Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ wonderful series Sherlock returned in 2017 for a three-episode series four. I have adored this series, a modern-day reinterpretation of the Sherlock Holmes stories, since the beginning. I admire its intelligence and sophistication and the way the series has allowed us to fall in love with these wonderfully bizarre characters.
As always, three episodes feels like far too little after such a long wait for new installments. Because of such a long wait between series (or seasons, in American parlance), and because we get so few new episodes each time, I feel like the producers put an impossible amount of pressure on themselves to make each of the rare new episodes perfect.
Well, none of the new episodes in series four are perfect, and there is a plot twist at the end of the first episode that I didn’t care for at all, and that colored this whole new series in an unfavorable way for me. But these three new episodes remain wonderfully entertaining, impressively-crafted pieces of television entertainment. The third episode is probably the most ambitious episode the series has ever done, with an extraordinary scope and amazing production design.
This is a darker season of the show than we’ve seen before. Generally, this show has been able to be fun while also maintaining true dramatic stakes for all the characters. The plot twist at the end of episode one, though, throws all that out the window. While I understand the show-runners’ desire to shake up the status quo and not just keep doing the same things, and while I was ultimately satisfied with how the story begun in that terrible moment resolves itself by the end of episode three, I felt that event unbalanced this season to a degree that bothered me. It was hard to find much joy in Sherlock after that moment. The writers clearly understood that and went there anyways. For me, personally, I wish they’d have made a different choice.
OK, let’s take a deeper dive into these three episodes! Beware SPOILERS ahead.
The Six Thatchers — We get several engaging mysteries in this episode. First is the mystery of the college student found dead in a car in his parents’ driveway, despite his being abroad at the time and in fact having Skyped with his father at the moment he was apparently killed. Then there is the titular mystery of a series of apparently unconnected crimes linked only by the commonality that a statue of Margaret Thatcher was destroyed in each instance. Then there is the more important-to-the-series exploration of the backstory of John Watson’s wife Mary’s mysterious past, and the apparent resurrection of her former soldier/assassin partner … [continued]
And now, here are my Top Five Episodes of TV in 2016:
5. Sherlock: “The Abominable Bride” (aired on 1/5/16) – I was tickled by the idea of taking Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s modern-day interpretations of Sherlock Holmes and setting them in the Victorian era from which the Holmes stories originated. Had this been an entirely out-of-continuity caper — as I thought it would be, going into the episode — I’d have been happy. But I was delighted to discover that, instead, this story connected directly to the cliffhanger ending of season three, and allowed us to explore the idea of Sherlock’s “mind palace” that was first raised back in the season two finale. This episode was filled with many fun little moments, from Mrs. Hudson’s complaining that John never gives her any lines in his stories to the 19th century version of Holmes and Watson’s first meeting (as originally depicted in “A Study in Pink”). And things got suitably mind-bending as the episode progressed and the story began jumping more frequently between the Victorian setting (happening inside Sherlock’s brain) and the modern-day events on board the plane, with Moriarty’s apparent return from the dead presenting a frightening new threat. I adore this series and, if we couldn’t get a full three-episode new season of Sherlock in 2016, this one-off was a fine substitute. (By the way, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the recently-aired season four of Sherlock soon!!)
4. The X-Files: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” (season ten, episode three, aired on 2/1/16) – I had hoped and dreamed for years that The X-Files, one of the great, unfinished stories of the modern pop-culture landscape, would one day be given the conclusion that once-great show so dearly deserved. I rejoiced at the announcement of a new six-episode run (a superior format to a movie, in my mind, for the show’s return), though the relaunched show wound up mostly disappointing me. With this one notable exception. Darin Morgan wrote four episodes during the original X-Files run, and they were among the very best episodes the show ever did. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is without question my favorite episode of the entire series. And so I was ecstatic when I learned that Mr. Morgan would be writing one of these six new X-Files episodes. He directed this episode, too, and boy did he not let me down. This episode is so joyous, so funny and so … [continued]
I hope you’ve all been enjoying my journey back through the great TV of 2014! Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven. Click here for part two of my list, numbers ten through six.
And now, the conclusion. Here are my five favorite episodes of TV of 2014:
5. Sherlock: “The Sign of Three” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 1/5/14) — Each hour-and-a-half-long installment of the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series is an event in and of itself, as each episode is really it’s own movie. All three episodes of the show’s third season (or series, as those in the U.K. prefer) were strong, but it was the middle one, “The Sign of Three,” with which I was particularly taken. The set-up is pure gold: it’s John (Martin Freeman) and Mary’s wedding, and Sherlock Holmes is the best man. Combine Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)’s usual discomfort in normal polite society with a mystery regarding an attempted murder and you have a classic episode. I love the structure of the episode. Almost the entire run-time is structured around Sherlock’s bizarre, weird, funny, awkward, rambling Best Man toast to Watson. In addition to the main mystery, we get tantalizing glimpses into a number of Sherlock & Watson’s other cases; we get an oh-so-brief return of the wonderful Irene Adler; we get suspense and comedy (I adore the flashback reveal of Sherlock’s intimidation of Mary’s friends and family) and so much more. I was pleased by the balance between mystery/suspense and the show’s joy in exploring its characters and watching them play. This episode leans more strongly towards the latter, and it works because of how sharply written the show is, and the incredible talent of all the performers, most particularly, of course, the incredibly talented duo of Mr. Freeman & Mr. Cumberbatch. Gold. (Click here for my review of Sherlock series three.)
4. Game of Thrones: “The Lion and the Rose” (season 4, episode 2, aired on 4/13/14) — Game of Thrones episodes usually jump all over the fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, usually only spending a few minutes at a time in one location, and with a certain set of characters, before leaping elsewhere. As the show has gone on and its cast of characters has grown ever more sprawling, this narrative structure has begun to chafe with some fans. I’m not one of them, but I do nevertheless cherish the show’s habit of using the penultimate episode of the season to tell an important story in just a single location. (This was most notably done in season two’s “Blackwater,” though this season’s “The Watchers on the Wall” was also … [continued]