Sherlock Season 4: Why You Should Hope the Finale is not True

Sherlock cast

Obligatory spoilers warning! There will be a lot!

The third season of Sherlock was a lot like the first two seasons. Brilliantly written, engaging stories, and a shocking finale to leave you hooked and desperately waiting on edge for the next season. However, the third season finale brought with it something the other two finales did not have: Implausibility.

The first season ended with the climatic and tense first meeting of Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty. The second season ended with the suicide of Moriarty and the brilliantly faked death of Sherlock Holmes. Both of these finales were intense and, more importantly, grounded in reality. The last episode of the first season, “The Great Game,” was an elaborate game that Moriarty constructed as a way to get in contact with Sherlock. Perfectly executed, sensible, and gave a lot of new insight into the characters of Sherlock and Moriarty. The even better season two finale, “The Reichenbach Fall,” ended with the shocking suicide of Moriarty that forced Sherlock to elaborately fake his own death in order to spare the lives of his friends.

But not their emotional state of mind.
But not their emotional state of mind.

As expected, the season two finale left behind the massive question, “how did Sherlock survive?” The internet was buzzing with theories, many of which were quite convincing, others involved love triangles between Sherlock, John, and Moriarty ( isn’t written by very attentive fans) . The first episode of the third season, “The Empty Hearse,” revealed how the seemingly impossible task was completed, and it was clear that the faked death was handled with care and thoroughness.

If you rewatch the “The Reichenbach Fall”, you see that many seemingly insignificant scenes near the end, were in fact, necessary steps that Sherlock created in order to complete his suicide ruse (the truck blocking John’s view, the bicycle crash, etc.). These small scenes were proof that the writers were in complete control of the scene and the story.

However, the third season finale was, by far, the most shocking of the three finales. That is because the finale is impossible.

In the finale, “His Last Vow,” we find out that Moriarty, is in fact, alive after he hijacks every television screen in Britain in order to broadcast his message, “did you miss me?” As was expected, the whole world lost their collective mind at this, quite frankly, unbelievable twist. Moriarty is one of the best written characters of the show, and arguably, the most interesting character. So, having him return is a real treat and will no doubt further establish the show’s continuing trend of excellent storytelling and character design, right?

After the euphoria wore off following the reveal, a feeling of doubt should be the next logical emotional state. How is it possible Moriarty survived? Yes, Sherlock managed to fake his own death, but we were treated to numerous scenes in the third season that showed Sherlock was already in a state of preparation and awareness. Sherlock knew, even before he went on the roof to meet with Moriarty, that faking his death was a very likely conclusion.

Moriarty did not have that luxury.

Moriarty’s suicide was a spontaneous act that he was forced to resort to after discovering there could be a way for Sherlock to coerce him into giving him the call-off code for the assassins. To put it simply, there was a chance Sherlock could win, and it was clear at the moment he fired the gun into his mouth that Moriarty would rather die than lose. That is what made Moriarty such a unique and captivating character. His complete lack of fear, his unpredictability, and that fact that he was the only person that Sherlock was never able to fully understand. He was an enigma.

He was also ambitious and fashionable.
And fashionable.

All of these fantastic personality traits of Moriarty combined with the spontaneous nature of his suicide makes his death all the more certain. But, for argument’s sake, we say that the fourth season does bring back a perfectly alive and health Jim Moriarty. The character of Moriarty may return, but all the unprecedented insanity and unique characteristics that Moriarty showed us when he blew his head off (and the things that made everyone love him) are gone. Except the head. That would probably come back.

The Moriarty of old, a man so insane that he would sacrifice his own life to see Sherlock end his, would be gone. In his place, we would have a new Moriarty, who may share his bizarre antics and hatred for Sherlock, but he would lack the insanity and single-mindedness. He would be like Sherlock, in that he would be a man who has a sense of self-preservation and a brilliant mind that enables him to see so far ahead of others that he could convincingly pull off his staged death. That is not a bad character by any means, but we are already treated to that particular character with Sherlock.

