The BBC’s Sherlock has been off the air for far too long. Recently, it finally returned for third season, broadcast on PBS in the United States as part of Masterpiece Mystery. Having just completed its airing, the three ninety-minute episodes that make up this run, each feeling a bit like its own movie, have now been released on Blu-ray and DVD.
Season two ended with Sherlock Holmes’ (Benedict Cumberbatch) death. Obviously, the series cannot continue without its hero, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that he isn’t actually deceased, having faked the demise. But those who love Sherlock have lived under this false impression for two years, making for quite a startling turn when Sherlock comes back to town.
John Watson (Martin Freeman), in particular, is thrown for a loop. Having mourned his best friend, he’s moved on, preparing to propose to girlfriend Mary (Amanda Abbington, Mr. Selfridge). This news is enough to knock Sherlock back, too, so the partners have some obstacles to overcome before they might resume the work they are familiar for.
Sherlock does have a mission right out of the gate, though. He has been summoned to London by his brother, Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), who did know Sherlock lived all this time, but doesn’t exactly count as a loved one, unlike. say, Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Molly (Louise Brealey), and Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs). Thus, Sherlock can’t spare too much time considering Watson, having a job to get on with.
This premiere, “The Empty Hearse,” brilliantly balances many elements. There are the character moments, especially between Sherlock and Watson and Sherlock and Mycroft. There’s an exciting mystery to solve. There’s the beginning of an arc with a man who may be Sherlock’s greatest foe yet. And there’s still time for some good gags as multiple scenarios revolving around Sherlock’s survival play out on screen, with none of them possibly being the correct one.
The excitement continues in “The Sign of Three,” which takes place on the occasion of Watson and Mary’s wedding. Sherlock has the challenging (for him) task of being best man and delivering a speech. Said speech may be the longest in history, as viewers are treated to flashbacks of the bachelor party, among other things, and Sherlock deduces a would-be crime right in the middle of it. That’s not the last surprise in the installment, one jam-packed with compelling story, even as it stands as the lightest and funniest of the trio.
I’m really glad Sherlock takes the time to do this. It’s a situation that finds our protagonist supremely out of his comfort zone, but the fact that he’s willing to go through with it anyway proves the level of his affection for Watson, something reiterated strongly in all three episodes. Plus, the wedding is just so much fun, a splendid affair with a great Sherlock twist.
The year’s Big Bad fully comes out in the season finale, “His Last Vow.” The man’s name is Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen, The Killing original version), and he is a self-described businessman who controls far more than he should, especially in the arena of politics. His vast library of dirt allows him to manipulate anyone he comes across, and he has some very startling secrets about someone close to Sherlock he isn’t afraid to use when Sherlock makes a move against him.
Magnussen, though important, is only part of the story, though. Midway through the episode, Sherlock is shot in a shocking sequence that reveals something major about a recurring player. Much of the back half deals with the ramifications and fall-out from this event, which is so much more than it seems at first. I can’t spoil anything about it, just saying that it’s a beautiful, near-perfect piece of storytelling, that ends in one hell of a climax, bringing it all back around to a very memorable stand off with Magnussen.
If that wasn’t enough, “His Last Vow” ends with a wallop of a cliffhanger, after fans will think the action is done, leaving the promise of a stellar fourth season to come.
Sherlock season three is different from the first two in that Sherlock and Watson aren’t doing their traditional work together, life interfering in major ways, and the cases come to them very naturally, through personal means. There is also not a lot of plot for supporting players like Lestrade and Molly. But the character development for Sherlock, Watson, Mary, and Mycroft is fantastic, and you likely won’t think about the little bits that are missing, given what’s there on the screen.
This release also contains a trio of special features, “The Fall,” “Shooting Sherlock,” and “Fans, Villains, & Speculation.” They are interesting enough, though don’t go as deep as one would like, leaving us wanting more. Which is about par for such a Blu-ray edition.
While not traditionally a big-budget show, I do recommend the Blu-ray version this time around. There is a lot of darkness in Sherlock, and HD will ensure the visual layering and stark colors needed to fully appreciate the scenes. There are also a couple of huge shots, such as those of the exterior of Magnussen’s home, that you’re going to want to see as much detail as possible from. The series contains a sweeping, crystal-clear score, well mixed with the dialogue.
Sherlock Season Three is available now.