SHERLOCK Season 3: A Literary Primer


[SPOILER WARNING: Because some people apparently aren’t familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and characters that have been around since the late 1800s. The following contains plot points and possible spoilers for future episodes of BBC’s Sherlock as well as a tiny recap of “The Reichenbach Fall. ]

When we last left Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), he had just faked his own death as a way to get himself and his loved ones out from under the thumb of the “Napoleon of Crime”, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott). Since that final frame of the last episode of season 2, many fans have concocted theories as to how Sherlock faked his own death.

Since the world’s first consulting detective will be back on television in the fall of 2013, we may finally get some real answers. Now that the titles of the episodes in season three have been released, fans have a definitive literary compass with which to explore each episode. Below are the episode names as connected to their literary counterparts.

The Empty House

The Empty Hearse (The Empty House): 

Presumably based on “The Adventure of the Empty House“, which was originally published in Colliers in September 1903, and was meant to serve as the triumphant return of the great detective, after being killed off by his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. After what is known in Sherlockian circles as “The Great Hiatus”*, Sherlock returned to help friend John Watson solve the murder of Ronald Adair, who was shot in a locked room, on the second floor with a revolver at close range. Because Doyle wanted to be free to work on other projects, he gave the detective a hero’s death in “The Final Problem”. Unfortunately Holmes’ return gets a slightly less grand treatment, which has caused some fans to shake their heads in disbelief; mostly because Holmes spins some tripe about fending off Moriarty with martial arts and traveling the world like Batman, which is kind of believable…I guess.

This episode of the series will likely serve to wrap up the death of Holmes, it’s lingering effect on John Watson (Martin Freeman) and Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss)’s possible part in the cover up. We may see an appearance from Colonel Sebastian Moran, who was Moriarty’s right hand man in the stories*.*

The Sign of Four

The Sign of Three (The Sign of Four): 

Based off of “The Sign of Four“, originally published in Lippincotts, February 1890 is a novella that features several milestones for the Holmes canons. Holmes and Watson become embroiled in an investigation that has to do with a murder and a family treasure. This episode is notable for introducing Watson to Mary Morstan who would eventually become his wife. This is also the story that shows audiences Holmes’ daily cocaine habit, as well as his foul temperament toward women. While it’s clear that Watson may have eyes for Ms. Morstan, Holmes cautions his friend against it. “A client is to me a mere unit, a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance money.”

This middle episode will no doubt work the wedge, presented by Holmes faking his death, even further between the two companions. Reports also state that there will be a wedding for our Dr. Watson and Sherlock acts as Watson’s best man in the affair.


His Last Vow (His Last Bow): 

This episode is obviously titled after “His Last Bow“, which is considered to be an oddity among Holmes stories. The tale is told in the third person, instead of the usual observational first person POV of Dr. Watson. The story is also a spy tale and not a mystery, taking place on the eve of World War I. “His Last Bow” is considered to be the last “chronological” case in the Holmes canon, before the detective retires to beekeeping. In the story, Holmes masquerades as an Irish-American informant. Holmes plans to meet a German spy named Von Bork, who’s mission is to return to Berlin with British naval secrets. This story is also criticized by some Sherlockians as being nothing more than a propaganda tool to sow the seeds of British nationalism before WWI.

I doubt very much that we will see a patriotic vein run through this episode of the series, however, seeing Holmes in a spy capacity is very intriguing. It should also be noted that some fans of the series are concerned that the choice of this adaptation may indicate that the series is coming to a definitive end. Time may have to tell.


Charles Augustus Magnussen (Charles Augustus Milverton): 

It has been revealed that season 3 of Sherlock will include a character, played by Lars Mikkelsen, based off of Charles Augustus Milverton. The name has been changed to Magnussen for the updated version. Considered to be King of all Blackmailers, he is a man Sherlock had called “The worst man in London”. In “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton“, published in Colliers, March 1904, Holmes is hired by Lady Eva Brackenwell to obtain scandalous letters from Mr. Milverton. Disgusted with the blackmailer, and unable to buy the letters back with the sum he has, Holmes employs a more “elaborate” plan to close the case.

Since the character of Magnussen is being touted as Sherlock’s new nemesis, and he didn’t appear as a character in any of the stories that Moffatt and company are adapting, no one knows for sure how this version of the character will play into this season. Will he be a presence in every episode much like Moriarty in Season 1 or will they find a way to work him into the existing stories? For my money, the character would probably work best replacing the German Spy Von Bork in the retooled version of His Last Bow.


Another bit of news may have fans less excited. It seems as though this season may be the last of the series for a long while. Executive producer Steven Moffat has said that he may like to return to the characters when they are both in their 40s or 50s. This means that season 4 of Sherlock may not return until 2033. It would be a shame to have to wait that long to see Cumberbatch and Freeman return to their roles, but it would be kind of exciting to return to older characters.

Season 3 of Sherlock will premiere in the U.K. on October 31, 2013. American audiences unfortunately will have to wait until 2014 to see how Sherlock faked his death.

*The three year gap between “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House”.

**Didn’t you ever wonder who has the laser scope on Holmes in the series 1 finale. Could it be Moran, a military contemporary of John Watson?

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