Last night, BBC aired the first new episode of their phenomenal series “Sherlock” in almost two years. The series has been on hiatus due to other commitments of the main cast, Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek XII) and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), as well as co-creator Steven Moffat (Doctor Who).
The series, for those who don’t know, is a new take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch) and his put-upon assistant and confidant, Dr. John Watson (Freeman). The show is a fast-paced, witty, clever update of the classic stories, brought into modern times, and for my money ranks as one of the best, if not the very best, take(s) on the Sherlock Holmes mythology ever put to film.
For those who do know, when last we saw Holmes, he plummeted to his seeming death off the top of a hospital, a scene set in motion by Moriarty and witnessed by Watson. As Watson mourned at Holmes’ grave, a shadowy figure watched from a distance, a figure that a camera turn revealed to be Holmes himself.
And that was the last thing we saw from the series. For two years.
So, you can imagine I was very excited that new episodes were finally being released (the first episode aired on BBC on the first of January this year, with the second coming on the fifth, and the third on twelfth. There will be a two week delay in American airings on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, allowing plenty of time for all the hardcore fans of the series to bootleg the episodes and hurt the US ratings. The episodes are really 90-minute long television movies, so only three are made per season). I’d discovered the show about a year ago, so I only had a year to wait, but that’s still a heck of a long time to wait to try and figure out how cleverly Sherlock Holmes had defied death. Online fan speculation ran rampant, theories were thrown about, all the while the producers (Moffat and co-creator Mark Gatiss, who also plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft) chuckled and said that no one had gotten the solution right, that all the online speculators were missing one key detail from the “death” scene.
If only that would let us in on what it was.
That’s right, after two years of buildup, the first episode of the new season DOES NOT tell the fans how Sherlock survived. In a ballsy open-mocking of the fans, several scenarios are presented, and each is then, in turn, debunked by the characters. Even the story put forth by Sherlock himself is torn to shreds in short order, and by the end of the episode, the secret of Holmes’ survival is still not known by the audience or his best friend, John Watson. Why Holmes would keep that information secret is at this point unknown.
Hopefully, this rather large plot point will be brought up again later in the season. The nice thing about having only three episodes, and those episodes airing in a span of less than two weeks, is that, whatever information the show is going to provide us, it will be providing us quickly. I just hope the secret of Holmes’ death-defiance is finally revealed. This show has so far been too intelligent and too clever to pull a cheat like “it doesn’t matter how he survived, let’s just move on.” That would be a huge disappointment.
What was not a disappointment, though, was everything else in the episode. Sherlock is found and returned to daily life, and attempts to rebuild what he can. The results are entertaining, perfectly in keeping with the established characters (Watson, Mycroft, Molly Hooper, DI Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, even his former forensics nemesis Anderson), and often hilarious. Sherlock even gets a visit from an elderly, ordinary couple, amongst his string of new, easily-solved cases, who are revealed to be his parents. Getting to see where Mycroft and Sherlock come from is almost worth the lack of a resurrection revelation. Almost.
“Sherlock” is back, and so is Sherlock. And Watson, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, 221b Baker St., the Irregulars, Mycroft, Mycroft’s bitchy assistant, even the equally beloved and reviled deerstalker. The show is as brilliant as ever; we just have to hope it’s brilliant enough to deliver a satisfying payoff to the check they wrote at the end of season two. After all, this is, at its heart, a detective show. Its core tenant is uncovering the answers to mysteries, often in inventive and imaginative ways. It would be disingenuous to leave the greatest mystery of all as a dangling thread.