This episode was a bombastic emotional charge. It runs like a freight train, leaving us to... what, exactly?
If the writers constantly up the stakes - and they do, bigger! better! more emotional! Then at one point, after doing that episode after episode, the definition of 'the stakes' fades. What does death matter in this series? What do mistakes? Where are the consequences that we've been told would appear?
As energetic and fast-paced and off the first episode was, this was the same thing but even more so. Wildly out of character, over the top, suffering as such you have never seen before!
No. In order to feel those consequences, to feel that gunshot that killed Mary reverberate on through this entire episode, instead of a manic overblown mess, imagine this instead: silence. The episode opens with that gunshot, yes, and then... nothing. We see John, in his flat, sitting and staring at nothing. We see Sherlock, in his flat, sitting on the sofa and just looking at the walls. The note John left him is folded and re-folded between Sherlock's hands. John does dishes. John gets up and goes to work. John functions, but it's clear that's all he's doing.
Imagine seeing the moment where Sherlock actually gives in and injects drugs. Hearing the tap of the injection needle. No flashes of light, no brilliant deductions, he falls back on the sofa and you can tell that it's the only option he had left.
Imagine that silence being replaced by a loud, screeching, painful cry, and the camera tilts as we see John holding Rosie, rocking her, rocking her, and she won't stop, she keeps on crying. John's eyes are dead.
The DVD Mary left Sherlock is replayed, again and again, as time passes, and there is no one else, nothing else, no other option, for Sherlock than to take her words as truth.
We see another scene of John, standing by Rosie's crib, as she wails and wails and he snaps and shouts, "I CAN'T! I CAN'T MAKE YOU STOP CRYING!" John kicks the crib in anger, then walks out off the room because he's sure he'll do it, hurt her. Rosie cries even harder.
Sherlock starts researching every file he can, trying to find the most dangerous adversary. He knows it's useless, but according to Mary it's all he can do. He obsesses. His arms are a patchwork of bruises.
John stands in front of Molly's door in the evening. It opens to Molly smiling, there is a glimpse of a nice-looking young man, a pizza and a Glee episode on the TV. John tells her, "Take her. Rosie." Molly says, "I'm sorry, John, I have a date, I can't..." John pushes Rosie in her hands anyway, and walks off.
Imagine Mrs. Hudson drawing that gun, yes, but then taking Sherlock on the bus, because do you know how much a cab costs in London?
Imagine the therapist actually being a therapist.
Imagine Culverton not being TheMostDangerousVillain ™. He's actually just a bloke, quietly doing terrifying things behind closed doors. He's the hospital janitor, and that is why he has that set of keys to every room. He's a security agent, and that is why he can erase evidence off the cameras. Let evil have an average face for once, it won't take anything away from it. Or if he needs to be the-most-powerful-man, then actually go there and let Sherlock catch him touching a child. Make Culverton turn around, and say, "No one will ever believe you." And people don't. Make that be the horror of this episode.
If Sherlock has to almost-die again, outclass everyone else again, then does it still matter that we know he would have been dead in weeks? Does it still matter at all, when we always knew he would prevail?
Show me a Sherlock who deals with consequences. Who actually remembers what he's done. Show me one who hallucinates being back in that torture chamber in Serbia when he's high. Show me one who can't stop seeing the fall. Who endlessly re-thinks what they could have done to save Mary. What does new conflict matter, what does any of it, when the old never mattered?
When John and Sherlock finally, finally sit in Baker Street together, show me a thirty-five minute scene with painful pauses. Show me Sherlock finally trying to take responsibility for faking his death and leaving John. Because no, of course Sherlock didn't cause Mary's death and John blaming him for that is ridiculous, it's conflict that doesn't radiate as conflict because we all know John is wrong, John knows he is wrong, too. Show me the pain that they never addressed instead.
Show me John breaking down and saying, "I can't do this. Rosie. I can't. I never wanted her, and now..." And Sherlock hugging him then, because there is no other option that to live with the choices they made.
And if Mary was really, truly that important, the love of John's life, the woman who showed him what man he wanted to be, then show us John's happiness with her. For his grief to read true now, we don't need to be told what she was to him, we need to have been shown it. Imagine John and Mary slow-dancing in their kitchen in their pyjamas, holding a very awake Rosie between them and giggling. Imagine John EVER telling Mary he loved her and looking like he meant it.
Imagine Mrs. Hudson's line of "You reptile." to Mycroft to actually have been based on a truly terrible thing he did, not something hardly ranking above anything else they've had. Imagine that line being given the breathless conflict it deserved, instead of being thrown in there because it would sound ominous in the trailer.
Imagine Lestrade actually coming to 221B to check up on Sherlock. The quiet horror in his eyes as he sees the mess, the needles. Lestrade sitting down with him and saying, "You need help, Sherlock. I'm here, I'll always be here."
Imagine Mycroft coming by and taking quiet vigils by Sherlock's side as he's high. Telling him he'll always care.
Imagine the next villain not being BIGGER BETTER BRIGHTER.
Imagine quiet instead.