The Definitive Ranking of Every Sherlock Episode (So Far)

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The key art from “Sherlock” Season 1. (Photo: BBC)

1. A Study in Pink (Season 1, Episode 1)

Most pilot episodes aren’t very good. This is a cliché beloved by television critics everywhere, mostly because it’s true. First episodes are so often terrible, because introducing an entire universe and its characters is heavy lift for any single installment.

This is all to say that Sherlock’s “A Study in Pink” isn’t just an exceptional pilot, it’s an exceptional episode of television. It is a 90-minute masterclass of storytelling and character development, complete with a chilling mystery on top. That we meet Sherlock Holmes and John Watson at the very formation of their friendship is a fresh twist on a classic set-up, and allows us to get to know them as they get to know each other.

Of course, it helps that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have perfect, sparkling chemistry from their first meeting. Freeman’s Watson is lonely and damaged, searching for something to give his life meaning again. For his part, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is intense and slightly terrifying, in desperate need of an anchor – both to ground himself, and to show off for. The strength of their connection feels simultaneously instant and inevitable. And it’s clear, in a way that most Holmes adaptations don’t bother exploring, why and how their partnership works for both of them.

“A Study in Pink” manages to unravel a fairly surprising mystery surrounding a serial killer who forces his victims to commit suicide. It also introduces a raft of supporting characters, sets up Sherlock and John’s living situation, explains what a consulting detective is, and gives Cumberbatch several brain-numbingly complicated deductive monologues.

This is as perfect an episode as we’re likely to get in the modern age of television. And if it were all we had ever got of Sherlock, we’d still be lucky to have it.

Next: Calm Down Everybody, Sherlock Isn’t Ending Just Yet

Season 4 of Sherlock begins January 1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. How good are these new episodes going to have to be to crack the top of this list? Can they? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’ll certainly be fun to watch and find out.