Finishing its current season with the very intense The Final Problem, and potentially serving as a series finale as well, Sherlock has, once again, come and went from our lives and left a deep, never-ending void where a new episode should be, with intense withdrawl symptoms and an inability to function with the knowledge that there is no new episode to watch this coming Sunday night at 9pm.
Of course, as is typical for any television series or movie that is incredibly popular today, reaction on social media was decidedly mixed to the finale, which is frequently the thing where Steven Moffat is involved. The number one problem that comes up again and again with Sherlock? That the series has moved away from its crime solving routes and basically become either a darkly comedic show about its characters or, worse, a work of fanfic designed to appeal to the screaming thousands of fans on social media.
Well my answer to that, especially to the accusation about the show being fanfic, is to say a big massive…DUH. The entire fabric of the show is that Sherlock is essentially a work of fan fiction, a work on a massive scale that, instead of being restrained to a typed story on the internet, had the backing of a major global television corporation, in this case the BBC, and was written by two of the biggest voices on British television, Moffat and Gatiss, who were such huge fans of the Conan Doyle movies and the Basil Rathbone movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s, that they wondered what it would be like to take the modernisation of the character, a facet of the later Rathbone movies, and apply it to the twenty-first century.
One of the brilliant things about fan-fiction is that it allows creative fans to grab hold of their favourite movies, or television shows or book series and take them in a different direction and apply different rules or settings to them and that was essentially what Sherlock did for the past four seasons over some of the most visually inventive television of its decade, probably the century.
To complain about Sherlock being fan-fiction is basically calling a spade a spade and the show damn well knows it.
Admittedly one of the most valid observations of the series was that post-season two (The Reichenbach Fall being a peak-highlight) the show became less concerned with crime solving and devoted itself to the characters and their relationships. This isn’t really a surprise given that by that point the series had pretty much exhausted full length Conan-Doyle novels and was using short stories for their inspiration and thus was padding them out, in a good way mind you, with stories of John and Sherlock’s friendship, the introduction of Mary and showing the effects of Sherlock’s character on his wider world and those that live in it, such as Lestrade, Molly, Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs’ portrayal of Baker Street’s landlady quickly becoming my favourite performance on the show the more we learned about her) and the introduction of new villains, created by Doyle of course, such as Charles Augustus Magnusson (played by Lars Mikkelsen, aka Hannibal’s brother) and Euros Holmes, Sherlock’s long lost sister, a devastatingly brilliant and intense portrayal from Sian Brooke that was hidden under our noses throughout the season and took centre stage throughout The Final Problem.
Sometimes the show did feel as if it was a Tumblr post masquerading as a feature-length television drama (and that’s not a criticism of Tumblr as I love Tumblr), but it was doing it in such style that it was hard not to get swept along by it. The show’s depiction of Sherlock’s Mind Palace, his train of thought as well as its increasingly hallucinatory set pieces helped to set it apart from nearly every other television show on the box.
Whilst CBS in the US got in on the act by giving the go ahead to Elementary (admittedly very enjoyable as well), Sherlock became ever more visually unique and wonderful as time went on, becoming ever more confident with its characters and story that it felt earned when the plots would stop and the show would spend time with its cast of characters just being themselves. One of my favourite moments from the show comes in The Empty Hearse when Sherlock enlists Molly’s help in solving a case. It doesn’t really need to be there and the episode could probably function fine without it, but it would be a hell of a lot less with it missing. Created for the show itself by Moffat and Gatiss, Louise Brealey’s performance became a quietly wonderful beating heart of the show.
Within its own universe, Sherlock became ever more famous whilst John’s blog about their exploits took on a status of super popularity that mirrored the success of the show in the real world, even down to having “fans” within the show trying to work out how Sherlock survived his “fall” during the season three premiere. Like Supernatural, Sherlock was having its cake and eating it. Here was a show about a bunch of characters whose work was documented within the confines of its own universe and developing a hard-core following along with it, right down to crazy fan theories on how Sherlock survived death, including a hilarious moment where he shares a kiss with Moriarty because they were both in on the plot of the season two finale.
Making the show incredibly meta, it essentially became a work of fanfic in which the show itself had fans who did the exact same thing within its own walls, whilst having characters talk about Sherlock and Moriarty getting together seemed as if Gatiss and Moffat had taken legitimate inspiration from Tumblr posts and works of fanfic themselves and to top it all off Gatiss was even cast in the show as one of its main supporting characters.
It all made for dazzling, brilliant television.
And now it’s all done, so it seems, and I think it would be better if Gatiss and Moffat did call it a day. Of course, the last moments of The Final Problem seem to have been put together in the chance that Cumberbatch and Freeman are difficult to get back to do more episodes, but given where the show has gone and where it finished up, do we really need to see more?
That final shot, a glorious freeze-frame of our heroes running into action, was as satisfying an end one could ever want from a television show, the montage coming before it of all our favourite characters doing their bit whilst John and Sherlock put Baker Street back to exactly how it looked before that devastating explosion a genuine heartfelt moment and a truly happy ending that felt earned after what was arguably its darkest and most brooding season yet.
If it is the end, its legacy will be not only go down as being a boundary pushing show in terms of visuals and story-telling, as well as being evidence that a devoted audience will always wait for new episodes no matter how long they have to, but it must surely go down in history as one of the single greatest works that a pair of fans ever conceived.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, two Sherlock Holmes fans getting to play with their favourite characters and turning it into a slick, well produced and very expensive television series that not only turned us all into fans, but included us within the show along the way. In the end Sherlock will be remembered for making stars of its cast, its super popularity and how it took a legend and brought him into the present day without breaking a sweat, but it should also be remembered for being a work of television that was essentially the most grandiose work of fan-fiction in pop culture history.