This article contains spoilers through the most recent episode of Sherlock, “The Lying Detective.”
Last week, writing about the first episode of the fourth season of Sherlock, “The Six Thatchers,” I complained about the treatment of women in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s BBC show, and bemoaned how the loss of Mary (Amanda Abbington) meant there were no complex female characters left. I was dismissive of the depths of Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), characterizing her as a former stripper and cartel moll. And I suggested that one fix for the show might be if John’s mysterious “E” turned out to be Sherlock Holmes’s sister, but then assumed Moffat wouldn’t be forward-thinking enough to write that storyline. After watching “The Lying Detective,” I feel compelled to wholeheartedly apologize: to Sherlock, to Moffat, and, most grovelingly, to Mrs. Hudson.
“The Lying Detective” was publicized as a story about Culverton Smith (Toby Jones) a brash businessman and television personality whom Sherlock had reason to believe was also “the most dangerous, despicable human being I’ve ever encountered,” and who turned out to be a serial killer hiding in plain sight. But there was another, more intriguing antagonist also hiding in plain sight throughout the episode, revealed to be Eurus (Sian Brooke), who’d masqueraded first as John’s paramour on the bus in “The Six Thatchers,” then as his new therapist, and then finally as Culverton Smith’s daughter. “Amazing the times a man doesn’t really look at your face,” she told John. “Did you ever stop to think that Sherlock’s secret brother might be Sherlock’s secret sister?”
The existence of Eurus has been alluded to in a few past episodes, with Mycroft seemingly hinting at another Holmes sibling. “I’m not given to outbursts of brotherly compassion: You know what happened to the other one,” he said at the end of “His Last Vow.” In the same episode, Sherlock told John that Mycroft used to scare him with stories about the “east wind, this terrifying force that lays waste to all in its path. Seeks out the unworthy and plucks them from the earth.” Eurus told John that her parents named her after the east wind, implying Mycroft has long been aware of her (potentially destructive) existence, even if Sherlock hasn’t.
It’s a fascinating twist for the show, setting up Eurus as the potential big bad of the fourth season, just as Moriarty loomed over the first two, and Mary ended up being the secret antagonist of the third. Eurus, like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, is clearly a master of disguise, transforming herself into different women so efficiently that even John can’t recognize her (in Conan Doyle’s stories, Watson was forever having encounters with strangers who ultimately turned out to be Holmes). She’s possibly homicidal, threatening to “put a hole” in John’s face before pulling out a gun. And she’s also possibly working for (the deceased) Moriarty, leaving a secret “Miss Me?” message on the note she left behind (while pretending to be Smith’s daughter) at Sherlock’s apartment.
“The Lying Detective” was really an example of Sherlock at its best, interweaving a case-of-the-week storyline with subplots about John’s grief and Sherlock’s relapse into addiction, all while setting up Eurus as a larger presence in the next episode. But one of the other highlights was Mrs. Hudson, given her own James Bond-esque car-chase sequence in an Aston Martin after kidnapping Sherlock and throwing him in the trunk. To John’s obvious astonishment, she screeched, “I’m the widow of a drug dealer, I own property in central London, and for the last time, John, I’m not your bloody housekeeper!”
The episode also hinted at the return of Irene Adler, whose text wishing Sherlock a happy birthday revealed that the two are still occasionally in contact. John’s frustration at Sherlock’s refusal to consider a normal human relationship (albeit one with a sociopath and criminal) was strengthened by his recent loss of Mary, who appeared in ghost-like form as John’s conscience throughout the episode. With its nod to “the woman,” as John referred to Adler, the show continues its efforts to humanize Sherlock, making him less of an automaton and more of a recognizably decent and vulnerable person. It’s another departure from the Sherlock Holmes of Conan Doyle’s stories, who wasn’t ever as devoted to anyone as Sherlock’s protagonist was to John and Mary, and it portends a fascinating clash with Eurus in the last episode of the season, “The Final Problem.” Regardless, the episode’s subtext revolved almost entirely around the women of the show, making as efficient a rebuttal to my argument last week that anyone could ask for.