Few things have been waited for as eagerly as series 3 of Sherlock. The last time we’d seen the infuriating but brilliant sleuth, he’d hurtled to his death from the top of St. Bart’s hospital. Or had he? Through misdirection and false theories aplenty (including an amusing nod to slash fiction, which no doubt Mark Gatiss was mildly disturbed by when he first discovered, before choosing to use as a force to his advantage), the show’s creators Gatiss and Moffat finally revealed to us how the great detective did it, and it’s fair to say that the reaction of the general audience was that of being underwhelmed. Ignoring, for a second, just how muddling and convoluted it was, how many extra players Sherlock’s escape plan entailed, the thing that disappointed the most was the fact that the so-called independent, famously misanthropic man, had to enlist the help of his older brother to get him out of a quagmire.
That little quibble aside, the first episode of this season had a few treats, mainly in the form of Sherlock taking his sweet time revealing to Watson that he was still alive, at the worst possible moment: when Watson was about to propose. It was good to hear Molly had moved on from Sherlock, by getting herself a new boyfriend, though later, when he emerged, we realised we’d spoken too soon; the man looked like a bargain-basement Cumberbatch.
With all the characters being reunited, the plot sat on the back foot somewhat, and when Sherlock realised that the so-called “underground terrorist attack on London” was, quite literally, an UNDERGROUND terrorist attack, you weren’t terribly surprised. Especially when we’d been shown footage of a shifty-looking man wandering on a Tube, and then seemingly disappearing. As far as convoluted plots have gone, this wasn’t Gatiss’ best work.
If the first episode of the series disappointed, then the second episode truly flabbergasted with how poor it was. Every now and then, on a twenty-episodes-a-series show like Family Guy or Friends, the show’s creators will do a “whacky” episode; quirk for quirk’s sake. Due to there being 19 or so other regular episodes, we allow this one-off display of craziness. However, when there’s only three episodes a series of Sherlock, we’re led to expect high quality from ALL the episodes. Happily, we got this in series 2, where the three episodes - one introducing Irene Adler, one, a fantastic modern spin on the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the intense final episode with the showdown with Moriarty, both held our attention throughout. In series 3, the second episode’s main plot device was Dr Watson’s wedding, and, although there were flashes of brilliance, the majority of it was just ponderous.
Recently, I’ve been reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s original “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. Bearing in mind that this was long before the era of iPhones, laptops, walkie talkies and the like, it really is enthralling to delve into the mind of such an old-school detective. Hints of Sherlock’s deductive prowess were shown in the first two episodes of series 3 of the TV show (for example, when he immediately susses that a lady’s internet boyfriend has gone missing, that it is the stepfather who was pretending to be him all along, that is based on the short story “A Case of Identity”), but, lamentably, series 3 seems more intent on carving him out better as a person than a sleuth. As such, he’s a more rounded human, but a less interesting character.
Redemption for series 3 came in the season finale, which was back at its finest, and like what we’d been used to in seasons 1 and 2, could work as a stand-alone watch. The storyline centred around a newspaper mogul, Charles Augustus Magnussen, played by the terrifically creepy Lars Mikkelsen, channelling Rupert Murdoch in his performance. We wondered if Sherlock had completed the full transformation into #human when he started dating Janine, a woman he’d met at John & Mary’s wedding in the previous episode. Graciously, it was just the Sherlock we all know and love, the cold, calculated man who tramples over people’s feelings; in this case it was because Janine was Magnussen mogul’s secretary.
There were shocks aplenty in the final episode, although seeing Sherlock in a crack den, for anyone who’s familiar with the book and his penchant for opium in them, was not one of them. The episode was unashamedly emotional, with the peak of the series’ writing coming when John tells Mary “The problems of your past are your business. The problems of your future are my privilege,” which is a Renee-Zellweger-in-Jerry-Maguire moment, if there ever was one. Whilst the writing this series was far from its best, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman continued to be wonderful, and Freeman’s delivery of said line drew tears from this viewer. And, of course, the closing shot took us all aback. Gatiss and Moffat were reminding us that, for all the frivolity and second-rateness of episodes 1 and 2, Sherlock most certainly hasn’t lost its ability to entertain and gobsmack in equal measure.