It has been three years since the last season of Sherlock, ignoring the one Christmas special last year (which functioned more as a nod to fans than a plot-advancing continuation of the series), though fans are used to waiting, with two-year hiatuses being the norm for this BBC series. Anticipation is a major part of the Sherlock experience, and past seasons have always been worth the wait. So, when the first episode of the fourth season premiered on January 1, millions watched to see if season four would be as well.
Was it? The short answer is yes, definitely, as Sherlock always is; however it was not without flaws, and this year those flaws might be the biggest to date.
Keep in mind, past seasons have set an incredibly high standard, which means the episode was still quite good.
Sherlock sets itself apart from other television series with the level of thought and detail put into every episode. While each season boasts only three episodes, each episode is an hour and a half long, enabling the very intricate plots of the series.
Sherlock is masterful in its complexity and intellect as a television series and is undoubtedly the most intelligent series I have watched. The show is fast-paced, brilliantly clever, and hilarious when it wants to be while balancing drama and intrigue to keep the tone of the show dark enough to fit the modernized character of Sherlock Holmes. It consistently delivers complicated mysteries and plots with many allusions to the original text, while simultaneously reinventing the classic Holmes.
Though the cases draw from the original text, it is impossible to predict what the writers of the show will do with the broader, overarching plot. The season two finale saw the death of Sherlock Holmes, and then his miraculous return, and each past season has managed to surpass those prior in sensational plot direction.
However, the trend seems to be diverging from case solving to favor those sensational plotlines, which comes as a detriment to the real foundation of the show, which was Sherlock Holmes and John Watson navigating incredibly complicated murder mysteries. Without this, some of what made Sherlock so great is missing. This is apparent in the season four opener, “The Six Thatchers,” which bounces from a giddy reunion of the characters and familiar gags to jet-setting espionage and action to emotional drama without any coherent backbone to tie everything together. It is disjointed and almost insubstantial; some of the choices seem like plot devices and some questionable characterization of Watson left me feeling like the episode was a little lackluster compared to some greats from earlier seasons. It also largely ignored the overhanging threat of James Moriarty’s posthumous schemes, which was the major cliffhanger of the last season’s finale.
To me, this episode was a transition episode, in which the writers chose to hastily get everything cleaned up for the sake of the next two episodes, which I predict will focus on Sherlock and Watson’s relationship. Perhaps this will be the return of Sherlock as it used to be, but I think the story is far too complicated now to truly go back to the way it was.
Despite this seemingly heavy criticism, the show remains remarkable and the episode was highly entertaining. It was thoroughly enjoyable, just not the best compared to previous episodes. The plot was certainly intricate and as detail-oriented as before, the humor was as clever as it always is, and Sherlock’s character was just as delightfully insufferable; and seeing all of the characters back together again was lovely, despite any flaws. Additionally, this episode had some major character development for the famously emotionally-detached sleuth and hinted at the introduction of a new character that will be very exciting to watch. Also, my criticisms are entirely for the writing of the episode, the acting, especially by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, is as brilliant as ever.
All in all, though the first episode was underwhelming, the standard it is held to is exceptionally high, and it still managed to keep me enraptured. I am excited for the next two episodes of the series and feel confident that they will continue the trend of excellence Sherlock has had viewers come to expect.