Now that the dust which kicked up on New Years Day when Sherlock returned to screens has settled fans have begun anew the agonizing wait for the seemingly inevitable series four. This series, the BBC’s Sherlock, was an absolute smash hit ever since the first episode A Study in Pink aired back in 2010. Such was its appeal that Sherlock went on to amass a gargantuan following across the world, becoming so far-reaching that it managed to break into hitherto-unexpected fan bases such as the United States, China, and Japan. You know that when you have people from all around the world discussing your show, despite it only having nine episodes to its name, that it means you’ve clearly done something right.
Audiences were made to wait an agonizing two years after the events of series two’s heart-stopping finale which saw the titular protagonist throw himself off a building and seemingly plummet to his death, a wait that is neatly bridged by writer’s Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat while keeping in tandem with real-time. What I mean by that is that Sherlock goes out of its way to remain contemporary so two years have passed since The Reichenbach Fall just as two years have passed since the date it aired on television. This two year hiatus, which saw stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman bolster their Hollywood resumes and become household names is explained in some depth during the first of the three episodes in this new series: The Empty Hearse.
The focus of this series’ first episode, The Empty Hearse, mostly revolves around the return of Sherlock Holmes after having spent two years in hiding and the repercussions his return from the grave has on his personal friendship with John Watson. The timing of Sherlock’s return as it turns out could not have been any worse as Watson is on the verge of moving on and proposing to his partner Mary Morstan played by Amanda Abbington. Adding a character of this nature to this story and installing a triangle could have very easily blown up in everyone’s face but Abbington is more than capable in her role and her on-screen chemistry with Cumberbatch and especially Freeman is great (well, it’d have to be considering the two are partners and have two children together). Gatiss and Moffat wielded their artistic license with Mary’s character and I think I’m in the majority when I say I like what they’ve done with her character. She’s not there to be John Watson’s arm-girl and there is a lot behind her character that you’ll discover.
On that note this series in general seems to have an underlying theme of family and the highs-and-lows it provides. For the first time in this show we see that Sherlock and Mycroft, the Holmes brothers, really are related and share a brotherly bond despite having as many differences as they do similarities. Their deepening, or rather mending, bond is one of this series’ many highlights. The Empty Hearse also sees the appearance of Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton (Benedict’s actual parents) as the parents of the Holmes’ brothers, adding even more emphasis to this series’ being more of a family affair. Normally nepotism spells certain demise for shows and movies but for some reason it all seems to work in this instance. Another nifty thing about The Empty Hearse is that Gatiss and Moffat affectionately pay tribute to their audience by toying with the numerous fan-theories surrounding the way Sherlock survived his fall, theories that sprang up during the show’s two year hiatus.
My only problem with this episode, and it’s a problem that extends to all three entries in this series, is that there seems to be less detective work here than we’ve become accustomed to. It seems that this series, perhaps considering the passing of the immediate threat that was Moriarty, has decided to add some more humor to the mix; good news for some, not so good for others. I personally liked some of the humor this time around, with Sherlock and John trying to solve a case whilst hammered from the latter’s stag-do and seeing how Sherlock’s alcohol-addled mind works when he’s drunk being especially hilarious. The case in The Empty Hearse that concerns a terrorist plot to bomb London is passable, the case in The Sign of Three which concerns ‘The Mayfly Man’ plays second-fiddle to John and Mary’s wedding, but the case in His Last Vow goes in some seriously dark and interesting areas and I think is one of the best this show has seen. Many didn’t like The Hounds of Baskerville, the second episode in series two, for it’s lack of importance in the larger picture and that’s sort of the same case here; The Sign of Three is more of a character development episode than an episode built around a case. The case is engaging at times but it just lacks the impact of the other two in this series.
The third episode of series one and two was reserved for James Moriarty but since we no longer have the psychopathic consulting criminal it’s down to Charles Magnussen, played by Lars Mikkelsen, to pick up the mantle as this series ‘bad-guy’. At his core Magnussen is a different sort of villain compared to Moriarty. He’s certainly amoral, unsettling, and lacks the empathy and cares of normal people but still… most of us have probably met someone like him in a position of power at some point in our lives. Magnussen is not driven by the chaotic “joker’s energy” that Moriarty was. Moriarty was completely unanchored, there was something completely unhinged and anarchic about him but Magnussen draws more parallels with what we may better recognize and that’s what I think gives him his impact. He might well have the intellect to match Sherlock but that doesn’t mean that he has to run an international criminal cabal, he doesn’t need to have over-the-top plans of world domination, he is the ‘evil’ we can identify with: a media mogul with appalling business practices.
As I mentioned earlier this series only really falls short in the respect that it does not focus on Sherlock and Watson as much as previous series’ have, and for some that may not be so much of a bad thing. As far as I’m concerned the first series of this show was centered around Sherlock Holmes, the second series was centered around Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and now this third series is centered around John Watson and Mary Morstan with Sherlock Holmes in the background. Each episode affects all the characters but more happens to Watson here than anyone else and therefore I’d say this series is his. We see how Watson comes to terms with the return of his friend, see how he overcomes his renewed grief, and see a gripping ‘domestic’ between himself and his new wife Mary; the origins and circumstances of which I really cannot spoil.
The changes in the series’ format and tone wrought by this series: less detective work, more humor and relationships, other characters growing in prominence at the expense of it’s titular protagonist I’m sure will upset some fans. However, I cannot see these issues ‘some’ might have detracting from a show that still has stories to tell and places to go, a show that I’m certain will not lose it’s following any time soon. I hope that series four arrives a lot sooner than the two year gap we had to endure between series two and three, especially considering the rather large cliffhanger we’re left with here.
That’s going to take some explaining Moffat… Let the fan theories begin anew…
So, in summary I’ll list my preference of the episodes.
1. His Last Vow
2. The Empty Hearse
3. The Sign of Three
For the series as a whole… I’d say it meets the standard but doesn’t necessarily exceed it.