Well, after last week’s mildly disappointing episode of “Sherlock”, my expectations weren’t that high about the second episode in the series. Thankfully, this episode was the first good episode of “Sherlock” that has aired in the past two years or so. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.
“The Lying Detective” begins with a wealthy businessman and philanthropist called Culverton Smith gathering his daughter and some of his closest friends together for a meeting. To their surprise, he insists on dosing them with a slow-acting memory inhibitor before he begins. He wants to share his darkest secret, but he is worried that he might regret telling them – hence the memory drug. After the meeting, his daughter attempts to write a few notes before her memories fade.
About three years (?) later, she shows up at 221b Baker street – still curious about the unfinished note and the forgotten meeting. After the events of the previous episode, Sherlock is in the middle of a gigantic heroin binge. Yet, despite being high as a kite, he is still able to make enough deductions (although he isn’t sure how) to see that the case might be of some interest. Especially when he begins to suspect that Culverton Smith might be a serial killer…
As I mentioned earlier, this is the first good episode of “Sherlock” in quite some time. Although there’s some continuation of the story from the previous episode, most of the focus of this episode is on Sherlock doing what he does best – actually solving a case through logic, deduction, audacity and cunning.
Even though he turned into something of an action hero in the previous episode, he is literally the polar opposite of that in this one. Because he spends most of the episode on some fairly serious drugs, he can never be quite sure of what is going on. He can never quite trust his senses. This vulnerability and unreliability add an extra element of suspense to the episode that was completely absent in the “globe trotting action hero” storyline of the previous episode.
Plus, unlike the dreadful “Abominable Bride” episode, this “unreliability” isn’t used as an excuse for silly metafiction too. It’s just another obstacle in Sherlock’s path that he must use his mental prowess to overcome.
One interesting twist with this episode isn’t whether Culverton Smith is a serial killer or not (he pretty much confesses to having homicidal impulses in the first scene!), but whether Sherlock can prove that he is. In other words, it’s an episode about a battle of two minds. This is what “Sherlock” is about!
Yes, if you’ve read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Dying Detective” (one of my favourite Holmes stories), you can probably guess a few parts of the episode’s story. And, yes, one of the scenes where Holmes meets Culverton Smith is pretty much just a modern update of the climactic scene from that short story. But, despite this, it still manages to be brilliantly suspenseful and surprising.
Culverton Smith is also a brilliantly chilling character too, with something of a grimly satirical edge. His comments about how famous people tend to be able to get away with literally anything seem to be inspired by the notorious “Access Hollywood” (?) tape of Donald Trump from before the US election. Likewise, the fact that a lot of the episode takes place in a hospital which Culverton Smith donates to and visits regularly also has chilling echoes of Jimmy Savile too.
Yes, this episode also contains a lot of heavy emotional drama about the events of the previous episode. But, thanks to the compelling storyline and a small amount of comedy, the episode doesn’t wallow in all of this stuff in the way that I had feared that it might. Plus, the episode ends with a brilliantly shocking plot twist that is actually foreshadowed properly!
Unfortunately, the trailer that ran after the episode finished drained some of the suspense from the ending (eg: Watson seems to be alive and well). But, despite this, the introduction of another hyper-intelligent villain for Sherlock to duel with (and more tantalising questions about Sherlock’s past) is an intriguing prospect.
All in all, this episode is a return to form for a series which seems to have fallen by the wayside. This is an episode that revolves around Sherlock solving a case (rather than the case just being a background detail). Yes, there’s some emotional drama and some vaguely thriller-like stuff. But, the emphasis is on the case! The episode is about Sherlock actually being a detective. And it is so good to see this again 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.