So Sherlock finished last night with a fall, and (spoiler alert!) as one can only assume everyone knows the outcome of the events at the Reichenbach Falls in the original stories, (really really, SPOILER ALERT) Sherlock Holmes appeared to die and then did not. How he achieved this will be a major talking point in the eighteen months or so we’ll have to wait for the next episode, and while I will happily speculate that his “final” conversation with Molly,* the phone call to John, and that cyclist had something to do with it I’m not planning on spending too much time speculating. I don’t really enjoy doing that with TV shows any more – even making random, wild speculation about Doctor Who led me to figuring out major plot developments and twists, and I’m happier having things explained to me in my relaxing TV time. Don’t get me wrong – I prefer a detective show to have a bit more investigation, a bit more of a puzzle to solve, than this episode (or indeed this series) of Sherlock had; but I don’t feel obliged to solve it, just to know that the detective will. Seeing an episode like “A Good Man Goes to War” draw towards its inevitable conclusion is a lot less enjoyable than having something you should have seen coming but completely missed explained to you.**
I would suggest, however, that Sherlock isn’t as clever as he thinks he is. Before this episode gets to its meat, the defamation of Sherlock Holmes, there are a few things I was seeing (obviously Moriarty WANTS to be caught you fool! That’s not a question, the question is why does he want to be caught?). I would suggest that this is the writers not being as clever as they think they are: in the one-and-a-half stories by Sir ACD I’ve read he’s quite happy for Holmes to go up blind alleys, and have to modify his theory, before the conclusion. Yet the TV series usually wants him to be right first time, or just get things wrong (i.e. Irene Adler’s phone code) for the eventual denouement where he solves it. It’s unscientific – it is the modification of hypotheses based on new evidence which leads to an eventual theory – but it suppose we could call it more dramatic.
Because really that’s what Sherlock is – not a crime drama but a pure and simple drama. It is both fun and exciting – last night’s episode showed that in spades – but it’s not puzzling, not procedural, in the way Lewis and Endeavour are. This isn’t a complaint – I’m not even certain that Sherlock is sold as a crime drama – but it requires a modification of my own personal approach to the show. And, I would suggest, highlights an actual problem with the show, which is the desire for series-arcs. While last night’s episode was brilliant, I felt that it relied a bit too much on foreknowledge of the Holmes/Moriarty rivalry, on knowing about the Reichenbach Falls and its consequences, and that what we were wondering is how will they do it rather than what will happen? This contrast is actually a bonus for this episode, which ended with us wondering how this happened rather than what will happen, like the first series finale. Ultimately my question here is: wouldn’t Sherlock have been a better drama as a series of 6 to 8 episodes, rather than the hour and a half usually attributed to crime dramas and one-off specials?
* After all, surely at some point someone had to identify the body? It hasn’t been explained how Sherlock misidentified Irene Adler’s body in the first episode of this series, but that showed an awareness that such a thing would have to happen – and Molly, as pathologist, would surely have to have been in on this for it to work?
** Additionally, the deus ex machina approach to much of Doctor Who is equally unsatisfying – if there’s no way you could have guessed a conclusion then it’s just as pointless as if you’ve been seeing it coming all series. What’s the fun in a hero who isn’t as intelligent as you are?