By LIA WANG ’16
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
When we last saw Sherlock Holmes, he had just faked his death to thwart his nemesis, Jim Moriarty. After disappearing for two years and leaving his best friend, John Watson, distraught at his supposed death, Sherlock returns to London to face a new threat on the horizon. The critically acclaimed British show has returned with its third series after a two-year hiatus. Its main actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, were working on other projects including “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”
Anticipation for the show ran high, with fan speculation about how Sherlock faked his death circulating on Tumblr and other social media sites well before the third series premiere. When the first episode, “The Empty Hearse,” premiered on BBC One on Jan. 1, more than 9 million British viewers tuned in.
The first episode does not disappoint in terms of fan service, giving viewers what they want with nods to the many different theories about how Sherlock faked his suicide. Social media site Tumblr hosts a large Sherlock fanbase, many of whom enjoy creating their own theories about the show, drawing fan-art and writing fanfiction. It’s an enthusiastic internet community, often cracking jokes and spinning its own ideas about the characters.
The episode starts with a fast-paced reenactment of the suicide scene in which Sherlock channels his inner James Bond, complete with a sexy hair ruffle, and escapes without even dirtying his coat. This opening scene seems like a real, albeit absurd, explanation of his faked death until we see that it’s really the imagination of Anderson, Sherlock’s former colleague and a forensic scientist, getting the better of him.
In accordance with the bizarre opening, many of the events of “Hearse” serve primarily to satisfy the fans who waited so long for this third series. It’s filled with references to earlier episodes and funny interactions between old and new characters. Two more theories about Sherlock’s faked death are introduced in the episode, with one of them being even more ridiculous and Tumblr-esque than the first.
As a huge fan of the show, I was more than appeased by the humor and interactions in the episode, relishing the reactions of Sherlock’s friends as they find out he’s alive. The introduction of Mary, John’s charming fiancée, also adds a fresh new dynamic to the original group of characters.
However, beyond the theorizing and character development, the case plot in the first episode lacks the intensity and depth of previous ones. Of course, the main point is to show that Sherlock is back in business, but I would have liked to see more emphasis on the case as we’re left with a rather unremarkable terrorist plot. The concluding scene of “Hearse” is mysterious and intriguing, but it doesn’t get acknowledged until the latest episode, “His Last Vow.”
The second episode of the third series, “The Sign of Three,” is even more lighthearted than the first episode, focusing on John and Mary’s wedding day. The action of the episode revolves around Sherlock’s best man speech, with quite a hilarious sequence in the middle about John’s stag night. I’ll just say that drunken deductions are the best deductions.
This episode is clearly about the unique and wonderful friendship Sherlock and John have. It showcases their adventures together and emphasizes that while change is on the horizon, their friendship will stay constant. We see Sherlock at his most sentimental, drawing both laughs and tears with his speech.
While the reception is, as expected, interrupted by a classic case of murder, “The Sign of Three” is less about the case and more about the relationships between the characters we’ve come to know and love. It’s a beautiful ode to Sherlock, John and now Mary as well. Although an altogether funny and cheerful episode, “Sign” ends on a foreboding note to set the stage for the last episode of the third series.
If audiences were unimpressed by the lack of heart-pounding action and suspense in the first two episodes, “His Last Vow” makes up for that threefold. Half of the episode will cause you to sit there with “What just happened?” or “I’m so confused,” running through your mind, and the other half will have you biting your nails in anticipation. Maybe you’ll do both at the same time!
“Vow” introduces the main antagonist of series three, Charles Augustus Magnussen, based on the original Doyle villain, Charles Augustus Milverton. A master blackmailer, he’s a villain completely unlike Moriarty, but maybe just as disturbing in a different way. His character is terrifying not in his derangement, but in his complete plausibility as a real person, one we could find in our own society. My only complaint about his character is that he wasn’t introduced earlier than the last episode of the third series besides a brief nod at the end of episode one.
“His Last Vow” is riveting, without a single dull moment. While there are some probable plot holes, the episode is solid overall and overflowing with classic Sherlock references. Many are calling it the best episode yet. The subtle hints in earlier episodes to the events of this one, and the nods to the Sherlock Holmes canon, are great Easter eggs for both casual viewers and hardcore fans. The ending of the series finale is shocking, to say the least, and leaves the viewer slavering for series four. There’s also an extra tidbit in a post-credits scene.
Series three at its core is a study in Sherlock and his relationships with other people. We thought we saw him at his most vulnerable in “The Reichenbach Fall,” but series three truly delves into his intensely human attachments, emotions and sentiments. It looks beyond his self-title of “high-functioning sociopath,” because in reality, he isn’t a sociopath at all. Quite far from it, actually.
Apart from seeing Sherlock’s relationship with John, we see his relationships with Molly, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, Mycroft—one of my personal favorites—and even Anderson evolve. Sherlock adapts to the changes around him and strikes a lovely friendship with Mary. The show becomes less about Sherlock and the dumb people around him and more about the characters as individuals and their lives involving each other.
Series three definitely takes a different turn from series one and two, but it’s refreshing and new. It’s a masterful demonstration of how a miniseries of three episodes every two years can ruin lives but still leave you wanting more. Let the wait for series four begin!