On The Beauty Of Sherlock

January 10th, 2017

On Sunday night I decided to skip Sherlock in favour of the drama of the first playoff round of the NFL. Oh silly me. I had no idea what was waiting for me.

I tried to quickly express my thoughts about the real drama on Facebook.

Ok ok ok….now….stop whatever you are doing and go watch the latest episode of Sherlock. The BBC, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have just given us the best piece of TV drama of the last 5 years…I truly am amazed…1

All of this is still very true, but overnight many more thoughts came to me and I felt the need to expand on them here.

The Lying Detective2, that was the title of the episode, turned out to be the best piece of Sherlock Holmes ever produced. And by that I’m grouping together all the other Sherlock Holmes iterations we had over the years, either on TV or on the big silver screen. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, stop reading and go watch it, you don’t want me to spoil the sheer excitement of it.

If you have watched it, you know that the episode was all about the holy trinity: direction, performance and deception.

Nick Hurran (director) and Steven Moffat (writer) made a stellar job in bringing the deranged mind of Sherlock on the screen, while giving us the most intimate look yet at John Watson’s own personal struggle after Mary’s death. If the writing was super tight and incredibly fast-paced, the images are what really sold us the real drama, constantly moving the audience back and forth between the real-reality and Sherlock’s own mind-reality. After 20 minutes or so it was apparent we were not going to be able to distinguish between what was real and what wasn’t. They even showed us the closing frame of the episode as the very first frame and still when it came back on screen it wasn’t a bit less shocking.


If the direction was great, the performance was the literal icing on the cake. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman gave us by far the best Holmes & Watson. This point is not even up for discussion. It has to be accepted as a fact and this episode should be used in acting schools all over the world. The Lying Detective clearly reaffirms how the two characters literally couldn’t exist without each other. In my mind I see Sherlock as a beautiful but inscrutable poem, while Watson is its paraphrased prose that let anybody have a peek into the genius. One side is the ferocity of the pen rushing on the paper, the other the calm and rigorous annotations on the side of the page translating it for the masses.

Noi siam venuti al loco ov’i’ t’ho detto
che tu vedrai le genti dolorose
c’hanno perduto il ben de l’intelletto.

I’m taking the liberty to use the words of the Sommo Poeta Dante Alighieri, which roughly translate as: We arrived in the place where I told you you would see the people living in pain that have lost the most important trait of the human intellect (seen here as the Truth, or God who is the ultimate Truth). These words, from verses 16-18 of the Terzo Canto of the Inferno couldn’t summarise the dichotomy of the two characters any better.


Finally, let’s talk about the deception. Sherlock, as a show, has always been all about deception. As Watson reminded us, Sherlock faked his death before and used so many other trickeries that it’s difficult to keep a count. Usually the deception was used among the characters, but the viewers always had at least a faint idea of the general direction of the show. With this latest season instead, the deception has been turned against us. The show runners are deliberately keeping us in the dark, and this latest episode is probably the best example yet. The Lying Detective represents what Bruce Willis would call a Kansas City Shuffle in Lucky Number Slevin: “They look right…and you…go left”.

In this instance, we as audience spent the entire episode being preoccupied about the latest villain, Culverton Smith, the impossibly rich and famous media mogul with a passion for morgues and their occupants. We were tricked into thinking this was just any other impossible case, with an impossible but brilliant solution, but instead we were just looking the wrong way all the time.

This episode, as the entire series so far has nothing to do with Sherlock as the detective. We are witnessing the most insightful look yet at the personal stories of the titular character and his best and only friend. Throughout these first two episode we are finally getting close to the end of the evolution of our hero from a cold machine to an almost fully functional human being. A person who has to learn to interact with a world that is quickly falling away from him.

I’m looking at this week final episode with excitement and despair. Of course I can’t wait to know how the game ends, but I’m also worried we won’t know if we’ll be able to play again.

  1. My quick hot-take-style assessment of Sherlock S04E02 on Facebook. 
  2. Top image credit