SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major plot spoilers for Sherlock. If you haven’t seen the show yet, read at your own peril.
In reflecting on many of the pieces I have written for Geekade, I have come to realize that, while I have gratefully presented my opinion on many pieces of significant (at least to me) entertainment, I have not really shared my thoughts on something that I truly went “full geek” for. Maybe it’s the role of the critic to stay back. To disengage. To hold out emotionally from the full-on, out-and-out crazy enthusiasm which makes us all “geeks.” But I have come to the conclusion that my “critical disengagement” is doing a disservice to you, my fellow “geek” readers. What do I geek out about? Well, I’m going to tell you…
It was a late, weekend night. Having stayed up to watch Saturday Night Live, I flipped around the channels until I stumbled onto some concert on the PBS cable channel. (To this day I don’t remember what it was.) Within a few minutes I was sound asleep. A few hours later, I woke up in my recliner with a stiff neck to a program I had never seen. Here was the actor I had seen play the crazy major in War Horse, only now with a full head of curly hair talking to a guy on a rooftop in what looked to be London. The funny thing was, I recognized some of the snippets of dialogue. And then I heard the line.
“Sherlock, your big brother and all the King’s horses couldn’t make me do a thing I didn’t want to.”
Wait a second. Hold the presses. I couldn’t believe it. Someone had created a modern day version of Sherlock Holmes? A version with Sherlock standing off against Moriarty on a rooftop complete with “Stayin’ Alive” playing on a cell phone? Cheeky, modern dialogue with enough remnants of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon to pay homage to the greatest detective of all time? To my everlasting good luck, I had woken up to see what would be the most celebrated moment in the short-lived series created by Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat and writer Mark Gatiss.
A little background. Growing up, I stumbled onto the works of Arthur Conan Doyle not by reading, but actually in listening to the record albums of the stories in my local library. I instantly became a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they solved crimes in the radio play in my mind. And now, the world had a new Sherlock, a Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century who texted and a Doctor Watson who had suffered from an apparent case of PTSD after having served in the military in Afghanistan. What an ingenious idea. More importantly, what flawless execution. The writing, performances, and extended loyalty to the original works were tremendous.
Of course, I had to watch them all. Of course, I bought all of the DVDs. I eagerly awaited the next Sherlock episodes I could find. Like all of the fans after “The Reichenbach Fall,” I waited for an ENTIRELY TOO LONG A PERIOD OF TIME for the third season. Like all of the fans, I too conjectured on how he could have survived jumping off the rooftop and fooling both John and Moriarty’s hitmen. I thrilled to the wild goose chase Moffatt and Gatiss gave us in the season three opener, complete with “action movie” Sherlock leaping through the window and planting a romantic kiss on Molly’s waiting lips, the “fan-fiction” Sherlock gleefully playing a trick on John with Moriarty (played impeccably by Andrew Scott) to indulge the fantasies of Sherlock’s most “fevered” fans and “conspiracy theory” Sherlock truthfully explaining the trick to a bewildered Anderson in his new career as a Sherlock Holmes junkie. Season three would also introduce us to Mary, John’s love interest and future wife who helped him get over grieving for his friend’s faked death.
I can probably count on one hand the moments in entertainment which have shocked me. Let’s call them, for lack of a better term, “holy s@#t” moments. As in “HOLY S@#T!! CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW??” Vader telling Luke that he was his father on that radio antennae bridge at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. (I’m old enough to have seen it opening weekend in 1980 when the whole world was both shocked and unable to go on Twitter to express that shock.) Dr. Malcolm Crowe realizing that Cole’s gift in being able to see the spirits of the dead included himself, now a ghost and no longer a child psychologist in The Sixth Sense. House realizing his night with Cuddy was nothing more than a drug-induced hallucination in “Both Sides Now.” “To’hajiilee” from Breaking Bad. Any Sunday night spent watching the last ten or fifteen minutes of Game of Thrones.
Sherlock resides in the pantheon of “holy s@#t” moments. The rooftop showdown was one. Moriarty showing up on television screens all around Britain at the end of season three was another. But for me, seeing Mary Watson revealed as an international assassin for hire in “His Last Vow” was the quintessential “holy s@#t” moment. I should have seen it coming. But I missed it. And when the moment came after a brilliant set up, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
That was the great thing about Sherlock. It always surprised me. And it always delivered an incredibly well-acted, well-written performance which never let me down in terms of surprises, twists, and turns. The supporting cast of Gatiss, Scott, Amanda Abbington, Louise Brealey, Rupert Graves, and Una Stubbs were spot on, crafting characters who never disappointed in delivering wonderful moments throughout the series. But the success of Sherlock lay at the feet of the brilliant casting of its leading men. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were stupendous as Holmes and Watson. Their on-screen chemistry was something to behold – two actors trusting the material and each other to forge a believable relationship based on mutual respect and loyalty. Audiences like to pull for characters who like each other. On-screen chemistry is not easy. You know this only too well when you see a show like Friends or The West Wing – ensemble casts which made us desperately want to be part of their inner circle. Sherlock (and specifically Cumberbatch and Freeman) made us want to be a fly on the wall at 221B just so we could see the two of them together.
You may have noticed my use of the past tense in describing the series. As of this writing, no new information has been given about a potential season five. With the careers of Cumberbatch and Freeman thriving (in the MCU amongst other places), season four, with its ups and downs and Mary’s final “Miss You DVD” nostalgically waxing on about her “Baker Street Boys,” felt like the final send off. The Baker Street Boys are now back where they belong, solving crimes and forever reminding us that whenever you really need help, you can always turn to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.