Sherlock: Why I Think 'The Lying Detective' was the Best Episode Since Season Two

I make no qualms about my disappointment with ‘Sherlock’ over the last couple of years, particularly since the beginning of season three. I often felt like it suffered from the same curse as ‘Doctor Who’, almost obnoxiously full of its own self-importance with a convoluted story in place of good writing. Though episodes would contain individual moments that I thought were strong, as a whole, the show didn’t have the same vigour or bite as it used to.

Thank heavens, then, for this week’s episode. Traditionally the spot for the weakest episode of a ‘Sherlock’ season, The Lying Detective was, in my opinion, the best episode since the finale of season two.

Big words, I know, but damn, I was genuinely enthralled for the majority of its running time. There are some issues still, which I’ll get onto later, but generally, for the first time in five years, I was going along with it rather than being exasperated.

Simply I think this is to do with a more focused story, removing the convoluted aspects of the Mary storyline that dominated both last season’s finale and this season’s premiere. There’s also no real allusion to a big storyline to come (at least until the final minutes) which is a blessed relief as we actually got a singular story that wraps itself up within the episode.

There’s no wasted Magnussen style red herrings or sojourns into comic fan service, just a terrific villain and Sherlock and John getting back to doing what they do best. And, apart from resolving the emotional fallout of the last episode, the biggest twist here comes in the final scene, organically leaving the episode on a cliffhanger after bringing everything else to a close.

This big twist works wonderfully and it’s a testament to the episode that the reveal works for me when previous ones (Mary is a spy) failed to get me excited as I slowly lost patience with the show. It’s a great moment, providing context for John’s indiscretion last episode and setting up a surprise new villain in Euros Holmes, who I suspect will be a greater foil for Sherlock than even Moriarty.

It’s no surprise that the writer’s constant hints that Moriarty isn’t actually dead were just a distraction from the actual new big bad, the secret Holmes sibling. Moffat and Gatiss are great at this sort of deception and it works remarkably well here, the switch from Brother to Sister making so much sense.

Which isn’t to say that her entrance distracts from the rest of the episode because I loved it even before the big revelation.

Toby Jones is simply brilliant as the episodes key baddie Culverton Smith. Chilling, terrifying, slimy and sadistic, he’s a villain that makes Sherlock genuinely angry and vengeful, which is something we rarely see exhibited in the great detective.

The building tension throughout the episode and the eventual showdown are gripping, as Sherlock struggles against his drug addiction as he attempts to get him caught. I was completely unsettled by the crooked teeth and greasy hair of Jones’ Smith and I really wanted him to be taken down.

Of course, it’s all just part of a ploy to get John back on his side, the two of them reuniting with the help of the silly Mary video message thing. I wasn’t totally convinced by the idea of this continued influence as I felt it only adding extra confusion to a fairly simple episode, yet it went by so quickly that I didn’t mind. Also, it leads to a Sherlock/John hug so awe.

In the end, I loved how this episode put the focus back onto a ‘monster’ of the week story whilst bringing its central duo together again. There was great direction. music and a marvellous sense of tension and intrigue. The final scene also surprised with a big reveal we had no idea was coming, in many ways making up for previous disappointments.

There are so many great details and lines in this episode that I can’t go through everything but here are a few random thoughts.

.Sherlock’s route on the map spelling rude words was wonderful

.Mrs Hudson was extra bad-ass this week, including auditioning for a Top Gear presenter job

.”You are done with the world being explained to you by a man. Who isn’t”

.”Stress can ruin every day of your life. Dying can only ruin one”

.”I don’t want to die” – Sherlock being genuine

.Not a big fan of Mary’s influence in the episode beyond being a dream ghost but fair game.

.Toby Jones really is fantastic as he tries to kill Sherlock

.”People always give up after three” – Brilliant! It was in the cane. That made me want to punch the air and ‘Sherlock’ hasn’t made me want to do that in ages.

.Too little Molly Hooper

.Sherlock saying that John was just human for texting but honestly that’s not something that should be excused. And it’s not the same thing as Mary lying about being a spy, John was specifically doing something that could hurt Mary. Mary was just hiding her past from John.

.Also surprised that Irene Adler has made a bit of a reappearance. Do we really need her back?

Still, for once, I’m actually looking forward to next week though I can tell that it might be less of a straightforward story.