Tea & Review: This ‘Detective’ Isn’t the Only Liar

{All images courtesy BBC One.}

Sherlock, series 4, episode 2, “The Lying Detective”
Written by Steven Moffat
(based on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle)
Directed by Nick Hurran
Produced by BBC (in partnership with PBS Masterpiece)

Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have almost made a career out of outright admitting they are lying whenever they are interviewed with regards to plot points in Sherlock. Interview after interview, they state one thing, to only state in the next interview the exact opposite. Their argument, which does have a point, is that no one really wants to be spoiled as to the plot of the show or where it’s going. But rather than outright just stating ‘spoilers’ ala River Song in Doctor Who (or a variation of ‘no comment’), they gleefully troll the fans of the show with their deception, thinking it’s all in great fun.

So, when they said that this series of Sherlock would be wrapping up most (if not all) of the major plot points so far (which is another clue that this is most likely the last series), I took it with a grain of salt.

And in “The Lying Detective”, we definitely didn’t see much resolution. As usual, there are spoilers and speculations ahead, so turn away now if you haven’t seen the episode.

The Plot

“The Lying Detective”, loosely based on the canon story “The Dying Detective”, follows Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), still “off his tits” on drugs, his mind racing ahead of himself as he deals with the death of Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) and the fact that John (Martin Freeman) has effectively cut him out of his life.

Meanwhile, we see John, distanced to where he’s seeing a new therapist, still grieving Mary’s death to the point where he is seeing her where she’s not and talking to her. He’s apparently not taking care of his baby (more on that later), and drinking heavily in addition. He’s of course not admitting to anyone, even his therapist, that he’s seeing and talking to Mary.

Sherlock is visited by a young woman, Faith (Sian Brooke), who is the daughter of philanthropist Culverton Smith (Toby Jones). She had attended a meeting whereby Smith had used memory-altering drugs in order to confess ‘his darkest secret’ to those he needed to. You see, he needed to kill someone. But who? She doesn’t remember. Just that this one word changed her life. Sherlock, noticing the signs of her being suicidal, takes her out for chips while he tries to figure out what’s going on. She disappears in the middle of his revelation.

Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) – who is apparently seeing Lady Smallwood (Lindsay Duncan) regularly at work now – calls John, asking for him to help Sherlock. He initially refuses, but his session with his therapist is interrupted by the crashing of a sports car and gunshots. But it’s not Sherlock, but Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), saving the day! Mrs. H rapidly becomes my new favorite character, as she not only fake cries to get John to exit the therapist’s house, but as we come to find out, she had used the same ‘weak fakeout’ we got in “Scandal” to pull a gun on Sherlock to kidnap him and take him with her to request John’s help. Sherlock is obviously off his rocker, quoting Shakespeare (getting a modern day ‘The game’s afoot’), and obsessed with proving that Smith is a serial killer. You see – that one word? “Anyone”. Smith didn’t just want to kill someone, he wanted to kill anyone.

Toby Jones, being creepy as all get out as Culverton Smith

At the therapist’s office, we find out that Sherlock has publicly called out Smith. He also was somehow able to predict that John would be at this specific new therapist’s house, and that John would also want Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) to give Sherlock a medical to find out if he really is as sick as he says he is or if it’s just a trick. Smith calls John, confirming that they were still meeting today. (See note above about Sherlock knowing John as well as he does.)

Molly states – in an echo of a conversation from “The Abominable Bride” – that if Sherlock continues to use at the rate he is, he will die within three to four weeks. That’s pretty much the end of that conversation, which doesn’t sit well with me.

John and Sherlock then head over to a television studio, whereby we find that Smith has used Sherlock’s accusation for an ad campaign for a new cereal. (Puns! Get it?) Smith then shows that he’s not just evil, he’s creepy, too, as he makes a statement to a female crew member that seems innocuous but is super inappropriate.

The three of them then head over “his” hospital – or at least, one where he’s donated enough money to get his way. He takes John and Sherlock to a room full of kids, where we get some more commentary on how everyone knows Sherlock, but few people know John or John’s contribution to Sherlock’s world, as everyone keeps calling it Sherlock’s blog. Smith also uses this time to hint that he can get away with being a serial killer because he’s rich and powerful.

Sherlock and Culverton, being a little too friendly.

The three then travel to ‘his favorite’ room, the mortuary, while he talks about serial killer H.H. Holmes (real guy, by the way), who built a murder house to kill off his victims. Smith indicates he wouldn’t need a house if he was a serial killer, as he’s got the hospital. Sherlock tries to get Smith to actually confess, and is waiting for someone to arrive that he texted from Smith’s phone earlier. And in twist #1, when he announces that it’s Faith, who Sherlock had used the text to hint that Smith was ready to confess, we find out that this Faith is not the same person who visited Sherlock earlier.

