To be truly intellectually superior, must one sacrifice sentiment? For three seasons of Sherlock, I thought so. Sherlock (BBC) is a modern take on the classic story by Sir Conan Doyle, one of the many to be produced in recent times. However, this show seems to simply grasp the attention of viewers more than its contemporaries—why?
For a while, I believed that the show’s beauty was the masterful portrait painted by Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes, of a remarkably intelligent and observant individual incapable of relating to human emotion.
However, in season four of Sherlock, released within the first three weeks of 2017, I feel that the most important development was that of the characters, particularly Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), Watson (Martin Freeman), and Mycroft (Mark Gatiss).
Mycroft, Sherlock’s older brother, has always been a suspicious character. He is a cameo in many episodes of the series, appearing when Sherlock needs his power as a government official or when he needs Sherlock’s sleuthing abilities.
This workplace dependency is indicative of the very strange relationship between the two brothers. Both are incredibly intelligent and find difficulty relating to society, though Mycroft functions better in it than Sherlock. Their difficulty in relating to society extends to their personal relationship, and the lack of traditional sentiment can often cause friction, particularly when Mycroft keeps information from Sherlock with good intentions, as displayed in episode three of the season.
In season four, this characterization extends and develops into that of a villain. Mycroft’s desire to control everything around him and withhold information bites back when he hurts someone deeply and proves that power has its limits.
Watson’s character development in season four was definitely one of the most surprising. When you picture John Watson over the seasons, you think of a seasoned war hero, a doctor, a loving family man, and a faithful companion to Sherlock. He is the ideal character and provides a contrast to Sherlock’s unpredictable nature. Thus you can imagine my shock at the humanization of Watson in season four as he shows that he is capable of making mistakes and feeling sorrow.
If you did not appreciate Sherlock (the character) before, you definitely will now. The precedent for the character is a complex and unstable genius incapable of understanding society emotionally. In season four, we see that rock overturned as Sherlock goes to extremes to protect those who matter the most to him.
In the first episode of the season we see him travel across the world to tell Mary, Watson’s wife, that he intended to keep his promise of keeping John and his family safe. How well he was able to keep this promise, however, is arguable.
The second episode of the season is more of a shaker, nothing short of what can be expected from the show. It plays on the relationship between John Watson and Sherlock, in a way quite similar to the course followed after Sherlock fakes his own death in a previous season. Watson experiences a rough recovery after the events at the end of the first episode (which the law of spoilers does not allow me to reveal) and inevitably projects his grief onto Sherlock.
It appears that the relationship between the two had evolved into something greater over the past four seasons. What began as a professional relationship and an odd duo grew into a friendship, a particularly significant development considering Sherlock’s sociopathic nature, and this season highlights how Watson has become Sherlock’s responsibility as much as he is Watson’s.
In episode three, we are introduced to a new character, one who seemingly completes the Holmes family. He/She does not necessarily represent much as an individual character, but rather contributes to the development of the other characters.
For Sherlock, the new character presents a puzzle, an enigma. He is put in a situation he has never had to deal with before, and due to his emotional development throughout the show, we watch him empathize for the first time and be able to love and care for someone who hasn’t torn down his walls.
This season, marking the coming-of-age of all the characters, would be perfect to end the show with. Sherlock has become a human, Watson is no longer perfect, and Mycroft is self-actualized. If the series continues any longer, there is a risk that it might become repetitive or seem stretched out. While there is nothing I would like more than more of the witty banter between Sherlock and Watson, this could be the end of an era.