Exactly what was Sherlock, series three?

Image by Flickr user orangebrompton
Image by Flickr user orangebrompton

**The game may be afoot, but so are spoilers, ahead.**

I saw the first series of the BBC drama Sherlock just before the second series was released in 2012, and even then I was skeptical. I had heard of this new, upstart-y version of Holmes and Watson and deduction, but couldn’t, at that point, say that I was very interested. Besides, here in the states Sherlock was advertised only on PBS alongside other Sunday night Masterpiece fare. It’s not that I didn’t care for Masterpeice, it’s just that I’d have rather ended my weekends with something less cerebral like The Simpsons.

Without a doubt, my attitude changed once I saw Sherlock, series one.

Oh ho, what a wit in the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch.  At the risk of hurling what may be perceived an insult but isn’t, he personified the most affected parts of The Big Bang Theory‘s Dr. Sheldon Cooper in the most handsome way possible. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock was funny, dour, and all sorts of kooky. He was incredibly likeable and unlikeable all at once. Add in the fantastic Martin Freeman in the straight man’s role of Dr. John Watson, and TV had itself quite a Sunday night duo. In episodes numbering only three (or six, counting series two), Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were updated and made slick for a modern audience. Yet they reeked of the keen crime-solving that made Sherlock Holmes a hit in the first place. Through Cumberbatch’s fancies, Sherlock’s use of deductive reasoning permeated every facet of his life, from deciding what to eat in the morning to determining criminal motives to finding the criminals themselves. And that reasoning was translated onto the screen through vignettes of words, sights, and sounds that gave viewers glimpses into Sherlock’s mind.

In Sherlock, series one we met Holmes and Watson and discovered how they became a team (of sorts). We learned much about Watson’s war-torn past and  little about Sherlock’s past except that he simply was. Each week, they solved cases and Sherlock eventually met his greatest adversary in Jim Moriarity. The Moriarity storyline continued into series two as did the crime solving. Series two ended on a brilliant cliffhanger which left the audience wondering about the fate of Sherlock Holmes.

And then we waited. We waited almost two years for series three, the final episode of which aired this past Sunday (again, for those of us in the states who chose not to “Internet it”). And what we waited for was not what we…I…expected at all.

“Meta” and “fan fiction” are two instances that I’ve seen used by others in writing about Sherlock, series three.  I can argue with neither because both are quite true. Sherlock, series three was less about crimes and more about people, two people: John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. I liked the story arc about the return of Sherlock, Watson getting married, and the truth about Watson’s new (and so cute!) bride. And it was all done in that very tougue-in-cheek, new Sherlockian way of the previous series, which wa fun enough, but it was all in overdrive.

I don’t want to get too mired in the details (no matter what the devil says) lest that deter anyone from viewing the episodes (and I highly recommend the show generally if you’ve not see it), but suffice to say that those looking for good detective stories will not really find them in series three. Watching the most recent episodes was almost like watching Sherlock as directed by Sherlock Holmes. As if Sherlock’s overpowering ego had picked out all the most awesome things about his deductive reasoning abilities and chose to put them on display.  In Times Square. On New Year’s Eve. With extra fireworks and kisses just because. (i.e. quite unsubtly). The first episode, “The Empty Hearse,” focused almost entirely on Sherlock’s cleverness in deceiving Watson (and all of us) at the end of the series two. In “The Sign of Three,” episode two, we watched as Sherlock interrupted Watson’s wedding with a good twenty-minute showing of his superior brain at work in solving a case. (It might has well have taken up the whole episode, because I don’t recall much else of what happened.) “His Last Vow,” the final episode, seemed to take place almost completely in Sherlock’s mind. Though his purpose was made clear by the end of at all, it didn’t come without an overdrawn and rather loud visit to his proverbial “mind palace.”

In contrast to what I wrote at the beginning of that last paragraph, the devilish details masterfully strung together the entire series in a way I didn’t expect, and thankfully so. As I said, it’s not that I didn’t like series three, but it ran too much in the veins of fan service and cheekiness for me to take seriously, or as seriously as I could take a tall, standoffish sociopath who knows how to “turn off” a bomb yet chooses to let his companion wallow in the throes of a seemingly imminent death until the last second.  So just what was the third series of Sherlock? It was less Sherlock Holmes the brilliant detective and more “Sherlock Holmes” the man in both his best and worst lights.  With series four in a far off place, hopefully with the return of Moriarity as suggested by the end of series three, I’d like to see a return to the detective, shrouded in mystery and delight. We all get how Sherlock’s mind works by now; I’d like to see less of it visualized on screen and and more of him just using it.


Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play and United We Game.

4 thoughts on “Exactly what was Sherlock, series three?”

  1. I totally agree! I thought the first episode was good fun, and the last episode definitely felt a little more like traditional Sherlock because it had a great villain and more of a mystery. But overall, it was a bit of a sappy season, and I’m looking forward to a return to form next series (if that’s what they’re thinking). I’m a big Andrew Scott fan and was super excited to see Moriarty might be coming back!

    1. The Sherlock/Moriarity rivalry is probably one of my most favorite in literature. And I think Andrew Scott’s portrayal of him in Sherlock strikes a great balance between slightly abnormal and downright crazy. Plus, he and Cumberbatch just seem to play so well off each other. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the traditional cat-and-mouse game between them (hopefully)!

  2. My wife and I are still talking about Season Three, mostly that we felt it was the weakest of the series. Your post hits the nail on the head: the third season reeked of fan service and glorification of Sherlock, as opposed to interesting cases and clever whodunnits.

    I was especially put off by the final reveal of Moriarty’s potential return. It means that the slight mystery involving Sherlock’s survival will dissolve and it feels like a total retcon to bring back a fan-favored character.

    1. Well, we’ll have to politely disagree on Moriarity’s potential return, but I see your point. Thinking on that a bit, might it have been better to have present the return of both Sherlock and Moriarity in this series? That could have played even more to fan service, of course, but then we wouldn’t have had to sit through the oddness of what series three turned out to be. Or maybe it would have been even worse? Funny how much tinkering to the Sherlock mythos this show presents — but at least the creators are being creative. I’ll take different over stale any day.

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