A hero is only as compelling as his villains. In the case of the Series Sherlock, a great villain has to be as brilliant as the titular consulting detective. The 6 Best Episodes of Sherlock offer the most genius, psychotic, and diabolical adversaries challenging Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) to his greatest mysteries (or “Games”).
SPOILERS through the final episode of Sherlock follow.
Now… On to the Top 6 Episodes of Sherlock!
6. ‘His Last Vow ‘- Season 3, Episode 3 Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) is the first strong villain to follow the death of Moriarty, which took place 3 episodes (or a whole season) earlier than ‘His Last Vow.’ Magnussen is a master of due to Applegate, his luxurious compound where he keeps compromising material on everyone from members of the British Government to John Watson’s (Martin Freeman) new wife Mary (Amanda Abbington). Why Mary? Well, because she’s actually a Super-Spy with a dark past that threatens to unravel her marriage with John. The twist comes when Sherlock and John finally arrive at Applegate, only to learn that Magnussen keeps all his blackmail material in his head; his “mind palace,” the same device Sherlock uses to catalog all the information necessary to solve any case. This doppelganger aspect is a valiant attempt to create a strong villain in a post-Moriary world. In the end, Magnussen’s biggest threat to Sherlock becomes the blood on the great detective’s hands following his shooting Magnussen in the head to protect Mary’s secrets.
5. ‘The Lying Detective’ – Season 4, Episode 2‘The Lying Detective’ (a play on Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, ‘The Dying Detective’) presents a villain, Culverton Smith (Tobey Jones), who shares little more than a name with the source material. In the story, Smith is a killer, but expanded to a philanthropist serial killer for the episode . Separated from John after Mary’s death in the previous episode, ‘The Six Thatchers,’ Sherlock is brought a mystery by the “daughter” of Culverton Smith. She recounts the time her father drugged her and his closest colleges in order to tell them he wanted to kill “Somebody.” Said mystery is solved in the most entertaining and visual manor since ‘His Last Vow,’ recognizing Sherlock‘s strengths. It turns out “Somebody” means “Anybody” and Sherlock, while literally dying due to a drug-bender brought on by boredom, decides to confront Culverton directly, in public. A glorious, verbal game of cat-and-mouse ensues right in front of unknowing, innocent people without them realizing Culverton and Holmes are discussing the fact Smith is a serial killer. Very formidable and clever, indeed.
4. ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ – Season 2, Episode 1In Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), aka “The Woman,” leaves the most lasting impression on Sherlock’s life, aside from Dr. Jim Moriarty. First appearing in the short story ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ (hence the name of this episode), Adler is the only woman to “beat” Holmes. Adler is the closest thing Sherlock has to a lover or significant other, using her sexuality as a weapon before eventually warming up to him as just in time for Sherlock to exploit her affection to outsmart her. Let’s just say the never consummate the relationship. Of course, when her password is “I Am SHER-Locked,” there is certainly some sort of sparks between the two master-minds. Great mysteries with fantastic deductions speckle the episode, with Moriary makes a fleeting, yet very welcome and classic appearance.
3. ‘The Final Problem’ – Season 4, Episode 3Though the title comes from the original story where Moriarty and Holmes fall to their “death” from the Reichenbach Falls, the episode of the same name features the beyond terrifying Eurus Holmes (Sian Brooke), sister to MyCroft (Mark Gatiss) and Sherlock, and invention of Gatiss and Steven Moffat. Eurus was locked away at such a young age that Sherlock can’t remember his sister/blocked all memories of her, due to a heinous crime relating to another of the series’ long-standing mysteries, “Redbeard.” The most brilliant (and most disturbed) of all three Holmes siblings, Eurus has been locked away nearly her entire life, but manages to trick Sherlock, Watson, and even Mycroft to confirm her incarceration by coming to her at the super-secret, isolated, extreme security prison of Sherrinford. Eurus has set a trap, with the help of Moriarty, five years previous, subjecting the unlikely trio to a maze of mysteries within the maximum security prison at a pace only matched by ‘The Great Game.’ These challenges serve as Moriarty’s “Final Problem,” testing Sherlock’s deductions, relationships, and even emotions. Andrew Scott gets to reprise Sherlock’s greatest adversary, if only in flashback form, and it is glorious! I love the intensity of the episode, with the highest stakes of the series and the great challenge of Sherlock’s most personal and (possibly) final villain. The reveal that Redbeard wasn’t Sherlock’s lost dog, but his best friend, murdered by Eurus during their childhood is heartbreaking. On the other hand, the greatest treat ‘The Final Problem’ delivers is watching the usually cold Mycroft interact and modify the dynamic of Sherlock and John, humanizing him in the process and proving he is actually weaker than his younger brother.
2. ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ – Season 2, Episode 3Dr. Jim Moriarty. There has never been a stronger TV villain than Andrew Scott’s completely unique take on one of history’s most classic fictional villains. ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ serves as a reference to the waterfall where Moriarty and Sherlock plunged to their deaths together in the original story, ‘The Final Problem.’ In fact, the scene is recreated in modern times by playing out on a roof at the end of the episode. Though ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ offers a pretty solid mystery: How did Moriarty steal the Crown Jewels while also opening the vault at the Bank of England and all the cells at Pentonville Prison? And… does Moriarty even exist at all? As Sherlock solves a series of mysteries not unlike the next episode on the list, for the first time, he becomes a suspect and goes on the run until he can prove Moriarty is not a figment of his overactive imagination. No other episode features more Moriarty than this episode, and every frame is an absolute delight. I really do think Andrew Scott is the break-out actor of the series, even more than the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch.
1. ‘The Great Game’ – Season 1, Episode 3‘The Great Game,’ the final of Season 1, is by far the strongest, most face paced, most clever and entertaining episode of the entire series of Sherlock. Before he even knows who is behind this ultimate “game,” Sherlock rushes from case to case with much excitement, ranging from a mystery from his childhood to several in which he needs to aid of his allies who fill in the blanks that Sherlock’s Mind Palace doesn’t have room for. Any of these mysteries on their own would make for a great episode, but with so many in quick succession, we get to see the full of extent of what “Play Time” looks like to the world’s greatest detective. Though Moriarty doesn’t make an appearance until the last scene, the build-up is well worth the wait, as we get our first look at the aforementioned unparalleled performance Andrew Scott brings to the world’s 1st Consulting Criminal. The essential episode of Sherlock!
That’s all… for now. Moriarty will likely never return, but there is a chance that eventually, we may see more Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in a potential, but not assured, 5th season.