They sure know how to make us wait. After Sherlock series one positively snuck onto the radar in summer 2010 leaving everyone breathless in front of Moriarty in the swimming pool (no, not for those reasons fan-ficcers), it took til January 2012 before it came back and brought us Irene Adler and THAT FALL (not the one Eddie Mair so wittily tormented us about on Thursday*), and then they made us wait another two years till New Year's Day 2014 for some kind of resolution.
Worth the wait? Hell yeah. It was worth anxiously waiting for the screening dates for both the USA and UK (oh the uproar that the USA might get the show before the UK, or even that they should know their own screening dates before the UK did). But oh wasn't it glorious when we saw the hearse announcing 1 January as the (predictable, but til then unrevealed) screening date for the start of season 3**.
The opening three minutes of 'The Empty Hearse' alone are worth watching (though you'd be deeply confused if you stopped there), not least because whilst those opening minutes draw on the mini-episode prequel - Many Happy Returns - you don't have to have watched the prequel to get the episode.
OBVIOUSLY, beyond this point, here lay SPOILERS.... (though I will try and keep to a minimum)
Anyway: back to the opening minutes: throwing a curveball to the audience and we lapped it up. The improbable yet daringly plausible, fan-pleasing, DerrenBrown-organised explanation for how Sherlock fell to his death and survived was breathtaking in its audacity and fan-poking. It led into an 85 minute romp that rather felt like a trope-a-thon of fan-fic that Mark Gatiss couldn't resist clocking up:
- The unrequited love heroine getting her snog (the adorable Molly Hooper - Louise Brealey)? Check. (And she even got a proper, actual kiss - albeit on the cheek, before coming over with her own actual boyfriend "I've moved on" who embodied everything physically that BC could muster).
- Bondage? Check, as despite the long wig and unshaven face, speaking Serbian, you just knew, even before the analysing of the torturer's home life. Oh and throw in a little adoration of the Cumberbatch body, muscular stripped physique. When the torturer exited, you just knew that the person in the corner - the unseen character - would be the ticket home. Pleading with a character who's gone off-grid to come back? Check.
- Moriarty and Holmes throwing a dummy off the roof before leaning in for a snog? Check. (Could have done without the fan-fic stereotypes, but they can be there for a reason. Hilarious though to see Anderson, the loathsome forensics crime scene analyst, who hated and doubted Sherlock from the get-go, turn into theory-spouting believer). And the snogging? As Doctor Who explored "Is there a lot of that?" "It does start to happen".
- The dissatisfaction with the canon's explanation/resolution of a problem? Check, check, check - certain sections will remain unconvinced they've been told the truth about Holmes' fall and resurrection.
It was some of the little details that were amongst the most pleasing: Cloud was most delighted with the step-down of the quality of eatery as Watson lost his temper with the re-emergent Holmes. The dinner starts, with Watson's plan to get engaged to Mary***, at a high-end waiters-in-tails restaurant; after Watson attempts to beat and strangle Holmes the setting drops to a moderate Mediterranean-style restaurant; and following further violence, culminates in even being thrown out of a kebab take-away caff after a nutting.
It was hard to not also love the appearance of ma and pa Cumberbatch (Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton) as the Holmes' boys parents. This also provided a nice touch and a glaring reminder to the cross-over Doctor Who fanbase that ma C was in stories across the first three decades of the show's history.
As for the 'threat', the crime of the narrative, well it was as disposable as it needed to be. Almost a Maguffin. And whilst the bonfire rescue was tense, we knew (surely we knew) there would be no demise. Didn't we? Could we be so sure in the wake of the fall from the roof, those final seconds of season 2, that had thrown us all into a tailspin?
Amidst such fan-pleasing pleasures, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that this is a drama, written, directed, filmed and acted by some very brilliant people. Freeman especially continues to impress as Watson, who can swallow silently, hard and conveying a variety of emotions without saying anything.
Ultimately it was a confection of delights, a go-with-the-ride immersion in London and Sherlockology. Welcome home Holmes. We have missed you.
* Dry Mr Mair did his usual trick of tantilising the listeners to Radio 4 PM with the idea that he'd "reveal the truth about 'that fall' on New's Year's Day", only to play the clip of Nigel Pargetter falling from the roof in The Archers. "The truth? He died."
** It was an accident of circumstance (not planning) that we happened to be in London on the day that fans had been advised we should 'keep a look-out in and around the centre of London'. It took me a few seconds at the crossing by Big Ben/Palace of Westminster as a car approached the junction to process that it was a hearse - and then as it passed..."OH MY GOD, it's the Sherlock Hearse!!!! 1 January 2014!!!! YAY!!!!!!" I may have been a bit excited.
*** Mary played by Freeman's real life partner Amanda Abbington is great.