Sherlock, gaunt, hollow-eyed and constantly frantic, is back on heroin, and his impeccable, preternatural instincts are working too fast for the rest of him to keep up. John, still, silent and angry to his very core, is still in therapy but talking to the spectre of a dead woman rather than the live one who’s actually being paid to listen. And a sociopath celebrity/philanthropist with money, keys and carte blanche to a hospital full of potential victims, may just be the world’s smartest, scariest serial killer.
Albeit serial predator Jimmy Savile wasn’t – as far as we know – a murderer, the parallels are clear and deliberate: as well as the fame, the influence and the access all areas pass to just about everywhere else, Toby Jones’s Culverton Smith has that same creepy, manic jocularity tinged with menace that makes us all wonder now how he got away with it for so long, and the hospital detail is far too obvious to be unintentional. As a result, the character is twice as repulsive and unsettling; it’s a lot harder to smile and shrug off tv villains as fantasy when they’re as close to reality as this one, so even when I found Smith a little too over the top, I remembered that the inspiration for his character was more than a little over the top, too.
Subtlety or lack thereof aside, though, the darkness and demented energy Jones brings is well-suited to this bleak, chilling but often blackly funny episode; Sherlock himself’s woozy jumps back and forth in time and place aren’t always easy to follow (we’re meant to be as confused as he is at various points, I think, and once he understands, so do we), and John’s determination to punish his friend for his own sins could be incredibly annoying in the hands of lesser actors, but Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are even more outstanding than usual this week, with more than able support from Una Stubbs as the delightfully dangerous Mrs Hudson and Amanda Abbington as Mary, who, sadly, is far better-written and much more interesting and moving in death than she ever was in life. (Albeit she’s just as manipulative.)
Steven Moffat’s script, meanwhile, is complicated and very clever, playing with memory, time, perception and observation, weaving in bone-deep pain and grief, and leavening the mix with humour and affection both for and between (however much they might pretend otherwise) all the main characters. After last week’s disappointment, I wasn’t much looking forward to this, but I thought The Lying Detective was excellent.