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Sherlock – Season 3 Review: Solving Cases, Being Besties

Sherlock is dead. Jumped from the roof of a tall building while his best friend looked on, all in an attempt to stop assassins waiting to murder those closest to him should he leave that rooftop alive. Except none of that is really what happened, because this is Sherlock we’re talking about, and he wasn’t going to let a criminal mastermind’s international ring of killers, mobsters, and corrupt officials outsmart him. And so, he fools the world, leaving his best friend mistakenly grieving at an empty grave, because he’s also a bit of an asshole.

That was where Season 2 left us, and it left fans anxiously awaiting (too long, I might add, as both its stars have been very busy as of late) the return of the show in its very odd, 3 episodes of 90 minutes each season (or series, because the show is British). And Season 3 did pick up right where 2 left off, in story if not in actual time. Really, two full years have passed when the first episode (The Empty Hearse) begins. Watson (Martin Freeman) has moved on and is about to propose to his affable yet sarcastic girlfriend, while Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) is being tortured in one of the lesser Slavic countries after eliminating the last of Moriarty’s crime cells. Good timing too, as his brother Mycroft shows up to recruit him to suss out a terrorist plot. To be honest, the episode wasn’t really about that plot so much as it was Sherlock’s return in general. How he did it, why he did it, and most importantly, what affect it has had on Watson. The reveal and eventual reconciliation of the two is played perfectly, with Sherlock’s bumbling social skills (which would have been sorely needed in a situation like this) clashing with Watson’s hardheadedness and deep hurt at being deceived. These actors have only become more brilliant at these roles, and their scenes together seem to grow right along with the characters’ relationship.

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The second episode (The Sign of Three) focuses almost entirely on Watson’s wedding and Sherlock’s difficulties with all the social trappings of being a best man. I was initially very pessimistic about the episode; I imagined it would be sappy and self-congratulatory, and in a lot of ways I was right, but it was those things in just the right ways. This episode, despite taking place at Watson’s wedding, was actually a big love letter to the friendship between our two main characters. The show really revels in this relationship, making us believe that these two are the best friends the other is ever likely to have, that they respect each other over anyone else, and that either would readily die for the other. This episode also did a wonderful job of establishing Watson’s wife, Mary (who I had already really liked from her introduction in the first episode) as not only a real part of their team, but just a great character and addition to the show in general. There was also something in there about phantom stabbings in the military, but that wasn’t terribly important.

The final episode (His Last Vow) centers on the introduction and exploits of a new villain, Magnussen, a master blackmailer with a seemingly endless supply of information and the expressed goal of blackmailing absolutely everybody. He’s a great villain, a schoolyard bully who uses his immense knowledge base to possess and debase people, showing his dominance over them in ways both primal, petty, and quite often pretty gross. Except that the focus isn’t really him at all. A pretty crazy twist drives things back to the basic relationships, and the show spends more of its time there than with the bad guy. Yes, it all ties together, in a pretty neat way actually (and also features probably the best and most intense use of the “Mind Palace” concept,) but the show this season is explicitly interested in its characters first, and its stories second. Thank God, then, that the characters are all so damned entertaining.

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BFFs – I love how despite how much there is going in this show, the core of the show is still the friendship between Sherlock and Watson. In this season especially, a huge focus was put on the dynamic between the two men, wanting to explore what they get from each other, and what it is that draws them together. Sherlock should be pretty unlikable to most; he’s honest to the point of insulting (except when he’s blatantly lying,) brash, scatterbrained, and generally bad at carrying on conversations. But Watson’s obstinance, loyalty, empathy, and extreme curiosity make him the perfect partner. If there ever was a bromance worth celebrating, it’s this one.

Mary – It’s for the above reason specifically that I was very hesitant about Mary coming on to the scene. Her character could have so easily been a wet blanket; possessive of Watson, disapproving of Sherlock, trying to get Watson away from the dangers, and that would have all been incredibly cliche and dull. But, as it turns out, she was about as diametrically opposite to that as possible. Charming, unflappable, and clever, she almost immediately becomes one of the gang, and her rapport with both Watson and Sherlock is spot on. Even when her character’s position with the group changes, she remains a great character. An interesting side note; her charisma with Watson may have something to do with the fact she is played by Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s real-life partner.

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Middling Mysteries – For as much focus as the show put on its characters and relationships, it had to take that time away from something, and in this case, that’s the actual mysteries. First is the terrorist attack, which is fairly dull and very little focus is given to it. The second mystery, of the invisible stabbing of one of the Queen’s Guard, works better, but is more of a framework used to progress the story of the wedding and is used, once again, to further the relationships more than anything. Finally, the Magnussen story is pretty solid, but its best twist is only tangentially even related to the main mystery.  None of it is bad per se, but most of it feels underutilized and ultimately just not that important.

Final Resolutions – The last few minutes of the season were a bit of a mess. Basically a series of twists, the first was the solution to the mystery, which was fine, though it was a bit of a bummer how lost Sherlock looked during the whole thing. What followed was another, more egregious turn, an act that felt desperate and out of character. Finally, yet another twist undoes most of the impact of the previous twist from four minutes earlier, and introduces another, returning plot that I wish had stayed gone. Certainly, we aren’t left in as nearly an interesting place as at the end of the last season, but granted, not much could have matched that.

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Season 3 has probably been the most cohesive of Sherlock to date, with all of the episodes feeling like a part of the greater whole. It’s also been one of the most consistently funny and entertaining. You know what, I’ll just say it, this has been my favorite season of Sherlock yet, with the personality, wit, and sheer charisma on display being fully engrossing. Here’s hoping Season 4 can live up to the raised bar.