Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

SHERLOCK 4.2: “The Lying Detective”

Okay, so apparently I was wrong about the Bus Woman.


Neither one of the theories that I presented last week appear to be correct. It just goes to show you, when it comes to deductions, it’s a lot easier to be a Watson than a Sherlock Holmes.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that this was another solid episode of Sherlock, one with some nice character work and getting the emphasis back to what Sherlock Holmes does best: solving mysteries. A little bit of the cloak-and-dagger espionage stuff is fine, but for the last few episodes it was threatening to take over the show.

As with last week, SPOILERS for “The Lying Detective” after the picture.

John Sherlock Lying Detective

OK, let’s get into it.

The episode finds both John and Sherlock at all-time low points. John is getting treatment with a new therapist and imagining that Mary is still with him, while Sherlock has sunk back into drug addiction and has barely left 221B. Sherlock publicly accuses entrepreneur and philanthropist Culverton Smith of being a serial killer, but is at a loss as to how to prove it. And we’ve got a mysterious woman. Or two.

Toby Jones is a welcome addition to Sherlock’s rogues’ gallery, but I feel like having him be an ultra-creepy media figure was a bit repetitive so soon after Magnussen last season. I think the show would have been better served by mixing up the villain types a bit more. But Jones did what he had to do well. And it was a pleasant surprise to see Amanda Abbington back once again.

And like I said above, I enjoyed that the show emphasized mystery a bit more this week. Even in his addled state, Holmes made some wonderful deductions about his client based on her appearance and a hastily-scribbled note. These were some of the best deduction scenes in the show, and they’re all the more impressive for not being (as far as I could tell) directly derived from any of the Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

And speaking of Doyle references, here’s what I spotted this week.

The Canon (and Non-Canon) References

-Early on, Holmes says this week’s villain is, “the most dangerous, the most despicable human being I have ever encountered.” This is derived from Chapter Two of The Sign of Four, the second Holmes novel. At one point, Holmes declares:

“It is of the first importance,” he cried, “not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit–a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance money, and the most repellent man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor.”

As we’ll see, that last description certainly applies to Toby Jones’ character. Remember that bit about the poisoner, too–it’s going to come up later.

Toby Jones Culverton Smith

-Toby Jones’ character, Culverton Smith, comes from the Doyle story “The Dying Detective,” which shares a number of plot points with this episode.

-This week also sees the return of Bill Wiggins, the drug addict that Holmes recruited in last season’s finale, “His Last Vow.” The name of Bill Wiggins is derived from two Holmes sources, Billy the page from The Valley of Fear, “Thor Bridge” and “The Mazarin Stone,” and Wiggins, leader of the street urchin Baker Street Irregulars from A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four.

-Mycroft is called away from a meeting with the Prime Minister when information comes in about his brother Sherlock. Mycroft also comments on meeting with the Prime Minister in “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.”

-The cameras tracking Sherlock throughout London is reminiscent of Mycroft tracking Watson during Sherlock‘s premiere, “A Study in Pink.” And boo to PBS for looping out all the profanity in this episode and blacking out half the screen during the reveal of Sherlock’s “FUCK OFF” message to Mycroft. The looped-out dialogue was getting really distracting by the end of the show.

-Mycroft’s statement that “Everybody dies” recalls his advice to Sherlock in “A Scandal in Belgravia”: “All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.”

Mrs Hudson upset

-“The Dying Detective” starts with Mrs. Hudson coming to Dr. Watson when she fears for Sherlock’s health. Most of what we know about the Canonical Mrs. Hudson comes from this opening passage:

Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes, was a long-suffering woman. Not only was her first-floor flat invaded at all hours by throngs of singular and often undesirable characters, but her remarkable lodger showed an eccentricity and irregularity in his life which must have sorely tried her patience. His incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London. On the other hand his payments were princely. I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price which Holmes paid for his rooms during the years that I was with him.

The landlady stood in the deepest awe of him, and never dared to interfere with him, however outrageous his proceedings might seem. She was fond of him too, for he had a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women. He disliked and distrusted the sex but he was always a chivalrous opponent. Knowing how genuine was her regard for him I listened earnestly to her story when she came to my rooms in the second year of my married life, and told me of the sad condition to which my poor friend was reduced.

