[Review] - Sherlock, Series 3 Episode 1, "The Empty Hearse"

Courtesy of the BBC
Ooh, the cleverness of them, eh? Well aware of the internet obsession with the how of Sherlock's survival, Mark Gatiss (and I presume Steven Moffat) put together an admonishing little vein in this inaugural third series episode, lampooning, mocking and straight out deriding the pyjama people's theories and behaviours and inability to be satisfied with a straight answer. Taking the wind out of the internet's sails before they had even begun to blow, a clear message of "if you're not happy with it, tough. We're moving on."

And that's exactly what needed to happen, though for a bit there I'm sure American viewers will be completely confused by the Derren Brown cameo, in so much as Americans have no idea who Derren Brown is (he also got a shout out in the Doctor Who fiftieth; Moffat must be a fan). But the point isn't how he survived, but that he survived. And now he's back, his name is clear, and the game is afoot. So let's get on with it.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that made special note of who was being called before Parliament.


Straight away, The Empty Hearse is probably the least story focused episode of Sherlock yet. There is a mystery, and it does play out, but with far less focus and detail then previous outings (say, for instance, the immediately previous one). The real focus here is on the characters, to which I am grateful, because unlike in the literature, Holmes' return should be a major emotional event, and this no longer being the 1890's means that emotions can be expressed.

One thing I have been appreciative of since this series began is how much focus it has given to Watson. Since the stories were told from Watson's perspective, in the literature he was given equal footing to Sherlock, by benefit of otherwise there wouldn't be a story. Adaptations usually tone the character down, making him a lackey, or a comedic effect, or generally useless. Gatiss understands the importance of Watson, and frames this story wonderfully around both men experiencing the same event.

And Watson's reaction is both within character and perfectly modern (much more so then fainting). Gatiss also wisely kept things light. While there are confessions and declarations by the end, at the time, when things are most tense and might be given over to exposition or melodrama, Gatiss went with black humour, the repeated pummelling and expulsions of the pair from increasingly less reputed establishments.

Humour was, as it always has been, a strong force throughout the episode, but this is as close to a fully comedic episode as the series has gotten. As I said I said at the start, the mystery of the week was rather weak, little more than an excuse to get Sherlock back to London and to introduce the new Big Bad, whom we'll learn more about in the coming week we presume. What it allowed was scene after scene of reactions and over reactions and a great deal of character reestablishment. There is a new paradigm at Baker Street it seems, and Sherlock has returned from exile with a little more humanity.

While Mycroft insists that he lives in a world of goldfish, Sherlock seems to have either adjusted his opinion of lesser people, or realised that he's not that different after all. Hopefully, this evolution of the character will continue over the series. We knew of his affection for John already, but this episode really showed how much his friends and family mean to him (with the exception of his parents apparently, played by Cumberbatch's real parents). It's clear he has mellowed in some way already, he never once throws a single barb towards Mary. Whether that is out of deference to John, or a genuine like of her remains to be seen.

The mystery, such as it is, is little more than a way to introduce a new baddie to the mix. The terror attack does little to vex Sherlock, the biggest problem sorting out where the underground carriage (sorry, car) went. Once that's sorted, the rest is a snap. Within hours of returning home, he already has a list of suspects, from which he is able to immediately determine the guilty party. Part of me wonders if this first episode back maybe shouldn't have focused on Sherlock reintegrating himself into the world. While the city might not have changed, two years is long enough for his homeless network to be frayed, for new villains to establish themselves.

He identifies his nine rats immediately, but might it not have benefited the detective to strain his abilities in determining those rats first? I'd very much like to see Sherlock lost, and I doubt well ever get him in quite the emotionally compromised state again as we got him here. A hinted at subplot as he field tests Molly, of John's criticisms superimposing themselves over his deductions (which, as a new effect, I loved the "identity cloud" that surrounded people as Sherlock surmised them) was interesting, but didn't go anywhere. It evaporated as soon as John was put in danger, and joins the game himself. For a feature length episode, I've have liked to have seen Sherlock's return provide a little more resistance to the Great Detective, rather than him shimming back into place as if nothing had happened. At the very least, it would have been nice to see new tenants in 221B, making his return that much harder. And financially, it didn't make much sense for Mrs. Hudson to keep it all locked up for two years.

In all, Sherlock has returned in great form, no worse the wear these past two years, as it's stars became international commodities. I wondered though, at John and Sherlock's closing remarks, about how Sherlock very much likes being Sherlock Holmes, if that wasn't some subtle message to the viewership. That despite their journeys to the Final Frontier, or Middle-Earth, or wherever else, there is always occasion to return to Baker Street, for as long as it will have them.

Or, for two more episodes at least, anyway.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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