Fans of BBC’s Sherlock waited 716 days between the climatic finale of season two and the premiere of season three. Arguably one of the more anticipated TV comebacks, the BBC production finally returned to British television Jan. 1 and North American television on Jan. 19 with fans around the globe all asking the same question: how did he do it?
At the end of The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) appeared to commit suicide while John Watson (Martin Freeman) looked on. Paralleling Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works, it was revealed in the waning moments that Sherlock had survived the drop — of course, if he hadn’t we wouldn’t have a third season — and fans were left with two years of waiting and wondering how he did it.
The premiere feels tailor-made to those fans, almost as if Stephen Moffat had been listening to every grumble and gripe that made its way across the Internet and tried to answer them all. Different scenarios play out over the course of the hour and a half episode and each one feels simultaneously satisfying yet insufficient. Some are realistic, some are comical and some are outright bizarre. We are even introduced to a group of people formed around the sole purpose of figuring out if and how Sherlock survived — almost an homage to the obsessions of the fans themselves.
As I watched the episode, I could almost feel the squeals of fans across the world as certain scenes played out, notably a certain hypothetical scenario involving our hero and his nemesis Moriarty.
The greatest moments of The Empty Hearse come not with the traditional thrills of a traditional Sherlock case, but the repercussions of our titular hero’s return — especially for Watson. The scene in which Sherlock reveals that he had in fact survived is a perfect representation of each character: Sherlock develops an elaborate and comical scheme, seemingly smug in his own cleverness and wit. He takes little time to stop and actually think about the effects his two-year absence would have had on Watson. Adversely, this comes at a point in Watson’s life where he may finally be moving on and we are finally introduced to Mary Morstan, played by Freeman’s real life partner, Amanda Abbington.
What makes this premiere successful is not the plot points and grand murder mysteries that thrived in the first two series, but the character development. With a confirmed fourth series and speculation surrounding a fifth, it feels like Moffat is using this year to further reaffirm and build the characters and their relationships with each other.