Mystery Weekend

When Sherlock is winkingly self-satisfied, it can be marvelously entertaining. When Sherlock is winkingly self-satisfied, it can be kind of obnoxious. With so much time between each season, fans of the show have had nothing to do but exchange idle speculation after Sherlock's supposed death in Season 2. The showrunners took one look at all the silly internet chatter about Sherlock and Watson's homoerotic bromance, and the increasingly outlandish theories about how Sherlock's death was faked, and thought, "Huh. How about we write a bunch of meta-commentary fan-service scenes that addresses all the media hysteria about this show? That'll be fun!"

And indeed it would have been, had they been able to control themselves. But unfortunately, there's just too much audience nudging, making the third season of Sherlock more about Sherlock than Sherlock. That's not to say the season was terrible; it was actually pretty decent. It just wasn't up to the standard of what I know this show can accomplish.

"The Empty Hearse"

The season opener had to get all the players back into their starting positions. That necessity is probably why of all three episodes, this is the most problematic one. After faking his death, Sherlock has been working for Mycroft as an underground agent. He has been exonerated of the criminal charges leveled against him (charges that I had forgotten all about and had to look up), and is busy trying to dismantle Moriarty's criminal network, and to ferret out the details of a suspected terrorist attack. For no particular reason, Sherlock is allowed to return to public life, which means he can reunite with Watson. Of all the ways he could do so, he chooses dressing up as a snooty French waiter and intruding on the romantic dinner Watson has planned to propose to his girlfriend Mary (Martin Freeman's real-life partner, Amanda Abbington). Sherlock has never had a functioning sense of humor, so dressing up what should be an emotional reunion as a tacky joke was a letdown. Things get more exciting when a shadowy figure arranges for Watson's kidnapping and entombs him under a pyre that is about to be lit. Sherlock and Mary save him, then move on to the terrorist plot; a bomb planted under Parliament. This, too, is eventually treated as a colossal joke. While I was happy to see the show return, and Mary is a welcome addition who blends in shockingly well, this episode was bursting to the seams with meta in-jokes and no-homo jibes that sadly bring the whole enterprise down.

"The Sign of Three"

Six months have passed, and the day has come for Watson and Mary's wedding. The episode centers on this event, which pins two baffling mysteries together and ties it all together with Sherlock's toast at the reception. This was a much better episode, for several reasons. The show dropped a lot of the meta conceits and focused on what people liked about Sherlock in the first place. Sherlock attempts to give the stirring speech his friend deserves, is paired off with an amusingly game bridesmaid, who finds his quirks endearing rather than off-putting, and manages to solve both mysteries while standing in front of a rapt crowd of wedding well-wishers. What really makes the episode crackle is a fascinating scene of one of Sherlock's mind palace fantasies, in which he is interacting via internet with a group of women who claim to have dated a "ghost" (a man who vanishes afterwards without a trace). The way this is filmed was incredible, picturing the women as witnesses in a courtroom, and makes what could have been a boring segment of a character typing into the highlight of the episode.

"His Last Vow"

More time has passed. Sherlock is kicking back in a heroin den (claiming that he's undercover), and Mary is now swollen with pregnancy. The home fires don't burn happily for long, though, because Mary has A Past. Normally, that would mean she did drugs or slept around. Not here! Sherlock cleans up and rejoins Watson in an effort to combat the powerful blackmailer Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen). Sherlock's flirtation with Mary's bridesmaid is revealed to be a ruse when it turns out she is Magnussen's assistant, and that Sherlock is merely using her. The surprises keep stacking up when Sherlock reaches Magnussen, only to discover Mary holding a gun on him. She actually used to be a spy and assassin, and there are some very clever flashbacks to the previous two episodes that depict subtle clues about her backstory. Magnussen is blackmailing her, too, and she winds up shooting Sherlock, leading to another remarkable Mind Palace sequence. In this one, he is talking to himself in the few moments after the bullet enters to work out the best way to stay alive. His pure intelligence is what pulls him through, and also what allows him to realize that Mary must have missed hitting a fatal spot on purpose. From there the story dovetails into her efforts to repair her relationship with Watson and Sherlock's pursuit of Magnussen, who was responsible for Watson's kidnapping in "The Empty Hearse". The episode is great right up until the final few scenes, in which Sherlock out-and-out murders Magnussen, which is out of character (after an idiotic confession by Magnussen, which is also out of character). The police have no option but to arrest Sherlock, whose debt to society is wiped out five seconds later when the entire British television feed is taken up by a message from the supposedly-dead Moriarty.

And that's it! Now we must patiently wait another year to find out what happens next. Whatever the pop culture chatter is surrounding this show in the months between now and then, let's just hope the showrunners can focus more on what they think Sherlock will do next season, rather than what CumberBitch23 thinks.

Sherlock - Season 3: B-


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