In Sherlock: The Lying Detective we see a return to norm for our characters, which naturally means a return to dysfunction, madness, and desperation. The episode is solid despite some flaws – thanks to stellar performances from the cast.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays a deranged Sherlock to perfection. Somehow, it never gets tiring seeing Sherlock fall and get back up again when the portrayal seems so genuine. Sherlock’s sickness as accentuated by the visual choices and editing works perfectly. When Sherlock falls through the screen and faces a cut of traffic along the roadside, you feel it.
Martin Freeman also inhabits the put-upon Dr. Watson better than anyone I can remember. He makes the sadness of loss seem alive. He makes the quiet rage feel real. Even in lighter moments, when Watson is more annoyed with Sherlock than truly falling apart – that annoyance is more fun and true than one might expect.
Amanda Abbington’s dream-Mary was, also, pitch-perfect. She is the embodiment of John’s vision of his late wife, but still very much Mary. Here again, the dream flow of the visual world of Sherlock makes this all the more surreal and wonderfully sad.
Una Stubbs is a joy as Mrs. Hudson, as always.
And finally, Toby Jones has cemented himself as a formidable villain and character actor with his chilling portrayal of Culverton Smith. Being a bad-guy in genre projects is always a mixed bag; you either embody a character and become a fan-favorite, or you leave people scratching their heads. Jones first impressed with with his work as Zola, especially with the difficult task of acting through a sketchy picture-tube in Winter Solider, and he owned this character from the start. It’s frightening to imagine being around this rich, entitled, oaf of a man (although sadly, I think he’s right – he could break into America – and probably do well in politics).
The scenes where Watson and Sherlock come to terms with the unacceptable loss of Mary, are the heart and soul of this episode, and the actors involved did a fantastic job.
And because of that – I “like” that John Watson did admit to having an affair, rather than us being mislead by the filmmakers about the nature of his interaction with the girl on the bus. It hurts, and feels unforgivable, but it also feels real.
Mary’s “Miss Me?” video tape.
Having Mary send Sherlock a final message that implores him to save Watson the only way guaranteed to work, by tricking Watson into saving Sherlock – is so self-aware as to be unsettling. In this way, Mary behaves as a character in a story, not a real live human being. It is a carryover from the last episode where Mary steps in the way of a plot-bullet. Now, she is the embodiment of a Steven Moffat writing crutch, where a supporting character places a strange amount of faith in the main character’s desperate need to save the day and make everything right. Sherlock might as well be the Doctor, and Mary/John might as well be any number of companions that suffer so that the hero’s compulsion can be sated.
It’s just weird, okay? People don’t act like that. They aren’t aware of their faults as if they were character traits written as law by a series bible. They certainly don’t employ circuitous dream-logic as a way to trick their loved ones into falling back into their pathological routines long enough to “save them” from whatever end they expect they are walking into.
I’m almost ok with Sherlock, damaged as he is, to misinterpret Mary’s request – to see it as reasonable to set all the events of the episode up just to put Watson in a place where Watson would be forced to save Sherlock, but I do not understand how Mary thought her last message would play out.
I think closing these reviews with the dislikes section might leave people with the wrong impression. I enjoyed these last two episodes of this season, but I cannot help but see the flaws. This episode, especially, has some amazing scenes that are among the best of the entire run of the series. There is real passion and pain in these portrayals, and a lot of fun twists for those that are fans of the canon. I can’t wait to find out more about Sherlock’s extended, twisted, family!