[WARNING: THIS ARTICLE FEATURES SPOILERS FOR ALL SEASONS OF SHERLOCK]
Thanks to the success of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes blockbuster feature-film franchise and the CBS procedural Elementary, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation is back in the public eye during the 21st century. However, the most popular incarnation of the master detective is arguably the BBC drama, Sherlock, which stars fan-favorite Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as his faithful ally, Dr. John Watson. Thanks to its present-day setting, clever writing, and great performances, the show has attracted a large following by offering a fresh take on the iconic character.
Hitting the air in 2010, Sherlock recently wrapped up its third season (in America) on February 2nd. Although there are only three 90-minute episodes in each season, there have been plenty of memorable moments that stand out. As we wait patiently for Sherlock to return in season 4, we’re offering our selections for the 5 greatest Sherlock moments (so far).
Cabbie Showdown – “A Study in Pink”
The goal of any series pilot is to draw the audience in and get them immediately hooked. By that criterion, “A Study in Pink,” Sherlock’s debut episode, was an overwhelming success. Featuring a nice balance of drama and humor, the episode builds its world to great effect and designs the perfect template for the many episodes to come. One of the many series staples established here is ending each episode with a nail-biting climax – this one courtesy of a desperate cabbie.
Investigating a series of “suicides,” Sherlock gets a visit from an interested cab driver. Confessing that he’s responsible for the various murders, the driver takes advantage of Sherlock’s desire to learn how it was done and takes him on a ride to an empty college. There, an intense showdown between the two takes place, as Sherlock is given the choice between two pills. One will kill him.
Trading the non-stop action of the Ritchie version for suspenseful thrills proved to be the best route to go for the show. Relying on an eerie setting, well-written dialogue, and an unsettling performance by Phillip Davis as the cabbie, director Paul McGuigan was able to create something that would have been at home in David Fincher’s Se7en. The episode’s climax also showed that Holmes and Watson would be a formidable team, with the war veteran using his resources and coming to his new friend’s rescue with one deadly shot. As Sherlock and John laugh about their first of many adventures, it’s easy to feel like they’re a dynamic duo already.
Sherlock Gets Shot – “His Last Vow”
While investigating Charles Augustus Magnussen’s apartment for clues, Sherlock is stunned to see John’s wife Mary holding the criminal at gunpoint. While the revelation that there’s more to Mrs. Watson than meets the eye would be substantial enough, this scene throws in one of the show’s trademark shocking developments by having Mary shoot Sherlock as her own unique way of asking to be a client.
We later learn that Mary intentionally shot Sherlock in a nonlethal area, but at the time, the detective and the many viewers had reason to be concerned for Holmes’ life. As our hero struggled to stay alive, we were treated to an in-depth look at Sherlock’s famous “mind palace.” Viewers had caught a glimpse of this memory technique in action during “The Hounds of Baskerville,” but this time we got to see the inner workings of Sherlock’s mind – and it was a spectacle to behold.
The stylish sequence has a distinct cinematic feel. As Sherlock’s fall to the floor is shown in slow motion, his brain races to find a solution to his predicament. With the guidance of allies including Mycroft and Molly, the detective is able to determine whether or not there was an exit wound, remain calm amidst the surprise of being shot, and even retain consciousness thanks to a brief cameo from Moriarty (in a bit seemingly pulled out of a horror film). Masterfully constructed, this sequence allowed fans to see how Sherlock is able to make his deductions as quickly as he does and show that despite his superior intellect, Mr. Holmes is nevertheless dependent on those closest to him to overcome the odds.
Sherlock Reveals Himself – “The Empty Hearse”
After the jaw-dropping season 2 finale saw Sherlock fake his own death (unbeknownst to John), the biggest mystery the show produced was how the detective survived his apparently fatal fall. But that (smartly) took a back seat to the psychological effect Sherlock’s reveal would have on John, who is still coping with his loss when we first meet him in the third season.