Mrs. Hudson leading the police on a high-speed car chase first, though, is original to Sherlock.

Gun-toting Mrs. Hudson
What can I say, the show takes liberties.

-John finding the puncture marks on Sherlock’s arm is reminiscent of the opening to Nicholas Meyer’s novel The Seven Per-Cent Solution, where the drug-addicted Holmes’ arm is described as “a battlefield of puncture marks.”

-H. H. Holmes, mentioned by Culverton Smith in the episode, was a real serial killer. My friend Frankie tells me that a documentary about Holmes, H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer, is currently available on Netflix streaming. Thanks, Frank! I’m sure that’s going to get a lot more views this week.

H. H. Holmes
No relation.

-Sherlock mentions “features of interest” during the scene at the children’s ward, which is both is a recurring Holmes phrase and a running gag from last year’s “The Abominable Bride.”

-The mention of “The Case of the Killer Orangutan” is possibly a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” one of the seminal works of detective fiction.

-I find it really interesting that Lestrade apparently knows that Sherlock murdered Charles Augustus Magnussen, considering the cover-up detailed in the last episode. I suppose this could be either an indicator of just how trusted Lestrade is now, or perhaps it’s just a continuity error on the part of writer Steven Moffat.

-Holmes ends up in the hospital again, just like he did in last season’s “His Last Vow.”

-Sadly, no Anthea when Watson is summoned by car to Mycroft. Shame. I like Anthea.

Anthea John Watson
I’ve gotten this look from women many a time.

Mycroft’s assistant Anthea (“Is it your real name?” “No.”) appears in the episodes “A Study in Pink” and “The Empty Hearse,” by the way. And some free advice for any writers working into the night to make your Monday morning deadlines: Doing a Google Image Search on “Lisa McAllister” is officially not a great way to stay focused on your work. Just FYI.

-You’ll notice that this episode never really specifies what kind of drugs that Sherlock Holmes is using. I think this is probably a good call, as it lets the viewer imagine just how bad Sherlock’s drug problem has become. The Sign of Four still has one of the most provocative opening scenes in literature, as it starts out with our hero shooting up.

Sign of Four Culbard
Art by I. N. J. Culbard.

Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel- piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

This is followed by Watson’s first line of dialogue in the book, “Which is it to-day? Morphine or cocaine?”

Hardcore, man.

-Watson has an impressive moment when he deduces the existence of a third Holmes brother just from the small hints that Mycroft’s dropped. This is in keeping with both Sherlock and the Doyle Canon, where Holmes and Watson take an exceptionally long time to learn rather basic facts about each other. Last season revealed that Sherlock didn’t learn John’s hated middle name “Hamish” until he snagged John’s birth certificate, and in Canon, neither Holmes nor Watson learned that the other had a brother until years after they had been living together (The brothers are revealed in “The Greek Interpreter” and The Sign of Four, respectively). Heck, in A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes novel, Watson didn’t even learn what Holmes’ occupation was until after they’d been living together for about two months.

-As we’ve seen in other episodes, Holmes keeps his unanswered correspondence attached to the mantle with a jackknife. This comes from the Doyle story “The Musgrave Ritual.”

-The moment of Watson watching a video of the recently-deceased Mary reminds me of Watson watching the deceased Sherlock’s birthday video greeting in the mini-episode “Many Happy Returns.”

-Holmes disparaging Watson’s skills as a doctor (“What kind of a doctor are you?”) comes right from the original version of “The Dying Detective”:

‘Holmes,’ said I, ‘you are not yourself. A sick man is but a child and so I will treat you. Whether you like it or not, I will examine your symptoms and treat you for them.’

He looked at me with venomous eyes.

‘If I am to have a doctor whether I will or not let me at least have something in which I have confidence,’ said he.

‘Then you have none in me?’

‘In your friendship certainly. But facts are facts, Watson, and after all you are only a general practitioner with very limited experience and mediocre qualifications. It is painful to have to say these things but you leave me no choice.’

I was bitterly hurt.

As usual, at the end of the story Holmes gives a good reason for treating Watson like crap, and profusely apologizes to his friend. This is a skill that the BBC Sherlock is still learning.

-Even in death, Mary works to bring Sherlock and John back together, much as she did in “The Sign of Three.”

Irene Adler texts
Sherlock Holmes gets much more interesting text messages than I do.

