The dust has settled on Sherlock’s fourth season and its finale, "The Final Problem," and it’s fair to say most are torn between exasperation and fond affection for the show. Undoubtedly, this run of Sherlock once again delivered great performances from Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous detective and Martin Freeman as his sidekick, John Watson, as well as excellent turns from the supporting cast including Mark Gatiss as Mycroft. However, it’s not unfair to say that the writing and direction on Sherlock season 4 lost its way at times and became self-indulgent, resulting in confusion and frustration for the viewer.
All that said, Sherlock is and remains one of the best loved shows to come from the BBC. Despite a drop in viewing figures, there is still a deep affection for the show among its audience and plenty of people are keen to see it return. Speculation over whether there will be a fifth season has been bubbling throughout the build-up to season 4, and for the duration of its run. Showrunner Steven Moffat has remarked that if the show were to finish, the end of season 4 would be the right place, but that comment merely pertained to the fact that the previous season finales have all ended on a cliff-hanger, whereas this one didn’t.
The general consensus among cast and showrunners Moffat and Gatiss, seems to be that yes, there will be more, but it’s all a question of when. For now, Cumberbatch and Freeman are busy with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is slated to appear in multiple Marvel films in the future, while Freeman’s Everett Ross is also slated to appear in Black Panther. Moffat is preparing to step down as showrunner on Doctor Who, and wants to embark upon an original project, while Gatiss is busy just about everywhere as writer, director, and producer, so lining everyone up again is going to take some serious scheduling. The pattern with Sherlock series thus far has been erratic, with anything between a year or two between seasons or specials. However, even if we took two years as a rough guide, it seems as though the wait might be even longer this time around.
When (and we’re going with "when" rather than "if") Sherlock does return, it’s likely that changes will need to be made to how the show looked at the end of season 4. After the revelation that Sherlock has a criminally insane psychopathic super-genius sister, it was confirmed that our detective has a heart, and that he does indeed care for others. Eurus gave Sherlock’s past behavior context; he’d been blocking all painful memories, including the mere existence of Eurus and the fact that she killed his best friend, because to deal with them was just too much. Mycroft had been dealing with Eurus’ incarceration in Sherffinford, but had been keeping it all a secret from his parents and brother for fear of upsetting them. The events that unfolded during “The Final Problem” will shape and influence the way both characters are, going forward, just as the death of Mary must surely influence John. Though some might assume that Moffat and Gatiss will ignore these developments altogether; fear not.
In a press conference following the screening of the finale, Moffat mentioned that for a brief moment, they thought about having the words “The Beginning” flash up at the end of the episode, since it is a new start for Sherlock. Gatiss referred to “The Final Problem” as Sherlock’s backstory, and also mentioned why the season ended as it did:
“I think what’s actually happened is that we have now done the story of how the Sherlock Homes and Doctor Watson that we have always known, how they became those men. It’s actually really a backstory. The reason we [ended with] Rathbone Place is that, actually, if we do come back – and we would love to come back – we could absolutely very easily start with a knock at the door and Sherlock saying to John 'Do you want to come out and play?'. They have become the two heroes that we always knew them to be."
Moffat picked up on the emotions Sherlock went through in the season finale, finally coming to the realization that he is stronger and smarter (emotionally) than Eurus or Mycroft, because of the bonds he has made with others. Going forward, he added, the Sherlock we will see is reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes portrayed by Basil Rathbone, or Jeremy Brett: “The wise old man… who is still terrifying and still cold but has a heart that you never doubt." And the best news? Season 5 would go back to Sherlock and John “solving crimes.”
Arguably, that is what the season finale lacked; a proper mystery for viewers to sink their teeth into and attempt to solve alongside the Baker Street Boys. The best reviews for any season 4 episode came for “The Lying Detective,” which was also the episode that most closely followed an original Arthur Conan Doyle story, “The Dying Detective.” A truly memorable performance from Toby Jones as Culverton Smith certainly helped, and it would be great to somehow see him come back, since Moriarty really is dead and gone. Culverton aside, there are also many more Sherlock stories from Doyle that are ripe for retelling by Gatiss and Moffat.
In fact, Gatiss has revealed that he started to adapt “The Redheaded League” for season 4, but abandoned it as it didn’t fit the run. With the Eurus Holmes storyline out of the way, season 5 would be a good time to return to the classics, and to let viewers see how this new, more emotionally connected Sherlock deals with these cases. Doyle’s body of Sherlock Holmes work is vast, as is Moffat and Gatiss’ knowledge surrounding it. With viewers clearly enjoying the classic whodunit format, this is surely the way to go for season 5.
More humor would also be welcome; some of the best moments in Sherlock have come when Gatiss and Moffat have made dry jokes, or even gone all out and given us moments of pure frivolity, such as John’s bachelor party, when he and Sherlock got drunk and went “clueing for looks.” This season woefully underused its brilliant female characters, though Mrs. Hudson did shine during her car driving scene, and more of both her and Molly Hooper would be entirely welcome. A fifth season might also be a prime opportunity to explore Mycroft’s life away from the Ministry; something we had brief glimpses of when we saw him watching romantic melodrama and also when Lady Smallwood asked him on a date. We can also never get enough of scenes involving Sherlock and John, and after seeing the pair firmly cement their friendship during season four, we’ll be happy to see them gallivanting around London, solving mysteries together, for as long as the Sherlock team will make the show.
It’s not perfect (it never has been), but Sherlock does have moments of brilliance that still set it above most other detective shows out there. Sherlock is escapism at its very best, when it gets it right, and sure, we might have to suspend our disbelief for an hour or two, but it’s entirely worth it. Here’s hoping Sherlock does return, because the game isn’t over, yet.
We will keep you updated with news on any future Sherlock seasons or one-off specials.