Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock

Every ‘Sherlock’ Episode Ranked Worst to Best

It has been over 5 years since Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman) last graced our TV screens in the hit BBC show, Sherlock. Sherlock was created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat and is a modern reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes book series. The show premiered in 2010 and opened to very positive reviews. The highly positive reception continued until its fourth and final season, which received largely mixed reviews from audiences.

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The series follows Watson, a war veteran who has just returned from Afghanistan. In seeking a place to live, he meets the eccentric but brilliant Holmes, who does detective work for Scotland Yard. The two become flatmates in 221B Baker Street, which they rent from Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) and begin solving crimes together. Over the seasons, the two face threats from formidable enemies including James “Jim” Moriarty (Andrew Scott), Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), and Culverton Smith (Toby Jones).

Sherlock won numerous awards, as did Cumberbatch and Freeman for their performances as Holmes and Watson. The show ran for 4 seasons and Moffat and Gatiss had plans for a 5th. However, production plans fell through largely because of Cumberbatch’s and Freeman’s busy schedules. Rumors of a 5th season are still swirling, but after 5 years, it is difficult to say if Sherlock ever will return. For now, though, we have a total of 12 episodes and 1 TV special to fulfill our Sherlock cravings. Here is every Sherlock episode ranked from worst to best.

13. The Six Thatchers

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson in The Six Thatchers

“The Six Thatchers” was the 1st episode of the 4th season of Sherlock and aired on January 1, 2017. The episode starts where the season 3 finale, “His Last Vow,” ends and sees Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) manipulating the media to absolve Sherlock of guilt for murdering Magnussen. Meanwhile, Watson and his wife, Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington), welcome a baby girl, Rosamund, but their marriage struggles. Additionally, while trying to uncover the late Moriarty’s evil posthumous plans, Sherlock instead uncovers a dangerous piece of Morstan’s past.

“The Six Thatchers” proves to be one of the most emotional and devastating episodes of Sherlock. However, that may not have been what fans needed from the 1st episode of Sherlock to air after a 3-year hiatus. The show suffered from turning away from mystery-solving to explore the more personal lives of the characters. It stuffs too much grief and sadness into one episode by choosing to open the season by killing off a main character and hinting at extramarital affairs. Also, the bombshell ending of “His Last Vow” is practically wiped away as Sherlock faces no consequences nor emotion over his murder of Magnussen. Ultimately, it was a pretty glum, disappointing, and rather senseless opening to season 4.

12. The Final Problem

Sherlock Watson and Mycroft in The Final Problem

“The Final Problem” was the last episode of Sherlock to air on January 15th, 2017. After many teases, the episode finally confirms that Sherlock has a long-lost sister, Eurus (Sian Brooke). Sherlock had his memories of her rewritten by Mycroft after he was traumatized as a child by Eurus drowning his dog and burning the family’s house down. She was sent away to live at a maximum-security facility by Mycroft. However, through her brilliance, she manages to gain control of the prison, forcing Sherlock, Mycroft, and Watson to play her torturous games. Amidst the chaos, Sherlock attempts to solve the mystery of a little girl who phones him from a plane where all the passengers and crew are asleep.

In some ways, “The Final Problem” was a fitting end to Sherlock. It dug down into Sherlock’s family history and explored his relationship with Watson and Mycroft further. It also had a particularly poignant end in which the entire Sherlock family was reunited for the first time in years. However, with that being said, it was a messy episode featuring multiple subplots, metaphors, mind control, and false memories. Needless to say, it departs too far from its usual detective/mystery format into something a little too abstract, confusing, and unbelievable. Performances were on point and the emotion was there, but the plot simply didn’t work for this one.

11. The Blind Banker

Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson in The Blind Banker

“The Blind Banker” was the second episode of Sherlock‘s first season and premiered on August 1st, 2010. The episode sees Sherlock and Watson tackle a bizarre case where symbols are being graffitied throughout London. It seems the symbols are messages, or threats, as those who see them tend to end up dead shortly afterward. Sherlock soon realizes the symbols are Chinese hieroglyphics and they are dealing with a criminal ring, The Black Lotus, who want something that has been stolen from them. Meanwhile, Watson returns to doing medical work and goes on a date with his co-worker, Dr. Sarah Sawyer (Zoe Telford).

