Sherlock is a show that is extremely good, and it knows that people think it’s extremely good, and is just furiously masturbating to the idea that people think it’s extremely good. And you know, I get it if everyone is like “Does it have to do that with all of us watching?” and tune out. The frankly ludicrous fourth season saw a massive drop in ratings and critical acclaim, and the customer is never wrong, but I was riveted to the end. How much more theatrical would the show get? How much more logic would it jettison for the sake of momentarily satisfying clever reveals? I think the series is a blast from beginning to end, from the high calibre procedural cases of the beginning to the dazzling yet empty pageantry of the end. But Season 3 is right in the sweet spot.
It’s three episodes with just one unifying thread; John Watson is getting married, so we might as well do some quickie reviews.
“The Empty Hearse” – The least good of the three, mainly because it’s overdirected to with an inch of its life. But all the whizzing cameras and flashes of onscreen text are only a minor distraction from the story of Sherlock returning after a two year absence and finding that his world isn’t quite how he left it. The episode plays with fan service in an interesting way too, constantly giving you what you want (Sherlock and Molly on a “date,” the reunion with Watson, the various explanations for Sherlock’s survival) and twists them into something more playful, or something darker and more dramatic. The episode winds up feeling like a celebration of all things Sherlock, with the actual case being totally secondary. But what, you tune into Sherlock to see someone solving mysteries? You do? Well that’s your problem frankly.
“The Sign of Three” – One of the best episodes of the entire run, structured entirely around Sherlock having to give the best man speech at Watson’s wedding. For one of the first times the show goes for outright sentimentality and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. A light hearted ninety minutes with next to zero connections to the show’s darker elements, “The Sign of Three” is a wonderful change of pace.
“His Last Vow” – The least flashy of the three episodes, the script for this one is so great that it doesn’t need to be tarted up with a lot of directorial flourishes. Telling the story of the Baker Boys going up against a newspaper baron with compromising material on everyone of significance, it’s a winding story of unforgettable revelations and sequences, this is the very best Sherlock can be. Not a dull moment in these ninety minutes.
If I Had to Nitpick…: The second season finale ”The Reichenbach Falls” is my favourite episode, just for how masterful the plan against Sherlock was and just how behind the curve he was going up against Moriarty. The third season premiere tells us that he’d been playing along the whole time to get more information. Maybe he’s lying, maybe it’s a retcon, maybe it was always the plan, but I worry it takes a little something away from that episode.
Honorable Mentions: I love Season 2 as well. In addition to the finale, “The Hounds of Baskerville” was truly creepy.