No neutrality, much verbiage, and lots of spoilers after the jump!
First, I love this show on many levels and I will take absolutely whatever crumbs they throw to us. And beg for more. Twice.
But, my love is not blind. Only the truly ridiculous fan would have expected to watch exactly what they hoped for, exactly as they envisioned it, unfold on screen yesterday. I'm not that fan, and none of the other Sherlockians on here (GT) are, either. We had a decently intelligent chat last night that balanced giddy squees with nuanced analysis. We crowed, we criticized, and we conjectured. (And I love you all!) So it's okay to say "I liked some of this, I didn't like some of that, I'm confused about those things, and here's why."
That's what this post is. It ambles from the trivial to the more contemplative.
First, Detective Inspector Lestrade, how can you be our silver fox when your hair is shorn like a USMC private?The buzz cut compromises your Dashing Civil Servant image. This is my only bodysnarkish comment. Moving on.
Sequences and scenes involving movement or stress subscribed heavily to the action movie aesthetic. The tone imparted by the color, angles, and music was very unexpected in a largely cerebral drama. I'm not saying it should have the palette and camerawork of North and South; I'm saying that the overall intensity was ramped up to a much higher degree than seemed comfortable for continuity's sake. The visual aesthetic was very Requiem for a Dream.
I can see the appeal of it in places - especially where there is psychological tumult and edgy energy, like the early torture scene, or the John bonfire scene. But much like the lens flares, it was so overdone that I eventually felt glutted on the high saturation and the gritty Dave McKean-esque overlays. The sharp cuts, nose-pore zooms, and oblique angles all compounded to become distracting and fatiguing. The heavy early dosage of this aesthetic meant that its impact was dulled over the course of the show, rather than intensified.
I'm content to accept it if that's the tone for S3, but it was definitely a departure from the S1/S2 camerawork that defaulted to staid and steady. I am very happy for the fanbase who wanted that, and it was very exciting in lots of places, but I would have been happier with more restraint. I caught less of the witty dialogue and plot clues on my initial watch than I did in any previous episodes. Odd cuts and angles during simple exposition does a disservice to the marvelous script.
THE CONSULTING DETECTIVE
Was Sherlock behaving "out of character"? I don't think so. I think he was insanely glad to be back and to have his world reassembled around him. In this episode I think we witnessed that half-mad giddy stage where you are still coming down from the endorphins of doing something incredibly reckless. Whatever did or didn't happen on that roof and afterwards, Sherlock did experience some form of catharsis. Anyone expecting "'We'll start with the riding crop' Sherlock" to stalk primly back into London does injustice to both the character development of S1/S2 and the character development that we haven't seen in the in-character previous two years. Sherlock was a bit manic in TEH. Always the addict, remember? He'll settle in as his cases begin to consume him.
Speaking of cases, holy content overload, batman. It's obvious that this series has been written for an informed and established fanbase (more on that later), because they threw about fifty plot buses at us and what a crazy ride it was. I didn't feel like this episode had any main narrative. It tried to do so many things and while it largely succeeded, nothing plot-wise seemed to dominate. In this respect the episode was wonderful for its individual moments, not its aggregate whole.
THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT
Mycroft. Oh, was that ever a treat. Gatiss wrote himself some real gems and he executed them with three-piece-suit perfection. For every complaint like the Fast & Furious outtakes there was a priceless bit of camerawork like the illusion of Sherlock and Mycroft facing off in front of the (suitably patrician and intellectual) chessboard. We never see the game board up close until - beeeep - and I cracked up laughing. Brilliantly constructed scene. (I want to see the deleted scene with the conversation that led to playing that game.)
Sherlock and Mycroft banter, move, and counter as if they've been bickering siblings their whole lives, but it is both softer and more raw than S1 and S2. The show playing the long game in developing their relationship, and the showrunners are executing it exquisitely. The siblings' interactions in TEH showcased their complex and evolving dynamic with near perfection. The poignant moments that are a blink of an eye in S1/S2 are suspended and allowed to be acknowledged for the span of several breaths in TEH.
Now for the big topic about this ep. How much did it break the fourth wall? How much was it "mocking" the fans and how much was it "indulging" the fans? Well, authorial intent is a real bitch to wrestle with, and I know that many people have trotted out Gatiss/Moffat's treatment of other shows with passionate fanbases - namely Doctor Who. For the purpose of my viewing this episode of Sherlock, I'm very glad that I am not a Whovian and that this background knowledge/precedent completely flew over my head. I'm not even sure how fair it is to let their Doctor Who behavior be given in evidence to the quest to understand their treatment of yesterday's Sherlock. That's a debate for more informed fans who give more fucks about authorial intent. I am a fan who leaves the off-screen antics at the door. I don't let them intrude on my viewing experience. That's why I don't read actor interviews, I don't watch "Making Of" documentaries, and I don't look at on-set photographs. I don't know much about the Martin Freeman elf rape debacle or the fanfic reading debacle. I contemplate those last two things in abstract generalities (rape comment was Problematic; fanfic reading was abuse of power). For me, watching a show like Sherlock or Game of Thrones is like cracking open the cover of a book. I don't want to read the editor's margin notes or the writer's drafting process. I just want to read the damn story.
That paragraph tangented a bit more than I intended. Tl;dr: I only value what I see and infer from the product I'm given.
As a result of the above, I'm very particular about the fourth wall. I like that shit to stay bricked up. Exceptions abound in any assertion like that, and I'll confess that I love when the fourth wall comes down on ABC's Castle. #browncoat4lyfe. But Sherlock is not Castle, and my standards are different for BBC literature adaptations than they are for network crime procedurals. This episode really got a little too close to my personal line, and I'm still deciding whether or not it crossed it. This is where I'm really glad my thoughts aren't muddled by the Doctor Who stuff. Some are saying that certain scenes deliberately called attention to the fanfiction/fan art that populates the online Sherlock fandom. Is that fair or true? It's a matter of interpretation. Fanfic/art is a composite of the show's canon and the fans' creativity. Why can't the show show the same creativity, have its characters vulnerable to the events in the same very human ways that the viewers are? Anderson's a bit cracked, and the mini-sode laid decent groundwork for his character behaving as he did (i.e. forming his conspiracy club). In fact, the mini-sode laid a lot of thematic groundwork for the episode. After watching TEH, I really think it would have been much improved by shunting more of its plot groundwork and more of its scenes into the mini-sode. It would have made the episode tidier - more of a narrative and less of a cleanup job.
I am going to post this now and add to it as I continue to ponder the episode in the immediate post-viewing glow. But let the record reflect that I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the episode and I can't wait to be equally entertained and delighted next week.