Sherlock 3.1: “The Empty Hearse”
It’s been nearly two years since we watched Sherlock Holmes jump off a hospital roof in London, and in that time we have hashed and rehashed what just happened and how Sherlock could have survived. In the end, it was the simplest possible explanation, a matter of perfect timing, flawless execution and depending on Moriarty to clean up his own loose ends. “It’s a bit disappointing,” Anderson says to Sherlock. “Everybody’s a critic,” Sherlock returns. You get the sense this exchange is show co-creators and writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss tipping their hats to the audience who has built this event up for two years, a way of acknowledging that their version of events has likely been outstripped by the imaginations of their fans. I, for one, was not disappointed. I would have hated it if they’d come with the kind of Mission: Impossible scenario Anderson dreams up. What they went with stretches credulity, but it does work.
Which is a nice summary for this episode, too. Stretches credulity, but it does work.
Sherlock has always pushed the boundary of suspension of disbelief, and the climactic case-solving moment in this episode almost runs right over that line and into the realm of straight-up fantasy, but it’s kept just on the side of believable thanks to the two series stars. So let’s start there, with Sherlock and John Watson. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Sherlock Holmes, and Martin Freeman, as John Watson, have both become international stars thanks to this show, but far from infecting their performances with the sort of grandiosity that comes with acclaim, with each successive series they’ve grown so settled in their respective roles that their performances feel incredibly lived-in and grounded (the other side of this coin is Downton Abbey and its over the top everything). It’s that grounding that the climax depends on; we focus more on Sherlock and John’s emotional reconciliation than the frankly ludicrous series of events surrounding it.
I suppose I owe Mycroft (and his fans) an apology. I came down hard on him after “The Reichenbach Fall” for seeming to underestimate both Sherlock and Moriarty, thus contributing to Sherlock’s presumed death, and a number of people yelled at me. Well you were all right; Mycroft was in on it the whole time, and far from playing into Moriarty’s hands, Moriarty played into Mycroft’s.
There’s also a new face in the crowd: Mary Morstan, John’s would-be fiancé. Played by Freeman’s real-life partner, Amanda Abbington (Mr. Selfridge), Mary is sharp, witty, and surprisingly understanding re: Sherlock’s oddities and John’s place in his life. The casting seemed a little community theater, but Abbington is perfect. Sherlock is incredibly well cast in general, thanks to casting director Kate Rhodes James, and this is another spot-on job. Also helps that Mary is very well written and better conceived than any other female character on the show—she’s tremendously likeable while maintaining an edge.
But “The Empty Hearse” isn’t a perfect episode. There are some issues, mostly of the self-indulgent variety. Sherlock has always had a highly stylized aesthetic, which is fine, but in this episode it gets a bit out of hand. The editing, in particular, is overdone. In some places the quick cuts and frenetic transitions go on a bit too long and begin to feel like filler. It works beautifully in the opening scene as Anderson imagines how Sherlock survived his fall, and it is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT in the sequence when Sherlock and John are reunited and fight their way through a series of devolving eateries. But the “Sherlock thinking” montages and “time lapse, London” transitions do creep into filler territory.
There’s also a bit of a mean-spirited edge in how Sherlock’s fans are presented. I can’t help but shake the feeling that Moffat sees Sherlock fans as weirdo obsessive types, like Anderson has become, and there are stabs taken at the internet fandom that seem a little harsh. They play for laughs, but it felt like being laughed at, not laughing with. There’s a smugness in this episode that I compared to Dan Harmon levels of smug, but where Harmon (Community) doesn’t particularly care if viewers are in on the joke, he doesn’t make them the butt of his jokes, either. At a couple points in this episode, I definitely felt like the viewers were being made the butt of the joke.
But these are relatively minor complaints. On the whole, “The Empty Hearse” is a slick, satisfying episode of Sherlock. There is a lot of great, genuine humor, and freed from Moriarty’s shadow of impending doom, the show can spend more time on emotional moments and character building. For fans who waited nearly two years for resolution, it’s just so nice to have Sherlock—and John—back.
- I liked that Molly showed some moxie, but her new boyfriend…Yikes.
- Sherlock’s parents are normal?!
- Good job seeding Sherlock’s fame (infamy?) without making it a whole plot point.
- Mycroft was totally getting off on Sherlock getting his ass kicked by those Russian types. TOTALLY.