The Curious Case of Avoiding 'Sherlock' Spoilers

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Over 9 million people watched the return of Sherlock yesterday in Britain, but we here in America are technically supposed to remain oblivious to that fact until January 19, when the show debuts on PBS. 

Though the frustrating delay between British and American airings of popular programs is nothing new, the 18 days between last night's BBC premiere and the show's return to PBS seems like an especially trying tease. Not only has Sherlock been off the air since 2012, but the last episode, The Reichenbach Fall, ended on a massive cliffhanger as Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) appeared to fall to his death. 

Now, obviously the TV show Sherlock wasn't going to kill off the lead character Sherlock, that much was even clear in the second season finale. But now that the series has resumed on the BBC, UK fans now know the specifics of how it all played out. (Maybe.) And PBS, for one, really hopes those stiff upper lips are sealed.

Even in making the episode available to U.S. press, PBS gave the episode an oddly specific disclaimer: "Though we know you would never spoil the story behind Sherlock's 'death' for your readers, we're duty-bound to ask you to please avoid any mention of how Sherlock survived, what he's been up to, or John's reaction to his return." The network also encouraged viewers not to share the episode with anyone; "not even your Sherlock-obsessed grandmother," it added cheekily. Of course, even that Sherlock-obsessed grandma probably found a way to torrent or live stream the episode.

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Of course, there are ways to avoid Sherlock chatter. Some resorted to simply blocking out any contact they had with Britain. BuzzFeed's Jarett Weiselman tweeted: "Unfollowing half of London right now #Sherlock #NoSpoilers.

But as a note to those trying to avoid Sherlock spoilers in the next couple of weeks, Mark Gatiss—the writer of the episode, who also plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft—did you a favor. The big reveal—how Sherlock survived—is not really the centerpiece of the episode. Instead, what makes the episode pleasing for fans—and likely aggravating for others—is not the shock of Sherlock's clearly ingenious method of tricking people, especially his best friend John Watson, but rather how Sherlock is accepted (or not) when he arrives back in London. It's obvious in this episode that this is a show that is very aware of its fan base, and that it will go to lengths to appease them. A number those diehard fans in America probably found an illegal way to watch the episode yesterday, but for those holding out they fan feel secure knowing that even a spoiler won't ruin the pleasure of seeing Holmes and Watson back in action.  

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.