TV Review | Sherlock | Season Four
Jumping the shark or punching it in the face?
Season summary: A dark secret in the Holmes family rears its head with a vengeance, putting Sherlock and friends through a series of sick, manipulative psychological and potentially fatal games. (IMDb)
One thing to say right away: Sherlock's fourth season proves just how poor and completely unnecessary The Abominable Bride was by barely acknowledging its existence. As I said in the review for it, I still can't believe that they didn't use it for either a standalone story or one alluding to present-day events rather than tying it directly into continuity.
Especially because bringing in new viewers would've been the only way for anyone to truly enjoy this season as it's a frankly terrible finale for the series as a whole. I get that characters have arcs, growing and changing over time, but they're only really fulfilling if they feel like they're the same character.
Here, every character returning might as well be someone entirely new because of how little resemblance they bear to what we've seen previously and especially when compared to the first two seasons. Honestly, you have to wonder why they needed to wait so long to get this made and bring the cast together at the same time when the actors are the only consistent part of the whole thing.
Maybe it would've worked if Sherlock had been a US-style show, with two dozen episodes per season and seven seasons to fully flesh out these changes, but there's just not enough from the start of season three to the end of season four to explain why these people are behaving so differently in such a short space of time.
The reason I said that new viewers would've worked is because this fourth season is actually a pretty damn good spy/action/superhero series that seems to borrow even more heavily from Batman than has been hinted at before, right down to its own version of Arkham Asylum - containing super-criminals and the over-arching antagonist for this season.
Taken on those terms, Sherlock's fourth season is great fun and the final episode - set in said Arkham expy - absolutely feels like a pretty good comic-book story. It's just not Sherlock Holmes though, is it? It's not Sherlock either. At least, not Sherlock as it originally was. The closest we get to that are brief montages of Sherlock dealing with clients and little more.
It even borrows one of the worst elements of the Batman comics, namely not being able to go without bringing back the hero's uber-nemesis. Yes, much like Joker for Batman, Moriarty is back again (kind of) - although this could also be seen as an influence of showrunner Steven Moffat's other show at the time, Doctor Who, and the constant return of the Daleks.
The problem I have with trying to evaluate this season is reconciling the fact that I really did enjoy it as the non-Sherlock season it was, while also being vastly disappointed with the fact that this should've been the ultimate Sherlock season to recover from the missteps of season three and The Abominable Bride to send the show off with a grand finale.
This issue extends to trying to judge the acting too. Obviously, the actors are given lines and direction so you can hardly fault them too much for how the roles have changed, but they might as well be playing different characters considering how little consistency there is from earlier seasons - even if they are giving their all with these new people they're playing.
Another issue is how heavily serialised this season feels compared to first three. There were plot strands - most heavily involving Moriarty, of course - that carried across each episode until the season two finale, but at least each episode still felt like a self-contained story that you could still appreciate on its own merits.
In this fourth season, it does feel a lot more like one story divided into three parts and that you really need to watch all three episodes (don't laugh, each episode is 1.5 hours long - 4.5 hours for the season in total) to get the full story and anything approaching a satisfying conclusion. It's fine to binge, but makes each episode feel 'lesser' than it really should be.
But, just to repeat myself, I still really enjoyed the season overall, because it was just so different from what had come before that I was able to separate it entirely and enjoy it as a weird UK-centric Batman/Sherlock mix that took place in a world that might look like ours, but have little else in common with reality, much like comic books.
Sherlock's fourth and final(?) season is a strange one, proving to be an absolutely terrible ending for the series as a whole. Yet, taken on its own, it's a highly enjoyable super-spry action-adventure Sherlock/Batman mash-up, complete with a mastermind super-criminal pulling the strings. How much you'll enjoy it will depend on which of those two things matters most to you.