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‘Sherlock’ Season 4: “The Lying Detective” Recap

Daniel Hautzinger
Toby Jones is chillingly creepy as Culverton Smith. (Ollie Upton/Hartswood Films & MASTERPIECE)
Toby Jones is chillingly creepy as Culverton Smith. (Ollie Upton/Hartswood Films & MASTERPIECE)

Recap the first and last episodes.

It’s all in the title, folks. Don’t ever trust anything Sherlock does or says. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this might be the last season of Sherlock; “the lying detective” can only fake his own death so many times. This latest episode has so many twists that it may as well be a soap opera. Add in the megalomaniacal media darling, the suicidal character, the estranged evil sibling, the drug habit, and the grieving character obsessed by the ghost of his wife, and you have the makings of a new Days of Our Lives.

John, who refuses to accept Mary’s death and continues to converse with her in his mind, is seeing a new therapist. Mid-session an Aston Martin squeals up to the house, a helicopter hovering overhead. But before we learn who the driver is, we flash to Sherlock, who’s locked himself up in his flat.

On to Culverton Smith. He wants to confess a dark secret, so he’s hosting a board meeting. Not that anyone will remember the secret. Smith has drugged everyone there, including his daughter Faith, with an amnesiac. Why they all consent to being hooked up to an I.V. filled with forgetting medicine, I do not know. Faith at least feels weird about the set-up, and jots down part of her father’s confession before the amnesia sets in. Three years later she comes to Sherlock and tells him about it: her father needed to kill someone.

John and Molly are worried about Sherlock's drug habit.John and Molly are worried about Sherlock's drug habit. (Ollie Upton/Hartswood Films & MASTERPIECE)Unfortunately, Sherlock has succumbed to his drug habit and is on an extreme bender.  Due to the coke, he’s having trouble keeping up with his thoughts. So it takes him a while to realize that Faith is suicidal. The two go on a long, pleasant walk. Mycroft calls John to let him know Sherlock has finally left the flat−a true “big brother,” he has surveillance on Sherlock. And Faith disappears while Sherlock has a drug-induced breakdown.

Okay, back to the Aston Martin. It’s Mrs. Hudson. (Una Stubbs gets more material in this episode and is fabulous, especially when she stands down Mycroft out of love for John). She needs John to visit Sherlock, who has become dangerously obsessed with Culverton Smith. He’s convinced Smith is a serial killer and has even accused him on Twitter. This obsession has led to raving and gun-firing in Baker Street, so Mrs. Hudson figured it was time to interfere. And by interfere I mean turn a gun on him and stuff him in the trunk of her car to bring him to John.

While John is examining Sherlock at his therapist’s house, he receives a call. Smith is sending a car for him and Sherlock. Sherlock set up the appointment two weeks ago, and also asked Molly to show up and examine him so John could have a second opinion on Sherlock’s drug-rattled health.

Sherlock accuses Culverton Smith of being a serial killer and is sucked into Smith's media circus.Sherlock accuses Culverton Smith of being a serial killer and is sucked into Smith's media circus. (Ollie Upton/Hartswood Films & MASTERPIECE)Off to a media circus, first at an ad studio (Smith is a “cereal killer”) then at a hospital wing built by Smith’s money. Toby Jones really plays up the creepy-murderer-hiding-in-plain-sight vibe as he talks about serial killers in front of children and takes John and Sherlock to his favorite room, the mortuary. But he doesn't come off as creepy as he could, because the episode focuses mainly on Sherlock and John’s wrecked relationship; neither of them seem too worried by Smith (despite Sherlock’s transparent attempts at fear); we never actually see or hear of anyone that Smith has murdered; and we basically know the whole time that he is indeed a serial killer. 

Anyway, Sherlock has texted Faith to show up at the hospital. But she’s not the person who came to visit Sherlock. He freaks, thinking he’s wrong about Smith, and lunges at him with a scalpel. John intercepts him and gives him a good beating (yes, he deserves it), and Sherlock is put up in Smith’s hospital to recover.

Mycroft calls John to Baker Street so that they can figure out what has gone wrong with Sherlock. (Hmm, maybe cocaine?…) Meanwhile, Smith has come to visit Sherlock and Sherlock begs the serial killer to murder him.

Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson.Una Stubbs finally gets a bit more screen time as Mrs. Hudson, and is fabulous. (Laurence Cendrowicz/Hartswood Films 2016 for MASTERPIECE)Mrs. Hudson is again a star and finds the video Mary sent to Sherlock after her death. She asked him to save John by putting himself in danger−she knew John would never accept help, but that saving Sherlock would put him in a position to recover, or something like that. So all of Sherlock's behavior is an act: the coke, the attempting to kill Smith. It’s a weird dynamic, and I think we’re supposed to see this all as a noble sacrifice on Sherlock’s part, but it just feels like he’s once again manipulating John’s emotions, like when he pretended he was dead for two years. Mary’s death is not the only thing traumatizing John; his best friend’s continual lies and abuse of his feelings have to play a part.

But the show doesn’t go there. Instead, John saves Sherlock from Smith. Smith goes to jail on the basis of a recorded confession enticed from him by Sherlock. John admits that Mary’s death is not Sherlock’s fault. The two bare their souls to each other and John explains his love for Mary−probably the best part of the episode. Also, John tells Sherlock to try to date Irene Adler, who still texts him.

And the episode is all wrapped up. (Not really: Sherlock’s drug habit is barely alluded to again even though it brought him near death. Sherlock is never held accountable or allowed to actually derail. His drug habit just feels like an affected quirk at this point. The emotional devastation all has to fall on John while Sherlock blithely continues on and fakes trauma.)

Sherlock and John bare their souls to each other, but John bears the weight of the emotional trauma.Sherlock and John bare their souls to each other, but John bears the weight of the emotional trauma. (Ollie Upton/Hartswood Films & MASTERPIECE)Actually, we have some more twists. Lady Smallwood slips Mycroft her number. Weird. We’ve received allusions to “Sherrinford” and a third Holmes sibling throughout the episode and hints that Mycroft locked up the sibling. But while John is in therapy again, we learn that that third sibling is in fact free and her name is not Sherrinford but Euros. She’s John’s therapist, and she also impersonated Faith Smith to Sherlock. Now she locks John in the house and shoots him. Great, another near-death.