The last season of Sherlock came out two years ago: I was enjoying my time off from 5th Year over Christmas, and come 8PM New Year’s day I was sitting down in front of the TV waiting for the answer that was on all Sherlock fans’ lips (spoilers) – “what’s the story with Sherlock not being dead after jumping off the building?” What we got was a season that fans of the show felt let down by, as the quality wasn’t what they had grown to expect. Then, come New Year’s Day 2016 & we got ‘The Abominable Bride’, and that took those already mildly disappointed fans and made them start to question: is this Sherlock now? With Season Four just around the corner (typical New Year’s Day airing again), what does this season hold in store, and how can they bring it back to its former witty glory?
It’s no secret that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (sidenote – Gatiss is also Mycroft) are very clever writers, but it reached a point after season two where they were being too clever. Take ‘The Empty Hearse’, for example: without indulging in spoilers, in case there’s readers out there who have yet to watch the show & plan on doing so before season four, it basically takes the aforementioned cliff-hanger from Season Two and plays around with it, never giving a concrete answer in the episode. Moffat had come out multiple times and said there are clues as to how he actually did it; you just have to look carefully – but, being honest, that’s really annoying. In the end, they just confirmed that there’s an extra feature in the Season Three DVD which shows the actual way he did it. There is a massive difference between being clever and coy, and telling your fans to go find a needle in a haystack, but actually placing the needle in a very similar, larger haystack that they have to pay €30 for. Season Four needs to consider what made episodes like ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ so smart, and leave us Sherlocked again.
I have no fondness for the Christmas Special; setting it up as a separate story, universe, etc. from the main plotline made sense, and let fans have a brief taste to numb the pain of a long hiatus; but this was not what we got. Muddling the subplot of the episode with the overall plot of the series completely undermined the episode firstly, and felt slapped together in order to set up the Fourth Season, but with no concrete final breath or clear path forward. The Victorian spinoff was good, until it tried to split itself. This is something Sherlock has been trending with: repetitious attempts to do a number of nonchalant things within an episode that build up to a pivotal moment. It made sense when they were in a controlled manner, but the Christmas Special was simply ridiculous in what it was trying to do. Season Four needs to pace itself, and learn from the mistakes of the special because that is the best thing to do; otherwise it leaves itself to fall further in standard.
There are a number of points you could touch on that would be controversial among fans – I think the role of Moriarty being the main one. The trailer for Season Four paints a distorted picture of what we are normally accustomed to – the charm seems to have been replaced by a dark, desolate tone. The next season seems to be building to a climax of sorts, but where will it go? New Year’s Day 2017 will be the time to tell.