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Sherlock Season 3
Creat. Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss
With Guy Ritchie making films about him, to ABC making an entire crime series around him, Sherlock Holmes is still a strong figure in our cultural lexicon. I personally find the previous two interpretations of the character pale in comparison to the stunning BBC Drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. A season comes every two years or so and on Sunday we are blessed to have this show return to us.
After faking his death at the end of season 2, Sherlock Holmes returns to London to solve an impending terrorist attack. But first he must reveal to his closest (and only) friend John Watson that he is alive. Once all that business is done away with, Sherlock and Watson are back to business solving crimes. There are kidnappings, a wedding, and a mysterious new adversary named Charles Augustus Magneson.
Anticipation for the third season of Sherlock has been massive ever since the nail-biting finale of season 2. Since then the Internet has been abuzz as to how Sherlock pulled off faking his apparent death. I personally was enthralled with the previous season and hoped that the wait would not be for naught. This latest season is a mixed bag of episodes that at times both astound and infuriate. Each episode of the tight three offer some of the greatest moments in the series, but as a whole, don’t fully hold up compared to previous seasons.
The premiere, “The Empty Hearse,” is the best example of this. It includes many zany fan theories brought to life within the series, but as a return to the story between Sherlock and Watson feels stilted and odd. Sherlock himself feels at times out of character to introverted genius that he is in the last batch of episodes and is instead off. The mystery presented in the episode kind of takes the backseat, which is fine as long as it services the character development. This premiere felt sort of anti-climactic and served more as a wink to the fans than staying in the world they had created.
The second episode, “The Sign of Three,” quelled all my worries. The episode, centering on Watson’s wedding, was the series at its best. An engaging 80-minute episode filled with seemingly unsolvable cases, the longest Best Man speech in pop culture history, and some of the best Sherlock-Watson moments in the entire series (Watson’s bachelor party, a pub crawl, gives us something I never thought we wanted: drunk Sherlock). The episode also firmly starts to establish new beginnings, a concept that Sherlock, and the audience, might not be ready to face just yet.
There are a few new faces to the cast that are entirely welcome. Amanda Abbington is excellent as Mary Watson, John’s fiancée and wife. Lars Mikkelsen is eery as Charles Augustus Magneson, the latest adversary with information that can bring Sherlock and John’s life crumbling down. However the two leads are wonderful. Cumberbatch and Freeman are in excellent form as Sherlock and Watson and their friendship grows even deeper in this season. The show has always been about these two men at its roots and this season begins to call all that into question. Sherlock suddenly finds himself facing a Watson that might not need him around anymore.
That all begins to unravel with the season finale “His Final Vow.” Sherlock uncovers a massive secret that could threaten Watson’s safety and the latest villain is pushed to the forefront. Moffat swore that the finale would be more devastating than season two’s, but by the time the episode was over, I was more confused than forlorn. The episode twists and turns so many times you can’t help but feel dizzy and try to reaffirm where you are.
That’s the biggest issue for this season with me. There isn’t as clear of a direction as previous seasons, but that can be forgivable. Third seasons are a typical landscape where a show is trying to find new ground without becoming stale or typical. However with only three episodes to a season, Sherlock tries to cover more ground in shorter of a time and that can feel rushed. Most BBC shows are typically 6-8 episodes a season, but somehow find a happy balance between story coverage and cutting the fat.
Three episodes a season can work just fine for me, but the fact we had to wait almost two years for it seems more like a letdown than a welcome return. Moffat and Gatiss spend more time nodding their caps to the fans, than it does getting back to business. The season is filled with moments that stand out greatly, but the parts don’t fully make up for the whole. When it’s great, it’s great, but when it isn’t it sticks out. I’m glad the show got this season out of the way so it can hopefully go on to a greater purpose with its next season. The show is still the best interpretation of the detective out there right now, but compared to the other seasons, it’s the weakest of the three.
Sherlock returns to PBS this Sunday, January 19 at 9 pm.