PBS has recently finished running the second season of Sherlock (courtesy of the BBC). It’s a curious and brilliant show for a number of reasons. For one, each season is only three episodes, but each episode is about an hour and a half long; so it feels more like a miniseries. For another, it is an updated version of Sherlock Holmes – taking place in the 21st century with plenty of playful use of modern technology. For yet another, the creators have tried to maintain Arthur Conan Doyle’s characterization of Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. James Watson (Martin Freeman), and so Holmes is portrayed as having Asperger syndrome – perceptive and sharp, but difficult to get along with. (This point stands in particular contrast to Guy Ritchie’s near complete character rewrite with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.)
[SPOILER ALERT: stop reading if you haven’t seen Sherlock and are even remotely interested in watching it!!!]
Beyond those interesting features, there are some powerful thematic explorations. The final episode of season two brings the self-destructiveness of evil into clear light. The end of season one had portrayed James Moriarty as the mirror opposite of Holmes – the “consulting criminal” to Sherlock’s “consulting detective.” Whereas Holmes finds himself on the autism spectrum, Moriarty is clearly psychopathic. He can fake his way socially, but fundamentally remains remorseless and vicious. By the end of season two, Moriarty has tired of the hiccups Holmes keeps causing and has become obsessed with Holmes’ brilliance (bested, he imagines, only by his own). The final episode proves itself to be a giant set-up to discredit Sherlock and bring him to the point that he must commit suicide.
In the end, as Holmes and Moriarty face off, as Moriarty makes it clear that Holmes has no choice but suicide, Moriarty shoots himself in the head to make sure that no one can call off the assassins he has in place to blackmail Sherlock. He has no other choice but to commit suicide and confirm the charges that he is a fraud. Holmes then leaps to his (apparent) death in order to save his friends. Whew…it comes at you in a whirlwind!
The run of Sherlock has made a basic Christian claim (albeit perhaps unwittingly) very forcefully: sin is self-destructive. The way that Scripture talks about it focuses around idolatry. We become like the thing we worship. And when we put something else at the center of our lives beside God it makes us worthless (cf. Ps 115; 135). In the midst of a powerful indictment of idolatry, God asks through Jeremiah, “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?” (Jer 2:5). Moriarty has only one ambition by the end of the second season of Sherlock – to best Holmes. When it comes to a point he even commits suicide to make sure that Holmes loses everything.
But, of course, the joke (if we can be that crass) is on Moriarty. Apparently, Holmes has already figured it out and manages to fake his death – though we don’t know it until the final shot of the show. Perhaps the logic of the gospel could have helped: sin is its own worst enemy. Finally, the Good takes up the most triumphant notes of evil and works it into its own pattern for its own ends. The devil’s greatest triumph was Jesus’ crucifixion, but wouldn’t you know it? In that achievement everything began to unravel for him.