(NOTE: I will make NO attempts to avoid possible spoilers for any previous season of Sherlock in the following discussion. If you’re a spoilerphobe, please feel free to slip out now!)
(NOTE: This has been edited and republished to include some observations I inadvertently left out of the original post, and which have no impact on the preceding spoiler-policy disclaimer.)
We’ve become used to intervals of two or three years between installments in movie series, but with rare exceptions–there was that eighteen-month gap between the fourth and fifth seasons of Mad Men–we don’t experience that sort of thing so much with television. And when a television series ends a season with a thoroughly mind-bending cliffhanger before it goes on that two-year break, we have lots of time to speculate and discuss what we think happened, and what we think will happen when it comes back. Our expectations may get just a little bit out of hand.
|(via PBS.org: MASTERPIECE: Sherlock, Season 3)|
Sherlock‘s return for its third season (or “series” in the original BBC language) was met with all the expectations that built up over its long absence among an audience that grew substantially (thanks to DVD, Netflix, and Hulu, not to mention Tumblr) while it was away. There was no way it was going to satisfy all of them.
Discussing the most recent three-episode season on the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, Dan Fienberg commented,
“The writers manage to make the writing clever even if the plotting isn’t clever. I felt like there was a lot of people trying to write witty dialogue and using witty dialogue to cover up for bad structure and bad plotting. And if you were willing to just sit back and go ‘OK, I am enjoying watching these characters be smart and sparkling,’ that’s fine.”
I was 99.5% willing to do exactly that. Series 3 of Sherlock seemed to be less warmly received by critics and professional TV viewers than its first two outings, but complaints from the general fandom were rare. And Series 3 clearly reflected an awareness of that fandom, along with an increased awareness of the show’s own self-image. This could be off-putting to viewers who don’t care for insider-y meta references; I’m not one of those viewers, and that was part of why I so thoroughly enjoyed this season.
That said, I will mention a few minor issues…
It may have been more apparent this season than it was during its first two–to people who watch both shows, at least–that Sherlock and Doctor Who have the same showrunner, Steven Moffat. Feinberg’s observation–I’m not certain that it’s a complaint, really–sounds like it could have been made about any number of episodes from the Eleventh Doctor/Moffat era. (In my observation, it usually is a complaint when it’s said about Doctor Who.) I felt that the show was more fun to watch than ever, but on reflection, I’m not sure it hangs together quite as well as prior seasons.
Some of that is due to an overall plot problem–namely, this season’s lack of a strong master villain. Series 2 was so well framed by the Sherlock/Moriarty conflict that the follow-up probably couldn’t help but feel a little weak by comparison. The mysteries themselves just didn’t seem as compelling.
And one of the previous season’s mysteries still essentially remains one–we still don’t know how Sherlock faked his death at the end of Series 2. The Series 3 premiere offered several possibilities, but never committed to any of them–and I actually thought that was a brilliant approach. As I said earlier, this season felt like it was made for the fans; this episode dramatized several very popular fan theories without ever answering the question…and any definite answer would have made some subgroup of fans unhappy, so entertaining many without aligning with any was a smart, if slippery, decision by co-creators Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
But if the stories seemed weaker, the character interactions and development were difficult to fault–and they’re the main reason I love Sherlock. (Well, that and being a card-carrying Cumberbunny–h/t to Jennifer for the terminology!) As my husband has commented, the brilliant high-functioning sociopath Sherlock Holmes would be thoroughly unbearable real-life company, but as portrayed by (the glorious) Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock does seem to be developing a surprising degree of self-awareness of what a mess he really is; my favorite example was his assurance to the newlywed John and Mary Watson that they would be great parents, because they’d gotten plenty of experience with babies thanks to dealing with him. (Any degree of self-awareness from Sherlock is surprising, frankly.) In the absence of a “big bad” to engage Sherlock this season, there was more focus on Dr. John Watson and his relationships with his best friend and new wife, giving Martin Freeman plenty to do with the role–and he did it terrifically well.
I think I appreciated some of Sherlock’s technical aspects more this most recent season than I have before. I’ve always liked the music (I’m looking for ringtones based on it, actually), but I was particularly struck by the cinematography and editing this time around. I enjoy looking at this show, and I think it has a very particular, and appealing, visual sensibility (which I should note seemed to display fewer onscreen text messages than it has previously). (This is apart from the previously-mentioned appeal of looking at Mr. Cumberbatch.)
My only remaining quibble with this show is that, imperfections and all, a three-episode season is just not enough Sherlock. It was all over too quickly, and I just hope we won’t have to wait quite so long to see these characters again!
The game is on–the first official Sherlock fan conventions are being planned in the US and Europe later this year. That’s all the info currently available, but if you think you’d be at all interested in this, you might want to sign up for the sherlocked.com mailing list sooner rather than later. I’ve already done so.