It seems fans of the BBC series Sherlock aren't the only ones who find the lack of new adventures a hard pill to swallow. In a new mini-episode, which leads up to the big season 3 premiere of the Benedict Cumberbatch-led drama, several of the show's characters are also finding it difficult to accept a world devoid of Sherlock Holmes and his uncanny powers of observation – though, from the looks of it, John Watson (Martin Freeman) would just like to have his friend back.
The seven-minute episode entitled 'Many Happy Returns' unfolds with DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and Anderson (Jonathan Aris) enjoying a pint, and discussing the likelihood of Sherlock cheating what was his apparent death at the end of last season in 'The Reichenbach Fall.' While Anderson appears all too willing to believe these various newspaper reports of strange and tremendously difficult cases being solved are the work of the famous Sherlock Holmes, Lestrade is quick to point out there's no point in "fantasizing about a dead man coming back to life." But Lestrade's words fall on deaf ears, as Anderson traces these peculiar cases from a drug-smuggler infiltrating a group of warrior monks, to a New Delhi detective finding his killer through ice cream, to a sensational trial in Hamburg being turned around by a lone juror. These cases are enough to convince Anderson of Holmes' eventual return to London.
Written by series creators Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat, 'Returns' spins a quick, entertaining yarn where the signs of Sherlock's impending return pop up with alarming regularity, as even the seemingly skeptical Lestrade finds reason for a faint smile when he comes face to face with a hint of the game being back on. And while the man himself only makes a brief appearance via a heavenly silhouette, an over-the-shoulder close-up of his trademark coat and curled locks, and an uncut version of a birthday video intended for Watson, Sherlock's penchant for astonishment and surprise go hand in hand with his impeccable timing – even when it's on a pre-recorded video and from seemingly beyond the grave.
Despite being tantalizingly brief, this mini-episode demonstrates Gattis and Moffat's skill when it comes to generating energy around one perplexing and seemingly unsolvable mystery. It just so happens this mystery involves the apparently impossible return of a man believed to be dead. But without coming right out and saying it, 'Many Happy Returns' also plays up the void left in the lives of even the most tangential of characters, by the absence of the great detective.
There's a tender solemnity in Watson's terse wish to Holmes that he could "stop being dead," which is then cleverly countered through the magic of coincidence (and editing) that playfully hints at just how disturbingly prescient Sherlock's powers of deduction can sometimes lead him to be. And just when it seems the mini-episode is careening toward some tremendous reveal, it leaves Watson and viewers everywhere with calming reassurance of Sherlock's words: "Don't worry, I'm going to be with you again very soon."
All in all, 'Many Happy Returns' makes for a terrific pre-holiday gift from the fine folks at BBC.
Sherlock season 3 premieres in the U.S. on January 19, 2014 on PBS.