Doubting himself and what he is and isn’t seeing, Sherlock claims that Smith has a scalpel – only for the camera to reveal that it’s Sherlock with the scalpel, and he attacks Smith. John, in a moment that starts out as BAMF!John, attacks Sherlock to disarm him. However, BAMF!John quickly turns to abusive!John, as he then violently beats Sherlock to a bloody pulp.

This is not the ‘humorous’ attacks that we saw in “Scandal” or even “The Empty Hearse”, but a vicious rampage that made me physically curl up into myself. Sherlock, as has been noted by the fans, takes on the role of an abusive spouse by stating he deserved the attack, as he killed John’s wife. John agrees with this assessment.

This is intercut with a scene of John talking to Lestrade at New Scotland Yard about the attack, where we find out that Sherlock killing Magnussen last season is apparently known by Lestrade. We also have John stating that that killing ‘was okay, because it was fun’, which I hope was a small acknowledgement as well that John’s initial killing of the cabbie in “A Study in Pink” was also ‘okay, because it was fun’.

Molly Hooper, continually stressed about Sherlock.

Sherlock is admitted to Smith’s hospital, and John is visiting ‘to say his goodbye’. He leaves Sherlock his cane that he apparently has kept all these years. After he leaves, Smith visits through a secret door. Sherlock acknowledges that he let himself get put in the hospital so Smith would kill him.

Meanwhile, John arrives at 221B per Mycroft’s orders, where Mycroft is desperately trying to figure out why Sherlock is being this way. John makes a snarky comment about a third Holmes brother, based on a comment that Mycroft had made to him earlier. Mycroft denies this.

Mrs. Hudson once again saves the day by pointing out the painfully obvious that despite Mycroft’s assertion that Sherlock is all about the brain, he’s actually all about emotions. She helps John deduce that it’s to do with something on the mantle – and lo and behold, it’s the DVD of Mary’s post-death message to Sherlock.

Mary – in some twisted way of trying to help – had apparently instructed Sherlock that the only way to save John was to ‘go to hell’ and pick a fight with a bad guy, putting himself in danger. She argues that by only saving Sherlock will Sherlock in turn be able to save John.

The rare ScruffyBatch in his not-so-natural habitat.

After a heartbreaking scene of Sherlock acknowledging that he doesn’t want to die that has more than a shade of reference to Cumberbatch’s Third Star, Smith confesses and starts to smother him in yet another uncomfortably violent scene.

Thankfully, John arrives in the nick of time. Smith, in challenging his confession, mentions that he had taken three recording devices off of Sherlock. And after a brief moment where a good chunk of fans (myself included) assumed he had one hidden up his bum, we find out that he had planted a recording device in John’s cane, showing that he continues to predict John to a scary degree. We also find out that Sherlock was actually faking the drugs for the most part, and that he’s supposedly fine.

We then cut to Baker Street, where John is apparently one of many people ‘babysitting’ Sherlock to make sure he doesn’t go back on drugs. Sherlock is glad that the case is wrapped up, but still mystified by the fact that he hallucinated Faith’s appearance and that night with her.

Sherlock and John talk about feelings – truly a plot twist I did not expect.

With ghost!Mary encouraging him, John finally acknowledges that Sherlock didn’t kill Mary, and that it was Mary’s choice to take that bullet.

As John’s heading out once again, Sherlock gets the ‘orgasm’ text alert that was connected to Irene Adler. John deduces it’s Sherlock’s birthday, and encourages Sherlock to text her back and to take advantage of the time he has. While it’s definitely supposed to indicate John talking about Mary, my slash goggles also acknowledges that this could easily be applied to post-Reichenbach John and Sherlock.

John finally acknowledges that he had ‘cheated’ on Mary with the texting of the redhead from the last episode, but that it was ‘just texting’. John then proceeds to break down, and the two hug.

We then cut to John back at his new therapist, where everything is apparently fine again. As he talks over the resolution of his break with Sherlock, she asks about the third Holmes. Just as John realizes he never told her that, we have twist #2: not only was she the woman that Sherlock assumed was Faith, she was also the redhead that John had ‘cheated’ with, AND to add an even more dramatic flair, she is actually Euros – the missing Holmes sister. She pulls a gun on John, and we end with the same shot we had at the beginning, a gunshot going toward John.


