Jan. 20, 2014 at 5:12 AM ET
"Sherlock" has returned to the land of the living! Fans dying to see how the great detective (Benedict Cumberbatch) survived his staged suicide in last year's finale were finally given answers — several of them in fact — in the third season's eagerly anticipated premiere.
Airing Sunday night on PBS — several weeks after its U.K. broadcast — "The Empty Hearse" was chock full of clever twists, inside jokes and special cameos. Here are seven reasons why we think it was worth the wait. (Spoiler alert! Don't read if you're not caught up.)
Showrunners Mark Gatiss (who also plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft) and Steven Moffat broke the fourth wall of 221B Baker Street so many times it's a wonder Mrs. Hudson's house didn't collapse. The Empty Hearse is a conspiracy club whose members, like so many fervent "Sherlock" fans, have spent years speculating how the consulting detective could have survived his fall. The most ridiculous scenario opened the episode, and involved a mask and Watson being hypnotized (by real-life illusionist Derren Brown, David Blaine's British counterpart). When the guilt-ridden forensics specialist Anderson expressed his disappointment with Sherlock's final explanation, the detective retorted, "Everyone’s a critic" — nodding to the inevitable reception by many viewers.
The most entertaining suicide scenario (imagined by an Empty Hearse fangirl) involved Sherlock colluding with Moriarty (Andrew Scott), with the two giggling before — wait for it — sharing a romantic kiss. At that moment, a thousand Cumberb-----es' hearts stopped.
"I don't shave for Sherlock Holmes"
Yes, you can already buy a T-shirt of Watson's defensive declaration after he took a razor to his mustache. (Itself a wink to the sidekick's iconic image.) The fact that Sherlock himself was sporting a 'stache — crafted out of eyeliner in his goofy guise as a French waiter — added much-needed levity to his big reveal. Poor Watson had been grieving his BFF for two years and was just about to propose to his girlfriend: Sherlock really did deserve that punch in the face.
All in the family
Benedict Cumberbatch's actual parents (actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham) made a surprise cameo as Sherlock's alarmingly ordinary mum and dad. Considering they spawned two mad geniuses, it was especially shocking to see them muttering banalities on his sitting-room sofa. The nepotism extended to Martin Freeman's real-life ladylove, Amanda Abbington, who joined the cast as Watson's fiancée, Mary Morstan.
"She's fantastic," the actor said about working with Morstan after previewing "Fargo" at a press conference last week. "We have a natural kind of rhythm and chemistry together that I love."
Check bonfires for sleeping Hobbits
Chances are many Americans aren't familiar with Guy Fawkes Night, when Brits traditionally light bonfires to celebrate the anniversary of the traitor's foiled plot to blow up Parliament — the very thing Sherlock prevented after he rescued Watson from a burning bonfire. If only the celebrants in "Sherlock" had heeded the warnings of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, maybe Watson wouldn't have had such a close call.
Charles Augustus Magnussen
The show's new villain is seen admiring his handiwork — hiding Sherlock's bound bestie under that bonfire — in the premiere's last scene. Based on Arthur Conan Doyle's blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton, the baddie is played by Lars Mikkelsen (from the Danish version of "The Killing"). Coincidentally, the Danish actor's brother, Mads Mikkelsen is currently playing another iconic villain: the titular serial killer in NBC's "Hannibal." "We play a lot of good guys back home," Mads told TODAY, "so we're very happy and pleased we can become villains in the rest of the world."
Not that there's anything wrong with that…
"The Empty Hearse" made another cheeky reference to a particular subsection of "Sherlock" devotees — "Johnlock" fanfic. Not even Watson's announcement that he was getting married could shake Mrs. Hudson's firm belief that he and his roommate were gay. "So soon after Sherlock?" she asked doubtfully. He grew increasingly exasperated, and finally — after she affectionately said, "Live and let live, that’s my motto" — Watson screamed, "Listen to me! I am not gay!"
Maybe Mrs. Hudson will finally be convinced in next week's wedding episode, "The Sign of Three"?