What made Moriarty such a great character was that he was not Sherlock. He was his opposite. True, they may share certain traits, but at their cores, the two men are like different species. This was all shown to be true when Moriarty committed one of the greatest twists in TV history by killing himself. By bringing Moriarty back, they are not only nullifying the brilliant twist that was done in the season two finale, they are weakening the character of Moriarty.

Speaking of weakening characters, the season three finale would not only weaken Moriarty’s character, but Sherlock’s as well. It was likely that the (seemingly) obvious intent Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (the creators of Sherlock) had when writing the third season finale was to further establish that Moriarty is the intellectual equal of Sherlock.

Taking "I can do anything better than you can," to a whole new level.
Taking “I can do anything better than you can,” to a whole new level.

However, by resurrecting Moriarty, they aren’t showing his brilliance, only Sherlock’s incompetence.

Over the course of three seasons, we have been shown extraordinary scenes that highlights Sherlock’s observation skills. In “A Study of Pink,” Sherlock knew the gun that was pointed at him was not a real gun. So, did Moriarty survive by using a fake gun? If accuracy is valued in the show, then definitely not, or else Sherlock would have spotted the difference immediately.

Sherlock's look of surprise can tell you what he thinks of the gun.
Sherlock’s look of surprise can tell you what he thinks of the gun.

In other episodes, like “The Hounds of Baskerville,” where he was covered in blood after performing a test studying blood splatters, and “The Sign of Three,” where Sherlock analyzes the attempted murder of the victim by judging the pool of blood around him, we are shown that Sherlock is familiar with blood at crime scenes and can analyze blood splatter so accurately that he can set up the crime scene, prove how the victim was attacked and with what kind of object, and in the process, make Dexter Morgan somehow look stupider than he looked dressed as a lumberjack. So, did Moriarty trick Sherlock with fake blood? If we are to trust Sherlock’s observation skills, he would have known if the suicide was legitimate by studying the blood splatter.

So how is it possible that Moriarty could fake his seemingly clear-cut suicide while he had the watchful eyes of the most brilliant detective actively looking at him while he did it? If it seems impossible, that is because it should be!

Moriarty’s suicide was the greatest scene Sherlock has ever created. By showing it was all an elaborate ruse and not a real glimpse at the unfathomable insanity of Moriarty, that scene is ruined, and ruining that fantastic scene should be a criminal act. Assault on artistic integrity.

While many Sherlock fans count Moriarty as their favorite character and were delighted to see his apparent return, in the long run, every true fan should hope that he stays dead. True fans of Moriarty would rather Moriarty stay dead in order to protect the integrity of his character and Sherlock than be brought back to life as a way to appease many fans and cash in on an already established character.

This article is not a critique of the season three finale, but a warning of what will come to be if the finale takes the seemingly obvious route. There is sure to be at least one fantastic way to handle the third season revelation with dignity, care, and accuracy (article for another time) and you should not have doubt, but utmost faith in the minds behind Sherlock. If there are any people alive who care more about this show and its integrity, it is the creators of the show, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

Sherlock creators

Good luck with season four, boys, and know that the Sherlock fanbase will always stand by your decisions. Though truthfully, we would prefer to stand next to only great ones, which we are accustomed to after three seasons of Sherlock.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Posted on by
I'm a huge anime/manga/tv nerd and looking for a website to vent my thoughts and opinions. Follow me on twitter @yesdennisfulton.

Want to write about TV or other art forms?

Create writer account


  1. Diana Chin

    I was very amused when I started watching the first episode of Season 3 of Sherlock. I’m hoping that for the current season it’ll focus more about the leverage between Sherlock and Watson as Sherlock is trying to come to grips on Watson’s wedding

    • And I think that’s what my issue with this season has been. It’s not that it wasn’t good or entertaining, but I was amused, I wasn’t fascinated. There was a puzzle to the first two seasons. Everything was building towards something fascinating. We as the audience want to fancy ourselves as young Sherlock Holmes, watching episodes to learn from the master. But the truth is we want the puzzles. This season was entertaining, it was delightful, but there were no puzzles, just reveals.
      I don’t mind so much that Moriarty is back, so long as they don’t spell it all out for us, or dash our hopes with endless montage possibilities.

