’.

The next episode of ‘Sherlock’, ‘The Lying Detective’, will air on BBC One this Sunday at 9pm.

Photograph: Fat Les 

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