Sherlock is one of those rare media where, while I have initial reactions and thoughts, it is through reading other reactions (both fans and critics alike) that help solidify those thoughts. While normally I try to stay away from reading other people’s reactions until I write my own review, with Sherlock, I can’t write up my review until I hear what other people have to say about it.

My initial reaction was one of love: this episode is tightly written, and hearkens back to what I loved about the show in series 1 and 2. We have an actual mystery that makes sense, a bad guy that even made me shiver in revulsion, and we get some great moments with Sherlock and John – both bad and good. Cumberbatch and Freeman are both completely on their game in this, and it shows.

Toby Jones hits it out of the park as Culverton Smith, with shades of Jimmy Savile, and – if I’m not mistaken – a certain American politician who’s been able to get away with quite a lot as he ran for a certain political position. The ghost!Mary is back to the character we saw in the first two episodes of series 3, with Abbington being likeably exasperating in her haunting of John’s psyche. Also, Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson FOR THE WIN. As I said above, she rapidly became my new favorite character as she became a BAMF and saved the day multiple times. Finally, Sian Brooke also did an excellent job. When I watched it a second time, I realized that the direction was done in such a way to where we never really see the therapist or the original Faith in the opening sequence straight on, but I still had no idea that it was her as both the redhead and the therapist.

Creepily evil.

However, after hearing some of the fan reactions on Tumblr and reading both Aja Romano’s review on Vox and the Baker Street Babes’ review, I realized that my thoughts were very similar to what I had after “The Abominable Bride”. As an episode in and of itself, it is an excellent piece of television, damn near perfect in it’s pacing, acting, and direction, with a final twist that definitely threw me. As part of the series as a whole, however, the episode left me with a lot of issues that I fear won’t be answered before what will most likely be the last episode of the series next Sunday.

Fans have noticed John’s violent streak toward Sherlock, which I definitely am not liking. And, to counter, Sherlock’s not exactly innocent in his abuse toward John. Our two main characters are emotionally damaged men who have – as Mycroft predicted in that very first episode – made each other worse by being friends. At this point, I’m having problems liking either one of them, which, you know, should be a core tenant in any major media that your main characters having SOMETHING likeable about them. I find it difficult to believe we’ll fix this in the one remaining episode we have left. But then again, Moffat and Gatiss love wrapping things up in weird fashion.

We also have another instance of Moffat not showing us any consequences. From Sherlock’s drugs (which I seem to remember an interview during series 1 promotion where they stated they weren’t planning on going down the drugs route, as that wasn’t what was interesting about Sherlock) to the fact that both John and Sherlock now have PTSD that only comes up when the plot requires it, all the bad things that either of them have done (both to each other and to others) are – like Mary’s shooting of Sherlock in “His Last Vow” – swept under the rug way too easily and we’re meant to just forget and move on.

John Watson, still a sexy mofo.

And I’m left with a lot of unanswered questions. Are we ever going to find out more about what happened in those two years between series 2 and 3? Based on the one scene we got in “The Empty Hearse”, Sherlock wasn’t exactly galavanting across the world ala James Bond, but was actively taking care of bad guys and being tortured. Meanwhile, how did Mary and John meet? Was it sheer coincidence that an ex-assassin wound up working for John Watson? And now that we have that John hallucinated Mary post her death, surely it’s reasonable to assume he also had hallucinated Sherlock during those two years. And while silly enough, are we ever going to see John’s bedroom in 221B Baker Street? It’s not even viewable on the Google Street View walkthrough.

Why bring up a memory altering drug and have it be of so little consequence to the plot? What about Sherlock’s visit to Ella at the end of the last episode? How about that note John gave Sherlock at the end of the last episode? Who made the Moriarty video that we saw at the end of series 3? I assume the ‘mutual friend’ that led Euros to Culverton was Moriarty, but why? And are you honestly telling me that John Watson sexted someone and managed to keep it secret from both Sherlock Holmes and and his ex-assassin secret agent wife? Finally, why bring in a baby during last season just to never do anything with her outside of send her to John’s friends?

Additionally, the return of Irene Adler and implying that Mycroft and Lady Smallwood are going to start dating seemed needlessly heteronormative. I’ll be honest: I am a shipper of John and Sherlock, although I doubted we’d actually see it happen. I would also be happy with the fanon that Sherlock was asexual as well, despite Moffat’s assertion that asexuality is boring.