  2. Guadalupe

    I never found any interest in Irene’s character. Her character sounds interesting in theory–sort of a female Sherlock in a way–but I was mostly bored during her sequences. I don’t know, I think part of the problem is that her case was kind of boring. Okay, so she had compromising photos of someone and random crap on her phone that we never saw. Eh…

    • Mary Awad

      I agree! I never understood the hype around The Woman, in the show or the books. She’s there and then she’s not anymore. I feel like they develop Sherlock’s relationships with others much more deeply than his with Irene. She’s blah for me too so I totally get what you’re saying.

  3. While I accommodate your “only true fans” fallacy, I will say that I like your argument about Moriarty’s insanity. Without that single-mindedness we do lose something in the specific character of Moriarty. In the same way, we lost something in a percieved character of Sherlock when only at the very end of the season 2 finale we found out that he had actually NOT killed himself. While it is certainly easy to argue that they cannot kill off the primary protagonist of the show, in the moments between his decision to jump and that final reveal of his still being alive there was a revelation (false as it was) in the character of Sherlock. We discovered that he cared enough about the lives of the people he loved to not only kill himself, but let his reputation die with him. While it is revealed that this is not actually a trait of Sherlock Holmes by his faking of his suicide in the final reveal of Season 2, there is a character trait established for him which many fans might have held in a very high place. The nullification of that trait, just like the nullification of Moriarty’s insanity/single-mindedness, whatever you want to call it, is just a part of fiction. Especially a fiction which constantly relies on misdirection, suspense, and complex characters, as Sherlock does. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not its a bad decision, but whether or not Gatiss and Moffat can make the sacrifice of that character trait worth while in the next season. My guess, as I am not as die-hard a fan as many of Moffat, is that it will be an exciting next series with numerous twists and turns which will ultimately leave us just about where we were before: Sherlock as a not-entirely unhappy psychopath (there is no clinical difference between psychopath and sociopath, and it bothers me that the show perpetuates that myth), Watson as a distraught but ultimately willing companion to Holmes, and Moriarty as a criminally genius genius criminal.

  4. As I am still watching this season, I have to say I am not disappointed in the least. This is the best show and I loved it from episode 1, Season 3. When Watson kept attacking Sherlock when he came back from the dead had me laughing so hard, so did the part where Molly shows up with faux Sherlock, I loved it. I love Mary and there is something different about Sherlock this season, he’s not quite as cocky. I like it. I am loving this show and I hope they do more!

  5. MelanieC

    This season was amazing, and I agree that the way to keep the credibility of the show is to stick to major plot points from the books. While I love Andrew Scott and think his performance as Moriarty was fantastic, I also think that with a show that has only three seasons, he cannot be the threat for season one, two, and season four. The one major question is: why does everyone jump to the idea that Moriarty himself is back? We know he’s dead, and yes people don’t really believe Moffat or Gatiss anymore, but it seems more likely that someone from his web is back, not the actual man. While the fans on Tumblr go and try to figure out how Moriarty is back, I think that this is the one finale that nothing needs to be figured out; the question of if he really is back will be answered the moment Sherlock season four airs.

  6. Tyler McPherson

    Hey I thought of the it might not be Moriarty idea as well (same as the comment above) but that would be going back on the season three finale with Moriarty claiming Sherlock was a fraud- doing the same sort of thing. But those who are fans of the show just have to believe that the crew working on Sherlock will continue to provide brilliant and clever episodes in the years to come. Great article by the way!

  7. I have totally loved all of seasons one and two and enjoyed the first episode of season three. But I thought episode two (THE WEDDING) was really painful to sit through. This was the only episode I couldn’t wait to be over.

  8. Sherlock

    I actually just re-watched the whole season the other day. I was disappointed with the directing, though. They need to bring back Paul McGuigan for Season 4 and get rid of the whole ‘non-linear storytelling for the sake of non-linear storytelling’ approach.

  9. Surprisingly, I would say season 3 is the favorite season for me. To me, the season’s bad point was the fact that the “reunion” between Sherlock and John was rather haphazard. EP 2 and 3 was kind of like a break from the usual storyline of sherlock and gang solving mysteries, but to a more intimate insight between S&J.

