BBC Sherlock: The Lying Detective – review

***Contains spoilers***toby-jones

The game is certainly on, and the creative team behind this exhilarating fourth series keep on raising theirs to dizzying new heights.

The Lying Detective was a pure, 90-minute adrenaline-rush full of action, suspense, visual quirks, frenetic editing and a brilliant Toby Jones as uber-villain Culverton Smith.

Once again, the team have framed the episode around a single story from the canon, in this case The Dying Detective. It was a clever upgrading of the original story in which Holmes faked a fatal illness to entice a confession from murderer and tropical disease expert Culverton Smith.

In Lying Detective, we have a Smith who is hiding-in-plain-sight as a wealthy philanthropist, using his money and celebrity to conceal his serial killings. Sherlock’s descent into a drug-fuelled mania leads to a stay in the hospital Smith has funded, luring the killer to Sherlock’s bedside. Sherlock extracts a confession before Smith attempts to strangle him and John bursts into the room just in time to save him.

Unlike in the original where Watson hides and hears the confession, this time it is a listening device hidden in John’s old walking stick which ultimately proves to be Smith’s downfall. Clever stuff, a decent way of re-telling the story in a modern context and weaving it into an ongoing narrative about John’s anger towards Sherlock for Mary’s death, ultimately finding a way to bring John back into Sherlock’s world. Poor John, there really is no escape, even his new therapist turns out to be Sherlock’s sister. Right from the start I thought that the red rug under his chair in the therapist’s office, which looked like a giant blood stain, hinted at impending doom.

I really like this new style of focusing on just one original story and hanging the whole episode on it. Much better I think, than their previous ‘pick and mix approach’. Yet again we have a good balance of drama and some heartfelt emotion. I think the script in this episode was particularly strong, such as when Sherlock talks of Mary saying – ‘By saving my life she incurred a currency on it, it is a credit I don’t know how to spend.’

Benedict Cumberbatch gets plenty of meat to sink his experienced acting chops into. Lines like that were delivered with perfection, and his expression after John attacks him, that close-up as he’s on the hospital floor – his face was so full of pain and emotion that personally I think it was more heart-wrenching than the ‘hug that broke the internet.’

In Lying Detective, we see a very emotional Sherlock, able to express feelings, to embrace his friend recognising his pain. In contrast, John has become very self-contained, far less likable. This is an interesting dynamic which they have explored well.

Again, we have plenty of good canon references, even the sister is called Euros, the East Wind (As in, there’s an East wind coming…) And just like in the Dying Detective, it is Mrs Hudson who implores John to come to the aid of his terribly ill friend. But this time she does it in an Aston Martin bless her. I do love how they’ve grown the Mrs Hudson role and Una Stubbs is so perfect for it, she’s a gem and probably having the time of her life as the lynch-pin of the whole show.

The pace was blistering and held my attention entirely for the whole 90 minutes. Husband stayed awake too, that’s two out of three so far for series four – the best barometer for success that I know of. Will next week’s episode achieve a hat-trick on the Tim sleep-o-meter?

I wrote copious notes and could write a very long blog indeed about this episode if I, one – could read my writing, and two, wasn’t bothered about boring people to death. So, to sum up, I really enjoyed this episode, the balance was there between emotional drama, deductions, crime, good v evil. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Toby Jones, Una Stubbs and Amanda Abbington were all superb. The characterisation of Smith was very strong, he got right under my skin, very creepy – far better in my opinion than Milverton.

But, there were problems and it is impossible to ignore then. How do we all feel about John’s violence towards Sherlock? It was a bit uncomfortable to watch and perhaps a step too far from the canon. And the way Sherlock absolutely dominates John’s life from the death of his wife to the whole therapist/sister-shooting him-thing, there really is no escape. It is a controlling relationship and hard to see what John gets out of it any more.

How come Sherlock didn’t recognise his own sister? Surely the world’s greatest detective with unrivalled observational skills would have seen through her disguise? So, who’s Sherringford? Is there another brother as well? Will it be Tom Hiddleston or was that just a very clever red-herring to put us all on the wrong track? And as Husband asked, what did Sherlock actually lie about?

Why did all the people in the meeting with Culverton Smith so willingly take the TD12 memory-altering drug? I’d have shouted, ‘Bugger off you lunatic!’ and run from the room.

Was John’s visions of Mary a bit of a lazy plot device? Or was it the only way of showing the conflict in his mind about Sherlock as he wasn’t really talking to anyone about his feelings?

How funny that after so many reviewers complained last week about how they have turned Sherlock into James Bond, he suddenly turns up in the boot of an Aston Martin? That did raise a smile.

There has been too much use of slow-motion in this series, it’s become the new mind palace.

The constant chopping up of the chronological order did make it very hard to follow. All the flashes back and forward were too much. It was a good way of showing the drug-addled confusion in Sherlock’s mind but hell to follow. Is that what Gatiss and Moffat want? They want us to work hard? Is that the point? This is event television, it demands your full attention. Or is it just too clever?

My biggest gripe however, was the heavy shades of Jimmy Savile in the characterisation of Culverton Smith. It did make for uncomfortable viewing at times, knowing that someone had done this in real life – funding a hospital then using it as your own personal playground for unspeakable things. Smith even had a set of keys just like the unfettered access Savile enjoyed at Stoke Manderville hospital, which he re-built through his charitable work then used as a cover for his abuse of vulnerable patients. I think the episode came too close to this real-life horror, even giving Smith a Yorkshire background, showing him being adored by children at the hospital etc. I think this was a mistake, the Savile story is too raw, too horrible and they should have stayed away from it in my opinion.

I read a review last week which slammed The Six Thatchers for its over-the-top plot which they felt was impossible to follow. They asked an interesting question, are we in a post-plot era? In these times of clever, quick, slick dramas does plot (or at least, one you can really follow and truly understand) take a back-seat in preference to a very attractive, well dressed cast and stylish presentation? Has plot become less important? Has clever dialogue, style and cinematography taken over from plot? Interesting to note though, last night’s episode got less viewers than Six Thatchers, and less than BBC’s Countryfile and even the Antiques Roadshow!  Something which will please my father who’s been AR’s biggest fan for the past thirty years. Will Sherlock’s fandom endure in the same way? Or is it already starting to wane?

Click here to read my review of The Six Thatchers.

Agree with my thoughts? Post your comments or your own review below.

About barefootonbakerstreet

Author from Shropshire
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