Remember how last season was pretty light on details from the original Sherlock Holmes stories until Irene Adler and Moriarty showed up? And how even that had a twist? Well, this season starts with Sherlock and Watson going to London, and it's got Inspector Lestrade and Sherlock's brother Mycroft!
But this is a Lestrade who became a big star as a result of having Sherlock Holmes solving all his cases for him. So his career went kind of squirrelly after Sherlock left, and now he's waving grenades around at funerals and hiding in a theatre from the newspaper heir he's been accusing of murder. Meanwhile, Mycroft is less fat and indolent than he is in the stories and Sherlock finds this absolutely infuriating, so he keeps calling him "Fatty." It's like he doesn't know Mycroft is being played by Rhys Ifans.
The deal is that Lestrade is in disgrace because he went too far trying to prove that Lawrence Pendry (the aforementioned newspaper heir) killed his wife. Sherlock has been called back to London to locate Lestrade before he hurts somebody, but he takes a few minutes to prove that Lestrade was correct. Lawrence Pendry made a pistol from a 3D printer, and then he melted down the gun so it looked like a bottle of milk. They go to confront Pendry's handyman, because Pendry cleverly avoided buying a 3D printer himself. But the handyman is dead! This is convenient, because it provides extra proof that Pendry is a murderer. And it also gives a brand new murder to pin on him, which means that Scotland Yard doesn't need to worry about the messiness of the earlier murder, which got Lestrade fired.
So the bad guy gets arrested. But Lestrade doesn't learn his lesson about taking credit for things he didn't do, and he ends the episode on television, talking smugly about how much he knows about 3D printers. Meanwhile, it turns out that Mycroft wants to reconnect to Sherlock because he's been terribly sick. Watson gives him some well-meaning device, but Mycroft chooses instead to just blow up all of Sherlock's stuff. This might include a Picasso. So everything's even between them now, although Sherlock seems a little thrown by the experience.
It's not actually all that much like the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories after all. But they do go to 221B Baker Street. So that's fun!
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We open on Highgate Cemetery in London. That's in a whole different country! There's a very English funeral going on, so naturally it gets interrupted by a drunk man. The drunk shouts that Warren Pendry (the deceased) was a bad man. Lawrence Pendry, who we take to be Warren's son, tells him to leave. The drunk pulls out a grenade and shouts about how he was an officer of the law until Warren's "army of solicitors" stopped him. According to the drunk, Lawrence murdered his own wife and slaughtered him for trying to prove it. He holds the grenade up to Lawrence's face and introduces himself: " It's me. Lestrade." Gasp! Inspector Lestrade, of the Yard!
He, of course, is from the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, where he's the dumb policeman that Sherlock Holmes helps out. He's played by Sean Pertwee, and nerds will be interested to note that his father was Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor on Doctor Who. So that's who this is. He looks very convincing as a drunk who's past his pride. He tells Warren's tombstone that Warren did not, in fact, take the you-know-what out of him.
Sherlock Holmes is in Washington Square Park looking at pigeons. Watson joins him and complains about him skipping out on another rehab meeting. He claims to have had a breakthrough on the case they've been working on between seasons. Three US attorneys have been murdered while investigating a syndicate of pirates. They suspect a specific man of doing the killing, but they haven't been able to figure out how he gets his orders. Holmes's breakthrough was in deciding that they're using carrier pigeons. Classic! And sure enough, there's a pigeon here with a message on its foot. A man walks up, feeding the birds and grabbing the important one. When he sees Holmes and Watson walk up, he runs. And we've got a chase scene!
Holmes runs past him because he was hiding in the line for hot dogs. It's always the last place you look. He jogs in the other direction, but Watson catches him and wallops him with a stick. Now that the suspect is all crumpled up on the ground, Holmes strolls up and observes, "You've been tending to your self-defense. Well done."
Some unexplained amount of time later, Gregson and Bell show up. Gregson is cranky that six detectives couldn't get anywhere, while Holmes just had to follow a bird. You'd think he'd get used to Holmes being smarter than his entire police department. That's kind of relevant to what happens next: Holmes gets a phone call from Unknown Number in the United Kingdom. We hear his side of the conversation: "Yes, I'm fine. What? Yes, of course. Straight away." He verifies that Watson has a current passport and explains that Inspector Lestrade needs his help, so the two of them need to go to London.