The scene in question is mainly about Sherlock Holmes making his return to London, but it’s also noteworthy for the traces of character development for John. A soldier suffering from PTSD in the pilot, John is prepared to propose to his girlfriend Mary. This shows that he has perhaps overcome his addiction to a dangerous lifestyle (something detailed greater in “His Last Vow”) by making the choice to settle down with a wife, raise a family, and work a normal job. It’s a long way from his “Oh, God yes,” when Sherlock asked if he wanted to see more dead bodies.
Sherlock is by and large a drama, but the show also has a comedic gene, which is used to great effect here. Creating an impromptu disguise as a French waiter, Sherlock’s meeting with John is first played for laughs before Dr. Watson realizes what is actually happening. The sequence manages to balance the two tones without being jarring – giving viewers an opportunity to feel sympathy for the emotional John while laughing at Sherlock’s ineptitude at grasping basic human feelings (despite the personal growth he had in season two).
Sherlock Mourns For Irene – “A Scandal in Belgravia”
The season 2 premiere, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” is widely considered to be one of the series’ finest episodes. Not only did it feature one of the show’s best mysteries and most cunning adversaries, it also took the time to develop the main character – an element that was praised by many critics.
Sherlock is famous for appearing to be void of emotion, choosing to use his energies on forming deductions as opposed to making connections with people. So it was a nice change-of-pace to see the detective become enamored with Irene Adler, a criminal who had earned herself a notorious reputation. From the moment they met, Sherlock was never sure what to think of “The Woman,” and responds by doing everything short of romantically pursuing her. One sequence that stands out is when Sherlock deduces a Ministry of Defense Code quicker than usual, in an attempt to impress Irene.
But it’s another great scene from this episode that officially makes our list. When Sherlock believes Ms. Adler to be dead, he copes by playing melancholy songs on his violin. While nobody ever outright says that Sherlock had feelings for Irene, it’s clear that there was something there. As the camera pulls away slowly from Holmes, the viewers can’t help but sympathize with the character that is portrayed not as the world’s most famous detective, but a lonely man in mourning. Seeing this humanistic side of Sherlock gave him a new layer and showed that he was capable of caring about people.
Sherlock’s Jump – “The Reichenbach Fall”
The running theme of season two is Sherlock uncovering his human side. Through his interactions with the more “normal” John, the detective is able to see the world in a new light and while he may never be able to completely act “human,” we do get several teases that he’s more than a cold, calculating “high-functioning sociopath” that solves crimes.
In his second confrontation with the nefarious Moriarty, Sherlock’s reputation has been ruined. Thanks to some libelous journalism and planted evidence, the world now views Sherlock as a monster instead of a famous hero. The final part of Moriarty’s plan is for a shamed Sherlock to commit suicide and after raking his brain for a way out, Holmes learns there’s no escape. He either jumps or the people he cares the most about die.
Despite spitefully telling John that he “doesn’t have friends” in the previous episode, Sherlock realizes what impact his inaction would have not only on John, but also the loveable Mrs. Hudson and Detective Inspector Lestrade, his – yes, friend – in the police department. Casting his ego aside, Sherlock admits defeat and (seemingly) jumps to his death in order to save those closest to him. This self-sacrifice is the ultimate way of showing how important the lives of his companions were to Sherlock and displays how far he would be willing to go for their sake.
In a show that’s packed with edge-of-your-seat crime solving and touching character moments, there are many more than just these five moments that make Sherlock a blast to watch. Here are some honorable mentions that barely missed the cut:
- Sherlock first shows off his deduction abilities by learning everything about John just by looking at him – “A Study in Pink”
- Sherlock admits he is afraid, then defensively makes deductions about a random customer in a restaurant – “The Hounds of Baskerville”
- John investigates the heroin den on his own – “His Last Vow”
- Sherlock’s best man speech – “The Sign of Three” (pictured above)
Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to list some of your favorite moments in the comments section below.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90
Sherlock season three will be available on Blu-ray February 11, 2014.