Sherlock S4E2: “The Lying Detective”
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Toby Jones
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“…a storyline that would, were this Law and Order: SVU, be promoted as being ‘ripped straight from the headlines.'”
Warning: The following review contains spoilers.
After a dramatic and somewhat overstuffed opening, “The Lying Detective”, written by Steven Moffatt, sees Sherlock return to a more streamlined approach with a storyline that would, were this Law and Order: SVU, be promoted as being “ripped straight from the headlines.” However, lets step back a bit.
After the events of “The Six Thatchers”, Team Sherlock is well and truly fractured. Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) has holed himself up in 221b and presently sleeps at the bottom of a syringe. John (Martin Freeman), meanwhile, is seeing a therapist to cope with the death of his wife Mary, who he tried to cheat on in the last episode. Whilst John is “happy” to beat himself for his present behaviour – including not sleeping, heavy drinking and ignoring his daughter Rosie – he struggles to admit that he regularly converses with his deceased wife, Mary (Amanda Abbington). Yes, Mary is back. Sort of. And her “haunting” of John is an engaging way of letting us watch him unravel his thoughts. When Mary chastises him for being aggressive to others, he’s effectively berating himself; encouraging himself to make amends and move on. It also elicits great performances from Freeman and Abbington. Elsewhere, Cumberbatch gets to flex his acting muscles as a Sherlock that’s spiraling the drain.
Director Nick Hurran has a field day as he sews together Sherlock’s drug-addled memories – including hallucinations and walking across the ceiling like Lionel Ritchie – into a coherent interview with potential client, Faith, with whom he spends the night walking through London. Faith has a very famous father- entrepreneur and philanthropist, Culverton Smith, played with relish by Toby Jones (Capote) – whom she believes wants to kill someone.
Where the narrative eventually takes us is so much darker.
There’s no real way to break this character down without acknowledging the debt it pays to the extremely problematic Jimmy Saville, the late British television presenter whose façade as an eccentric fundraiser hid a much darker lifestyle. Like Saville, Culverton is carried on the shoulders of a prominent broadcaster and routinely boasts of famous friendships. Aside from Jones’ performances, part of the reason Culverton is so monstrous is because he reflects someone in the public eye.
After Sherlock publicly calls Culverton out on Twitter – whilst roping in a reluctant Watson in the process – “The Lying Detective” revealed its greatest strength: Sherlock, convinced of his deductions, locking verbal horns with a man who is so confident he can get away with murder he doesn’t even try that hard to hide his guilt. With a bold northern accent and spectacularly yellow teeth, Jones was the second best performance of the episode. The first? Well, that belongs to Una Stubbs as the put-upon landlord, Mrs Hudson. From tying up Sherlock and speeding him off to Watson in her Aston Martin, to standing up to the ominous Mycroft all in the name of her surrogate sons, Stubbs easily gifts “The Lying Detective” with its finer moments.
Yet, as strong as “The Lying Detective” is, particularly when stacked up against the previous episode, when all the various story threads finally dovetailed it only just about sticks its landing. Whilst touring the hospital Culverton financed, for which he grimly boasts he has the keys, Sherlock’s sanity appears to finally crack under so much drug use. Summoning Faith to the hospital in order that she can confront her father, Sherlock is startled to meet someone who is not the woman he spent the evening with. Producing a scalpel, he has to be subdued by John, who uses the opportunity to take out his anger on the consulting detective’s face. Admitting that he’s not well, Sherlock agrees to be taken care of in the hospital where, left alone, he is visited by a murderous Culverton – an act which is stopped by John who, having found the DVD left by Mary the week before, realises that this is all part of a plan to drag him out of his funk. Whilst Culverton is a true monster, Sherlock has been in control the whole time. It’s all a bit convenient, but it does later lead to a rather touching moment between the two men when John confesses his “affair” to both his friend and the imaginary Mary.
But Moffatt hasn’t finished there, and during a therapy session, John finds out his therapist is also the fake Faith from earlier, as well as the woman he pursued in “The Six Thatchers”. All three are the disguises of Eurus, the forgotten and apparently evil sister of Mycroft and Sherlock, played by Sian Brooke! Having revealed her true identity, she promptly shoots John, leaving his fate unknown.
Until the finale, “The Final Problem,” surfaces it’s hard to tell how this Scooby-Doo moment will settle; either becoming in hindsight a masterstroke of a twist or undoing all the good work that came before it. Only time will tell!