“The Blind Banker” is comedic with an aura of mystery that keeps audiences engaged. However, it does suffer for several reasons. The first is that its viewers were expecting it to be better than the pilot episode, but instead it was a few notches worst. Second, it is so loosely based on a specific Doyle story that most will miss the connection. Lastly, the Black Lotus proves very ineffective as a criminal ring and prevents the episode from having a strong villain. Ultimately, it’s a moderately intriguing episode but is still pretty weak in plot and execution.

10. The Abominable Bride

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson in The Abominable Bride

“The Abominable Bride” is a TV special of Sherlock that aired between season 3 and season 4. The special sees a Victorian-era Sherlock and Watson attempting to solve a mystery together. It is later revealed that this trip to the past is drug-induced and takes place in the present-day Sherlock’s mind as he believes solving the Victorian-era case will help solve his case of how Moriarty is supposedly still alive. The Victorian-era case occurs when a consumptive bride, Emelia Ricoletti (Natasha O’Keeffe), commits suicide, yet somehow returns later that same evening to murder her husband before disappearing. Sherlock must solve the case of how this woman died, yet seemingly came back from the dead to kill her husband.

In many ways “The Abominable Bride” was quite brilliant. The performances, the unique premise, the cinematography, the costumes, and the set design were all flawless. Creatively, it was bold, daring, abstract, and ultimately very entertaining. However, logically, the episode didn’t make much sense. “The Abominable Bride” was an extremely unnecessary way to solve what was a very simple and obvious mystery. Additionally, the episode only was loosely tied to season 3 and season 4 and was a “filler” episode. There’s no doubt that the episode worked, but the creators made it a little too obvious they wanted to create a Victorian-style Sherlock episode merely for the sake of doing so and for no other reason.

9. A Study in Pink

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in A Study in Pink

“A Study in Pink” was the very first episode of Sherlock and premiered on July 25, 2010. The episode kicks off by introducing Watson, an Afghanistan veteran who has recently returned home, seemingly suffering from PTSD and a limp. He meets Sherlock as the detective searches for a flatmate to share a flat with at 221 Baker Street. After they meet, Sherlock quickly sucks Watson into his latest case which involves a very suspicious string of alleged suicides. Watson finds himself enjoying the adventure immensely and even recognizes that rather than suffering from PTSD and a limp, he was suffering from the lack of activity after the war. He and Sherlock move in together, sparking the beginning of a friendship.

“A Study in Pink” was a very good episode as it enamored fans with their first introduction to the brilliant modern reimagining of Doyle’s work. The charisma and performances of Cumberbatch and Freeman, as well as their chemistry, were also spot-on for a pilot episode. However, while the episode certainly excited viewers for what was to come, Sherlock’s first detective case is a bit disappointing. It is clear early on that the suicides aren’t just suicides and that there is an obvious common denominator in all of them. Instead of dazzling with his first mystery, Sherlock seems to flounder and miss certain points the audience likely grasped before him.

8. The Sign of Three

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson in The Sign of Three

“The Sign of Three” is the second episode in Sherlock‘s third season. The episode largely focuses on the impending wedding of Watson and Morstan. Sherlock struggles throughout the episode to write a best-man speech for Watson and also fears his relationship with Watson will change because of his marriage. In the midst of it, he struggles to solve the mystery of the attempted murder of a Guardsman. The solution becomes dire when Sherlock realizes the preparator of that crime is in attendance at Watson’s wedding and is targeting Watson’s wedding guest and friend, Major James Sholto (Alistair Petrie).

“The Sign of Three” was very different from the majority of Sherlock episodes. It departed from the usual storylines and played out a bit like a rom-con. Nonetheless, the wit and humor, especially from Sherlock’s antics, were delightful and entertaining. Additionally, it did still throw in a rather bizarre and intriguing mystery for Sherlock to solve. While it wasn’t the best episode as far as mystery, plot, and performances go, it was still very charming and also proved to be surprisingly emotional and human as it delved into the more personal sides of Watson and Sherlock.

