Sherlock: 4.02 The Lying Detective
A couple estranged, partners on separate paths. Watson distraught, alone, hallucinating, depressed, grieving. It's an intimate, gruelling entry to the episode, though soon derailed by a moment of silliness. This disjointed Moffat-written episode speaks to the madness in the minds of our investigatory couple. Two broken, haunted men on the edge. All they have left is each other and someone to hunt. In The Singing Detective, the series after which this episode is named, the plot revolves around a detective interacting with a partial imagined reality, again a broken man not sure of the real world and their place in it.
Culverton Smith, played by Toby Jones of The Secret Agent, is our antagonist this week. He has a need to confess, but a fear of the repercussions of revealing all to his friends. So, with murder in his heart, he wipes the memories of his friends after unburdening his soul. It falls to Sherlock Holmes, in his quest for Watson’s soul, and his own, to hunt this predator.
Culverton fancies himself as the new Moriarty; not so much a Napoleon of crime, but certainly a joyful artist of his medium. It's a shame he comes across as a bit of a caricature. Even his unfettered access to all corners of a hospital and his friendship with the Queen, clearly and clumsily reference Jimmy Saville.
The key thing in this episode though, isn't Culverton Smith and his verbal diarrhoea; it's Mary Morstan. Watson' late wife, whose memory haunts him still, every day. His guilt isn't referenced anymore, just how much he misses her. And to deal with this, he imagines her presence. But, throughout the episode, he sees her less and less. The case, the work, his relationship to Holmes, it replaces even the love and loss associated with the mother of his child. Some people just aren't good on their own. Mary knew it. And so does Irene Adler...
Overall, this has been a well-constructed episode. A little heavy in Toby Jones' exposition, but it allowed the space for Sherlock and Watson to illustrate their path to Hell, and more importantly their Dionysian return from the Underworld. There are a great many loose ends: The third Holmes sibling, Irene Adler, Moriarty. But a foundation has, finally, been laid for Holmes and Watson. A painful starting point, devoid of excessive silliness, from which the relationship can evolve. And that cliffhanger ending, and the foreshadowing of it, was a deft touch. A clever episode, and hopefully one that won't alienate its audience.