The fabulous boys of Baker Street were back this month for “Sherlock’s” long-anticipated forth season and, as it goes with “Sherlock,” the season included three episodes. This Sunday’s season finale concluded in a very surprising way: instead of ending on a cliffhanger as previous seasons have done, it ended with a great sense of finality. The episode was titled “The Final Problem” — was it also the final episode?
The episode brought the entire series full circle, from Mary’s moving monologue to Lestrade’s comment about Sherlock being a “good” man, to the last words of the episode, “Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson,” (which also happened to be the last words of the first episode, “A Study in Pink”). The episode even answered two of the show’s greatest mysteries: was Moriarty still alive and why exactly was Sherlock, Sherlock? With both of these questions answered and an emotional monologue to wrap up the episode, let’s look at why now could be a perfect time to end the series.
When “Sherlock” premiered on the BBC during the summer of 2010, stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were not yet the household names that they are today. Up to that point, Freeman was most known for the British version of “The Office” and his leading role in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Cumberbatch had been in a few British shows and had minor (but memorable) roles in “Amazing Grace” and “Atonement.” “Sherlock” truly launched both men’s careers, ushering Freeman into the wide world of “The Hobbit” as Bilbo Baggins and Cumberbatch into “Star Trek” and Marvel as Khan and Doctor Strange. With the shift in both actor’s availability, “Sherlock” became increasingly harder to film. Season Two of “Sherlock” aired only 18 months later, in January of 2012. Season Three came two full years later, and Season Four a full three years later. All in all the series ran for seven years, and while that only gave audiences a total of 13 episodes (including the Christmas special “The Abominable Bride,”) seven years is definitely considered a long time for most television shows.
Looking ahead, Cumberbatch is scheduled to appear in two major Marvel films: “Avengers Infinity War” and its yet to be titled “Avengers 4” sequel. He may also be lined up for a sequel to “Doctor Strange,” if Marvel greenlights one. Filming for “Infinity War” will take place for the bulk of 2017, leaving any possibility of filming “Sherlock” off the table. Freeman, who recently joined the Marvel Universe in “Captain America: Civil War,” is rumored to be reprising his role as Everett Ross in Marvel’s “Black Panther,” which also begins filming this year. Since its likely both actors will be busy for the foreseeable future, would they have time to film another series? Filming for “Sherlock” usually takes four months. Season Four, for example, was filmed from April to August 2016. While it’s possible the BBC could work around Cumberbatch and Freeman’s upcoming busy film schedule, it’s never a guarantee.
There’s another reason this might be the final season of “Sherlock.” Back in October, during a press tour for “Doctor Strange,” Cumberbatch said there was a finality to Season 4.
“It feels like the end of an era, to be honest,” said Cumberbatch. “[Season 4] goes to a place where it will be pretty hard to follow on immediately. We never say never on the show. I’d love to revisit it, I’d love to keep revisiting it, I stand by that, but in the immediate future, we all have things that we want to crack on with and we’ve made something very complete as it is, so I think we’ll just wait and see.”
The end of an era is exactly what “The Final Problem” felt like this past Sunday night. The episode didn’t just solve a season arc, it solved a series-long arc by answering the final question of “what makes Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes.” The episode uncovered some incredibly dark secrets about Sherlock’s past, including a genius-yet-homicidal sister and a deceased childhood best friend. According to the episode, Sherlock was rather fond of solving puzzles as a child, but the inability to solve the puzzle of his best friend’s whereabouts led to the child’s death. This death traumatized Sherlock, causing him to rid himself of all sense of empathy and emotion. It also plunged him into the “science of deduction,” which he then used to save the lives of others, something he failed to do with his brother. It was quite a brilliant solution to the puzzle of Sherlock, something showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss wrote brilliantly in the episode. Since Sherlock was always the biggest puzzle of all, has the show fulfilled its purpose?
Another reason this felt like the end of “Sherlock” as we know it was the final scene of the season. Mary, knowing that her life was going to end, recorded one last video message for John. As the video was playing, time began to speed up. John and Sherlock began to reassemble Baker Street after it was bombed by Euros. The bull’s skull and headphones were dusted off and hung back on the wall, the iconic 221B black-and-white wallpaper went back up too, as well as the yellow spray painted smiley face and perfectly placed bullet holes. The camera panned around the room to the new Baker Street, as Sherlock and John began to see new clients. Mary’s voice sounded like a eulogy, a celebration — nay a dedication — to the future adventures of the 221B “Baker Street Boys.” Her voice was cut over scenes from the first episode of “Sherlock,” where we first saw Holmes and Watson back in 2010:
“P.S. I know you two. And if I’m gone, I know what you could become, because I know who you really are. A junkie who solves crimes to get high and a doctor who never came home from the war. Will you listen to me? Who you really are doesn’t matter. It’s all about the legend, the stories, the adventures. There is a last refuge for the desperate, the unloved, the persecuted. There is a final court of appeal for everyone. When life gets too strange, too impossible, too frightening, there is always one last hope. When all else fails, there are two men, sitting and arguing in a scruffy flat, like they’ve always been there, and they always will. The best and wisest men I have ever known, my Baker Street Boys, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.”
Mary’s voice over ended as Sherlock and John ran out of a building, seamlessly recreating the above shot from Season 1. Mary’s voice over also felt like Gatiss and Moffat’s final words on the show. They are both avid fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories, and while their adaptation has launched a resurgence of interest in the series, they know their show is merely part of the “legend” that is Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. As if speaking through Mary, Moffat and Gatiss penned their final goodbye — or at least prolonged goodbye, since we don’t know if or when the series will come back.
If the show does come back, it seems fitting that instead of doing a serialized season, with an arch nemesis and connecting cases, that they could tell a single, closed-ended story, like “The Abominable Bride.” Since the series has yet to cover two of Doyle’s remaining Holmes novels, “The Sign of Four” and “The Valley of Fear,” those stories could be adapted perfectly into a 90 minute episode/mini-film. In any case, whether the show returns or truly has taken its last bow, one thing is for sure: over the course of these seven years and 13 episodes, we’ve been “very, very lucky,” as Lestrade once said, to see Sherlock Holmes go from being a great man, to a good one.