'Sherlock' Season 3 spoiler-free review: Death defeated, mystery remains

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At long last, US audiences are going to view the return of "Sherlock" Season 3 on Sunday (Jan. 19). It's been almost two years since we saw Sherlock Holmes ( Benedict Cumberbatch) jump to his supposed death in the Season 2 finale, "The Reichenbach Fall." But Holmes didn't die, and neither did the series. Both are coming back.

The mystery of that non-death remains at the center of the first of three "Sherlock" episodes this season. In "The Empty Hearse," Holmes returns to London. Most of his old world -- although not all of it -- has thought the detective dead throughout a period of many months. Theories about what could have happened abound and make their presence known throughout the episode.

But the main focus of "The Empty Hearse" isn't Sherlock's fake death. It's his return to life and active detecting. Those two things are, in fact, the themes of the entire Season 3. What is Sherlock's life, and who is in it? What are his goals, and what is his motivation? For the most part, these themes come through loud and clear, occasionally giving audiences some surprising answers.

Is "Sherlock" perfect? No, not really. But the perfection expected after two years of waiting for a much-loved show can never be achieved. Some will dislike how "Sherlock" answers the question of the false death. Others may find fault in the increased humor of the season -- and it's often very funny. 

These things, however, do not really hurt "Sherlock," and the British detective series remains one of the best shows on television. Cumberbatch and co-star Martin Freeman have only grown more comfortable in their respective roles of Holmes and Watson. The scripts, meanwhile, understand these men, what makes them tick and why they gravitate toward each other.

Only one new, major character pops up in the first episode: Mary Morstan ( Amanda Abbington). Mary is an important figure in Watson's recent life and a surprisingly effortless addition to the team.

Overall, it's not possible to say that everyone will be satisfied with the new season of "Sherlock." But anyone who wants to enjoy the return of the great detective should look forward to three weeks of some of the world's best crime-solving.

"Sherlock" premieres Sunday, Jan. 19 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS.

Photo/Video credit: PBS
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