Photo credit: BBC/Masterpiece
With Sherlock Series 4 now behind us, I thought it would be a good exercise to try and determine what I think are my favourite episodes from the series. I’ve been thinking a lot about this during the in-between series hiatus and, as difficult as it is to do, I think I’ve cracked the case!
This is because I feel like putting most of the episodes on the same rank, side-by-side, but then again it would defeat the purpose of a “list”. With great difficulty and apprehension, therefore, I have ranked the Sherlock episodes from least favourite (note: it’s not “worst”, because no Sherlock episode is bad) to best and most re-watchable.
Naturally, spoilers ahead.
The Six Thatchers
Without a doubt, what has caused this episode to be my least favourite, was due to the initial viewing experience mixed with the overwhelming expectations I had following ‘His Last Vow’ and ‘The Abominable Bride’. Which is a real pity since the first half hour and final 30 minutes are a proper, brilliant Sherlock episode. The middle part, where the story veers off towards Mary’s espionage past, disappoints. There are also several unexplained motivations and behaviours, which I find hard to understand given how much I have wanted to enjoy this episode. Affection towards it might increase as time goes by.
The Blind Banker
Considered to be the weakest of the Sherlock episodes (not just by many fans but by myself too), I find it difficult to wrap my head around it. There’s gold in here, especially the ever-evolving relationship between Sherlock and John, but the storyline leaves much to be desired. It’s an interesting take to introduce an Oriental element into the narrative, but the case ultimately yields little satisfaction. It hurts to say it but it is so.
The Hounds of Baskerville
It seems to be an interesting trend that the second episode of every series is considerably weaker than its predecessor and successor. This is especially true of ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’. I quite like the idea of adding some of the horror/supernatural motifs in Sherlock and seeing how they are dealt with, but with ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ and ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ cushioning this episode, I’m afraid it finds itself in 11th place.
The Empty Hearse
Many people do not seem particularly keen on this episode as much as I am. Perhaps viewers were expecting a more convincing explanation to Sherlock surviving the fall from the rooftop of Bart’s Hospital. Yet, that is the brilliant thing about it. Mark Gatiss keeps us guessing as to whether Holmes’ explanation to Anderson is actually true or not. It’s also an episode that allows Martin Freeman to continue demonstrating his impressive acting skills as his character struggles to accept his back-from-the-dead friend. All this is set within a Guy Fawkes Night setting. What could be more superb?
The Final Problem
The final episode of Series 4 has received both praise and criticism, with more emphasis on the latter. Hardcore fans seem disappointed that the (possibly, last ever) episode did not deliver the definitive conclusion it should have had. I do not entirely agree. The whole storyline of Eurus Holmes, infused with the Redbeard plot and Mycroft’s brotherly cares, was perfectly executed. Sherrinford and the maze our protagonists have to wade through has been criticised as being too theatrical and akin to the Saw franchise (something which I did not immediately notice). I found no problems with this as it provided a more refined and focused “puzzles and codes” episode from ‘The Great Game’. I will agree, however, that the sudden resolution to Eurus’ neglect could have been handled with more care, but the closing scenes rounding-off the storyline provide a satisfying conclusion to the whole series (except for the one or two subtle loose ends hinting at a possible Series 5 …).
The Sign of Three
I’ll be honest and admit that I was disappointed after my first viewing. It seemed to veer off into a subplot that completely avoided the main narrative arc of the new villain introduced in ‘The Empty Hearse’. However, following copious more viewings, I can confirm that this is the funniest episode in the entire series. Plus, I have realised that ‘The Sign of Three’ gives us a proper glimpse into each character’s current storyline, as well as placing Sherlock Holmes in one of the most normal and sociable situations a human being can experience. The way Sherlock uses his intellect and deduction methods to deal with everyday circumstances, including the addition of a few more hints at how his mind palace works, is simply amusing. Clueing for looks, anyone?
The Lying Detective
What did I say about the recurring trend of a weak second episode? Following a not-so-great Series 4 opener, Steven Moffat brought the mind-bending plots back into action. Not only does this episode sport a fantastic Toby Jones, but it also delves further into visualising Sherlock Holmes’ thought processes, examines the relationship between Sherlock and John, and delivers one of the best past-present intertwining narrative sequences since Memento and Inception. There are so many reasons why this is such a great episode that I find myself wondering why I’m only ranking it 7th.
The Great Game
This is the episode where we meet Moriarty for the first time and a proper cliffhanger confrontation against Sherlock and John. But the episode is also fantastic for the series of puzzles and challenges that our protagonists have to go through in order to reach this decisive concluding sequence. Mark Gatiss, whose episodes do not normally reach the same intricacy as those of Steven Moffat, did a brilliant job here.
His Last Vow
Following the (temporary) resolution of the Moriarty narrative, the writers could not have done a better job than to introduce an equally intriguing main villain as Charles Augustus Magnussen. Played with wonderful criminal sophistication by Lars Mikkelsen, I confess that this episode should be higher up in the list. Not to mention the brilliant clues foreshadowing the events in Series 4, and the glorious mind palace sequence.
A Study in Pink
The one that started it all. I love this episode so much, besides the introduction of the characters and the storyline, for its Londonesque feel. There’s a certain vibe in watching Sherlock and John running around the city’s streets in search of clues. But the best part is how the wonderful chemistry between the protagonists is so beautifully realised and cemented.
The Abominable Bride
The reasons why this episode is so addictive, have been explained in my previous post In Defence of the ‘Abominable Bride’. In fact, I’m so obsessed with this episode that I seriously considered placing it in second place (And might still do!).
The Reichenbach Fall
I’ve always had a problem trying to determine whether this should be ranked first or second. Actually, I would very easily place this side-by-side with my top favourite episode as they are pretty much the best, in my opinion. However, as already explained above, given the nature of a list this was not possible to do, which is why I have had to place it at number two (“Johann Sebastian would be appalled”). As an episode, what can be better than a Sherlock/Moriarty showdown, especially THE Sherlock and Moriarty we have been enjoying watching so much? This climax, which has been building since the first episode of Series 1, is executed in such a brilliant way that I’ve got nothing else to say really…
A Scandal in Belgravia
Having watched Series 1 for the first time, Sherlock had instantly become the ultimate TV show for me. Queue episode 1 of Series 2 and I was left speechless. ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ is an undisputed first-class opener to any new returning series and everything I had loved about the first series was completely blown out of the water yet again. The visuals, the acting, the deliciously intricate relationships and storyline … they are just extraordinary. Defining moment? The “I Am Sherlocked” scene of course!
So that’s my Sherlock list done. Next post will tackle Conan Doyle’s original writings for a top 10 list of my favourite short stories.