Not counting last year’s trip back in time, it’s been three years since we last caught up with the World’s Greatest Detective. What with its leading man busy being an A List Hollywood star, and its lead writers being constantly tied up with other projects, the rare visits to Baker Street always seem to come so fleetingly. It would seem to be a bit of a relief, then, that this opener to the show’s fourth series is just as gripping, entertaining and bonkers as Sherlock has ever been, and sees it return in fine form.
Picking up pretty much exactly where series 3 left off, a message from old Sherlock villain Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) from beyond the grave means the British Government have decided to pardon Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) for killing that nasty Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) bloke three years ago – as he’s the only guy who can stop dead Moriarty. While Sherlock waits around for him to make a move, an intriguing case of a broken bust of Margaret Thatcher draws his attention – a case that will become very personal for him and his two best friends, John (Martin Freeman) and Mary (Amanda Abbington). With time running short, Sherlock must work to uncover the truth behind a horrifying mystery from Mary’s past, before it catches up with her.
As always when watching Sherlock, it’s always a pleasant surprise to marvel at just how good it is. Everything is as spot on here as it always has been, from the acting to the writing. Series co-creator Mark Gatiss, also appearing here as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, has crafted an episode that keeps you guessing from start to finish, and scratching your head as much as Sherlock himself. The central mystery that surrounds Mary twists and turns throughout the entire hour and a half, yet also keeps things concise, easy to follow and very personal to the characters. It’s just a solid piece of television, and is a welcome addition to the already exemplary previous offerings that have come before.
The main reason that this works so well of course stems back to the leads. The chemistry between Sherlock and Watson has always been the core of the show, Watson being the normal, long suffering partner to the eccentric and ingenious Holmes. However, it is Abbington’s Mary that is the main focus here. After being such a welcome addition to series 3, Mary continues to shine, keeping both Holmes and Watson in check and being one of the few people Holmes actually respects and cares for. Mary’s past, and how it is shaping both her and John’s future, is what Sherlock is completely focused on, even whilst thinking that he’s instead following a Moriarty influenced lead. Subtle writing that only re-affirms just how much these three people care for each other.
Indeed, it is for this very reason that we see a different Sherlock, one a million miles away from the unpleasant man we met way back in series 1. That Sherlock was a man who revelled in who he was, and what he did. He didn’t suffer fools and never had to face any consequences – he simply did what he did knowing nobody else could. Then he met Watson, and saw his love for Mary, and it changed him. This is a Sherlock who thinks he may have actually gone too far. That decisions he has made have not always been correct, and that, just maybe, he’s not the perfect, infallible being he likes to pretend he is. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this develops further, especially in the light of Mary’s death. A Sherlock that is losing his confidence is a man who will make dangerous mistakes. Not good, if Moriarty really isn’t as dead as everyone thinks.
If there’s one sub-plot that doesn’t really make sense, it’s Watson’s strange texting of a woman he meets on a bus. It just seems weird that dependable Watson would consider having an affair, especially considering that there doesn’t seem to be any issues in his marriage. Watson made his peace with Mary’s past, and all we seem to see here is a couple happily taking care of their baby. Watson still gets to hang out with Sherlock and save cases, and Mary even pitches in. The only explanation that can be made here is that maybe Watson wasn’t as happy with the situation as he claimed to be. Maybe he was looking for a normal, everyday woman after all, and not the ex special agent. This is also going to be interesting to see progress going forward, with Watson’s guilt over this and his blame for Mary’s death on Sherlock. In all, it sets the stage for a really good series.
If anyone was worried that Sherlock was running out of steam, they can rest easy following this opener. Though not as brilliant as Sherlock jumping off a roof, it was still a fun way to kick off series 4. With two episodes to go, let’s sit back and enjoy where it’s going to take us. Because it’s probably going to be a while before it’s on again.
Sherlock series 4 returns on BBC 1 next Sunday at 9:00pm.