Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!
After watching seasons one and two of Sherlock for the first time a year or two ago I proclaimed it possibly the best drama I’d ever seen. While I still hold those first two seasons in extremely high regard, season three has significantly dinged the series’ reputation. The first two episodes featured a mix of the usual great writing alongside some mildly bothersome moments, but it was the last episode of season three, His Last Vow, that really sunk the ship. More on that later. First, some relatively minor things that bothered me this season:
While the series has always featured comedy and a focus on Sherlock and John’s relationship, season three featured too much of both. When held in the right balance with detective part of the show, this really helps draw the viewer into the characters and stories. In season three the writers definitely oversteered away from the mystery and toward the comedy and relationship. Episode one spends a lot of time (understandably so) dealing with how Sherlock reveals to John that he’s back and how John copes with this shocking news. The way Sherlock attempted to tell John by drawing a mustache on himself and pretending to be a foreign waiter was goofy, and felt like something from a Marx Bros. movie. It was totally out of character for Sherlock.
I was also mildly bothered with how the writers clearly weren’t interested in explaining how Sherlock survived what appeared to be a fall to his death from several stories up at the end of season two, though I held out little hope that they actually would. Maybe season two was planned to end the way it did all along as part of some grand scheme, but it really felt like one of two things happened: 1) they didn’t think they were ever going to get a chance to make more episodes, so why not end the series as shockingly as possible or 2) they just wanted to shock the audience for the fun of it with no care for explaining the how of it. Either way, if you left season two thinking there was no reasonable way for the writers to explain Sherlock’s survival, you were right. That kind of cheating the audience is disrespectful. I would have thought the Lost finale debacle would have made writers think twice about that.
But all of that pales in comparison to the crime against the characters wrought by the writers in the final episode of the season, His Last Vow. (I’m assuming if you’re still reading you’ve already seen season three. If not, turn back now!) Having John’s wife turn out to be an ex-CIA assassin seemed ridiculously cliched. This series has led me to expect far better writing than that. And then they attempted to explain the ridiculousness of that away by saying that John somehow subconsciously knew what she was and is drawn to that because he has a dark past. Pscho-babble rubbish.
Then there’s the Mind Palace. It was introduced in a previous season but way too much time was spent depicting it in season three, particularly in His Last Vow. It was sort of interesting having Sherlock sort out how he was going to survive the gunshot wound, but the scene dragged on way too long. Then later on in the episode we learn that Mary, an expert shooter, intentionally shot him in a location that would be survivable, making the earlier scene with his struggle to survive kind of pointless. The Mind Palace got completely farcical when we learned the bad guy had a Super Mind Palace which included a Terminator-like red print-out in his field of vision that fed him data about his victims.
But of course you know where this is going. The absolute worst thing this episode did was make Sherlock into a murderer. The bad guy defeats Sherlock quite soundly in a game of wits, and Sherlock’s response is to murder the bad guy by shooting him in the head. He did this ostensibly to protect John’s wife from prosecution. What bothers me most about this (though doesn’t surprise me) is that this doesn’t seem to bother most viewers. We’ve gotten to this place in our culture where our moral compass is so skewed that we’re ok seeing our on-screen heroes murder people as long as the people they murder are “bad”. To make matters worse, the guy Sherlock murdered wasn’t even that bad. He wasn’t himself a murderer. He wasn’t even a terrorist with his finger on the button. He was a tabloid mogul who happened to have dirt on John’s wife. Sherlock murdered a man to prevent him from using his knowledge to aid in the prosecution of John’s wife, someone who (based on the hints the episode gave us about her past) is quite deserving of prosecution. And there wasn’t even a quip by Donovon about how she was right about Sherlock snapping and crossing the line eventually. Awful, awful.
As a postscript let’s talk about the return of Moriarty. They really painted themselves into a corner with the season two cliffhanger in part by having Moriarty (apparently) commit suicide by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) because Moriarty is the original arch nemesis in fiction and 2) because Andrew Scott’s interpretation of the Moriarty character was so original and compelling that you hated to see the character go. That’s why I wonder if the writers thought season two was the end of the series. Fortunately for the viewers (I guess), Moriarty made an appearance at the very end of His Last Vow, though we don’t know yet whether he’s still alive, or maybe just back in the form of a computer program left by the real Moriarty. I guess we’ll find out in season four. If he is still alive, don’t expect these writers to do you the decency of clearly explaining how.
I plan to watch season four, but I won’t go into it with nearly the anticipation level I had coming off of season two. Now Sherlock’s nothing more than a petty murderer.