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Sherlock's New Clothes: The Shamefulness of Season Three

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I LOVE Sherlock. The energy, the sense of humour, the casting, the writing, that coat - seasons one and two have been my happy place on many an idle evening and nursed me through more than one sick day. So, like about 98% of the internet, I was waiting with bated breath for series three. And you know what? It was rubbish.

Sorry, but it was. And you know deep down in your hearts it was. It started promisingly enough. 'The Empty Hearse' slammed into our screens full of high-octane go-go juice and Tumblr just about exploded. It had everything: a snog for Molly, French farce, emotional reunions all round, an explanation - kind of - for Dr Watson, and everyone's least favourite forensics guy in a post-Sherlock induced meltdown. Outstanding.

Problem is, there didn't seem to be a mystery. At least none that needed serious deduction. Instead, it was a meandering stroll through a labyrinth that only ever had one exit and very few real choices. And the choices that were made were never explained. How did Sherlock choose his rats? How was Sherlock seeing clients about 30 seconds after telling Watson his return was still meant to be secret? It didn't matter. There were in-jokes and nudge-nudge-wink-winks and Sherlock was back on the air and huzzah!

There were also moments of actual sheer delight and Mycroft and Sherlock's game of Operation and subsequent musings on friendship were joyous for the viewer. The budding relationship between Sherlock and Mary was interesting, and the bonfire rescue nail-biting stuff - if a little more Jason Bourne than Sherlock Holmes.

But chinks were starting to appear in the characterisations: Why did Sherlock stop for chips when he never eats during a case? Was this an attempt to make one of the least human men on television less a calculating machine and more one of us? Why did he patiently take the time to talk to Anderson when he's never liked him? Why was he happy to head off to his press conference when he had no idea who had gone after John and his tolerance for publicity has always been low?

'The Sign of Three' had a similar mix of the wonderful and borderline woeful. Holmes' best man speech was infinitely watchable; him vomiting on the floor of a crime scene was not. It's not that there's a problem with a character getting drunk, it's when it's inexplicably out of character for a character to get drunk that the audience has a right to scratch their heads.

(Speaking of which - Sherlock is so determined no one will end up urinating in the wardrobe that he has Molly sort out amounts and a schedule for John's stag night, but there are no differences in volume or frequency to allow for Sherlock's size advantage over John? As both a junkie - who would be used to different degrees of normal - and acute observer, Sherlock never notices the two of them getting plastered?)

Likewise when plot devices just appear in contradiction to information that has previously been imparted. Watson hates his middle name so much he won't reveal it to anyone... except Sherlock and Irene Adler when he recommended it as a choice for the flirting couple's hypothetical baby. Not to mention the slight absurdity of a case hingeing on a client using that middle name after seeing a wedding invitation. (Let's not even talk about sneaking into the guardhouse with a busby that was what, Sherlock? Just picked up in Topshop?)

At its crux this isn't about deduction, it's about luck. Sherlock Holmes no longer runs his world like a puppet master pulling the strings of colleagues and criminals alike, ensuring he is behind every happening, but instead has become someone to whom things happen. He no longer even seems able to deduce on his own, but is reduced to imaginary conversations with Mycroft to explore a flimsy premise. (None of the women had the same employer but "the Mayfly man worked his way through Sholto's staff", according to Sherlock. It's a relief he knows what's going on. Writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat no longer seem to.)

In series one and two the mysteries at the heart of the episodes bubbled along behind the action, and when our heroes paused to draw breath and reflect on the case, so too could the audience, uncurling - like Sherlock himself - in our own chairs, tapping steepled fingers to our chins. In the hyperactive blur of the episodes of series three, however, if the movement, sound and colour stopped, it became embarrassingly obvious the emperor's naked arse was winking at the sky, even as the internet fandom and show's writers writhed in post-coital delight at the calibre of the costume.

The trend that we glimpsed in episode one got stronger in two: Sherlock was no longer about narrative and character, but about noise and gimmicks. The philosophy seems to be as long as it gets loud enough and busy enough, no one will have time to think about plot. It is a change that mirrors the personal shift in Sherlock - from an aware but uninterested sociopath to borderline simpleton playing for laughs.

The biggest crimes against Sherlock were perpetrated in 'His Last Vow'.

Finally we were given the long-awaited nemesis Charles Augustus Magnussen. Rising from Moriarty's ashes, we have swapped the Napoleon of crime for the Napoleon of blackmail. With a deft nod to Rupert "no foreigner should have that much power" Murdoch - and an infamous editor of his who had a reputation for relieving himself not in a fireplace but in a conference room sink, during conferences - as well as a Leveson-esque inquiry, Magnussen is a ruthless media mogul with a penchant for making people do what he wants.

Except as a blackmailer he never seems to say what he wants. Sure, one understands why the head of the media inquiry may be in his sights, but he was hardly worthy of Sherlock's statement: "I've dealt with murderers, psychopaths, terrorists, serial killers. None of them can turn my stomach like Charles Augustus Magnussen."

Nonetheless, Sherlock has made his vow to John and Mary, and so when it turns out Magnussen knows something about the new Mrs Watson, Sherlock is even more motivated to end his reign of... bad manners?

Magnussen is, as he keeps saying, a business man, but never seems to articulate what he's trying to get from his victims, particularly Mary. There are allusions to Mycroft, kind of, but Magnussen never leaves a trail of corpses, never threatens social order in its entirety. Why does Sherlock not reach for a nicotine patch, flounce towards the sofa, and decry the whole farce as "dull", before flinging himself onto the cushions and sulking at the wall?

And if staying there meant he managed to avoid the cringeworthy Christmas scenes, complete with the "huh?" drugging of his entire family by Bill Wiggins and the theft of Mycroft's laptop - because Mycroft's always been so cavalier with secret information, not - we could all have rejoiced.

'His Last Vow' was just lazy writing. Sherlock the show can't be easy to pen, and Sherlock the character must present the biggest challenges of all, but that's the character he is. No one can change their inherent traits - that's the curse of the human condition - but in this season Sherlock's traits have become malleable. It is because of the complexities of Sherlock's character that foes must prove they are worthy. Crimes must be solved using evidence. Observation is paramount. He does not carry out justice, he simply solves the crime.

The big reveal that Magnussen's information is stored in his "mind palace" goes beyond the dull to the farcical, making it questionable that any crime has even taken place, and Sherlock more than anyone knows the importance of proof. A man without proof of his allegations is a defamation case waiting to happen and no concern of Sherlock's.... except he shoots him. In cold blood. Sherlock becomes a murderer.

That's not clever, logical, or in character, that's just lazy and American cop show boring. Of course it's easier than crafting deduction after clever deduction for our hero to perform for his dazzled admirers, but it makes for average television. It's almost as lazy as bringing Moriarty back after realising that a series without the original and best baddie was difficult. I've no doubt it can be done well, if indeed Moriarty's return is done, but Moffat and Gatiss need to get off Tumblr, step away from the adulation and histrionics, and get back to crafting clever - or even just moderately clever - television. Otherwise they're just taking their clothes off for money.

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