SHERLOCK Review: “The Lying Detective”

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Whoo, what an ending! I swear, this show leaves you dizzy!

That reveal colors the whole episode differently; in fact, it shows they’ve been planning this since the end of Season 3. It took a second for it all to hit me, but this is monumental – “Did you miss me?” is not a vengeful message from an archenemy, as we’ve all been led to believe for the last three years; it’s a familial taunt.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. How does this episode of start?

John is seeing a new therapist – and that was the first clue that all of us missed. No one looks at the therapist. Even the one that’s been around since Season 1 – does she even have a name? We don’t see her; we think it doesn’t matter who she is. She’s just another plot device to show how John is trying to get away from his old life – both of his therapists were key to that, in fact.

And that’s the trick with this show, which can be both admirable and frustrating – seeming carelessness on the writers’ part can come back as the focal point of a scene, even an entire plot line. Is it clever or ridiculous? I would add that that’s a question that’s really starting to define this show. When does cleverness cross over into insanity? Is this entire show becoming a metaphor for its own main character? Is that too meta? Is it genius…or just plain ridiculous?

Well, whatever can be said about this show, I love it – for both its bombast and its genuinely quiet, emotionally touching scenes, both of which were plentiful in this episode.

Our main villain is Culverton Smith, played by Toby Jones – the Dream Lord to my fellow Whovians out there, and many other roles in film and television besides. Smith is – to put it in simple terms – slimy. He has a touch of Magnussen to him – him spitting the cereal back into the trash can and then leering at the girl gave me horrible flashbacks to Magnussen in “His Last Vow” with Lady Smallwood and – gah, that still makes me squirm. Ugh.

sherlock culverton smith

BBC One

But for all his, for lack of a better word, grossness, Smith holds a threat that Magnussen never held – celebrity.

Yes, Magnussen owned a news empire, but he was always behind the scenes, the shadowy figure in the room – a data storage unit, not the display. But Smith is the face on the screen – and that makes him relevant in ways that feel almost uncomfortably close to home right now.

I know this is a British show, but you can’t deny some of the similarities – a man with an addiction to fame and being on camera, with a fanbase of followers who see him as someone to idolize, with a horrible penchant for discounting the value of the lives of those who criticize him. There’s even a daughter who sits in on meetings. I don’t know if it was intentional by Steven Moffat, but it definitely got a bit under my skin, and that was probably the point. Culverton Smith is designed to make you uncomfortable.

Smith values entertainment over truth, to a point where even if he tells the truth straight out, no one can be sure of what he’s saying. And he finds it all amazingly, fantastically, stupidly funny. Because he has everyone conned. His fans think he is there to entertain them, when really, they are there to entertain him, right up to the moment where they die. And even after, when he confesses his crimes to their corpses, laughing.

Moriarty was an entertaining villain who didn’t mind killing people, but he killed for a reason. Lives meant little to him, but they did mean something, however small. Smith has no such quandaries. To him, people are something to own, whether through their idolization of him, or through serial murder. Moriarty may have been the most entertaining villain to watch on this show, but I would argue Smith is the most evil. Because he doesn’t care. And that’s the real evil Sherlock has been fighting throughout this entire show, including within himself. Sherlock has become a hero because he has learned to care; Smith is a villain because he doesn’t.

BBC One

BBC One

Luckily, we had a few lighter moments to combat the darkness that is Culverton Smith!

I think this has to be my favorite episode for Mrs. Hudson ever. She lets John, Sherlock, and Mycroft have it this episode, and it’s amazing to watch. Season 4 pulls off its second James Bond moment (the first being the fight in the water in the first episode) when an Aston Martin pulls up outside John’s house to a fanfare of wailing police sirens and whipping helicopter blades from above. Who’s in the front seat? Not Sherlock Holmes – no, it’s Mrs. Hudson, with Sherlock locked up in her trunk to get John to examine him and get him off the drugs. “I’m not a civilian!” she yells at Mycroft when the “spooks” have raided 221B looking for drugs, and she tells Sherlock, “You’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock Holmes!” I love the explanation for her being able to own the Aston Martin, because it actually makes sense – I feel like there’s enough material for there to be an entire episode about Mrs. Hudson’s past as a stripper with her late husband running a drug cartel. If we had more episodes in a season, I would definitely want to watch that!

