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'Sherlock' season 3: BBC premier answers question 'How did Sherlock survive?'

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"Sherlock" season 3 on the BBC aired in the U.K. on Jan. 1, 2014, and the premier show -- "The Empty Hearse"-- solved the mystery that fans of the show have wondered about for months. "How did Sherlock survive?" has been the question, the answer to which lies in a meeting with an old friend and a mask.

According to The Mirror, Sherlock, played by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, survived due to a sleight of hand. However, The Mirror didn't reveal the cultural references that provide the clues for understanding the solution to the mystery.

Although most people didn't realize it when the "Sherlock" mini-episode dropped on Christmas Eve 2013, the clues to solving the mystery were in the show.

'Sherlock' season 3: How Sherlock survived -- what I got wrong, what I got right and the stuff in between

How Did Sherlock Survive: The Clues

Two clues, a mask and Inspector Lestrade's statement about going to see an old friend, reveals that the show's writers/ creators, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss relied on a reference to "Silence of the Lambs" to solve the mystery of Sherlock's death in season 2.

The Mirror states, in essence that, Sherlock switched places with Moriarty, who was dead on the roof with the detective at the end of season 2 of "Sherlock."

In a switch that the audience doesn't see, a mask is placed on Moriarty's dead face along with contacts to match Sherlock's eyes.

What the "Sherlock" Mini-Episode Revealed

Sherlock fans who have seen the movie "Silence of the Lambs" will remember that a similar trick allowed serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, to escape imprisonment by wearing the face of his victim as a mask and subsequently being carted out of jail.

In the mini-episode, Inspector Lestrade tells a man in a coffee shop that he has to go see an old friend. Again, looking back on "Silence of the Lambs," one of the last lines of the film states something similar.

Hannibal Lecter cuts a conversation with Clarice Starling short, because he's going to have "an old friend for dinner."

The "Sherlock" season 3 premier on the BBC followed a common thread on the series, which is that it relied on a cultural reference from another show, movie, bit of literature or history to solve plot twists and turns for the BBC series.

In the final episode of season 2, the mystery revolved around the fairy tales of the Grimms, German history and an obscure reference to the work of philosopher, Hans Reichenbach. The death mask and the old friend are references to "Silence of the Lambs" and the clues to solving the Sherlock mystery this time.

When Does "Sherlock" Season 3 Air in the U.S.?

The U.K. premier of "Sherlock" on the BBC has come and gone. It'll show next in India on Jan. 3 and finally, in the U.S. on PBS on Jan. 19.

Author's note:

I'm reserving judgment on this one after doing further analysis and watching some clips from the show. The explanation here may fall under one of the 13 possibilities, although it is based on what I've seen in previous episodes and observing how the writers work.

I waited to answer most of the comments until after the show's airing in the U.S. to be fair to what people asked of me. Here's my blog post addressing it: "'Sherlock' season 3: How Sherlock survived -- what I got wrong, what I got right and the stuff in between." It includes a revised analysis that addresses this one, telling what I was right about and what I was wrong about. "Sherlock" fans are very smart. I like that. It makes me better, so truly, thanks for your input and the discussions.

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