By Andrew Williams
August 7, 2014
Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).
Now, this is a story all about how… Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) has finally moved past his grief after Sherlock’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) apparently fatal plunge off a building at the end of the second season, and is about to get married to the lovely Mary (Amanda Abbington)… just in time for Sherlock to come back from the grave.
Happy days? It’s an indisputable fact about magic tricks that finding out the secret behind them is inevitably disappointing. The illusion is spellbinding; the reality is mundane. So when Sherlock Holmes performed one of the most difficult magic tricks ever – faking his own death – the fan salivation over finding out how he’d done it grew to cacophonous levels in the years between Season 2 and Season 3, and providing a satisfying answer to the mystery would become nigh on impossible. Sure enough, the way writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss get around this particular problem doesn’t really satisfy: the reality is mundane, because most reality is.
The conclusion of that mystery aside, this is Sherlock at its level best. What’s new (and welcome) is the unexpected addition of heart for a show that was previously more concerned with the brain. Narrative complexity has always been Sherlock’s strong suit, but the writers and actors show they’ve quite a way with emotional complexity as well. For a character as traditionally irascible as Sherlock Holmes to deliver a best man speech that will bring a tear to your eye while feeling entirely in step with what we know about the character is a massive achievement.
The final frontier: Spellbinding, mind-bending and heart-rending, Sherlock Season Three is slightly less of a triumph than the first two seasons, but a triumph nonetheless.
Best episode: 3) His Last Vow. Heart may have had a look-in but brain is still king in the world of Sherlock, as this more traditional episode proves: a thrilling and hilarious battle of wits between Sherlock Holmes and Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) ends in a remarkable dénouement (and an appetizing last-minute twist).
Worst episode: 1) The Empty Hearse. A fairly simple case of a show biting off far more than it can chew, as Gatiss and Moffat try to solve their unsolvable mystery by choosing to… not really solve it. You can argue about the interesting commentary it provides on our thirst for answers in an age of questions, or you can dismiss it as a cheap and easy way out. Either way it doesn’t make for an especially satisfying thread. The rest of the episode is great, though.
Season MVP: I am constantly in awe of the subtle power of Martin Freeman. He was the emotional centre of The Office without doing much more than rolling his eyes, he gives the Hobbit movies a gravity they don’t have the mass of meaning to deserve, and he’s constantly brilliant here. Watch his reaction when he discovers Sherlock is alive, or his small, silent acting when Sherlock delivers his best man toast. If he isn’t the best actor on the planet, he’s certainly the best reactor.
Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:
Sherlock is available on Quickflix.