The One Very Real Scene in Sherlock’s ‘The Final Problem’
It was time.
What felt like years of waiting, hypothesising, anticipating and speculating were very suddenly met with the series four finale of BBC One’s Sherlock.
There I was, along with 5.9 million other invisible viewers of The Final Problem, staring intensely and laughing internally at the accuracy of how, thanks to hindsight, all those dreary days, weeks and months of waiting suddenly resemble the pace of that same old, unchanged opening time lapse of Piccadilly Circus. Sitting cross-legged, hunching over my laptop in my Christmas pyjamas (of course), the palms of my hands blissfully unaware of their gradual reddening and swelling whilst tightly clasping my mug of boiling-hot, under brewed tea (well of course I couldn’t wait around for it to brew properly- IT WAS TIME for goodness sake!), I was ready. Oh boy, was I ready.
In what was a quite literally explosive episode, directed by Benjamin Caron, that some viewers deemed as rather too incomprehensible, there was, however, one scene in particular that stood out as heart-achingly real. As a character renowned for his ability to decipher conclusive information about mere acquaintances in the matter of milliseconds; audiences of the show have previously been comfortably familiar with Benedict Cumberbatch’s depiction of Arthur Conan Doyle’s influential detective as an almost emotionally unfazed and certainly indestructible, ‘high-functioning sociopath’. That is, until the Academy Award nominated actor managed to prove once and for all, in this one rather simplistically plotted scene, just how complex, impressive and thought provokingly innovative his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is, and has been, during the past four series. Within this scene, we were finally gifted with another dimension of the otherwise mysterious Sherlock Holmes; one very rarely explored in previous series and therefore one that felt both completely alien, yet somehow undoubtedly familiar at the same time. We were able to see the vulnerability in the otherwise almost mechanic ‘consulting detective’.
Trapped along with Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) in Sherrinford, a secret asylum usurped by his newly discovered genius and murderous sister, Eurus (Siân Boothe); the self-determined ‘sociopath’ is forced by Eurus to complete several torturous and bloodthirsty challenges, using his deductive skills. One of which is to force the character of Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) to utter three delicately powerful words to Holmes over the phone; ‘I love you’. This task seems simple enough doesn’t it? Molly Hooper is, after all, a comic relief for the show, most prominently as Sherlock’s doting admirer with her consistently unsuccessful and unreciprocated efforts to seduce him. However, with only two and a half minutes to complete the task without being able to explain why, and with the added little detail that Eurus is planning to blow up her and her house if those words aren’t spoken within that time, maybe not so much.
Brealey’s performance is also one to be hugely admired. The scene cuts to a figure we recognise as Molly in her kitchen, but she’s far from the usual Molly we’ve come to know so well. Along with Holmes, Mycroft and Watson, we’re intruding in her personal space, something never exposed to us before. She isn’t giddy, flustered or frivolous. When Sherlock’s name lights up her phone screen, she’s unresponsive. She knows it’s him, yet she seems defeated; the spark that’s gone so frequently unnoticed in her eyes ignited by Sherlock has noticeably dimmed. It’s still there, but Sherlock’s unrequitedness has deprived it, leaving it unnourished and unfuelled; hopeless.
She ignores the phone call. Today is not her day, she doesn’t need to be reminded of his rejection of her; not today.
Watching this, my own heart springs into action for her, and its rate increases to such a harsh momentum that it cannot physically bear it. And so, along with hers, it ultimately breaks. And I realise, it’s a feeling we all have had and we all know too well. Suddenly, the character, I and so many others, including Sherlock, have dismissed for being just that, a cruelly mocked supporting character is, after all, based on reality; based on us. Sherlock is then given another chance and I can hear my own murmuring whispers, “come on, Molly. Pick up”, duetting with his.
Finally, she picks up. When asked to say ‘I love you’ she responds understandably irritably; he’s mocking her. Of course he is, it’s what Sherlock does. It’s what we, her audience, do. She agonisingly refuses to say it until he does. With some struggle, he finally does so in an intimate close up shot. ‘I love you.’ He then says it again, this time more assertively; he loves her. Dazed; Molly finally repeats him. (Of course, she does so with only three seconds left; come on, it is still a fictional entertainment drama after all.)
It’s then revealed that Eurus was lying; there are no explosives at Molly’s house. She wanted to emotionally torture Sherlock by engaging with his emotions and forcing him to toy with others’. As a result, he attacks a coffin placed in the centre of the room (there to represent Molly’s role as a specialist registrar in the morgue), smashing it into pieces; just as he does to Molly’s heart. After everything we’ve witnessed Sherlock endure during the episode itself, and over the previous three and a half series, this is the moment he truly crumbles.
What is so pressing about the scene is that we are still left questioning why. This time, it’s psychological, something that has never been extensively explored in the character of Sherlock. With the exception of John Watson, Sherlock struggles to surface his emotions towards people. So, is it Molly? Is the fact that he had to supposedly ‘lie’ and tell her he loves her to make her heart break all the more insufferable for him? Does he lie, or instead realise the sincerity of his words? What about Eurus? Is her ability to out smart him too poignant? Or, was it simply just that terrible having to tell the revolting Molly whom he actually loathes, that he loves her?
In short; we don’t know. Ironically, writer Mark Gatiss reportedly stated in the preview of the episode at the British Film Institution that the scene was written as a last-minute alternative to an original concept that they had, which producers decided to scrap. He also insinuated that the characters of Molly and Sherlock would most likely return to their usual dynamic if another series were to be commissioned, briefly touched upon towards the end of the episode, in a shot showing Molly’s character walking casually into 221B Baker Street. This is my Final Problem with the episode. Personally, I see this as counter-productive and rather wasteful. This particular scene in the finale allows Cumberbatch to give Sherlock a vulnerability that viewers have never before witnessed towards someone other than John Watson. To dismiss it would deprive us of the rawness of his character and leave us wondering how, why and whether it was in fact Molly that had the ability to expose it. It wouldn’t be fair to carelessly downplay this scene and the beautiful agony it presents in characters previously rendered as either unfeeling or profoundly satirised.
And so, regardless of whether a future for the fictional show exists or not, here I am, wondering once more; what is next for the very real ‘Baker Street boys’ and co?
Feature Image courtesy of BBC, ‘Sherlock’, ‘The Final Problem’