But I was really hoping that if Sherlock ended with anyone, it would be a man (if not John) to break the boundaries for LGBT representation. Cumberbatch’s portrayal has had indicators (picked up by many of the fans) that at least this Sherlock is gay, with unofficial ‘permission’ from Moffat and Gatiss by their indication that one of their inspirations for this version being Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Wilder’s assertion later in life that he had wanted to make Holmes expressly gay in the movie but was held back due to Hollywood and societal pressures.

Or, if we had to be heteronormative, I wish he’d end up with someone that hadn’t outright stated she was gay. The implications of him ‘turning her straight’ I had hoped was a lead in to John being willing to ‘go gay’ for him. I also hope he doesn’t end up with Molly, as it would be nice to see them become friends (which is ironic, as that’s the common cry against slashing Sherlock and John, the ‘why can’t two men be close and not be romantic?’ Well, why can’t we have a woman and man be close on screen and not be romantic either?).

I really don’t like the implication that you need a romantic relationship to be complete. There are many people out there who are just fine without romance in their lives, and there are other relationships – friendships, for one – that can make your life complete. It reminds me too much of the “you need kids for your life to have meaning” rhetoric I’ve heard when defending my desire to be childfree by choice.

You will pry Mystrade out of my cold, dead hands, Moftiss.

And also, as much as I was impressed by the twist of a secret sister of Sherlock, I am tired of the overly dramatic plotlines we’ve been getting. Considering Moffat and Gatiss have stated that the reason we haven’t ‘met’ Harry Watson yet was because they wanted to make sure they had a plot to match, the fact that we’re getting a secret sister of Sherlock instead frustrates me. (In fact, when I caught some setlock photos of Sian Brooke’s ‘Faith’, I was confident that she would be playing Harry, as she was very much a female version of John, even down to a cane.)

We also get very little of either Molly or Lestrade, both of whom feel less like part of an ensemble and more like ‘special guests’ by this point. Can’t we focus more on the characters we DO have and get more about them before bringing in new ones? In last week’s episode, we got a hint as to how Lestrade and Sherlock first met up, and that is something I’d have loved to know.

Finally, as is noted in that Baker Street Babes review, I’m getting frustrated with the continued raising of the stakes. One of the many reasons I gave up watching Supernatural is because they kept raising the stakes, trying to outdo themselves season after season in the size of the catastrophe the main characters had to combat. It got to a point where I just didn’t care anymore, as I knew they would survive at the end, and it just didn’t matter to me. Bringing in yet another super smart character, ready to outdo our heroes and making this even more James Bond-ish with secret plots is starting to get tiring. For once, can’t we have something that’s important to our characters but isn’t life threatening?

Will next week’s episode be the last we see of “Sherlock”?

One of Moffat’s drawbacks as a writer is that he just doesn’t know when to stop with a good thing. Doctor Who‘s Weeping Angels were originally a terrifying force that were partially terrifying because we didn’t know too much about them. Moffat ended up using (and reusing) them to the point that they became caricatures of themselves, no longer terrifying. He’s so eager to outdo himself that he tends to go overboard and make it worse. I feel that we’re getting the same thing: he is so concerned that we see Sherlock is human and fallible that we end up making him a monster in a different way. This also now applies to John as well.

I’m pretty nervous about the upcoming third (and most likely final) episode of the series. With how this episode ends and the commentary on Sherlock’s health in the last two episodes, I’m terrified that they’re going to Blake’s 7 it and kill off both Sherlock and John, burning up Baker Street while doing it. Maybe John already is dead at the beginning and the John we see on screen all be mind palace!John. I’m also terrified that they will try to wrap up everything and wind up falling on their face in leaving too many questions unanswered. There’s a difference between leaving something open because life is like that and having plot holes so big that it makes the whole show fall apart as a result.

Moffat and Gatiss are liars and they have stated that clearly. So I hold little hope that we’re going to get those resolutions they promised. But I will definitely be there to find out.

“The Lying Detective”, as with “The Six Thatchers”, is available to view on the PBS Masterpiece website if you’re in the United States (although a head’s up that PBS is apparently okay with violence, but God forbid you utter the words ‘cock’ and ‘shit’), and on the BBC One website if you’re in the United Kingdom.

The third episode, “The Final Problem”, airs January 15 at 9 pm on BBC One, and 7 pm ET/PST, 6 pm CST on PBS. Fathom Events will also be screening it with special behind the scenes extra footage on January 16 and 18.

The official websites have more information.

Angie also posted this on her website, Contents May Vary.

2 thoughts on “Tea & Review: This ‘Detective’ Isn’t the Only Liar”

    1. Thank you very much. Actually got done with the third episode yesterday and should be going out soon. I had some personal stuff come up that caused the delay.

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