Evolutionarily, we’re just not accustomed to loving, then losing, a show so quickly. No human being has any previous experience of adoring, to the point of pain, a superlatively reasoning meta-detective with opalescent eyes and his hot ex-Army Mod sidekick — only to have them disappear just three intense weeks later. In terms of “seasons”, Sherlock Season is the shortest of all observable in nature. It makes looking for wild asparagus seem a positively dilatory affair.
So here we are: Episode 3, and the only man smarter than Sherlock — Moriarty — has decided to hit the button on the endgame. He’s set up a fantastically complex series of interconnected criminal mysteries — essentially, the “Mouse Trap of Evil” — in order to bring Sherlock down. The vaults in the Bank of England are breached, the Crown Jewels snatched, the American ambassador’s children kidnapped according to the plot of Hansel and Gretel, and a computer code is stolen that opens every door in the world.
“I own secrecy,” Moriarty tells Holmes.
He has arrived at Holmes’s flat to tell him that this is, now, a battle to the death. Holmes has, of course, been expecting him. Tea has been laid out, waiting. They both drink from china cups so dainty and thin that, in the afternoon sunlight, you can see the sugar inside, dissolving.
“I could blow up Nato — in alphabetical order,” Moriarty continues, crowing.
Andrew Scott’s Moriarty is a Moriarty wired to the Moon: he has a physical tic of cracking his neck first one way, then the other — as if pumping the spinal fluid up to the evil part of his brain for an even bigger high. He is howlingly cold and empty inside: you can imagine him taking tramps around the back of bins, then tearing at their faces with his teeth. But he’s the mental equal of Holmes and at the height of his powers.Holmes, on the other hand, has spent this series gradually … eroding a little. If the first series was about establishing him as a hero, then Series 2 has been about showing how his intellectual development has far outpaced that of his emotions. When it comes to his heart, Sherlock is still stuck, emotionally, as a boy — of perhaps 17 or 20. A teenage boy, as we’ve learnt, raised in a big, cold house by an older brother instead of a mother, who struggled with drug addiction and hit 30 unable to slow down, open up, or ever, ever rest.Cumberbatch’s through-route on this has been properly affecting. There have been several points — most notably in Episode 1, where he was falling for Irene Adler, or in the last, where he faced his own death — where his Sherlock couldn’t think any more, couldn’t reason, and fell back on his instincts and emotions, leaving him as helpless and rattled as an evacuee. In Series 2 he’s given us a Sherlock with a façade bone-china thin, through which, in bright sunlight, you can see the sugar dissolving.
And so Series 2 ended in a rapid, five-minute blur of plot moves that landed like punches to the side of the head. Moriarty mouthing the barrel of a gun, obscenely — staring Holmes right in the eye as he blew his own brains out. Holmes then being compelled to kill himself by jumping from the roof of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and landing on the pavement in an inarguable pool of shattered skull and lavish sunbursts of blood across his face.
And then, in the last seconds — materialising out of the shimmer of David Arnold’s soundtrack — appearing, alive, inexplicable, triumphant in the churchyard, staring down at his own grave, alive, and ready for Series 3.
So how will they have done it? Had him so dead, then so alive again, when the next Sherlock Season begins? I don’t know, and I can’t guess — and that kind of close-hand magic makes my heart burst.