7. A Scandal in Belgravia

Lara Pulver as Irene Adler in Sherlock

“A Scandal in Belgravia” was the first episode of the second season of Sherlock which premiered on January 1, 2012. The episode sees Sherlock become a minor celebrity thanks to Watson’s blogs of their adventures. They are subsequently summoned to Buckingham Palace where the monarch seeks the detective’s help in retrieving Irene Adler’s (Lara Pulver) cell phone on which she has compromising photos of herself and a female member of the royal family that could be used for blackmail. However, the matter proves bigger than blackmail when government secrets and conspiracies are found to be at stake. Meanwhile, Sherlock can’t help but fall for the charm, wit, and brilliance of Adler who is romantically intrigued by him.

“A Scandal in Belgravia” was a very strong episode of Sherlock. A large part of its strength comes from the fact that it struck a nearly perfect balance between paying homage to Doyle’s original story, “A Scandal in Bohemia” while adding a modern twist to it. Additionally, viewers will be enraptured as Sherlock comes as close to having a romantic interest as he ever has in the TV series or books. The only shortcoming of the episode was how it broke away from the original plot and became a bit muddled with the complicated terrorist and conspiracy plotlines. Nonetheless, it was still a very worthy adaption of Doyle’s work.

6. The Hounds of Baskerville

Sherlock The Hounds of Baskerville

“The Hounds of Baskerville” was the second episode of Sherlock‘s second season and premiered on January 8, 2012. The episode follows Henry Knight (Russell Tovey), who, as a child, witnessed his father die from an attack by a giant hound in Dartmoor. 20-years later Knight returns to Dartmoor only to see the hound again. He seeks help from Sherlock and Watson, convincing them that the hound isn’t a fantasy or legend. As Sherlock and Watson investigate, they suspect something darker is at play and stems from the army-base surrounding Dartmoor.

“The Hounds of Baskerville” is a solid adaption of what is one of Doyle’s most popular Sherlock tales, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Like “A Scandal in Belgravia” this episode is also a pleasant mixture of Doyle’s work along with modernization. At times, the episode captures the gothic horror of Doyle’s original story, before shifting into technological advances and experiments from a modern army base. Throughout its entirety, though, it managed to be suspenseful, thrilling, and creepy. The performances, CGI, tone, and storyline were top-notch. The only issue was that it ran just a tad long and ran out of momentum in certain spots.

5. The Empty Hearse

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in The Empty Hearse

“The Empty Hearse” is the first episode of Sherlock season 3 and premiered on January 1, 2014. The episode starts off two years after Sherlock faked his death, as he returns to London covertly to work with Mycroft to stop an impending terrorist attack. Meanwhile, Watson has moved on after Sherlock’s death and is revealed to be in a serious relationship with Morstan. He is crushed and angered when he realizes Sherlock is still alive. However, they must put their differences aside and work together as London is threatened with a terrorist attack on Guy Fawkes Night.

“The Empty Hearse” succeeded in boasting one of the strongest openings to a Sherlock season. Sherlock and Watson’s return was explosive and emotional as they navigated the aftermath of Sherlock’s fake death. Additionally, it perfectly set the stage for the remainder of the season by strategically debuting Morstan and Magnussen. Sherlock and Watson’s return and their emotional reunion was the highlight of the episode. While the terrorist subplot was intriguing, it did get vastly overshadowed Sherlock and Watson’s attempts at reconciliation and the mind-blowing explanation of how Sherlock faked his death. Ultimately, the episode was brilliant, but just a little boisterous and ambitious to fit into a single episode.

4. The Lying Detective

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in The Lying Detective

“The Lying Detective” was episode 2 of season 4 of Sherlock and premiered on January 8, 2017. The episode sees that Sherlock and Watson have grown distant since the death of Watson’s wife. Watson has started therapy and struggles with hallucinations of Morstan. Meanwhile, Sherlock has fallen into drug abuse again. In the midst of it, he is faced with a chilling threat from Culverton Smith (Toby Jones), an undetected serial killer with so much power he is nearly untouchable.

