Sherlock Season 3 Review

Alright, this is a rather lengthy Sherlock Season 3 review. Clearly I have too much time on my hands and a little bit too much to say. But if this piece is read by at least one person, I’ll know it won’t have been for nothing. Now, where to find a person willing to read this – voluntarily. Let’s get to it shall we?

With its first episode locking in millions of viewers worldwide, I’m afraid Sherlock’s days as an ‘arthouse’ TV show are over. Sherlock premiered its third season on January 1st and never had a British TV show created such a buzz on the web before. No, not even the Doctor can outdo this (sorry Doctor).

The Empty Hearse (based on The Adventure of the Empty House)

Before the episode saw its premiere on January 1st, a 7-minute prequel was released on the web. A prequel that had many dedicated fans sorting through several theories on how Sherlock might have survived. Naturally, the prequel didn’t show any clues, but it sure did heighten the sensation for the long-awaited season and it showed what we had all suspected (and how could it not): Sherlock’s alive. But how did he do it? As we trot along the episode, we are treated to some heavy bungee cord action, Sherlock and Molly locking lips, several theories on how Sherlock could have survived, Sherlock and Moriarty locking lips, a series of entertaining Sherlock / Watson moments (“Does your rub off too?“) as well as a series of entertaining Sherlock / Mycroft moments (“Oh, yes, we meet up every Friday for fish and chips.“). I have to hand it to Mark Gatiss, with his subtle know-it-all smirk, the man has a comical geniality few people possess.

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Moreover, the episode showed Anderson’s ‘Empty Hearse’ fanatics, Watson being kidnapped, a possible new enemy (who is yet to be revealed) and some teary-eyed sequences here and there (you gotta love the bromance on the show). But most of all, the episode introduced us to Watson’s new girlfriend and soon-to-be-wife, Mary. Mary was bound to find her way into the series. In the books she was first introduced in The Sign of Four but I guess Gatiss and Moffat thought this to be a better fit to the story. I actually quite like the Mary we’re introduced with. A sassy, down-to-earth gal who, like Watson, is able to handle the conceited demeanor of Sherlock.

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Of course the episode couldn’t go without solving a little bit of mystery. Sherlock and Watson are sent down the underground and are faced with a bomb near the House of Parliament they have to dismantle. Which they do of course, being Sherlock and all. Now, apart from a couple of mishaps in the second season, I’ve loved the writing so far on all episodes of Sherlock. But by having the bomb dismantled by a mere flick of the off switch is like taking a serious piss at the series’ viewers, isn’t it? It wasn’t necessary for Watson’s confession that he had in fact forgiven Sherlock nor was it necessary for comic relief (we had dealt with that the first part of the episode already). It was lazy writing.

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But was this the episode we had all been waiting for? Yes, the episode was more than worthy of the rather lengthy wait. Naturally the episode had to deal with how Sherlock survived the fall in The Reichenbach Fall and it did so by giving us a legion of theories. But I’m guessing the real theory isn’t even there and will hopefully be dealt with in the third and last (yes, we’re there already) episode of the season. I was so excited about this episode it had me watching it twice in a row. Which few TV episodes can make you do really. It was a great episode, if only for the appearance of Sherlock’s (and Benedict’s real life) parents.

Which brings us to…

The Sign of Three (based on The Sign of Four)

Writers of all TV shows, always should they strive to keep a certain momentum in a show. So far, Sherlock hasn’t disappointed its fans. But in this episode, perhaps the writers went a little wumbly-jumbly.
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The Sign of Three begins with Lestrade relentlessly chasing after a criminal gang. He has been after the gang for years but never has he been able to put them behind bars. When he is on the verge of arresting them finally, a text comes from Baker Street. I had hoped that the lazy writing had stopped after The Empty Hearse and that the text was really going to lead to a bigger case, one involving Sherlock. Instead, we find a lost Sherlock, struggling to write his best man speech. Now where have we seen this type of comical relief before. Right – season one. I hate it when writers go on the repetitive route. But we don’t mind, do we? At least not nearly as much as we should. Because this is the episode where it all is going to happen: Watson is getting married.

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Naturally, when Sherlock attends a wedding, you can’t expect a regular wedding, especially not when Sherlock is the ‘mate of honor’. Deciding that his best man’s speech should include anecdotes of Watson, Sherlock recounts two of his unresolved cases “The Bloody Guardsman” and “The Mayfly Man”. Whilst giving the speech, Sherlock realizes the two cases are tied together and are about to be concluded at the wedding. After a dreadfully long first half of the episode, which had no point other than to showcase that Sherlock is and can be a funny TV show, I couldn’t help but think that this is the end of Sherlock as we know it. Sherlock does not struggle with petty things; he does not know emotion or sympathy. In fact, Sherlock does not do ‘human’, at all. He is the insufferable, almighty detective who stands above all else. It is therefore surprising that the writers have taken on this road for our protagonist. It seemed out of place and felt awfully contrived.

