Fourth season humanizes ‘Sherlock’

Season four of series ‘Sherlock,’ which debuted Jan. 1, humanizes the character of Sherlock Holmes. Photo courtesy of PBS.
Season four of series ‘Sherlock,’ which debuted Jan. 1, humanizes the character of Sherlock Holmes. Photo courtesy of PBS.

BBC recently released a new season of Sherlock that has broken ground in developing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. While previous seasons have focused on showcasing the deductive prowess of Sherlock Holmes against increasingly cunning foes, this new season focuses on humanizing Holmes and has proven successful in doing so.

Season four started off with the Christmas special, released on Jan. 1, 2016, and then continued with episode one on Jan. 1, 2017. BBC aired a total of three episodes, releasing one each week.

BBC’s Sherlock is full of twists, often leaving viewers wondering whether events of the show are hallucination or reality. Fortunately, the Christmas special more concretely establishes as real the facts that were ambiguous in the third season. Episode one lays the groundwork for developing Holmes’ character by introducing a wedge between his relationship with Dr. John Watson. Episode two then chronicles the actions that Holmes takes to rebuild his relationship with Watson, demonstrating his faith in his friends. Finally, episode three culminates in Holmes showing that a combination of brilliant deductive skill, along with a storng moral foundation, can be incredibly powerful.

Every episode contains an overarching theme that frames each action or character. The plot arc of episode one is analogous to the story of the “Appointment in Samarra.” In the story, a man tries to escape from Death by fleeing to a faraway city called Samarra, only to find that Death had been waiting for him there all along. Throughout the episode, the characters reference this story multiple times, essentially framing the episode as the consequences of actions coming to fruition. The past of many characters also come back to haunt them. In episode two, the theme is contradictory faults in each character; viewers see each character’s “dark side,” villains and heroes alike. In episode three, the theme is whether emotional context is a weakness or a strength; Holmes must grapple with this question consistently. Overall, the show delves deeper into the moral and psychological mindsets of its characters in the new season than in the past.

Moreover, the tone in season four is much darker psychologically than in previous seasons. Just as in the previous three seasons, the action scenes are fluid  and to the point. The show wastes no moment in any episode, as the action sequences and well-timed cuts create a smooth flow from scene to scene, leaving the viewers constantly tuned in to what could happen next. Holmes’ wry humor offsets the heavy action of the show. In one instance, he references a talented young hacker, but in reality was seeking the amazing sense of smell of the hacker’s dog.

This season’s cinematography is outstanding; there are many times when the cutting and editing creates a connection between the character’s experience on screen and the viewer’s experience of watching. For example, when Holmes takes drugs, there are cuts in between scenes that give the audience a sense of confusion, which Holmes faces when under the influence. The text on screen, a staple of Sherlock, is back, conveying both the thoughts and deductive skill of Holmes. A particularly memorable moment is when Holmes tries to visualize the size of someone’s home by measuring the angle of the light coming through the window and hitting a piece of paper. Slow motion, blurring and other effects imbue the situation with different feelings, varying between inducing awe during a slow motion explosion or inspiring terror during a dark hallway chase scene.

In addition to its cinematography, the acting in season four is superb. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have established themselves as an incredible acting duo, and this season did not disappoint. With a heavy focus on the relationship between Holmes and Watson, this season captures many unforgettably poignant scenes. It is refreshing to see Cumberbatch get visibly emotional in some of those moments.

One of the deeper philosophical questions the new season explores is whether Holmes needs emotional intelligence or solely deductive wits; ultimately, it emphasizes the importance of both. Holmes outwits a foe with almost deity-like psychological manipulative powers through demonstrating his belief in man’s essential equality.

For potential viewers, the fourth season will require you to watch the previous three seasons. This show relies heavily on cliffhangers and a few past characters make appearances in this season, so having just read the books will not be enough.

All in all, if you want to see Holmes transform from a cold, calculating sociopath to a warmer and more humane character, I strongly recommend you watch the new season of BBC’s Sherlock.