Sherlock returns! Mini-episode grants fans early Xmas wish

Dr. John Watson, DI Lestrade, a very haggard Anderson, and Sherlock Holmes himself star in "Many Happy Returns," a mini-episode leading up to the premiere of season 3 of "Sherlock."

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
4 min read
A haggard and unemployed Sgt. Anderson (Jonathan Aris) has become the biggest believer that Sherlock is alive. Screenshot by CNET

In "Many Happy Returns," a seven-minute mini-episode of the hit TV show "Sherlock," we see Benedict Cumberbatch at it again as the great detective, Sherlock Holmes, as he makes his journey back to his roommate, colleague, and best friend Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman).

Warning: Spoilers ahead, so if you've never watched "Sherlock" or are catching up, stop reading now.

After Sherlock disappears after faking his own death in "The Reichenbach Fall" to fool his archenemy Jim Moriarty's henchmen -- who vowed to kill those closest to Sherlock if he did not die -- fans shared endless conspiracy theories on how clever the detective would have to be to convince even Watson (who sees Sherlock jump off the roof of St. Bartholomew's Hospital) of his own demise.

We know Sherlock is indeed alive thanks to the last scene in "The Reichenbach Fall," where he lurks in behind trees hiding from Watson and his beloved landlady Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) as they lament over his grave.

So what has Sherlock been up to since he's been presumed dead and how have his friends and colleagues been coping this entire time? "Many Happy Returns" gives glimpses of Sherlock solving mysteries around the globe, starting in Tibet -- which ironically mirrors Cumberbatch's real-life adventures when he taught English in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in his youth.

A very sad Watson (Martin Freeman) watching a DVD of an uncut message Sherlock made for his birthday during happier times. Screenshot by CNET

The mini-episode -- written by the show's creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss -- hints that Sherlock (posing as a Buddhist warrior monk) ferrets out a blonde female drug smuggler who is hiding out among them. In New Delhi, we see a police press conference where it's revealed the killer was discovered from the minutest of details -- the depth of a chocolate flake had sunk into the victim's ice cream cone. Not to mention the mysterious juror in Germany, who taps his fingers impatiently like you-know-who.

One of the most shocking transformations of a character belongs to Sgt. Anderson (Jonathan Aris) of the New Scotland Yard forensics team, who was once insulted by Sherlock, who accused him of "lowering the IQ of the whole street." He's no longer the defensive adversary of Sherlock, but has become the biggest believer that Sherlock is alive. Anderson, now haggard and unemployed, meets with DI Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) in a pub to discuss the unusual crimes he's been tracking to try to convince him that Sherlock must still be alive to solve them all.

It's heartbreaking to see Anderson so desperately passionate to prove Sherlock's continued existence. But he may have just ingratiated himself into the hearts of Sherlock fans who have been tweeting #SherlockLives since his aired "death" in January 2012.

Lestrade leaves Anderson in the pub to deliver a few odds and ends of Sherlock's to Watson in his new flat. He hands Watson an old DVD of an uncut message Sherlock made for Watson's birthday during happier times. Later, alone with a drink in his hand, Watson pops in the DVD, to see that familiar wallpaper of their shared flat at 221B Baker Street. Sherlock talks to Lestrade, who is off camera, about why he's missing Watson's birthday party. When Lestrade urges him to elaborate, Sherlock replies "Only lies have detail." Sherlock's message to John might as well be a prelude to what is to come. "I'm sorry I'm not there at the moment," Sherlock says. "I'm very busy. However, many happy returns. Oh don't worry, I'm going to be with you again very soon." Then cue doorbell, and a wink and a nod from Sherlock on the video.

A wink and a nod from Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) on the video. Screenshot by CNET

Be sure to check out Watson's blog, now updated about his feelings regarding Sherlock's message on the DVD.

With only three episodes per season, this mere seven-minute mini-episode of "Sherlock" is just what fans need to keep us going until the third season premieres with "The Empty Hearse," written by Mark Gatiss, on January 1 on BBC One in the UK and on January 19 on PBS in the United States.

The only thing better than this mini-episode, and the anticipation of a third season, is knowing that a fourth season is possibly also in the works, thanks to Cumberbatch letting the secret slip in a Radio Times interview: "All I know at the moment is we're doing these three [episodes of the upcoming series] and another three," Cumberbatch said. "I just don't know what there is beyond that."

All we can say is, "Welcome back, Sherlock. We missed you."

Update at 8:10 a.m. PT Thursday, December 26: The episode name was changed from "The Final Problem" to "The Reichenbach Fall" in the second and third paragraphs.