Let's start with the good. There's more of it, luckily!
1. Acting and character interaction. Simply superb! Everyone got a moment with everyone; we even got a tiny Moriarty cameo. I loved all of the Sherlock & John, Sherlock & Mycroft, Sherlock & Mrs Hudson, Sherlock & Molly, John & Mary, John & Mrs Hudson, Sherlock & Mary, Lestrade & Sherlock, Lestrade & Anderson, etc. moments! However short some of them were, they were meaningful and they gave the characters closure re: Sherlock, re-established some of the positions and more or less opened a new page.
2. Sherlock. I can't not adore this smug bastard. He's every bit as selfish, childish, clueless, arrogant, adorable and fierce as he was. That is not to say he's not trying: props for not saying anything to Molly about her fanboy boyfriend and generally being sweet with her and not being a dick to Mary [yet]. But he's still a diva, he still likes making an entrance, he's still a major troll and a pouty little boy.
And here Sherlock looks like Khan:
This is very pleasing to me on a completely shallow note. XD
As far as theories go, I find that I really don't care about how Sherlock faked his death (more on this below). What I'd like to know is where he's been done and what he's done. "Dismantling Moriarty's network" is a rather vague notion. Something tells me we won't get any flashbacks, but it'd still be nice. I'd like to see how much it did or didn't change him.
3. Sherlock and Mycroft. God, I adore these two and their convoluted relationship! Try telling me they don't love each other! There's a lot of airs there, but they're perfectly transparent for all their pretense. I'm not at all surprised that Mycroft knew Sherlock was alive. First of all, it's a big canon element that he did; and second, Sherlock couldn't have pulled it off without him. And yet, a part of me wishes he hadn't so that we could see him grieve for a bit. Then again, I'm pretty sure both Holmes brothers do believe they're somewhat indestructible. XD
As much as I disliked the scene with the Serbians (it's a Slavic thing, don't get me started on it), I was glad to see Mycroft saving Sherlock from something (and it's no big secret how much Mycroft hates "action" so yes, Sherlock, a thank you is in order). And then LOL, those two idjits playing surgery and then deduction and being competitive and adorkable and smart assholes!
Much like in 2x01, there were references to their childhood, and I love that too. I also loved Sherlock poking and prodding at Mycroft's "isolation" and the "How would you know?" was a nice, if belated, comeback regarding Mycroft's observations on Sherlock and sex in 2x01.
Naturally, the whole scene breeds more questions than ever. What was Sherlock's remark about Mycroft not being able to handle a broken heart really about? Is it foreshadowing of some kind? Coupled with the "lonely" observation, it does look like foreshadowing, but they would hardly waste time on setting Mycroft up with someone, wouldn't they? On the other hand, the talk about goldfish brings us back to Mycroft and Sherlock's relationship, but that's hardly a cause for a broken heart since Mycroft knew Sherlock was alive.
I just really hope they're not giving Mycroft some angsty backstory that explains that he's the way he is b/c someone he loved died (cue "All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage."). Just please. Please be above this.
4. Mr and Mrs Holmes! Played by Benedict's real parents, no less. XD I have to say, I had been expecting some scary people but I'm not really disappointed that they turned out to be so normal. First of all, we haven't seen them that long. Perhaps they've got other quirks. And second of all, it makes it all the more intriguing that they somehow ended up having such weird children.
Like I said, I loved the callbacks to the Holmes brothers' childhood, Sherlock's early inferiority complex, Mycroft being a dick, and their disappointment at meeting other children.
The scene with the parents was short, but cute and funny and oddly touching. And it's considerate of at least one of the brothers to have informed them of Sherlock's ruse.
Also, I still can't stop giggling at Mycroft's panicked call from the Les Mis show. Yes, Mycroft, I share your feelings regarding that musical. XD
5. Mary! I was fully prepared to dislike her because I'm not a big fan of Amanda Abbington, but Mary so far comes out as such a nice, funny and warm person that I can't help myself. XD I love how teasing she is, how outraged she is at Sherlock's deception at first but then she seems more intrigued than angry, which is normal, in my opinion.
I enjoyed her interaction with Sherlock (re: human nature) and them saving John together was nice too. I'm curious to see more of Sherlock's attitude. So far he seems surprisingly okay with her, which is interesting, given that he's been boycotting John's girlfriends for 2 series, and this is a more serious relationship.
Now I'm curious: what sort of secrets does Mary have? Because Sherlock has clearly deduced some things about her already.
6. Sherlock and Lestrade, aww. Huuug! It's curious how we don't get a John & Sherlock hug, but we get a Lestrade & Sherlock hug and even a cute Sherlock & Molly kiss.
Speaking of Molly, the whole of his interaction with her seemed more human somehow. I loved the little giggles they'd shared and I loved it that she got something to do, not just trail after him with a notebook. I also loved it that she backed out on her own because it was obvious that no matter what he said, he was missing John and stupidly trying to find a substitute. I think it also says a lot about the change in Sherlock: he claimed once that John was a susbtitute for his skull, so why not go back to the skull now? But no, he can't, he wants a living audience, but even more so, as the conversation with Mycroft shows, he wants a friend. I love all the nuances of the aspect of loneliness presented in this episode. Unfortunately, the flashiness somewhat distracts from it, but the episode isn't as shallow as it seemed to me yesterday.
