Polarising – Few words could be more accurately describe the latest series of the BBC’s popular detective drama, which concluded its run earlier this year. It kicked off with a middling premiere episode more concerned with Bond-style action set-pieces, and was bookended by a confusing mess of a finale episode, which bombarded its audience with a plethora of twists and turns. It’s hard for anyone to disagree that Sherlock jumped the shark in its fourth series. The show, which once bedazzled us with its clever and witty tales, is barely recognisable in its current form, and if comments made by executive producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are any indication, a fifth series may not be on the cards – for some time, if at all. But for all those still eager to return for more episodes, there are a few major issues to be corrected if this ship is to be steered back on course.
Perhaps the most prominent demand of the fans is a return to the sleuthing which made the first three seasons so exciting and engaging to watch. Who can forget the heart-racing hunt for Moriarty in Season 1’s ‘The Great Game’? Or the terrifying, drug-induced paranoia of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’? Sherlock is, with no doubt, a far more rewarding viewing experience when its focus is on a tightly-knit, cohesive narrative, instead of stranded in a web of parallel plot threads like most of Series 4’s episodes. Whilst the death of Mary was treated with all of the reverence required to make the character’s sacrifice worthy, her spectre loomed too large in following episodes, preventing any clear focus on the plot of an episode. Moreover, it is notable that Sherlock drags its heels predominantly when tackling original material. This is an easily-amended dilemma, with a veritable wealth of Conan Doyle stories yet to be mined by the creators. Who wouldn’t want to see the kooky ‘Red-Headed League’ adapted for television, eh?
The onslaught of unexpected revelations and smug, impenetrable plotting – what I like to call the ‘Moffat Formula’ – needs to be toned down. Not only does it detract from the storytelling, it alienates a large portion of the audience (and evidently did, if critical response to ‘The Final Problem’ is any indication). The dissonance between the borderline-slapstick comedy and dark story threads has become so jarring that it can be painful to endure, especially when Moffat and Gatiss are clearly trying to yank on your heartstrings. The way forward is clear, and simplifying Sherlock’s breakneck narrative doesn’t have to mean dumbing it down.
And finally, there needs to be a renewed emphasis on characters – that is, characters that aren’t Sherlock or Watson. Principle cast members Louise Brealey (Molly Hooper) and Rupert Graves (D.I. Greg Lestrade) are absolutely wasted in Series 4, and its hard to shake the feeling that the actors themselves felt jaded by their short screen time, which were often simply concerned with ruminating on the fates of our two leads. Oh, and for god’s sake, give Mrs. Hudson something to do that isn’t just delegated comic relief. Una Stubbs is far too talented to be wasted with such trash as the sports car scene from ‘The Lying Detective’.
Ultimately, Sherlock‘s hubris is its own pride – its absolute, rigid refusal to take a step down and tell a more grounded story. In its attempts to surprise us over the years, it has slowly lost us, but its hardly too late to change its fate. If Sherlock does make a comeback to our screens, then we can hope that it stops trying so hard to please us, and brings back the show that we all know and love.
Sherlock concluded its fourth series on 15th January. The DVD is available now.