HomeEntertainmentWhy I'm so disappointed by gutless Sherlock's big twist

Why I’m so disappointed by gutless Sherlock’s big twist

Spoiler alert: don’t read on if you haven’t watched The Lying Detective, which aired on 8 January.

Until the epilogue, Sunday’s episode of Sherlock contained only a scattering of twists. We discovered that Sherlock Holmes had only become strung out on heroin to cheer up John Watson a bit, and that he only did that because Watson’s James Bond wife told him to from beyond the grave, and that the capture and arrest of Toby Jones’ worst serial killer in history was just a handy byproduct of that. So far so normal.

• Watson’s therapist wasn’t really a therapist.

• She was simply posing as a therapist after killing the real therapist and hiding her body in a cupboard.

• She was actually the woman who flirted with Watson on a bus in the previous episode, in disguise.

• Her real identity is Euros Holmes, Sherlock’s secret sister.

• Euros also spent a night talking to Sherlock, disguised as Toby Jones’ sister, and he didn’t twig.

• Which basically means that the easiest way to fool the most intelligent man in the world is to wear glasses and do a rubbish northern accent.

• Oh, and also Euros Holmes shot Watson in the face for no real reason and now he’s probably dead.

All this was squeezed into the last two and a half minutes of what had predominantly been a heavy-handed parable about Jimmy Savile until that point. This machine gun rattle of twist after twist after twist was discombobulating to say the least. Was it effective? That’s harder to say.

Traditionally, a satisfying plot twist needs to contain three things: a cliffhanger ending, plenty of foreshadowing and courage in its convictions.

The perfect example of all three elements in action – and to my mind the greatest twist in TV history – is the finale of Lost’s third season. By that point we’d all become used to Lost’s reliance on flashbacks to flesh out its characters, so it was no surprise to see Jack bearded and depressed and addicted to pills. But then, in the dying breaths of the episode, he yelled “We have to go back”, signalling that we’d all been tricked. This wasn’t a flashback at all. It was a flashforward, hiding in plain sight. All along, we’d been watching what happened after Jack left the island. Not only did the episode end on that beat, giving viewers a moment to regather the fragments of their blown minds, but the twist went on to provide the pivot point for the entire series. It was endlessly gratifying.

But if you remove any of these elements, you run the risk of turning your twist into a gimmick. When series regular Lisa Faulkner had her head deep-fried in the second episode of Spooks, it came completely without warning. As a result, the moment felt less like a true narrative device and more a cynical moment of get-a-load-of-this swagger. And when Dallas brought Bobby Ewing back to life, consigning his death – and the entire series that surrounded it – to a dream his wife had, it felt like a cowardly climb-down.


Speaking of cowardly climb-downs, here’s why I’m less than impressed with Sherlock’s big twist. Was it foreshadowed? Yes. The series had been filled with sly references to other siblings and “east winds” – Euros is the name of the Greek god of the east wind – since 2014. Was it a cliffhanger ending? No disputes there. But will Sherlock have enough courage in its convictions to see this through?

Probably not, because Sherlock never has courage in its convictions. In The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock made the incredibly brave move of killing both Holmes and Moriarty, only to have them both come back – in various forms, with various non-committal explanations – in subsequent episodes. In fact, this sort of thing has become one of Sherlock’s signature pieces; the grand, definite-seeming pronouncement, followed by a disappointing explanation that resets the story in order to protect the show’s longevity.

If Sherlock really does have the guts to see this through – if Watson is dead and stays dead forever – then I’ll take this back and give Sherlock the standing ovation it deserves. But if it doesn’t, and the writers talk themselves out of the ending like they’ve done so often in the past, then we’re just going to feel cheated. And that will be a twist too far.

Please have the guts to see this through, Sherlock… Photograph: BBC/Hartswood Films/Robert Viglasky
Please have the guts to see this through, Sherlock… Photograph: BBC/Hartswood Films/Robert Viglasky

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