The only thing that’s a bit sad about this episode is the absence of so many great characters. Molly Hooper is barely in it, which I find incredibly sad; she’s mentioned a few times, but it’s like they’re afraid of having her on screen. Molly is the only original character that the show has created for its main cast, and she is a marvelous addition to it; why is she sidelined like the uncoordinated kid at a soccer game (you know I’m joking, as that would have been me, if I had ever even played soccer)? She came up to such prominence as a character in Season 3 when she helped Sherlock solve cases in “The Empty Hearse” and saved his life in the mind palace in “His Last Vow,” and even before then in “The Reichenbach Fall” when she was “the one person who mattered” in faking Sherlock’s death. Why downgrade her as a character when she’s come so far?

Mary features as a hallucination, which, of course, is the only way to come back in this show after being dead – besides Sherlock’s mind palace or faking your own death (which, of course, are still options, we’re not at the end of the season yet). But it was sobering to think this is the only way we could see Mary ever again – such a great character, placed on the sidelines as well. This means Sherlock and John’s relationship takes front-and-center again, but it’s unfortunate it’s at the expense of characters we’ve come to love.

BBC One

BBC One

That leaves us with the one hallucination that actually was real – Faith Smith, or John’s therapist, as was revealed, or, as was revealed after that, Euros Holmes, Sherlock and Mycroft’s sister.

So, deductions: “Did you miss me?” was Euros’ message to Sherlock, yet somehow he didn’t recognize her when she disguised herself as Faith and John’s therapist. Does this mean he only knew her when he was little, and thus might not remember her? Given the flashbacks to Sherlock’s childhood during his various blackouts and fits of unconsciousness this season, there could be something there. She said Culverton Smith gave her the piece of paper from Faith, so that means she knows him; she also set up the clues to lead Sherlock to Smith, so she is demonstrably smarter than Sherlock, and maybe even Mycroft.

Where exactly is she based? Has she been in hiding all these years? Why? Does Mycroft know she’s out disguising herself as different people and messing with Sherlock’s head? Does he know she’s behind the message? Is “Sherrinford” a codename for her, or is there another Holmes sibling? In “His Last Vow,” Sherlock insists that his name can be a girl’s name – was that a clue that Sherrinford could also be a girl’s name? If Euros is in contact with villains like Smith, what could she be planning for Sherlock, or is there an even bigger scheme here? I’m always going to miss Moriarty, but it sounds like Euros Holmes could be set up to be one of this show’s villainous greats.

Next week is the Season 4 finale “The Final Problem.” Knowing Moffat and Gatiss, it will be a heartbreaker and a mindblower, and I can hardly wait. Will Moriarty make an appearance? What is the Holmes family secret that’s kept Euros in hiding all these years? Is the Woman going to make an appearance, or was it someone else sending those texts (after all, we never saw the name for who was texting Sherlock)? And, we need to know if that drink between Lady Smallwood and Mycroft ever happened(!). I’m also hoping for a little more Molly Hooper, whose presence on screen is always welcome.

This was a slow burn of an episode with a menacing villain, some great humanizing moments for Sherlock, and a brilliant twist at the end. I’m hoping for a shocker of a season finale, with the unveiling of Euros’ past and possible grand plan. Until next week, my fellow Sherlockians!

TB-TV-Grade-ASeason 4, Episode 2 (S04E02)
Sherlock airs Sundays at 9PM on PBS

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Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring TV writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.
Follow Cailin on Twitter: @sherlocked1058
Keep up with all of Cailin’s reviews here.

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