As you are (hopefully) aware – BBC’s SHERLOCK, season 3 debuted last evening on PBS’s Materpiece Mystery rounding out what is proving to be one of the best Sunday battles-for-your-TV-attention in a while (with PBS rolling out Downton Abbey too, Fox debuting season 2 opener of The Following the same evening, and HBO going strong with True Detective, GIRLS and now Looking, all of which-worry not, we will be recapping later in the day).
It has been 2 years since Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman hung-around 221B Baker street, allowing the two leads to become two of the busiest actors in the world right now (what with The Hobbit, Star Trek and everything in between) and with the season 2 ending with that cliffhanger, needless to say-the expectations were high, the tensions higher, and the chance for disappointment the highest. After all, what started as a reasonably-anticipated show full of quirks and fast-paced, elliptical storytelling was now one of the most anticipated season debuts in recent history, with the two leads being the faces of some of the more iconic characters ever committed to the screen, and a big, fat, heartbreaking gap left in the hearts of its loyal and new fans.
Was the pressure going to prove too much? Would they pull it off? Could they pull it off?
The answer, of course, is: OF COURSE THEY DID.
The episode, aptly called “The Empty Hearse” – opens with a play on WHAT-COULD-HAVE-POSSIBLY-HAPPENED-TO-SHERLOCK, as shared by Jonathan Aris’s Anderson, the pathologist who was forever-at-odds with our heroes, and who has spent the last two years in the same way as many other Sherlock obsessives have – trying to figure out where the hell did that man go.
In fact, it seems that most people somehow never quite bought the fact that Sherlock died, though those people do not include Dr. John Watson and Inspector Lestrade. Sherlock, of course, is alive, if not quite well, hanging out in caves and being tortured by Serbians on his little mental break (typical). Mycroft, having picked up Serbian in just a few hours (“You’re losing your edge”, Sherlock notes when his brother humblebrags about it) shows up, forces a nice, clean shave on him and sends him packing back to London, where some sort of a terrorist attack is about to erupt, any good ole second now.
Sherlock, on account of his charming borderline – Asperger personality, naturally thinks he can just waltz back into everyone’s lives, pretend the last two years of questioning and mourning were just a slight detour not even worth discussing, and get on with his life. Which is, well, just SO Sherlock.
Watson, in the meantime, has (sort of) just barely gotten his life together post his friend’s death. He has moved out of Baker Street and cut all contact with poor Mrs. Hudson, is sporting a (questionable) mustache, has opened a (decidedly unthrilling) medical practice and is about to propose to a perfectly lovely woman that works for him in a very fancy restaurant when Sherlock shows up. Naturally, trying to make a joke out of it to boot. There are loopy accents, cheesy disguises and a healthy amount of complete blindness to his emotional surroundings involved (for a man who prides himself of being able to ready everyone’s intentions, Sherlock certainly had some issues picking up on all the obvious proposal dinner signs floating around Watson and Mary.)
Once that first interaction happens – in a flurry of disbelief, perfect editing, anger, happiness, and mustache assessments, we the viewer knew we had our boys back. They just needed to spend a few more minutes of screen time bickering about it all before they caved and someone had to save someone from being burned alive or something, so we could all get on with solving this pending terrorist attack.
For true blue Sherlock episode fans, the prolonged prologue to the actual crime solving may be both a blessing and a curse, depending which camp you belong to. Certainly, it is necessary, and amusing too (Dr. Molly Hooper stepping in for the still-mad Watson on some of the minor, conditioning training puzzles Sherlock takes on is a funny, slapsticky-rom-com detour, and Sherlock’s parents cameo allows yet another puzzle piece to be filled in on his origins story.) but it does eat up precious time in terms of being able to set up a nice, meaty crime for them to solve. The terrorist attack is there almost as window dressing, solved relatively quickly and with the help of a chubby train operator with a fuzzy hat, and mainly serves as a platform for Sherlock and Watson to finally have a reconciliation of sorts (though with Sherlock still maintaining the upper hand) and what you think those first 27 minutes were for, turns out it needed a full 90 of those to get them back on track. You almost hope that BBC would have decided that because of this we deserved 4 and not 3 episodes this season, one to set things up, and then three fun, mind-fucky cases for our protagonists and us to sink our teeth in.
Having said that – this was still the best 90 minutes I’ve spent watching ANYTHING of late (and as the upcoming TV recaps today will show, I’ve been watching A LOT of things of late). The quality is just above and beyond. That feels like such a trite little sentence to type, but it is true. Nowhere is acting this sharp yet effortless, editing so precise yet loose-enough feeling, plotting so gleeful, and dialogue so sparkling. NOWHERE. One gets so into the rhythm and swing of things, the 90 minutes fly by in no time, all clues neatly placed together, all relationships left with just enough question marks opens and one cannot wait for the next 90 minutes we get to hang out with these people.
The “what happens next” clip was a fun one too – sort of a One Wedding and Four Funerals rom-murder-com vibe, with fingers being crossed the brain gets as much exercise as the heart next week.
How was it for YOU?