Sherlock (series 4)

Sherlock has had the benefit, and occasional curse, to be run by the same team from the get-go. Moffat (Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio) and Gatiss (Worried About the Boy) brought their intellects and adoration of Doyle’s collection together to create a classic. Yes, I’m ignoring the mistake that was The Abominable Bride. As lynch-pin as Bride is to the tale, it is the weakest and most annoying of the series episodes as it was simply done to write them out of a very tight place they’d left themselves in at the end of series 3 and was too cute and transparent for me.

The final 3 episodes of Sherlock were the typical whirlwind at the top, but as they move on there is space to breathe. You can feel it all coming to an end like a heart slowing down. That isn’t meant negatively…. one of my biggest frustrations with the show is the unrelenting break-neck pace it often sets; we never get to enjoy anything because to savor anything means to miss the next bit of information or action. These final episodes, however, are built upon the foundation of the characters that Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) and Martin Freeman (Captain America: Civil War) created and nurtured.

Mind you, the recurring cast of Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves (Last Tango in Halifax), Amanda Abbington (Mr Selfridge), Louise Brealey (Ripper Street) and, again, Mark Gatiss complete the world and provide the necessary sounding boards. One of the interesting changes this season was the guest stars in each episode. Marcia Warren (Vicious) and Lindsay Duncan (About Time) in the first, Toby Jones (Witness for the Prosecution) in the second, and Sian Brook primarily in the third. And, of course, Andrew Scott (Victor Frankenstein) gets his farewell (again) as well. While the previous series shows each had stories and arcs, they didn’t really have nemeses on an episodic basis. This rhythm was new.

And yet, it all comes back to the beginning, in a wonderful and twisted way. This final run of three managed to echo everything that came before and take it somewhere new and unexpected. The result is a wonderful piece of entertainment and construction and a near perfect ending. There could be more, but it isn’t needed and, honestly, it would feel forced after the self-supporting, closed loop that Gatiss and Moffat delivered.

A bit of a post-script.

Finales are fascinating things. They tell you a lot about a show’s creator (assuming they are still involved at the end) and about the show itself. Series themselves can serve many purposes. Most are there to fill 30-60 min a week as a distraction and a reason to sell you things. It is what TV entertainment is all about: to keep you watching so that the advertisers can get a few moments with you. With the advent of pay TV and VOD, that has shifted a little. Now we pay for content more directly as well, and we expect, well, not much more that we did before, it appears, if you look at what is being produced. But I digress; this was to be about finales.

Series finales are amongst the hardest scripts to write. They have to, when done well, wrap up potentially years of action, story, and character growth, giving meaning to it all and leaving us feeling a sense of completion. More and more (good) writers have learned how to arc their seasons so there are, if not stopping-points, at least pause-points that provide completion and suggest a way forward; also a good hedge against cancellation.

Series finales have to do all that and have it all make sense of our investment in them; after, at times, watching for years, we want to feel there was a good reason for having done so. This becomes even harder for a show when they’ve lasted long enough to go through multiple cast, runners, writers, and directors, where the shape of the show itself may have morphed well beyond the original vision. Not many have done it well in the past. This is where VOD and paid channel content (HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Starz, etc.) have changed the landscape. They are often creating something closer to stage plays than TV fluff; 6-13 episode runs of limited scope (rather than open-ended). From a pure craft point of view, I am finding it a welcome change with fewer loose ends and orphaned stories when a show doesn’t return.


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