“The Lying Detective” is up there with one of my favorite episodes in “Sherlock.” This is an episode that captures the best parts of what made so much of Series 2 work. What drives this story is the core relationship between John and Sherlock, especially as it relates to family aka Mycroft and Mary. This gives it power as there is an underpinning of vulnerability that pervades the entire episode.
The episode was directed by Nick Hurran and written by Steven Moffat and produced by Sue Vertue.
The story involves Sherlock regressing back into addiction as he seeks to take down a man he suspects of being a serial killer (Culverton Smith). John hasn’t seen him for weeks but finds himself pulled back into Sherlock’s game as the plot to take down Culverton unfolds.
The Pros: The Set-up – The episode starts out with Culverton confessing to his friends he’s a killer and wiping their memories of the incident. Immediately he is established as a powerful antagonist and we get Sherlock’s obsession with him.
The Cinematography – The cinematography is once again beautiful, it continues to be one of the strongest aspects of this show.
The Action – This is an action heavy episode and the tension stays high through everything. I honestly didn’t know what would happen at times and that made the narrative stronger.
The Soundtrack – David Arnold and Michael Price’s score is really on display this episode as we get the haunting terror of Culverton the drug fueled isolation of Sherlock and John’s loneliness. The music feeds the narrative and strengthens it.
The Characters – The characters have always been the best part of the show and thankfully Moffat manages to develop many of them this episode, rather than keeping them static.
Molly – Molly appears briefly and does a good job at balancing out John as she is the second Doctor who John requests before he’ll help Sherlock take down Culverton.
Culverton Smith – Toby Jones is so good at playing creeps. In this we see his obsession and safety in being a billionaire and tied to politicians and businesses. It takes Sherlock entering Hell for him to confess what he’s done though when he is caught he shows that he’s been holding all this in and still feels happy as he’ll be even more famous once him being a killer comes out. He’s a sick individual and it makes for an interesting character.
Mrs. Hudson – Mrs. Hudson helps bring John and Sherlock together as we see she has a nice car (her drug lord husband) and that she doesn’t take crap from anyone. This is a great Mrs. Hudson episode as we see how she notices things and knows Sherlock and Mycroft better than anyone. It was a nice twist and it added a lot of depth to her character.
Mycroft – Mycroft is a lizard for most of this episode when he isn’t looking after Sherlock and trying to be a good brother. We also see that he’s trying to protect his sister, which John first figures out in the episode. There is more to this reveal than anyone knows though as shown by the final reveal.
Sherlock – Sherlock goes into Hell to take down a killer and to seek out John again as we see that he really does act from emotion and isn’t detached from it. This instability is explored deeply in the episode as we see him question reality even as he is getting more connected to other aspects of reality. It’s tragic in many ways and I felt for him when he finally starts dealing with his addiction and John forgives him. Sherlock finally shows affection which we see he’s always wanted to some degree (whether from Irene or John).
John Watson – John is dealing with loss this episode as he sees Mary in his mind’s eye and talks to her. He is dealing with anger, denial and sadness and also shame and regret for the affair he had. After he confesses this to Sherlock mind Mary leaves and we see him begin to heal as it is also only from him arriving that he saves Sherlock from Culverton (a callback to the first episode of the series when he stops another killer).
Eurus – Eurus is the other Holmes and has embraced the mind fully as we see her as John’s therapist at the episode’s start. We don’t know her motivations yet but she helped take down Culverton and at the end of the episode is about to shoot John. There are Moriarity aspects to her and I really want to know her more as she is a villain with a lot of potential.
The Reveal – Eurus is Mycroft and Sherlock’s sister! This was cool as she’s John’s therapist and we see that she was playing everyone. We don’t know her motivation yet but the hints that she might not be all together there and Mycroft’s fear of her leave a lot to hope for. Moffat writing her helps mellow out the hype though. He’s set up a lot of badass female antagonists and failed to have them payoff.
Confession and Healing – A core part of this episode is confession and healing. Culverton’s confession to his friends is what leads to his demise as it gives Sherlock what he needs to take him down, John and Sherlock confessing to one another leads to healing with them both feeling the loss of Mary and helps reestablish their friendship and gives us the heart and theme of the episode.
Okay/Con: Everybody is Getting Together – Lady Smallwood gets together with Mycroft and it implies it could be serious someday, John wants Sherlock to get together with Irene when he learns that she texts him. This is cute in some ways but having everyone hook up had romantic comedy aspects to it that took me out of the episode.
The Cons: Pacing – There are some pacing issues, it starts out strong has great rising action but sort of teeters off when John sees the confession tape from Mary and when Eurus reveals herself to John to shoot him. If this had been a bit smoother the episode could have been perfect.
This was Moffat once again at the head of his game. Every major character gets development and Sherlock’s psychology is explored and isn’t justified. This is a story that wants to explore the darker parts of human nature and what humans are capable of, and it succeeds. It isn’t a perfect episode as the romances that get set-up through the episode feel a little off sometimes and it does have pacing issues, but that doesn’t take away from the core power of the narrative and character development that takes place. This was such a great episode that really captured the core relationships and mystery, which made this show so great in the first place.
Final Score: 9.5 / 10