HALF-LP: We've seen what is probably the very last episode of Sherlock. It's time for us to deliver a well-considered analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.
OTHER HALF-LP: OMG!!! WTH?!! AYKM?!
HALF-LP: Ahem. This is an academic blog. It is a place for high-minded discourse. Let's try this again.
OTHER HALF-LP: THAT WAS CLICHE SALAD, TOSSED TOGETHER FROM EVERY HORROR MOVIE AND POLICE PROCEDURAL FEATURING OVER-THE-TOP SUPERVILLAINS WITH TOO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS, STUCK IN RIDICULOUSLY SPACIOUS PRISON FACILITIES.
HALF-LP: ...OK, you're writing in complete sentences now, but I can't help noticing the all caps. Would you really allow your students to do something like that in an academic essay? Time to model good behavior.
OTHER HALF-LP: If I must. First, the plot had more holes than swiss cheese--
HALF-LP: And you're complaining about cliches?
OTHER HALF-LP: I think the writing may have contaminated my capacity for invention. More seriously, the entire concept of Euros--who was apparently endowed with some super-mesmerist capabilities that would have left Mesmer himself agog--merely recycled the kind of hyper-manipulative villain so beloved of procedurals like CSI (think, for example, of that show's eidetic miniaturist). There didn't seem to be any self-critical distancing from that kind of character, as the series has tried to do in the past; Euros is just a straight rehash. In fact, I thought the puzzles, which were all designed to elicit extreme emotional responses, hinted at the source of the series' failure, albeit unintentionally.
HALF-LP: How so?
OTHER HALF-LP: Because the series finale (it's pretty clear that that's what this was) made it clear that the writers ultimately wanted to solve Holmes, rather than to represent Holmes the problem-solver. And yet, they could find no way to solve Holmes that made any sense in terms of their own series' narrative development. As Scott Bailey said in his comment on my last Sherlock post, "Watson is just another stick used to beat Sherlock, and the Deep Sad Pain of Sherlock is the core of the show." Hence, the grand "reveal," in which Holmes turns out to have rewritten his own past, is also a rewrite of the entire series--Moriarty has always been working for Euros, etc., etc., etc. Everything turns out to be about "family" (as the final shots of the episode reiterate). There's no greater mystery than Holmes himself!
HALF-LP: But why is that a bad thing, necessarily?
OTHER HALF-LP: Oh, nothing is necessarily bad. But remember the swiss cheese plot? The only way for the authors to represent Holmes' salvation via emotion was to put him through this ludicrous series of death games (couldn't Moriarty just point out that this was silly, like he did in the Abominable Bride?); they couldn't figure out how to get Holmes to show love in any other way. And yet, the plot references "The Three Garridebs," which is the one story in which Watson sees just how much Holmes cares about him:
"You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!"
It was worth a wound -- it was worth many wounds -- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
...And then Holmes goes back to being his normal self, which is the point: this is not a transformative moment, just an instance of emotional honesty. Nor has it been engineered by another character to make Holmes engage in some sort of emotional outburst--it's a perfectly understandable response to seeing his friend unexpectedly being shot. Now, in one sense, this is, as we would now say, a bit of fanservice; but it's also in line with the rest of the stories, which rest pretty comfortably in Holmes' impenetrability. Holmes' interiority is not the point of Doyle's stories, whereas Sherlock eventually became the central mystery of Sherlock. It is central to the original stories that Holmes not be like everyone else--that's Watson's plot function. Sherlock sets out to domesticate Holmes, but even rewriting itself isn't enough to make that narrative arc plausible. Hence the aforementioned silly games, taking the place of crime-solving--the writers couldn't figure out any way to make their Sherlock respond spontaneously, so they had to introduce a character who acted like a not-very-polished script writer, battering the character into submission.
HALF-LP: It seems to me that your primary objection to the series is that it's not a very good adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
OTHER HALF-LP: It's not a very good reflection on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which tends to be key to even a freewheeling adaptation of any original text. Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind, for example, is also about "solving" Holmes, and yet it takes on Holmes' emotional isolation in ways that closely engage both with Doyle's stories and with previous adaptations. Sherlock started out that way, but eventually threw Doyle (and everything else) entirely overboard. If you judge it as its own thing, it ended up as a not-very-original decayed procedural. If you judge it as Sherlock Holmes...well.