Monday, February 17, 2014

Sherlock: Season 3 Review

I admit that I am a fairly late-comer when it comes to BBC's "Sherlock" series. I had heard about it but had not shown any interest until the past six months when I (and the rest of my family) got hooked on it thanks to Netflix. Generally, I have enjoyed the six episodes of the first two episodes and was chomping at the bit for season 3.

Unfortunately, I came away feeling more than a bit disappointed in what I saw in season 3.

I will examine each episode individually and then the entire season as a whole.


"The Empty Hearse" opens up two years after Sherlock's supposed suicide from the top of St. Bart's. It is revealed that he has been unraveling Moriarity's vast network, and now he is summoned back to London to deal with a terrorist strike. But first, Sherlock will need to tell John that he is alive if he wants to get his friend back into the game.

When I first watched the episode, I admit that I felt a bit let-down for several reasons. First (and these are not in any particular order), I was not sure what to make of Sherlock's "fan club." "Supernatural" is the only show that I know of where the writers can use episodes to poke fun at or cater to their fan base, which is hilarious; however, using something similar for "Sherlock" did not seem to fit in given the tone of past episodes. Second, the episode seemed less focused than previous ones. Sherlock uncovering the terrorist attack was a minor subplot while there were other subplots of his spat with John, John's kidnapping and rescue, his day with Molly (which includes a mysterious skeleton) and his parents' visit. Not to mention that some of the subplots did not feel like they truly belonged in the episode and certain scenes felt the same way, especially the whole Sherlock vs. Mycroft in "Operation" and "let's see who can out-deduct each other." In the end, it did not come across as being a particularly well-written and well-organized episode. Third, another problem I had was with the whole scene towards the end where Sherlock manipulates the situation to apologize to Watson and then laugh at him for believing they were about to die; it seemed like a cop-out for a tense situation and resolved the spat between the two a little too neatly. While I am happy that this thread was tied up in the first episode, it could have been better resolved.

"The Sign of Three" takes place about six months after "The Empty Hearse" and deals with John and Mary's wedding day. While Sherlock must give a best man speech, he must also figure out an unsolved murder and its connection to the wedding.

This episode also had its own problems. First, it was too disorganized. The episode is constantly jumping back and forth between wedding preparation, a stag party, Sherlock's mind palace, an attempted murder, then the wedding reception. It was confusing and made the plot a bit hard to follow. Some writers can jump around like this without confusing the reader/ viewer, but unfortunately this was not the case. Second, the connections of attempted murder, the dating ghost case, and the wedding was not very clear. It seemed shoddily thrown together and did not logically move from one to the other. A related issue was when Sherlock uses his mind palace to figure out what connects the five women who dated the "ghost"; he eliminates the possibility that they all work for the same person, but then it somehow turns out that that possibility was the correct one. It left me scratching my head, even after a second viewing of the episode. Third, the pacing was off. The speech took too long (mostly because more than half of it is flashbacks), and I kept wondering when it was finally going to be over.

"His Last Vow" takes place at least a couple of months after "The Sign of Three" (given Mary's progressing pregnancy). Sherlock goes to master blackmailer Magnusson to get back some incriminating letters when he discovers that Mary has a past that she is trying to hide and which Magnusson is fully aware of.

