After a delay of a couple of years, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in Series 3 of the BBC's Sherlock. The show is still visually striking, exceptionally well written, and expertly executed. They've moved away significantly from the mystery of the week type format, into much more standard drama territory, with plenty of quirkiness and murder thrown in.
At the end of Series 2, Sherlock had apparently plunged to his death, so a large part of the first episode of Series 3 is all about how he did it, survived that is. There is some business about a planned terror attack in London as well, but mostly that's just a skeleton to hand the real dramatic stuff around, particularly Holmes' and Watson's relationship. Watson is quite upset that Holmes never bothered to let him know that he was alive, and this frustration and anger is mined to comedic effect.
Much of the focus of the series is how sociopathic Holmes really is, even though brilliant. He's willing to manipulate and use almost everything and everyone to meet his ends, what he sees as justice. This makes him a very intriguing character, if not a really sympathetic or likable one. But somehow, Cumberbatch manages to make this cold blooded, hyper logical jerk relatable. A lot of it has to do with the warmth of his relationship with Watson, and the lengths he is willing to go, and the sacrifices he will make, for his friend. That friendship reveals some deeply buried humanity in him.
While the first couple of seasons really focused on a different, contained mystery in each episode, Series 3 is different. This is most exemplified by a quote from Mark Gatiss in one of the extra features. Gatiss said, "It's a series about a detective, not a detective series." Series 3 is much more focused on the characters, their interactions, loyalties and quirks than with solving crimes. Oh, there definitely crimes to be solved, and terrorist attacks to be averted, etc. But there is also Watson's wedding to pull off, with his beautiful bride Mary (Amanda Abbington) at his side, and other sorts of mundane activity, that is engaging precisely because the anti-social Sherlock Holmes is involved. This being Sherlock, there is of course an attempted murder at the wedding reception.
Below are short synopses of the episodes:
The Empty Hearse
The Sign of Three
His Last Vow
Sherlock remains a tightly executed show, with dazzlingly good performances by everyone, with the relationship between Cumberbatch and Freeman being the strong highlight. Sharp plots, perceptive characterizations, and elegant and inventive camera work make this one of the best shows on television today. Episodes 1 and 2 don't really have an emphasized main villain, but Episode 3 has Charles Magnussen, subtly played by Lars Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen's understated but dead on portrayal of the powerful blackmailer is superb.
Overall, Series 3 continues on the excellence of the preceding two series, and improves on them. As Gatiss said, it's so much more than a detective show. Highly recommended.
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