After quite a long hiatus, Sherlock fans have been treated to quite a whirlwind of a series in the past week and a half. The whole thing was excellent, but a few things in particular stood out for me in the three 2014 episodes. First, Martin Freeman is at the absolute top of his game here. All of the ensemble cast gave an excellent performance, but Freeman’s emotional delivery, especially during the big “Not Dead” reveal of “The Empty Hearse” and following another (discussed in the spoilers section below the cut) shocking reveal about Watson’s wife in “His Last Vow,” was stunning in its realism and ability to capture the complicated emotional landscape of an outwardly-reticent character. Second, I have to applaud the show runners and all the writers involved for a show that continues to grow and explore new ground as plots develop. The grand finale and explanation of the Reichenbach Fall could have been a flash in the pan, allowing the show to fizzle once the #sherlocklives fervor died out, but instead we’re treated to continued excitement and experimentation in the way the show is presented to its audience.
Finally, I was impressed by the way Series Three was filmed and how the cinematography lined up so beautifully with the plots (often within plots within plots). From Series One, Sherlock has relied on a certain degree of gimmickery to illustrate the mad genius’s workflow and the rhetorical device of the mind palace. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it falls flat. In this series, the gimmicks weren’t completely lost, but the way the mind palace was used to film Sherlock’s internal processes served a useful purpose in giving us some insight into his emotional landscape. I finished “The Empty Hearse” cursing at my television for a regressed Sherlock who seemed even worse than he had been pre-hiatus, but the show didn’t lose me as “Signs of Three” and “His Last Vow” dug a little more into Sherlock’s past and his relationship with Mycroft. Cinematography was also a useful tool in organizing plots as the writers played fast and loose with timelines and in generally framing relationships in the show, from an iconic park bench scene with Sherlock and Watson strongly differentiated by height to the amusing split of Mary giving both men a cheeky “thumbs up” inside 221B. Even the evolution of the flat’s appearance throughout the series plays a sort of supporting role as Sherlock navigates the shifting ground of his relationships with John and Mary.
Warning: the rest of this review contains spoilers for all of Series Three. Proceed below the cut at your own risk!
Before the series aired, there was at least a fair amount of play given to the idea of Charles Augustus Magnussen as an emerging villain to frame Series Three as Moriarty had done previously. And indeed, Lars Mikkelsen gave a brilliant performance with the incredibly creepy blackmailer in “His Last Vow.” But Magnussen’s villain was less a framing element of the series than Mary Morstan, a character I just cannot contain myself in adoring.
Those of us who eagerly went back to read the word cloud of deductions surrounding Mary’s head during her first conversation with Sherlock had a hint of her complicated role with the fleeting burst of the word “liar” repeated around the screen. But I expected something a little more sad and a little less empowered, so it was nice to see the reveal of Mary’s past in an intelligence service (and presumably as a not-so-moral contract assassin later on), something that seems quite consistent with her character. I love the way the writers used Mary and Sherlock together both to develop John’s character and to reveal some of Sherlock’s more human side throughout the series. She’s clearly a cheerleader for the show’s central friendship, but you also can’t quite imagine a more perfect companion for the troubled doctor-soldier and danger addict. Maybe it’s almost too perfect, and a little unlikely, but for my money I don’t mind. John’s line, “The problems of your past are your business, the problems of your future are my privilege” is one of the most lovely and honest encapsulations of romantic love I’ve seen on television. And I’m happy to see that such a strong and complex female character will be continuing on, at least into Series Four, with our bromance-stricken heroes.
Though it was perhaps a bit heavy-handed, I did appreciate seeing more of the brotherly Holmes relationship in this series. There is obviously plenty more to explore, from their childhood with surprisingly normal parents to Mycroft’s throwaway line about a third brother (or sister, if they decide to deviate from the stories again). I would love to see more of Mycroft’s own individual story in Series Four, given all the hints we saw here. One also wishes it were possible for Mycroft and DI Lestrade to end up together, given their respective storylines. I know you can’t go quite that far off canon and get away with it, but I have to think Mark Gatiss wouldn’t mind snogging Rupert Graves a bit for the camera! Even a gay or bisexual Mycroft in general would be quite believeable and an interesting addition to the show, I think.
Finally, I suppose no review of this Sherlock series would be complete without a bit of speculation on the final mid-credits appearance of a message from Jim Moriarty. Is he coming back? It seems highly implausible, but Andrew Scott’s portrayal was so amazing and nuanced that I wouldn’t put it past the writers to come up with something interesting to do with him–twin brother, perhaps? There are certainly a number of options, from some familial relation to the Irish PA Janine to something to do with Richard Brook to a minion executing an elaborate post-mortem plan. I can’t be the only one who was a little bummed when Lord Moran wasn’t Moriarty’s right-hand sniper in this incarnation, so it would be pretty cool if he was somehow reinvented in the next series. I suppose that until then, we can all hold hands as a fandom and remember Rule Number One: Moffat lies.