It happened again! I get home from work and on my doorstep is a DVD with a note attached saying “episodes 302 and 303 of Sherlock.” Now of course my first instinct is to take this to the police so they can dust for prints and find the perpetrator of this act. But then I figured they have a lot of cases to solve; I should probably watch the DVD first to make sure a crime was committed. So why not take the opportunity to review the second episode of Sherlock’s third series?
My main problem with episode one (review here!: http://wp.me/p4cEkb-m) was that it was too focused on fanservice and not enough on the case of the week (CotW, if you will). While the second episode is full of great moments intended to please the fans, the case (or cases) are just as integral to the plot as the squeal-inducing moments between Sherlock and John are.
The episode follows the events during and leading up to the wedding of Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) to Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington). Throughout the course of Sherlock’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) best man speech we are treated to a couple really fascinating cases that Sherlock uses to describe the nature of his and John’s relationship.
This idea of multiple cases in an episode is perfect for the extended runtime of a show like Sherlock, so I’m surprised they’ve never used it before. Sure they’ve done crime-solving montages before (and there’s another great one in this episode), but this episode’s structure is a real shot in the arm after what felt like a bit of a drag in the premiere.
And the way the writers (and Sherlock) use these seemingly disparate cases is very, very clever. This episode has all of the writers’ names on it (Stephen Thompson, Mark Gatiss, and Steven Moffat), and this is one case where more cooks in the kitchen is a good thing. Maybe part of the problem with “The Empty Hearse” was that no one was reigning Mark Gatiss in. Luckily Thompson and Moffat are on hand to do that here. Moffat never fails to be just as clever as the characters he writes (Sherlock, The Doctor), however he has come under a lot of scrutiny for his remarks about (and depictions of) women. I read a profile today that really got me thinking about these charges, but once the episode got kicking that all got put out of my mind.
I’m not sure what complaints there are about the character of Mary (probably something to do with how she only exists in relation to John and Sherlock), but she has been an excellent addition to the cast for this season. Her interactions with both male leads are really entertaining. And Abbington plays her so endearingly that it is easy to see why. She is really the perfect joint bride for them, which makes me terrfied for whatever fate Moffat may be dreaming up for her.
The whole cast kills it. Cumberbatch and Freeman are so regularly exceptional that it is no longer an exception. That phrase “exceptional” has lost all meaning in reference to their portrayals of these characters, as if you have said the word out loud several times in a row. The stag night sequence in particular is great fun. But we also see a new side of Sherlock in this episode; it seems like Sherlock is starting to mature in light of John’s life-changes, and that is a really fascinating thing to see Cumberbatch portray.
The supporting cast gets opportunities to show off as well. Rupert Graves (as Detective Investigator Lestrade), Una Stubbs (as Mrs. Hudson), and Louise Brealey (as Molly Hooper) each get a moment or two that rivals the leads at their best. The only character that feels underserved is Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), which is probably a good thing as the character was doing a little too much in the previous episode.
All of these great performances yield an episode that feels like a celebration of Sherlock itself. This show has always been interested in showing how Sherlock thinks and makes his deductions, but the set-pieces presented in this episode to help you visualize that process are delightfully entertaining, in a way the show has never quite hit on before. This is only the eighth episode of the show, but it feels like we’ve been through so much more with it. That is a testament to the deftness of the writing and the lived-in nature of the characters. The premiere may have felt like an unearned victory lap, but after “The Sign of Three,” I wanted them to go around the track again. I guess that’s what the next episode is for. (By the way the reveal of meaning behind the episode title is perfect Sherlock).