After a subpar return last week, Sherlock managed a decent second episode of its fourth season with “The Lying Detective.” Sherlock and John are grieving Mary’s death in vastly different ways, but for the audience, it’s pretty familiar. We’ve seen John consult therapists before, in “A Study in Pink” for PTSD and again after Sherlock’s supposed death, so opening up on a session with a new therapist makes sense for John. Sherlock’s drug habit also reigns supreme as his primary coping method, but as with John’s therapy sessions, each grieving process operates on multiple levels. In turn, the episode becomes a multifaceted look at the grieving process of two people already on the edge.
That’s not to say Sherlock’s and John’s grieving process are typical of all grieving processes. There’s still murder to ponder, puzzles to solve, possible drug-induced hallucinations to meander through, and a high profile serial killer to capture. Like all Steven Moffat written episodes, Sherlock and Doctor Who alike, “The Lying Detective” doesn’t try to hide the fact it’s trying to trick you, at least in the plot aspects. A lot of the episode is through Sherlock’s perspective, who is high on drugs for the majority of the run time, creating an unreliable narrator. Add in the fact everyone Toby Jones’s Culverton Smith confessed to were given a memory loss drug so as to forget the confession, a premise that seems a bit contrived and not fully explained. However, the case in this episode works more as an exercise in paranoia, where the emotions of each character — Sherlock and John’s grief, their unwillingness to confront each other about what happened — to become the primary focus. As a result, there are two big emotional confrontations. The first when John beats the crap out of Sherlock, admittedly not the healthiest, but he does manage to stop Sherlock from killing Culverton in the process. And the second in 221B Baker Street, a quiet conversational moment that lends to some emotional catharsis and ends in a hug.
But having someone die saving you and emotionally cheating on your wife aren’t easy things to get over. Things may be okay between Sherlock and John now, but there’s still a lot of fallout from previous episodes to deal with. Chief among them is John’s emotional infidelity and the identity of the secret Holmes sibling. Of course, the two become one in the same by episode’s end, a satisfying third act reveal that brings back John’s therapist from the beginning and expands on the curious Moriarty conundrum. Eurus Holmes being Sherlock and Mycroft’s sister raises questions, for sure, but the cliffhanger ending might not be everything we think it is. After all, who is Sherrinford then? Mycroft has access to Sherrinford based on the phone call he makes at the end of “The Six Thatchers.” Are Eurus and Sherrinford the same person? Has she been dispatched, in a sense, to take of care of the Moriarty problem? Or is she something more sinister? Clearly Sherlock doesn’t recognize her, so there’s something in the past, perhaps something to do with Redbeard, that ended with the sister being hidden away? Right before she supposedly shoots John, she identifies herself as Eurus, Greek meaning east wind, probably a reference to the end of “His Last Vow,” and Sherlock’s story about the east wind.
Whatever the case, Eurus/Sherrinford is sure to be the focus of “The Final Problem.” While “The Lying Detective” isn’t the best Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have to offer, it was certainly a step up from last week. Add in some great moments from Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), a chilling villain from Toby Jones, and we got a well-rounded, if a bit convoluted, 90 minutes.
Also, not a fan of hallucination Mary. I’ll leave it at that.