Poor Dr. Watson — just when he thinks he’s finally managed to figure out his best friend Sherlock Holmes, the detective manages to shock him again. In the new three-episode season of the popular BBC series “Sherlock,” which just finished airing in the U.S., the detective has plenty of surprises in store, including coming back from the dead (at least) twice; getting embarrassingly drunk at Watson’s bachelor party; revealing he loves to dance; and announcing he has a girlfriend (surprisingly, just one of these is a ruse in order to help him solve a case).
The third season picks up after the cliffhanger ending in season two, where Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) appears to leap to his death from a rooftop, only to reappear — very much alive — in the final few seconds of the episode. Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) is still grieving over the loss of his best friend, and when Sherlock finally reveals he’s still alive, he reacts with both shock and anger. Sherlock has to regain Watson’s trust as the two try to stop a terrorist plot in London. The other two episodes in the season feature Sherlock solving a case during the middle of Watson’s wedding reception and an expert blackmailer who is harboring secrets that could hurt the people Sherlock values most.
The newest episodes of “Sherlock” mark a slight shift in tone from the show’s previous seasons. While the show has always featured plenty of witty banter between the perfectly cast Cumberbatch and Freeman, there’s quite a bit more humor in the new season, and this season, perhaps more than any of the others, feels like a direct love letter to fans of the show. Some of the best humorous moments include Sherlock expecting Watson to be delighted by his return when he interrupts his friend’s date in a fancy restaurant, but instead Watson tries to strangle him; Sherlock’s awkward and rambling “best man” speech at Watson’s wedding; and Sherlock and his brother Mycroft getting caught smoking by their mother on Christmas, both looking very much like little children getting caught sneaking cookies from the cookie jar.
My favorite moment, however, may have been the opening sequence in the very first episode, which appears to show how Sherlock survived his fall from the rooftop. Sherlock apparently bungee-jumps off the roof, smashes through a glass window “action hero” style, straightens his jacket, kisses his assistant Molly Hooper, and dramatically bursts through a set of double doors. It’s blatantly over-the-top, enough to make fans go “What in the world just happened?” but also just believable enough we’re tricked into thinking it’s real … until the camera cuts away and reveals it’s just Anderson describing one of his theories to Lestrade about how Holmes may have survived the leap from the roof. It was a clever trick, serving as a wink and a nod to fans who have been theorizing about how Holmes really did survive the fall.
Although I did enjoy this season, I have to admit it’s probably my least favorite of the three seasons so far. The performances and character development are great, as always, but the storylines aren’t quite as strong as some of the previous episodes.
(Warning: Major spoilers ahead!)
I did like the concept of the villain in the third episode, “His Last Vow.” Charles Augustus Magnusson (Lars Mikkelsen) is a dangerously brilliant manipulator (Sherlock calls him “the Napoleon of blackmail”), and I loved the unexpected twist where Sherlock discovers Magnusson doesn’t actually keep hard copies of the materials he uses for blackmail. He has a near-perfect memory and stores incriminating details in a mental “vault,” similar to Sherlock’s “mind palace.” However, I wish the writers had introduced this villain sooner and devoted more time to developing the character and building suspense. The storyline involving the true identity of John Watson’s wife Mary — another intriguing twist — also felt a bit rushed and not fully explored.
The season’s ending already has generated some debate — I’m not sure Sherlock shooting Magnusson was completely in character. Although I do believe he would do anything to protect John or Mary, having Sherlock simply shoot Magnusson felt like taking the easy way out, and I would rather have seen Sherlock find a different, more clever way to outwit him. The reappearance — or supposed reappearance — of Moriarty at the very end of the show also raises quite a few questions.
Still, the series remains a delight to watch, thanks to great performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Cumberbatch perfectly captures Sherlock’s manic brilliance, and Freeman’s long-suffering Dr. Watson is an excellent foil for the famous detective. The latest season manages to humanize Sherlock without losing the elusive qualities that make his character so fascinating. While the actors’ increasingly busy schedules can make shooting “Sherlock” a challenge, I hope the BBC won’t make us wait too long to see these characters again.
So, what did you think? Did you like the new season? What are your thoughts on the ending? What do you hope to see from the show next season?