‘Confusing’ Sherlock finale panned by critics

Check mate: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Mark Gatiss star in Sherlock. © BBC

The final episode of the BBC’s hit TV series involved long-lost sisters, James Bond explosions, and a Crystal Maze-style series of tasks. Critics hated it. Has it lost the plot — literally?

When the final episode of the BBC’s Sherlock was shown on Sunday night, it had many of the elements which its fans have come to adore. There were seemingly impossible mysteries solved at lightning speed by its hero’s phenomenal brain; shocking twists around every corner; and a deep friendship between its two leading men.

The only problem? As The Telegraph put it: ‘Many of us, to be frank, had not the foggiest what was going on.’ The episode revealed several scandalous secrets about Sherlock’s family history. Its villain had supernatural powers. At one point a fake clown threatened someone with a knife. At another, the characters jumped from an exploding building like James Bond.

Many were delighted by the fast-paced adventure. Another review in The Telegraph called it ‘exhilarating’ and ‘endlessly creative’.

But on the whole, critics were unimpressed. The Daily Mail called the finale ‘an abject, flailing, noxious mess,’ and awarded it zero stars. ‘I never want to see such appalling, immature claptrap again,’ its reviewer concluded.

The Guardian was almost as scathing: ‘Sherlock has become a parody of himself,’ it said. ‘It’d be a blessed relief if the next episode was just a meat and potatoes mystery caper.’

It is a far cry from the reviews of the first episodes in 2010, which were praised as ‘good, unpretentious fun’.

In the years since, Sherlock has soared to one of the most popular British shows ever made. It has won multiple awards, and is watched in 180 countries around the world. And yet this season its ratings plummeted, with critics increasingly sceptical.

Then again, many professional reviewers also hated Led Zeppelin’s debut album in 1969, the film The Shining in 1980, and the novel The Great Gatsby in 1925. All three are now considered masterpieces.


The critics were right this time, say disappointed viewers. Sherlock has become far too surreal and self-satisfied; what made the original episodes great was the simple formula of clever murder mysteries solved by charming characters. The complicated, confusing storylines this year were exhausting. It is a problem, says The Economist, that haunts many thrillers: as the series gets more popular, its universe gets smaller and more convoluted. It is a great shame.

Not true, say the show’s fans. This was Sherlock dialled up to the extreme — and that made it one of the most exciting episodes of television in years. So what if it didn’t make total sense to stuffy newspaper critics? It never claimed to be realistic. Instead, it was a rollercoaster of an event which had people laughing, crying, and gripping the edges of their seats. That is exactly what made it so popular in the first place.

You Decide

  1. Do you enjoy watching Sherlock?
  2. Are the opinions of professional critics worth listening to?


  1. Sometimes negative reviews are more fun to write then positive ones — try composing a scathing analysis of your least favourite TV show.
  2. Write the opening scene for a TV adaptation of your favourite work of literature.

Some People Say...

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognises genius.”

Arthur Conan Doyle

What do you think?

Q & A

Who cares what critics think? I love Sherlock!
There is nothing wrong with that — plenty of people do! And, as we have shown, professional critics can often get things wrong. But it is interesting to consider why and how they might disagree with you, especially about a television show that was once considered the best of its kind.
Will they make any more episodes?
No one knows. There are usually one or two years between each Sherlock series, partly because the show’s success has made its stars internationally famous — that means they are often tied up with other filming projects. Its writer Steven Moffat says they hope they can come back, but they simply don’t know for sure. ‘If this was the last time – we’re not planning it, but it might be, it’s possible – we could end it there.’

Word Watch

Final episode
It is unclear whether this was the final episode of the current season, or the final episode ever. The show has not been renewed by the BBC, but its cast and creators say they would ‘love’ to return if possible.
Leading men
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
Around 5.9 million watched the final episode on Sunday, down from 8.1 million who watched the first episode on New Year’s Day and 11.6 million the year before.
Led Zeppelin
Rolling Stone derided the rock band for its ‘weak, unimaginative songs’ in 1969. In 2003, the same magazine named it the 29th best album of all time.
The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s (now) classic horror movie was initially slammed by critics. ‘Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King’s bestseller,’ wrote Variety.
The Great Gatsby
‘Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby, is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that,’ wrote The Chicago Tribune. ‘This story is obviously unimportant.’

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