I disliked many, many choices of this season, but must say this is all against a backdrop of “I will watch Bennedict Cumberbatch read Steven Moffat’s dialogue while Martin Freeman makes exasperated eyes till the cows come home.” Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zarpQbhPr0 for an explanation of the last. This season provided 6 more hours of that, which I enjoyed, and I suspect much of the audience did. If you wonder why season 4 is already in production, you need look no farther.
That being said, I’m old enough to…
…remember when Sherlock meant mysteries. There would be a mystery presented at the beginning of a story or episode, and by the end Sherlock would have solved it using clues anyone in the audience could have put together. They distinctly abandoned that for these three episodes. In 3.01 he didn’t even figure anything out, so much as “already had the villain on his watchlist” and made the astounding conclusion that “underground meant Underground” and it was entirely about Sherlock, Mary, and John’s relationship dynamic. 3.02 was much more about Cumberbatch’s extended monologue, with a side order of JSM, than any mystery going on. 3.03 started with an actual client and mystery, but by one third of the way through it was back to the SMJ triangle, with little puzzle to solve.
(Of course I loved the monologue. See above.)
In fact, much of the season seemed a pointed critique on “puzzles” as entertainment. 3.01, instead of honestly telling us how Sherlock survived his faked death, presented several possible elaborate plots, all of which were possible once we accept “Sherlock had a plan going into the rooftop encounter and recruited help”. And in fact, once we grant that conceit, “how he did it” is a rather boring question. Any of those would have worked, but they all involve so many new elements that the audience of 2.03 couldn’t have hoped to figure it out themselves. (The one best detail of any of the stories was the reference to the Sherlock-alike corpse that was probably around, which we could have figured out as well.) Similarly, when we watched the audience in 3.02 try to figure out which method killed the man in the locked shower, their guesses – stripped of awkward delivery – were as plausible as most solutions in such far-fetched mysteries, including the actual solution.
(For some, the idea that Mary was a mole was evident as soon as she said the word “orphan”, the remaining mystery was, what was she doing and why did she change now. The show’s answer to that was… it doesn’t matter and we won’t tell you.)
I, uh, appreciate Moffat’s contribution to the literary criticism of ubiquitous murder mysteries. But this was not what I expected from this show based on the last two seasons. And Moffat’s talent for writing intense relationship melodramas is not so strong. I don’t find any of the relationships sketched in the show compelling, sensitive, or interesting except for Sherlock-Molly and Sherlock-Mycroft. The way Sherlock treats other people is far too sociopathic to believe that people would tolerate, or to sympathize with. The best parts of 3.01 for me were when John was punching Sherlock.
Which brings us too…
I am old enough to remember when Sherlock Series One had only male characters to speak of, and tumblr loved it. Molly was entirely sidelined, and Mrs. Hudson was the most sympathetic or competent woman by far. I didn’t like it and complained about it at the time. But there’s only so many shows out there, particular for small-ensemble dramas, and we watch what is available. See the first disclaimer.
I don’t get why only now people seem to object to Moffat’s exclusion of women. The mere existence of Mary is leagues beyond the previous boys club. Mary has a lot of problems, but she’s more competent, more sympathetic, and less sexual than Irene Adler. And Irene was better than a world of just Sherlock, John, Mycroft, and Lestrade.
I maintain that Sherlock is a better show when one of Watson or Sherlock are a woman. As long as the show is not openly discussing homosexuality, the “will they or won’t they” aspect of their working relationship is much more believable and substantive when they’re opposite genders. I’m surprised but I think the American show “Elementary” actually does this pretty well. Perhaps if Sherlock and Watson were openly queer it would work as well, but instead the joking references to Watson denying that they are dating, when the audience knows these two will never in canon end up in bed together, is just kind of disdainful if you are counting that as your one contribution to “everything in this show is not about a privileged male heterosexual”.
(Moriarty’s homosexuality is much more believable, and I enjoyed when the show explored that part of his obsession with Sherlock, and only wish they did it more. As LBS said, they showed the fanfic Molly kiss, but not the fanfic Moriarty kiss.)
Anyway, other small details?
Sherlock and Janene’s “relationship”. Sherlock was shooting drugs in dens while he dated her, and presumably not telling her. This is such a gross violation of sexual morality that I basically immediately had to suspend disbelief as soon as she entered. I had to believe “they aren’t having sex or Sherlock is being very careful with needles” or just “the writers aren’t thinking about this” to such a degree that I stopped caring. Given that, their over the top flirting and proposal and post-break up closure, were all cute but non-immersive.
Magnussen’s demonstration of power over Lady Elizabeth Smallwood in the first scene of 3.03 was disgusting and beyond the pale. I understand that this was to establish how evil Magnussen was, but “a man licking a woman who thought herself respectable and secure in public while she is too afraid to do anything about it” crossed too many triggers for me. I almost turned off the episode at that point.
Magnussen was actually an interesting villain otherwise. His proclamations that he had never murdered, while Sherlock was quite willing to, hinted at very thoughtful differences between Sherlock’s and Magnussen’s worldview. And I appreciate a supervillain who is in fact allergic to bullets.
Given how minor Sherlock’s ultimate action was (killing an evil man who would have caused the government a lot of trouble), I actually rather enjoyed the cliché “we are really going to punish you, oh wait we need your help”, because no one in the government actually wanted to punish him. The “I’ve only been gone 4 minutes” line was pretty good.
And yes, Moriarty, I did miss you.