London, Jan. 2: Nearly 10 million television viewers tuned in last night to try and find out how Sherlock Holmes survived after throwing himself off the top of a high building in London — and this morning they are still not much wiser.
There are 13 possible solutions to the problem, the great detective himself says at one point, but of the three that are shown it is unclear whether the last one represents what really happened.
The second series of Sherlock, a modern retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, ended two years ago with a cliffhanger.
A final encounter between Sherlock Holmes and his chief adversary, “Jim” Moriarty, ends on the roof of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, with the latter shooting himself in the mouth and the great detective then feigning death by flinging himself from the precipice of the building.
Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who has become one of the biggest stars in the world, while the actor Martin Freeman has been cast as the faithful Dr John Watson.
Watson, who has been summoned on cellphone by Holmes to witness the incident, sees his friend fall and afterwards checks his blood-splattered body on the pavement to confirm the absence of a pulse.
But viewers know that Holmes has survived because he stands hidden by trees in a cemetery while an anguished Watson utters grief-stricken words before a headstone bearing the legend, “Sherlock Holmes”.
After two years of feverish global speculation, whipped up with teasers from the co-writers, Steven Moffat and Mike Gatiss (he also plays Holmes’s elder and more cerebral brother, Mycroft), these were the solutions offered last night:
Solution 1: Holmes does throw himself off the building but he is attached to a rope as though he is bungee jumping. The elastic rope pulls him back well before he hits the ground. But on the way up Holmes swerves sideways, crashes though a window and gives a kiss to a waiting collaborator, Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), who works in a mortuary and has a bit of a crush on Holmes.
Meanwhile, unseen helpers rush Moriarty’s body off the roof, have scalpels ready to fix a Sherlock Holmes mask on the face of the deceased and then place him on the pavement in time for Watson to check the man’s pulse. Valuable time is gained with, first, a cyclist bumping into Watson, and then by a well known British illusionist, Derren Brown (playing himself), hypnotising him for a minute or two. By the time Watson regains his senses, the fake body is in place.
Solution 2: A giggling Holmes and Moriarty, snuggling by a chimney breast — they even share a kiss and are enjoying a private joke at Watson’s expense. A body with a face resembling that of Holmes is dangled from the roof’s edge but it is attached to a rope held by the real Holmes.
This solution is so far-fetched that it is obviously not the real one.
Solution 3: In a pre-arranged operation codenamed Lazarus, Holmes jumps on to an inflatable mattress on top of a vehicle that is hidden by an ambulance but which moves swiftly into place as he jumps. It is then a simple matter for him to roll onto the pavement and have a syringe cover his face with blood. He is seen deftly placing a rubber ball under his armpit with the intention of stopping his pulse briefly.
This could well be a solution but it is so mundane that viewers, who had had a two-year wait for last night’s opening episode, The Empty Hearse (a pun on the original Conan Doyle story, The Empty House), of the third series of Sherlock will feel let down by a sense of anti-climax.
There were other noteworthy features in last night’s drama, in which Holmes is brought back from torture and imprisonment in Serbia by Mycroft, in order to deal with a terrorist threat to London.
This turns out to be an underground train compartment, packed with explosives, placed under the Palace of Westminster and primed to go off on November 5, Guy Fawkes Night.
Watson, who has aged visibly perhaps because of the loss of his friend, is now sporting a moustache. But Holmes reappears in a restaurant just as Watson is about to propose to the woman in his life, Mary Morstan (played by Freeman’s real life partner Amanda Abbington).
Watson is so furious that he should have been allowed to grieve for two years that he lunges at Holmes, seeks to throttle him and even head buts his friend who is left nursing a bleeding nose. Later, when Watson crossly threatens again to “kill” his friend, Holmes quips: “That’s so two years ago.”
The landlady at 221b Baker Street, Mrs Hudson (played by Una Stubbs) screams with horror when Holmes calmly opens the front door and walks in as though nothing had happened.
Incidentally, she approves that in his personal life Watson has moved on and was thinking of getting married.
Her incredulous reaction is: “To a woman? You really have moved on, haven’t you?”
Watson angrily protests: “I am not gay.”
Holmes’s parents also put in a cameo appearance and visit their son at his flat — they are played by Cumberbatch’s real parents Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham.
Cumberbatch said he was “so proud of them” but admitted: “They’re Equity card carrying members but you know it was nerve-wracking because they are actors as well and yet they were brilliant and they were fantastic.”
Another cliffhanger is promised for the third and last episode of the current series.