Benedict Cumberbatch is practically vibrating with manic joy. The fourth season of Sherlock premieres Sunday night with the Doctor Strange star’s Holmes in top ultra-wired form, gleefully solving seemingly impossible murders as fast as he can text their enigmatic solutions to the cops (a favorite: “If dog can’t swim neighbor is the killer”). His best friend Watson (Martin Freeman) is also in high spirits, raising his first child with ex-assassin Mary (Amanda Abington).
But this unprecedented peace is short-lived, with the deceased Moriarty (Andrew Scott) possibly having launched a posthumous lethal plan to lure in Sherlock involving smashed statues of Margaret Thatcher at seemingly random crime scenes (“the game is on,” Holmes says).
“They’re having the time of their lives,” teases showrunner Steven Moffat. “As we briefly saw them in [January’s stand-alone episode] The Abominable Bride, in the modern-day sequences, the three are having a laugh and everything is working out.”
While much has been speculated about the impact of Watson’s marriage to Mary and the arrival of their newborn, the addition to the family doesn’t disrupt their relationship in a major way. “As in the original stories, Sherlock has no problem at all with Waston being married,” he points out. “Sometimes that’s portrayed as a kind of jealousy thing, which is a bit weird.”
Just don’t expect the season’s upbeat mood to last, Moffat warns, as evidenced by the season’s rather intense trailer. “They’re all adrenaline junkies and that’s bound to go wrong,” he says. “You can’t live your life like that and have it work out forever. There will be consequences for that. You know, it’s not a fairy tale. There will be a darker side for rest of the [season].”
Part of that darkness comes from the introduction of a new villain played by Toby Jones. We asked the writer-producer if he was concerned about whether the saga’s best-known villain is now, apparently, in the past.
“Moriarty features in very little of the Sherlock Holmes stories,” Moffatt replies. “He’s not the villain very often. He hangs around a bit, but he’s dead by the end of [season] 2, having had his first-and-only full episode. So that’s never bothered me too much. You don’t really need a master villain. Sherlock doesn’t need an arch-enemy, even though he has the most famous arch-enemy in fiction. And we already know Moriarty. When you introduce a new villain there’s more mystery about them — what’s their point going to be? What are they up to? How is Sherlock is going to defeat them? You can’t have the Batman vs. The Joker every week, you get depressed when the arch-enemy never seems to notice that they always lose. It just becomes predictable. There’s a whole host of less-famous ones in the stories that have never been touched.”
Sherlock‘s first new episode in a year, “The Six Thatchers,” premieres Sunday night on PBS Masterpiece.