Sherlock has a habit of raising questions. Each new crime, cliffhanger, puzzle and interaction introduces an influx of new questions for viewers. Yet, over the past few months, one question has loomed over fans of the BBC’s show. Does season four mark the end of Sherlock? Answers to this question have been muddled at best. Showrunner Steven Moffat has suggested that we will be back at 221 b. again, but other players have different ideas. In October, series star, Benedict Cumberbatch told British GQ, “It might be the end of an era. It feels like the end of an era, to be honest.” Despite Moffat’s assurances the finality of the Season Four finale, “The Final Problem” appears indisputable. Unlike all other season finales, season four ends on a seemingly conclusive note, with numerous flashbacks and references to the pilot, and the unavoidable absence of a cliffhanger ending. Even if “The Final Problem” wasn’t intended to close the series, producers are still left with the impossible task of scheduling season five. Now that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are bonafide box office draws, it is unlikely that either actor will have much time in their schedules for Sherlock any time soon, especially considering that both actors are now associated with the Marvel franchise as Freeman is slated to appear in 2018’s Black Panther while Cumberbatch recently shattered box office records as the titular Doctor Strange, and will be reprising the role in a sequel and in Avengers: Infinity War.
Marvel has a history of running actors raged with daunting schedule demands. Sherlock is no stranger to seemingly impossible timeframes, yet with each box office smash for Cumberbatch and Freeman the possibility of returning to the series seems less and less likely. Could the show be the ultimate sacrifice for the success of its stars?
Despite the apparently insurmountable schedules of the show’s leading actors and rumors to the contrary, it’s a safe assumption that season 4 won’t be the last we see of the BBC’s adaption of Sherlock, due largely to two all important factors: Money and the fierce fervor of Sherlock Fans.
Sherlock has become an undeniable moneymaker for the BBC. Although we are still early in the year, season 4’s opener, The Six Thatchers has marked the most watched broadcast in the UK for 2017. Between advertising, download revenue, merchandise, licensing, etc. Sherlock is a massive revenue generator for the BBC. The network has announced plans to open a $2.1 billion-dollar theme park in 2021, where a Sherlock will provide a major attraction. Fundamentally, the network would not have invested billions of dollars to tie in a show that concluded nearly a half decade prior, without any plan return to the series.
Moreover, we live in a time where series extend long past their intended expiration. More than ten years after the release of the last Harry Potter book, we continue to receive new content, stories and sequels. While at times the desire to extend franchises can produce less than stellar content- looking at you Cursed Child- as long as fans are willing to wait for content, franchises can persist long past their intended expiration dates. Sherlock fans are nothing if not patient. Since the show’s beginning, viewers have waited seven years for a total of 12 episodes and a special. That's the equivalent of one season for most TV shows. It could take another decade to coordinate schedules and produce a new episode and fans would be eager to delve back into the adventures of the world’s only consulting detective.
Since the Victorian era, Sherlock fans have been defined by the unquenchable fervor for the series. This fervor has transcended many obstacles throughout history, including the death of the Deer Stalker clad protagonist himself. In 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sought to bring an end to the adventure of his notorious hero in the short story, which was also called The Final Problem. At the end of the story, Sherlock is driven off Reichenbach Falls by James Moriarty. This story was adapted into season 2’s finale, “The Reichenbach Fall”. Although Doyle had intended for The Final Problem to provide a closure to the character’s adventures, fans felt differently. Readers cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand, the publication in which Sherlock’s adventures were published, by the thousands. Doyle and his editors began to receive begging, insulting, desperate letters in droves, Fans adopted black armbands as a symbol of grief and flocked to the streets to protest. After almost a decade, Doyle opted to return to the character, penning the Hounds of the Baskervilles, a work that is still the most widely known Holmes chronicle in history, along with dozens more stories.
Today’s Sherlock fans are no different. If our ancestors were able to overcome death, through their tenacity, passion and patience, we can certainly do the same.