Sherlock, as you've figured out by now, is a different show this season.
All the pieces are still there and it's still amazingly entertaining. But the storytelling emphasis has shifted, and that change signals decisions that could have ramifications beyond this episode. Producer Steven Moffat recently said that Sherlock is not a detective show but "a show about a detective." Which is very true ... this season ... but wasn't nearly as much the case the previous two seasons, when the weekly mystery was largely the focus of each episode.
During last week's premiere, the various mystery threads were shrugged off (Who kidnapped John? Eh, we'll deal with that later. There's a bomb? Yeah, but it's got an "Off" switch, so let's use that to prank John again). Now this week the crime-drama once again barely registers until the final third, while several beats mock the very sort of mysteries that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. The writers have lately seemed bored by having to deliver what's supposed to be the show's framework. Like: When you have talents like Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, why waste them on the usual detective work of analyzing carpet fibers and quizzing potential suspects? The lack of mystery could be its own meta episode: "The Mystery of the Missing Mystery."
The second major move this year is the show is funnier than ever. "The Empty Hearse" was Sherlock's most comic episode and then this week "The Sign of Three" shot way past it. This episode is a comedy, a British rom-com; One Wedding and No Funeral.
Changing a show's format and tone is somewhat jarring. It's giving some critics something to snipe about. And yet...
Sherlock is pulling off this caper, so far. Because when you entertain at this high of a level, it's easy for viewers to ignore the whiplash and hang on for the ride. Watching Sherlock this season is like attending Watson's wedding and seeing this guy Holmes give his speech as the best man. To the crowd, the speech comes off to as self-indulgent and wildly tangential, he even insults them, and yet he ultimately wins them over because Sherlock -- the character and the show -- is totally charismatic and hits the right emotional buttons.
The tone shift presents a recap challenge. For example: Tonight's opening sequence with the Dark Knight-style bank robbers and Lestrade getting all upset is basically just a long wind-up to a single punchline. So instead of the usual recap format running down ever moment, here's what worked and did not work about this week's episode:
NEXT: What worked