  10. Interesting article. I know many people who thought Moriarty’s apparent suicide in ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ was an anti-climax; for me it was a masterstroke which fabulously showed Moriarty’s spite and single-mindedness. He doesn’t care about himself. He only cares about Sherlock, and defeating Sherlock, so it’s very easy to imagine him being willing to give his life in pursuit of that aim. In fact, I think an argument could be made that he killed himself because he would have had nothing to amuse him after Sherlock was dead. So, like you, I agree that to bring him back would be questionable. However, I’m intrigued by what could be done with the thread; maybe Moriarty himself isn’t back, but it’s one of his associates, maybe using video footage of him? Sherlock’s Irish girlfriend seems to me to be a prime candidate (plus her accent is the same as Moriarty’s!). Maybe it’s another villain pulling the strings, that could be very interesting. I could stomach a Moriarty return, I just hope the story devised for it is clever, surprising and compelling, and I also hope it isn’t the arc of the entire fourth series. I think it should be one episode at most, and play into a larger game with another antagonist, that could be quite something. I’m one of those who, although I enjoyed series 3, and the production values were, as usual, stratospheric, felt there was something missing by not having an overarching antagonist, or plot thread through the three episodes. The thread was more character-driven between John and Sherlock, which was great, but I missed a proper ‘thriller’ feel like Series 2 especially had achieved brilliantly. Series 2 was phenomenal, and they need to aim to reach that standard again. That said, ‘His Last Vow’ was fantastic, and can take its place amongst the greatest of the nine episodes,

  11. greg won

    This is a very entertaining show. And I’ve seen a lot of bad Sherlock over the years. I started reading the books back in ’65 when I was ten years old and hunted down everything I could possibly find ever since. When you’ve seen REAL bad you have more sympathy for versions that are at least well casted and fun.

  12. While I empathize with the author’s sentiment–that Moriarty’s return would weaken his character as well as that of Sherlock–I’m not sure if this is totally true. Not yet anyway.There are too many known unknowns as well as unknown unknowns to judge whether or not his return will be at a detriment to past seasons of Sherlock.

    What happened to Moriarty’s body after he shot himself?
    Did he pull a “Fight Club” and shoot the side of his face rather than his brain?
    Is the “return” of Moriarty merely a fail-safe Moriarty thought of years ago in case of his death? (Who knows Moriarty better than Moriarty? He knows of his own death wish.)
    Is Moriarty a twin? (The Prestige-style)
    Did Sherlock take time to examine his body after he “killed” himself?

    We don’t know any of these answers for sure. What exactly transpired that day on the top of St. Barts is unfortunately still shrouded in mystery.

  13. I trust the writers enough to come up with an intelligent reason for Moriarty’s survival, but at this point it does feel a bit like they ran out of ideas and went back to a villain whom they knew was interesting. I don’t really understand because the original stories provide so much material for them to choose from – I feel like Moriarty’s story is finished and should be left as such.

  14. Alice Bishop

    My brother is a huge Sherlock fan and he was extremely upset by this. Personally, I was quite satisfied with it as the show was definitely missing something without him there. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how they explain his return but, as previous episodes have shown, the show is so well-written that it’s fair to have high hopes.

  15. Just like that, all of my excitement about the return of Moriarty has disappeared! Fear not though, I will somehow make it through this great upset. All sarcasm aside, you have made some insane valid points. I’m almost 100% sure that someone cannot survive a gunshot wound to the head and then a fall off a building. That just seems so unlikely, and I almost feel silly for not seeing this before. Knowing Moffat, though, there will be some sort of twist that makes me want to throw my computer at a wall.

  16. attackingmonkeys

    Really interesting perspective.

  17. I truly hope Moriarty is dead . I do believe he is, I think there will be another enemy to deal with in season four of Sherlock. I am not sure who it will be maybe another one of Moriartys followers or Sherrinford himself which is Sherlock’s brother. It is possible I guess that is just another enemy of Sherlock’s pretending to be Moriarty just to get revenge on Sherlock after all Sherlock does have lots of enemies that would like to see him dead, but I know Sherlock and his friends can defeat whoever this is and stop them .I hope this fourth season is not too violent though,because the other seasons were so great ,and I hope the fans won’t be disappointed this time around.

Leave a Reply