In the past finales for "Sherlock" have left me on the edge of my seat, wondering what is going to happen next and then at the end of the episode leaving me wanting more. This is the first time I did not feel that way about a "Sherlock" finale. First, the plot had issues. It kept jumping between Magnusson as the villain and Mary as a semi-antagonist, which made me wonder which plot was the more important one: the blackmail or the woman with a dirty secret. Also, the original case of Sherlock trying to get back the letters reminded me of Sherlock trying to get incriminating photos in "A Scandal in Belgravia," and it bugs me when a show has two episodes that have a similar plot. Second, I was not a big fan of what they did to Mary. I really liked Mary's character in the first two episodes and believed she fit in quite well with both Watson and Sherlock. Suddenly turning her into this assassin on the run from her past did not fit with her character and made me dislike her afterwards, even by the end of the episode. It also seemed resolved too neatly that she and Watson made up, and things go on as they have ever since the beginning of season 3. Third, the episode also does some jumping around though not as bad as "Sign of Three." Maybe it was done for dramatic effect, but it made had the opposite effect on me. Fourth, I didn't like the finale. The mysterious Magnusson could have been a good villain, but I was disappointed to see him killed off. Sherlock is sent into "exile" (which would literally be a death sentence for him) and then a few minutes later is summoned back because it appears that Moriarty has miraculously returned from the dead.

Now for an overall look at season 3.

I came into season 3 with high hopes for the same quality that fans have come to expect from "Sherlock." I understand that the season was delayed because Cumberbatch and Freeman had some big-screen roles, but I think the delay in the season caused the writers to lose momentum. As a result, the writing quality went down this season.

One problem was what I will call "strange camera scenes." It is sort of hard to describe, but sometimes "Sherlock" has had scenes that seemed suddenly thrown in/ have an abrupt transition from the previous scene and which take a second viewing for me to figure out why the scene was where it was (there were two for me in "A Scandal in Belgravia": when Irene understands how the hiker died and when Sherlock is returning to Baker Street after he realizes Irene is alive). There were quite a few in season 3, which made things a bit confusing; one big offender was Sherlock's thoughts when he was being shot by Mary. Which brings me to a related issue. In the past, the viewers have occasionally got a glimpse into Sherlock's mind and how he thinks (like his mind palace in "Hound of Baskerville," which was cool), and even if it is quick, it generally makes sense. This season, however, it seemed a lot more scatterbrained and did not make a lot of sense, like when Sherlock was being shot.

A second problem was the plots generally were a mess. All of the episodes have big plot holes (granted, I have found holes in previous "Sherlock" episodes, but I have been willing to forgive smaller mistakes) or have too many smaller plots running alongside each other to keep things coherent. The pacing was also off. We first see Magnusson "introduced" in "The Empty Hearse," he is briefly mentioned, and then he is the big baddie for the finale; it seemed like he had too little screen time and like he was just thrown into the finale only to be killed off. Then you have small plots that seem thrown in and had little bearing on the rest of the episode, like the allusions to Sherlock's drug habit (it has briefly been implied in the premiere but has never been mentioned again, so it seemed abruptly added to the finale).

On a related note, I did not like the portrayal of the villains this season. Moran could have been given a lot more detail, but he was skimmed over in favor of the other mini-plots (I couldn't help but compare him to the cabbie in the show's premiere; we don't get a lot of screen-time for him or realize who he is until late in the episode, but he came across as a much better-written and convincing villain than Moran). The murderous photographer was not well-portrayed either, but I think this is because the episode itself was poorly written. Then we have Magnusson. I liked him very much as a villain and was rather disappointed to see him killed off in the finale. Then Moriarty's face begins popping up on screens all over Britain. It felt like the writers were bored with Magnusson and decided to shock the fans. My big issue is that we saw Moriaty shoot himself and fall down dead; Sherlock's death could have been explained easily because a. we saw him jump and [b]something[/b] land on the pavement, but there was wiggle room for him to survive b. in the Sherlock Holmes canon, he survives his plunge into Reichenbach Falls, so fans know he has to survive. So while I am willing to accept Sherlock's survival, I am having a much harder time with Moriarty's. It makes me wonder if Moriarty is really, really back or if someone else is just using his image and he is still dead. Whatever the case, I hope the writers have not written themselves into a corner.

I was saddened by the lower quality of season 3, and I hope this is not a sign that the show is going downhill. Especially if there is another long delay between seasons. I will keep my fingers crossed that "Sherlock" can return to the quality of the first two seasons, and hopefully there will not be another delay.

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