Monday 10 February 2014

Verdict: Sherlock Series 3

This post contains mild spoilers for Series 3 of Sherlock. You have been warned.

After two long years of waiting, BBC's Sherlock returned to our screens a few weeks back. With the sew-totally-hot-right-now Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular world's greatest detective and Bilbo Baggins (a.k.a Martin Freeman) as Dr. John Watson, the three-part third series continues to exemplify the true meaning of the phrase 'quality over quantity'.

Following on from THAT cliffhanger in 'The Reichenbach Fall', Series 3 doesn't dare pause for breath across the three 90-minute episodes. Each episode is a hectic, witty and intelligent mystery punctuated with some of the best character drama on television.

The Empty Hearse - 6.5/10

The weight of expectation was resting upon 'The Empty Hearse' from the moment the credits began to roll on Sherlock's heart-pounding Series 2 finale; just how did Sherlock survive the fall from the hospital rooftop? We all saw him jump, plain as day, several storeys onto concrete and yet he lived. Surely, there was no way that Moffat and Gatiss could write they're way out of this one.

In a sense, they didn't have to. What's the best way to solve a mystery of that size? You don't. You give the audience a series of plausible (and some not so plausible) explanations and let them make up their own mind. 

Some may find that side-step a little frustrating but at the end of the day, what else did you expect? The solution was always going to be that simple, lest the audience get utterly lost beneath the weight of explanation. I thought it was okay, but needless to say the resolution was never going to be as good as the cliffhanger itself.

Anyway, onto other aspects of the episode. Martin Freeman was, in my eyes, the best thing in 'The Empty Hearse'. His performance upon Watson meeting Holmes for the first time in two years was nothing short of masterful. It was so quietly choked and indescribably painful. Then came the croaking anger and disbelief. To balance such extremes of emotion was fantastic acting from Freeman. 

Underneath the cliffhanger explanation, there was the bare bones of a terror plot brewing in London. Something that bugged me about the episode was that this story felt so half-baked and thrown together to actually provide the necessary form of mystery in a 90-minute episode of Sherlock. It was possibly the weakest 'mystery' the show had put together, in my opinion. 

The episode lacked a sense of focus as a result of both trying to tie up loose ends, and move the forward on and 'introduce' the next big villain. If showing a pair of eyes is classed as introducing a villain.

Cumberbatch was great, once again as Sherlock Holmes and both the lead characters are consistently written to a tee. Likewise, Molly, Mycroft and Le Strade are all brilliantly written and acted.

The Sign of Three - 9/10

I thought 'The Sign of Three' was a huge improvement over the previous episode; with the shows status quo restored, this middle episode was a lot more playful and fun than the show has ever been before.

With Watson and Mary getting married, it is up to Sherlock to face his biggest challenge yet; giving the best man speech. Cleverly, Moffat and Gatiss centred the majority of this 90-minute around exactly that; the speech.

Through a series of anecdotes and stories of past cases, Sherlock comes to realise that there is a bigger mystery afoot, one that centres around the wedding itself. The is a murder on the way, with John's wedding the staging ground. It is now up to Sherlock to figure all this out - whilst, at the same time, still giving the best man's speech.

Something that I really liked about this episode was the way in which the story immersed you into Sherlock's thought-process (or mind-palace), in this instance, a Parliament-style room. It was snappy, well-written and visually-impressive. Something that also stood out for me was the brilliant framing and editing; one particular phone conversation between Sherlock and Mycroft worked really well, as did a couple of snazzy scene transition. It was all very fluid and slick - as were the snapshot shots of John and Mary getting their wedding photo taken.

Much like Dan Harmon has done to great effect on Community in the past, this episode of Sherlock went over past cases and stories that we, the audience, have yet to see. By showing cases like "The Bloody Guardsman" and "The Mayfly Man" (as well as smaller comic ones like "The Elephant in the Room", "The Poisonous Giant"), all the pieces of the puzzle cleverly came together in a way that wasn't too hard to follow.

I also thought that this was one of the most heartfelt episodes of Sherlock that has been written; Sherlock's speech (whilst cringe-inducing at times) was also very touching and allowed for substantial characterisation between both him and John.

His Last Vow - 8/10

'His Last Vow', the final episode in Series 3 of Sherlock, was a thrilling and intricate web.

The scenes set within Sherlock's mind-palace were once again a true highlight of the episode - as Sherlock fought to stay conscious after being shot, he delves deep into his mind to, not just protect himself, but protect John.

Like the episode before it, the central premise of this episode is exploring the complex, but somehow straight-forward, relationship that John and Sherlock share. Despite John getting married, the two old friends have grown a lot closer this series.

Except, it wasn't quite the helter-skelter finale that I'd been hoping for. Sure, all the twists and turns involving Mary's real identity and Magnussen's plan on blackmailing her made for a wholly entertaining episode that kept me guessing, but it didn't leave me breathless in the same way that the previous series had done.

I found the ending, where Sherlock shoots and kills Magnussen, was simply too easy and, well, anti-climactic. Sure, it made sense within the world of the show and was the only logical way out of the situation, but it just gave me the impression that Moffat had written himself into a corner and needed a quick fix.

Indeed, the final sting where Sherlock is 'deported' to Eastern Europe before being swung back around after a matter of minutes to deal with *ahem* Moriarty effectively cancels out the dramatic events pretty much straight-away. Everything up until then had been pretty much perfect; the set-up, the execution, the twists and turns. The mystery was the best of the series. So yes, whilst the Moriarty twist is undoubtedly exciting, in writing himself out of a dilemma, Moffat completely deflated the climax of 'His Last Vow'.

Final Thoughts - 7.8/10

Sherlock Series 3 has been a lot more mismatched and uneven than the second. Every episode of the second series was near enough perfect, with well-balanced characterisation, humour and action. This time around, Sherlock has found itself drifting too far into fan service and character-focused stories, than focusing on the complex mysteries that has made the show near-perfect in the past.

The writing is still superb (of both Sherlock and Watson) but the real mystery and tension that gripped me before wasn't up to scratch this time around. The acting - spot-on, especially from Martin Freeman. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a negative review; Sherlock is still ten times better than any hum-drum US police procedural *cough* Elementary *cough*. Keep up the good work Beeb.

What did you think of Sherlock Series 3? Let me know by commenting below! 

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