“The Lying Detective” is one of Sherlock‘s darkest and most somber episodes. It very poignantly explores drug abuse, grief, and broken friendships. At the same time, it features an antagonist on par with Moriarty and Magnussen, as well as an elaborate mystery that effectively keeps the audience off its case. Even in his drug-induced stupor, Sherlock is still as brilliant and elaborate as ever, and even the past can’t destroy his relationship with Watson. The episode boasted depth, emotion, and a strong storyline with intriguing plot twists. It was ultimately a very strong and touching story, though it didn’t have some of the brilliance, shock, and daring nature of some of Sherlock‘s other finer episodes.

3. The Great Game

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in The Great Game

“The Great Game” is the final episode of Sherlock‘s first season and premiered on August 8, 2010. Sherlock finds himself taking on his most pressing case yet when he receives a mobile phone that belonged to one of the victims in “A Study in Pink.” The phone allows an anonymous number to reach Sherlock that instructs him to solve various mysteries in a certain amount of time. If he fails to solve the mystery in time, a hostage will die. If he solves the mystery in time, the hostage goes free. Hence, Sherlock races to save lives and uncover who this mysterious stranger is who seeks to torment him.

“The Great Game” marked the official introduction of the iconic Sherlock Holmes villain Moriarty and proved to be an explosive ending to the first season. The episode was gripping and suspenseful in its entirety. It also masterfully revealed how all the episodes and cases in the first season were interconnected. For 90 minutes the audience is treated to nonstop action, thrilling plot devices, and dazzling performances from Cumberbatch and Freeman. The episode also marked a very strong debut from Moriarty who embodied a strong iteration of the iconic villain. The only thing “The Great Game” didn’t have was a shocking and unforeseeable twist and climax, like the two episodes at the top of this list, boast.

2. The Reichenbach Fall

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock in the Reichenbach Fall

“The Reichenbach Fall” was the season finale of Sherlock‘s second season and premiered on January 15, 2012. The episode sees Moriarty’s sinister plans for Sherlock reach their final stages. Moriarty, a criminal mastermind, succeeds in getting acquitted of his prior crimes. He then sets out to destroy Sherlock by convincing the world he is a fraud and criminal. Sherlock and Watson find their former days of fame from Watson’s blog are over. Now, they frantically scramble for a way to stop Sherlock’s arch-enemy for good, but the stakes are high and not everyone will make it out alive.

“The Reichenbach Fall” is a brilliant, shocking, and very emotional finale that finally sees Moriarty’s plans play out in full. The episode was the culmination of the first two seasons of Sherlock and masterfully uncovered how the stories were all interconnected with Moriarty’s plans slowly unraveling each episode. After two seasons, “The Reichenbach Fall” did the impossible and lived up to every tease and expectation. The plot was strong, the emotion was palpable, and there were some moments almost too shocking to believe. Also, Cumberbatch, Freeman, and Scott gave what can only be described as true Emmy-worthy performances. Meanwhile, the episode brilliantly ended with a twist that, though predictable, still managed to have every audience member asking, “How?”

1. His Last Vow

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson in His Last Vow

“His Last Vow” was the season 3 finale of Sherlock and premiered on January 12, 2014. The episode sees Sherlock, against Mycroft’s wishes, going after Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen). Magnussen is an extremely powerful blackmailer, who managed to attain his high level of power by becoming the “Napoleon of blackmail.” However, in his pursuit of Magnussen, Sherlock accidentally uncovers a secret about Morstan’s past that she has failed to tell Watson. In the end, breaking the world free from Magnussen’s power will require some drastic measures.

“His Last Vow” was an explosive and brilliant ending to season 3. Mikkelsen was simply magnificent and chilling as Magnussen. Meanwhile, Cumberbatch, Freeman, and Abbington all gave very heartfelt performances. The plot was thrilling and it boasted a bombshell ending. However, before viewers could even get over their initial shock, the episode managed to throw in the second tease of an unexpected character’s return. Ultimately, “His Last Vow” was dazzling, brilliant, and suspenseful with a fair amount of twists and turns, references to Doyle’s work, and brilliant performances. I believe it’s as close to a flawless TV episode as a show can get.

(featured image: BBC)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.