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When all writers (Gatiss, Moffat and Thompson) step in to write an episode, you expect it can only get better. But maybe therein lied the problem – there were too many choices at hand and too few actually made. Aside from a welcome reappearance of Sherlock’s “One”, another amusing play at Watson’s middle name (waddup Hamish), we are given an episode full of dull sequences leading up to nothing but one ‘great’ reveal of – a baby. Let’s just hope the writers will make up for it in the last episode.

Which leaves us here, at the final episode already:

His Last Vow (based on His Last Bow)

As swiftly as the sweet sensation comes when the first episode of Sherlock is out, so is the sorrow when we are left with the final episode of yet another season of one of the most exciting shows on television these days.

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Like its preceding episodes, His Last Vow consists of many stories, none of which matter but one: Magnussen – we finally meet. In The Empty Hearse, we already saw the spectacled man waiting for his first encounter with our detective. It only took him so long to make his first appearance. Charles Augustus Magnussen – played by an incredible Lars Mikkelsen (yes, brother of, did you see that jaw line?) – is a sadistic newspaper proprietor with a rather unusual love for blackmailing. Magnussen refuses to enter into negotiations over stolen letters Sherlock is trying to retrieve for his client. When Sherlock manages to get into Magnussen’s empire, we see Magnussen held at gun point. And the one holding the gun is none other than our beloved – hold for it – Mary.

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Ah yes, you had been suspecting it all along hadn’t you? Bets have been going on online for weeks, people have been throwing in conspiracy theories here and there. But as with a lot of things in life, things aren’t as bad as it looks. We learn that Magnussen holds something over Mary, driving her to this edge. Sherlock is hit with a bullet in the chest and we are given another magnificent ‘freeze frame’ extract where Sherlock does his usual bit, finding an answer in his ‘mind palace’ (is anyone sick of hearing this term yet?). With the chaos that has been going on in the previous episodes, seeing this scene is quite a relief. The only episode where this type of editing was done successfully, was in A Scandal in Belgravia (the best Sherlock episode to date) but it fit here perfectly as well.

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There were some good things in this episode (an appearance of our favorite villain Moriarty and Mycroft, who is always the best part of the episodes). But story-wise, this was another poor episode. Magnussen could have been another epic enemy for Sherlock. It was certainly built up that way this season. Instead, the villain is taken down by a simple shot in the head. Just like that. No explanation other than to ‘save Mary’. Sherlock is, of course, not thrown into jail for this. No, there are always ways to bring back Sherlock. And Mary – let’s say we forgive the writers as we love Mary’s character so much.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t not enjoy this season of Sherlock, at least not the way that I used to. I enjoyed having Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back on the screen, sure, but the episodes weren’t Sherlock worthy. All through the season there was a lack of story, a lack of grandiosity that we thrived for in previous seasons and a lack of personality. The show seemed to have lost its touch. And what really made this an odd season, was the fact that the writers chose to confront us with Sherlock and Watson’s bromance every fifteen minutes. We get it – Sherlock loves likes Watson. We’ve known it since season one when it was still a subtle notion. What really lacked though this season, and what makes every show good – and I do mean every show – is an arch enemy. An antagonist who haunts the character and challenges the worst out of him (and in the perfect scenario, vice versa). I had hoped that Magnussen would be that enemy this season. This all leads me to my conclusion that they never should have killed off Moriarty. Not this soon anyway. But then again, I suspect we’ll be seeing more of him again next season, won’t we?

  • Padma Rao

    Brilliant. This needed to be said. I loved season 1, liked season 2 and am yawning through season 3. What a pity.

    • Hi Padma, I know! What did you think of the Christmas episode last year?

      • Padma Rao

        Unbeareably mushy. I don’t want to see Sherlock like that. I hate Watson being married. And Mycroft going soft on his brother is barfworthy. If Season 1 relied on good, old-fashioned story-telling with a bit of technology thrown in for fun, the writer and director of Season 2 seem to have switched on all cinematography / animation gizmos and -gone for a pint.

        • I agree! There was a Christmas special that came out last year (though not marked as being part of a season). I thought it was only marginally better than the previous episodes but season 1 still remains the best imo!