Watson: That’s the phone, the pink phone!
Lestrade: What, from A Study in Pink?
Sherlock: Well, obviously it’s not the same phone, but it’s supposed to look like–“A Study in Pink“? You read his blog?
Lestrade: Course I read his blog, we all do. Do you really not know that the Earth goes ’round the Sun?

“The Great Game” is Sherlock‘s third and final episode this season. As a season finale, it’s pretty damn good. It’s got plenty of back references to the earlier episodes, it’s got more mysteries per minute than the other two episodes combined. It’s adapted from a number of Holmes short stories, and that really shows: the case this week is a mad bomber who directs Sherlock’s attention to crimes that went unnoticed by the police. He gives Sherlock a time limit for each “puzzle” and if he doesn’t solve the murder in the time limit–boom. The running subplot in this episode is a case Mycroft brings to Sherlock’s attention at the start of the episode that Sherlock dismisses out of sibling rivalry–leaving Dr. John Watson to solve the case.

It’s a bit hard to discuss the plot of this episode without lacing this review in spoilers. As these three reviews are really my attempts to review episodes of a television series without recapping episodes, I’m going to do something I’ve planned to do from the start and talk about the characters. Sherlock is perhaps one of the best character driven series I’ve seen in my time watching telly. This series ranks alongside Lost in the quality of its character writing. Mind you, that’s not consistency–every series has its out of character moments if it goes on long enough. But Sherlock‘s strength is in building comprehensive, intricate and devilishly engaging plots on character rather than murder. Oddly enough, for a murder mystery series.

Let’s start with most under-rated performance of the lot, Rupert Graves in the unforgiving support role of DI Lestrade. Lestrade, for all you illiterate readers out there, is the link between Holmes and the police service. He is the highest ranking official, and he’s the only member of the Metropolitan Police Service to truly value Holmes’ deductive abilities. While his peers think of Holmes as a psychopath or someone about to go off on a murder tangent at any moment, Lestrade trusts him because he knows when he’s out of his depth. Lestrade wasn’t even a very consistent character in the Holmes canon, I’ve been informed (by the writers).

The other actors auditioning alongside Rupert Graves played Lestrade as a buffoon. Rupert Graves, however, recognizes the quiet, understated dignity in knowing your own intellectual limits. His portrayal of Lestrade, while certainly not the smartest man in the room, has the Socratic advantage of knowing that he knows nothing. His performances does almost all of the work in grounding the almost bafflingly obtuse Scotland Yard in reality. If this role were to be played as a buffoon, you wouldn’t take Scotland Yard, Watson or Holmes seriously.

England’s new everyman Martin Freeman is perhaps my favourite incarnation of the Watson archetype to grace the screen. Watson/Holmes is a popular dynamic in fiction, but with popularity comes increased simplicity. Dr. John Watson is also often played as a bumbling fool, mistaking everything for clues with no rationality. The right Watson is the right mix of the Everyman, the Detective and the Hero. Watson is the one of the pair seen romancing the ladies, seen holding his own in fistfights, seen in warzones. Watson is not cowardly or fat or stupid. Watson is brave, handsome and intelligent. Which is why casting a guy who fits those three descriptors and still comes second to someone else is a bother.

Martin Freeman, of course, nails this. If this were the John Watson Show, accusations of being an overly perfect protagonist would fly fast and fierce in his direction. He’s capable, able, intelligent and funny. He’s just not as intelligent as Holmes, and it’s here that Freeman’s job is made clear. The best Watson uses their performance to bring Holmes’ unique qualities more into focus while showcasing their own assets over his. Through Martin Freeman, you see the renegade genius Holmes, but you also see the downright cruel Holmes. You see all of Holmes in a better contrast than you could with a lesser actor in the role, highlighting his own performance in the process.

Benedict Cumberbatch, in addition to having the best name of the three, rounds out the main cast as consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. I’ve seen more physical Holmeses in my time–Robert Downey, Jr. comes to mind–but I’ve yet to see one as blindingly intelligent as Cumberbatch. He plays the deductive angle for so much fun and profit that you often forget how downright mean and awful Holmes is as a person. He doesn’t care for people, doesn’t care about people and works better for it. He’s the man you trust not because of his personal investment in the case, but because of his lack of one. If Holmes is only taking the case because he’s bored, you know it’s a toughie and will inevitably be solved.

And “The Great Game” shines in bringing these three characters together far more often than any episode so far. It benefits from being the first episode not to introduce a character, and instead leaves these three men to battle their wits and morals out over the course of five crimes. You see the clear delineation between these three characters and why they help each other more than they will ever realize. Other character based highlights in this series are co-creator Mark Gatiss in the role of Sherlock’s smarter brother Mycroft. Mycroft is perpetually delightful, being both smarter than Sherlock and even more pathologically lazy. Mark Gatiss hits all the right notes as the quintessential Bizarro Watson.

“The Great Game” also wins with the fourth main character, but if you don’t want to read spoilers, I’d suggest you stop reading now. The final rating is THREE AND A HALF STARS

Seriously, spoilers be here.

It’s Moriarty. And this series has the most chilling villain I’ve ever seen Holmes up against in any story. Sherlock‘s Moriarty is not a high-functioning sociopath, as Sherlock is. He’s a true psychopath, and the world’s only consulting criminal. He, too, contrasts with Holmes–but not that much. Played with dead-eyed ferocity by Andrew Scott, this is the first villain to make a campy, sing-song voice a sign of true psychopathy. He does not care one wit about your life, or your mom’s life or anything but himself. I watch and I watch and I watch the final fives minutes of this episode, again and again, relishing his performance. He gets one proper scene, and he’s offstage. Well, as offstage as you can be with a cliffhanger ending like that.