7. Sherlock and John. Oh, I know I have to, but do I have to? XD It's even harder to explain than the rest. It wasn't a perfect reunion overall, but in many ways it <i>was</i> perfect. I'm not particularly fond of Martin Freeman as a person but god, he can act! The scene in the first restaurant was simply stunning on his part. The shock, the pain in his eyes, the anger, the three fights/punches. I loved the mad combination of tackiness (Sherlock's disguise was ridiculous honestly), heartbreak (John's face, I can't!) and hilarity (the first fight, omg, I couldn't breathe from laughter!). Imho it's the crackiest idea ever to set the first restaurant scene (particularly the fight):
to this song:
Listen or download Donde Estas, Yolanda? for free on Pleer
Especially if you listen to the lyrics. I'm still giggling.
Like the majority of the fandom, I had been expecting a punch, and I have to say I was glad to see we got more than one. From Sherlock's POV, his actions are probably logical and normal, but not so much from John's. Once again, Sherlock is a big child. Mycroft's words about John not welcoming him have clearly resonated with him, so he prepares ground by dorking around. At first it seemed very tacky to me, but I have to admit it's not OOC for Sherlock. It's his coping mechanism. He's all about how cool and clever and funny he is, hoping that underneath all that John won't notice that it was a pretty dickish move to begin with. (Reminds me a lot of the show's creators actually.)
And of course everything afterwards: Sherlock imagining John's voice (I have a thing for hallucinations in any form, so there), Sherlock saving John (kudos for kidnapping John and not Mary), the scenes in the tube... I dislike the Mind Palace b/c it's kind of stupid, so I can't say I was glad to see it back, but I laughed at the off switch very hard and of course their faces and John forgiving Sherlock...
Benedict's face should be illegal, really. And these two bastards can act. *swooning*
But realistically, just because John has forgiven Sherlock (under pressure, if I may add) it doesn't mean he should forget and move on. Personally I'd like to see more tension between them, but considering that Mary said the wedding would be in May and now it's November in 3x01, I doubt we'll get it.
8. Music. I've always loved the music in Sherlock and it was superb here as well, both the score and the lol Yolanda XD
Now on to the things I didn't like so much. The bad is of course subjective, yadda-yadda.
9. The fandom. I may be overreacting, but I found most of the fandom references quite insulting. Yes, I giggled at the Sherlock/Moriarty moment as much as anyone, but showing a stereotyped fangirl and pitting the fans who ship "implausible" from the canon POV ships against those "serious" fans who make smart theories is about the same level of douchiness as Caitlin Moran making Benedict and Martin read a NC-17 fanfic aloud. They present the fandom as a bunch of obsessed people: Molly who has supposedly moved on brings a carbon copy of Sherlock as her fiance; Anderson is utterly fixated but instead of getting a proper resolution or at least a compliment - having spent years insulting his intelligence, Sherlock faces the fact that Anderson is in fact not stupid but doesn't acknowledge it in any way - he gets a nervous breakdown.
Yes, I get it that it's pretty much how the fandom may have reacted to the absence of a proper explanation of how Sherlock survived, but the execution was still insulting. Sherlock's mild contempt towards Anderson's "fan club" is reminiscent of how Moffat generally treats the fans (there is a rather famous quote of him claiming that if fans find his writing too convoluted it means they are stupid). Andreson's outrage at the girl shipping Sherlock/Moriarty is downright hypocritical since Anderson himself includes a Sherlock/Molly kiss in his theory - and in-verse, knowing Sherlock, both pairings are equally implausible.
(Regardless of that, I liked the giggling idjits scene a lot if only because it was Andrew Scott's cameo. I'm going to miss this crazy bastard)))
As someone on Tumblr said, this whole episode felt more like a meta on fandom and the show than an actual story. I would argue that it did have some great character moments, but the meta feeling was strong indeed and in my opinion, it was unnecessary. If you view it as a nod/homage/friendly joke to the fandom, good for you. I view it as a mockery, especially in the wake of the Caitlin Moran incident.
10. Speaking of Morans, how disappointing was "Lord Moran"? Maybe I've been spoilt by all the great fanfics out there, but I found him obscure, dull and too much of a throwaway character to be using this name.
11. As far as "too much" goes, Moffat and Gatiss seldom know where to stop. I read an interesting article about Moffat's DW and how it's all swagger and no substance. I'm really afraid of this happening to Sherlock eventually. But it's painfully clear that they're trying to up the "cool" factor as much as possible and they're going overboard on it. It might be a personal preference but I don't like to be kept guessing too much. The supposed bold move of not revealing how exactly Sherlock survived at some point looks more like Moffat and Gatiss not actually knowing themselves. It's perfectly IC for Sherlock to keep his mouth shut but it could have been revealed in a variety of different ways not involving a full confession. Another thing I'm a bit nervous about is John being the "companion" to the Doctor-like Sherlock. Just as Moffat's companions are quick to idolize the Doctor and quick to forgive him even when he treats them like inanimate objects, so may John eventually fall into the same pit. Please avoid that, show. Yes, Sherlock is cool. But he's not that cool. No one is or should be that cool.
12. Editing seemed messy in places and the bonfire scene reminded me a lot of the overall atmosphere of 2x02, which isn't one of my fav episodes. Flashiness and darkness are apparently characteristic of Gatiss here. But this is a nitpick.
Overall, I liked it, but I wonder how much of it has to do with being glad to just have the show back. And being glad to have Sherlock himself back in all his asshole glory. Whatever he is, you can't deny that he's adorable and he bloody knows it. ;)))
I'm beginning to understand John. It's nearly impossible not to forgive this bastard. XD And that stops me from having a sober look at the episode. ;))