After the stunning cliffhanger of season 2 in The Reichenbach Fall and years of speculation, the writer, Mark Gatiss, had his fun with all the fan theories about Sherlock faked his death.
The movie starts off with the president of the eponymous fan club telling Lestrade his theory, which seems pretty absurd to me. But on the first watch, the sharp cutting of the flashback to reveal it’s just a theory was pretty effective and unexpected and might I say pretty clever. We then see Mycroft reaching out to Sherlock, who is deep undercover to take down Moriarty’s network. After a little bit of banter between the two, which is always fun to watch, Sherlock is to return to London as a terrorist attack is imminent. It feels good to see this cocky genius back on the screen and get to know Mycroft a little better throughout the episode as Sherlock’s less socially awkward but apparently more lonely brother with a similarly razor sharp wit.
He intends to surprise John Watson, who seems to have moved on with his life (despite his amazing mid-life crisis mustache) and is about to propose to his girlfriend Mary. I’m not crazy about Mrs. Hudson’s acknowledgment of Sherlock and Watson’s peculiar, seemingly “gay” relationship. Of course I also see that there is a unique and very close relationship between the two but I feel these little jokes are a bit easy and pure fan service to please the Tumblr and Reddit fan crowd and make them giggle (which is why I’m not as crazy about The Sign of Three as most people). However, the acknowledgment of the fans shipping Sherlock and Moriarty in another theory was pretty funny to me.
Anyhow, I gotta say this episode may be the finest showcase of Martin Freeman’s acting skills throughout all of Sherlock. Not just when he has this bland, still kinda grieving look but also all of his reactions to Sherlock returning: his confusion, anger and his pain. I have never felt more connected to John Watson as in this episode when Sherlock, like the dick he often is, doesn’t cease to play with his feelings and Freeman impresses with unexaggerated and emotionally complex play.
Sherlock enters the restaurant, ignores Mycroft’s warning and dresses up hilariously as a waiter. He wants to enjoy John’s flabbergasted face but his amazingly ambiguous puns go unnoticed. He then interrupts John’s proposal, after which a series of interrupted explanation attempts and furious reactions by John ensues. This not only is important character work but also, almost unnoticed, gives some pieces of exposition in passing. This is yet another indicator of the show’s outstanding writing.
After John angrily refuses to return to the status quo ante with Sherlock, Mary promises Sherlock, whom she admits to like, to persuade John, making this new character almost immediately likeable. John later is abducted and Mary is sent a skip code (which she realizes suspiciously fast), giving hints about his location. In a pretty suspenseful race through London with Sherlock’s thoughts nicely represented with navigation-system-like graphics, Sherlock manages to free him before any serious harm was done.
This amazingly literal Guy Fawkes reference leads them to the bomb in the Tube, which is to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The search for this bomb is pretty entertaining as I always like the complicated tunnel systems of underground railways and as always it’s fun to watch Sherlock put all the clues together. Obviously, they find the bomb and as above mentioned, Sherlock makes another dick move and lets John believe he doesn’t know how to defuse the bomb. Although it is quite obvious that they will not die, the scene works surprisingly well on both an emotional and on a suspense level. In between, Sherlock tells the fan club guy how he pulled off his fake death and incorporates another popular theory with the ball under the armpit to momentarily stop the pulse. This whole plan sounded pretty solid and most convincing, albeit very elaborate, but apparently, this is not what actually has happened or Sherlock wouldn’t have told the fanboy.
With the knowledge from having watched the whole season, there are some hints that there’s more to Mary than we might think and than she lets on. She decrypts the code and can be interpreted to be the true target to get to with the help of John’s abduction as we see an old man watching a video of John’s rescue in the final shot. It is so subtle that Sherlock doesn’t quite figure out why John was abducted and the vast majority of viewers don’t pick up on that on the first viewing, which is why the twist in His Last Vow was so surprising.
The show came back as strong as it left and delivers an outstandingly well-written season premiere. The season in whole is going to be focusing more seriously on Sherlock and John’s relationship but also shows Sherlock showing his feelings more overtly and revealing that everyone, not just Sherlock, has their issues. It’s also nice to see the gang moving closer together.
© by BBC, image taken from their website