-Irene Adler’s sighing text message sound effect comes from the second series premiere, “A Scandal in Belgravia.” John is learning of her survival for the first time here, but viewers learned it at the end of the episode, where Sherlock saved her from being beheaded.

-John shows another impressive deduction when he figures out that it’s Sherlock’s birthday just from the fact that Irene Adler is texting him. It’s very appropriate that this episode aired on Jan. 8th, 2017, as it’s just two days after Jan. 6th, the generally-accepted date of Holmes’ birthday.

-“I once caught a triple poisoner in High Wycombe” is probably another reference to the passage of The Sign of Four that I quoted above. Wikipedia tells me that High Wycombe is a large town in Buckinghamshire.

-And shockingly, John confesses to having an emotional affair with another woman, blowing my theory about the Bus Woman out of the water. Apparently, John’s relationship with his text buddy was exactly what it appeared to be, at least from John’s end. But considering that this is Sherlock, I wouldn’t surprised if Moffat and Gatiss have another twist or six up their sleeves.

-I really liked that last scene in Baker Street. John and Sherlock help heal each other, and Watson gives himself permission to be imperfect. And Sherlock even lightens up enough to put the hat on voluntarily.

Mycroft Holmes Mark Gatiss

-A potential Mycroft romance with Lady Smallwood? Considering that he’s normally even more of a misanthrope than Sherlock, that could be interesting. I bet the writers had this in mind when Sherlock teased Mycroft about being lonely last season in “The Empty Hearse.”

-And speaking of potential romances, no appearance by Detective Inspector Hopkins this week. What’s poor Lestrade to do?

-In the last scene with his therapist, John once again makes a shrewd deduction from an errant remark. Sherlock is rubbing off on him.

-Were you surprised by the final twist? I sure was. A secret Holmes sister?!? Wow. HUGE break from Canon. Since it was sprung on us right at the end of the episode, I’m not quite sure how to judge this twist yet. I suspect we’ll all know more in a week’s time with the Series 4 finale.

-Finally, as you might know, the ending credits of Sherlock often feature secret messages with certain letters highlighted in red. This episode’s message is: “ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH.” Make of that what you will.

See you next week, Sherlockians!



      THANK YOU, Greg Hatcher! I was starting to wonder why I bothered staying up until 3:30AM writing this thing…

      I’m guessing that most people haven’t watched the episode yet, and will discover this column in a few days.

      …Right? RIGHT?

  1. Professor Xum

    I must say that I was suprised at myself being surprised by the twist at the end of this episode… given that the same twist was employed in the pilot episode…


  2. tomfitz1

    “An yll wynde that blowth no man to good, men say.”

    First, we meet Sherlock
    Second, we meet Mycroft
    Third, we meet Eurus

    Will we ever meet the unlikely (or unlucky) couple who dared to sire the unholy trinity of clever sluething trio?

    1. Will we ever meet the unlikely (or unlucky) couple who dared to sire the unholy trinity of clever sluething trio?

      The Holmes family was on full dysfunctional display in the series 3 finale. They’re embarrassingly normal parents, as far as Sherlock and Mycroft are concerned.

  3. faboofour

    The map was obscured in the BBC version as well. Didn’t notice any vocal censoring, tho. So used to profanity on UK TV that I didn’t notice one way or the other.

  4. The Holmes family was on full dysfunctional display in the series 3 finale. They’re embarrassingly normal parents, as far as Sherlock and Mycroft are concerned.

    Which was surprising, IMO, since S2’s “I’ll be mother”/”And there is a whole childhood in a nutshell” exchange between Mycroft and Sherlock made me think the Holmes brothers were likely orphaned at an early age, leaving Mycroft to raise his younger brother.

    But Benedict Cumberbatch’s real-life parents are both actors, so I guess the temptation to have them on the show as Sherlock’s parents was just too great.

    The map was obscured in the BBC version as well. Didn’t notice any vocal censoring, tho. So used to profanity on UK TV that I didn’t notice one way or the other.

    Ah, interesting. I wonder if it’ll be uncensored in the DVD/BluRay release, or if that’s just how they composed the shot.

    And yes, folks from the UK have a much more sensible attitude about profanity than Americans do. The looped out words were pretty obvious–and distracting–over here.

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