Two years ago, Sherlock took the world by storm. After an almost two-year wait, its second season provided the solace of resolution to a cliffhanger, though that solace only lasted for a meager two weeks as the storyline still toyed with the hearts and emotions of its viewers (in a good way).
Season two ended on another cliffhanger. Unfortunately, the entire Internet exploded in a flurry of thoughts and theories, and the BBC didn’t quite catch on. It aired the second season of the show in the U.S. almost six months after its UK premiere, taking a lot of wind out of the sails of speculation as spoilers flooded the Internet.
Fortunately, the BBC got its act together in time for season three; the long awaited season aired almost exactly two years to the day since season two (in the UK). Its U.S. broadcast followed by only a couple of weeks, while DVD releases on both sides of the Atlantic ensued just as quickly.
Unfortunately, while the BBC has gotten its act together in terms of marketing and broadcasting, the same can’t really be said for the content of the third season. Season two unleashed a media tsunami when it aired, with every news outlet and social networking site in profound hysteria over Sherlock’s “death.” Blogs and communities formed to speculate how Sherlock survived, with fans quite literally visiting St. Bart’s hospital (in person and on Google maps) in order to do investigating of their own. It could be called an overreaction if Sherlock Holmes didn’t already have such a history of causing overreactions.
By comparison, both the third season and the fan response to it are a mild spring rain. Sherlock ‘s still popular. People are still watching it excitedly. Fans are still turning out to watch the filming. But there’s just something about how there aren’t multiple articles published by every single newspaper about the show that suggests that this season doesn’t quite live up to the second or even the first one.
The third season is still good. There’s still phenomenal acting. There’s still amazing directing and beautiful cinematography. There’s still humor. It’s still patently clear that the BBC’s funneling enormous amounts of money into Sherlock. But, despite all that, it’s not outstanding in the way that Sherlock ‘s made a point of being – mostly because among all the funny jokes and pretty scenes, there’s no storytelling to carry the story and no rules to keep the world in place, and the cardinal rule of storytelling is to tell a story that functions, according to the physical laws of our reality and the more abstract ones of the fictional reality.
This season is – well, a mess. It creates a world whose rules it doesn’t follow, and doesn’t even try for believability. It plays fast and loose with reality. There’s plots ranging from someone getting stabbed and not feeling it because their uniform is tight to a train full of explosives in an abandoned Underground station that nobody seems to have thought to look for to a blackmailer with no actual evidence. It’s all flashy, high-stakes, exciting, James-Bond style action, with lots of sparks and pizzaz and chases and gunshots. There’s a lot fewer deductions, though, and, most importantly, there’s a lot less emotion. In between all the flashy stuff going on, it doesn’t have the same depth of emotional storylines, and the ones that are there just aren’t fulfilling. Sherlock’s still a well-done, high-budget production, but it just doesn’t have the heart it used to, and season three feels like nothing more than a bridge between seasons two and four.
Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t compliment what needed complimenting. The returning duo of Cumberbatch and Freeman is joined by Freeman’s spouse Amanda Abbington, and the trio carry the show with all the pathos and gravitas possible in a series of storylines where nothing makes sense, where reasonable deductions are impossible to tell apart from random chance, and where villains are scary just because the writers say they are. Season two was a highly emotional time for Sherlock and Sherlock – with our characters making leaps and bounds of emotional growth, and while season three seems to spend most of its time forgetting it happened, there are periods where it truly comes across that these characters have grown, changed, and suffered – and it’s thanks so much more to the phenomenal acting than to the writing.
The special features feel just as much like filler as much of the season does; they’re stuck in there to flesh out a DVD that would, otherwise, be nothing but three episodes of all surface and no substance. There’s a featurette on “The Fall,” which features a combination of Moffat and Gatiss being both dastardly and entertaining as they talk about their writing, and a focus on exactly how The Fall was filmed – which would, of course, be more interesting if the explanation presented in the episode made sense. “Fans, Villains, and Speculation” focuses on just that – the fan reactions to the show and the creators’ awareness of fan expectations. They talk about what fans look for in the series (good writing, emotionally fulfilling stories, deductions…), which is almost ironic because there seems to be so little of those things in season three. And, finally, “Shooting Sherlock” focuses on how a particular scene from “His Last Vow” was shot. Together, one can glean a handful of interesting facts from the three featurettes, but overall they feel like nothing more than filler on this already filler-full disc.
And, as a last and utterly petty complaint: it would help if the white-on-white text of the menus was readable.
Now, for lack of some clever quote from Sherlock to finish up this review, and not wanting to re-use some form of the beaten to death “Elementary, my dear Watson” in some “clever” twist, I’m going to go re-watch season two, thank you very much, and gear up for another two-year wait.