Sherlock S3 Ep1: The Empty Hearse

Sherlock is back for season three and there was much to tackle in the first episode The Empty Hearse – such as how did Sherlock fake his death? So what happened?

Image: BBC

Image: BBC

Mycroft Holmes summons his brother back from the dead to thwart a terrorist threat to London. Sherlock and John Watson uncover a scheme to recreate the Gunpowder Plot by blowing up Parliament on November 5th.

Mark Gatiss faced a four-fold challenge in penning this story: resolve Holmes’ ‘death’, reunite him with Watson, tell a typical Sherlock story and introduce this series’ Big Bad.

Did he succeed? Oh yes. The Empty Hearse is a fast-paced yarn filled with breathtaking audacity and laugh-out-loud moments.

“Killing me? That’s so two years ago”

How Sherlock survived his fall from the roof of Barts Hospital has been the subject of fevered conjecture by fans over the past two years. Gatiss draws on this and then subverts expectations by enacting three alternative theories.

Sherlock fan group The Empty Hearse offers two possible solutions. Detective and founder Anderson’s theory involves a bungee rope and illusionist Derren Brown, while another ends with co-conspirators Sherlock and Moriarty kissing. Finally, Holmes teases Anderson with a version involving a giant airbag to break his fall.

Ultimately we may never know what really happened – a resolution no one was expecting.

“Short version: not dead”

Sherlock has spent two years dismantling Moriarty’s network, but Watson has moved on and the pair’s reunion does not go smoothly.

John has moved out of 221B Baker Street, falling out of contact with Mrs Hudson. He’s about to propose to his girlfriend Mary Morstan when Sherlock suddenly reappears.

Holmes’ theatricality backfires as Watson ends up assaulting him not one but three times. This sequence is portrayed superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, as we see Sherlock’s social ineptitude and John’s pain and simmering outrage, which repeatedly boils over.

“I can’t do it, John. I don’t know how”

The abbreviated terrorist plot only comes to the fore in the final half-hour, but this doesn’t detract from the episode as a whole.

Holmes tracks the movements of six key individuals. CCTV footage shows one, government minister Lord Moran, boarding a tube train and disappearing between Westminster and St James’s Park stations.

Sherlock eventually realises the entire carriage has been moved into a never-opened underground station under the Houses of Parliament. He and John find it rigged to be a massive bomb – making it, in effect, an empty hearse.

Moran activates the countdown and the pair bicker over their inability to defuse it. Believing he is about to die, John forgives Sherlock, unaware that his friend has already located the off-switch.

“I think someone’s got John”

John’s abduction and attempted immolation beneath a bonfire is a key moment in pushing Holmes and Watson back together but is unrelated to the bombing plot.

It is, however, an introduction to this series’ main villain, the bespectacled Charles Augustus Magnussen. We’ll learn more of him soon.

Other good stuff

  • Sherlock’s trademark deductions are in evidence at several points, even when he’s being tortured in a Serbian prison. But the funniest sequence is when he and Mycroft trade rapid-fire deductions over Shilcott’s bobble hat, after reminiscing about their childhood over a game of Operation.
  • Sherlock reintroduces himself to Watson, Molly, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson but the only one who hugs him is Lestrade.
  • Mary proves herself to be more than merely John’s girlfriend. Note that it’s she who tells Sherlock about her text message being a skip code.
  • In the original books, John proposes to Mary in The Sign of Four. She accepts. The next episode is called The Sign of Three.
  • Mary reads John’s blog.
  • The motorbike dash to St James the Less (it’s a real church, in Pimlico) sees Sherlock mapping the route in his head in the same way he pursued the serial killer’s taxi in A Study in Pink.
  • The villain in the Conan Doyle story The Empty House was also named Moran, although he was a colonel not a lord and an assassin rather than a bomber.
  • The ease with which Mycroft was duped into revealing information about Sherlock to Moriarty in The Reichenbach Fall is explained. It was deliberate, meant to draw Moriarty out by letting him believe he had the upper hand.
  • Molly’s fiancé Tom dresses head-to-toe exactly like Sherlock. So much for moving on.

Overall, a great start. It’s almost as if Sherlock was never away. Welcome back and roll on Sunday!

Episode two of Sherlock is on BBC1 on Sunday at 8:30pm.

Sherlock previews & reviews

1.1 A Study in Pink

Season 1 review

2.1 A Scandal in Belgravia

2.2 The Hounds of Baskerville

2.3 The Reichenbach Fall

Sherlock returns on New Year’s Day: What can we expect?

Are you ready for the return of Sherlock?

What has John Watson been up to since Sherlock’s ‘death’?

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6 Comments on Sherlock S3 Ep1: The Empty Hearse

  1. I did enjoy it, but found it a little slight. Freeman was exceptional though. My review is in the usual place!

    • It was certainly slight in terms of the weight of the main ‘case’, but I was happy enough that the (Gunpowder) plot was deliberately subservient to the exploration/repairing of Sherlock and John’s relationship following the former’s long absence. Even the climactic scene with the bomb was really just a means to an end, to get John to open up and forgive Sherlock.

      I’m still giggling at (a) the three ‘solutions’ we were shown and (b) the number of buries references to both The Empty House and other stories in the episode. The one with the old man and his DVDs/mags was hilarious. I’ve just written a post about that, which I’ll get up here shortly.

  2. I think ‘slight’ is a good word to sum up this episode. It felt more like a warm-up than an episode that would stand alone (I’m annoyed I didn’t rewatch the finale of the last series prior to watching last night’s episode). While there was a lot of fun/playfulness to enjoy it didn’t feel as satisfying as the best episodes from the previous two series.

    Without getting too fantasy-Sherlock-writer, I also thought the tube car peril was flawed as it was pretty obvious they weren’t going to get blown up, what with there being two episodes to follow. I think I prefer it when someone else is at risk rather than Sherlock/Watson as it adds more drama, uncertainty etc. rather than just “How is Sherlock going to get out of this one?”

    Anyway, a fair start to the series, and really enjoyed the review Tim!

    • Cheers Steve. You make a good point about Sherlock and John never being in real jeopardy, but I guess that’s true of any show with one or two characters as their established leads – no matter how much you ramp up the tension, you know they’re going to be okay. Something like Homeland, where they killed off Brody, is very much the exception – and it remains to be seen whether the show can survive without him. Early fan reaction seems to be split pretty much down the middle on whether killing him was a good idea.

  3. Unimpressed. Showing off rather than writing a good episode.

    • Fair enough – you’re far from the only person to hold that view, even though I think pretty much the opposite.

      Pretty much every possible solution had already been suggested by fans, and what we saw was Gatiss’ (and Moffat’s) response to their Kobayashi Maru. Go with one solution and half the fans will say “we knew it!” while the other half go “that’s rubbish – our solutions are much better”. So cheat: don’t offer a definitive solution and leave it to fans’ imaginations.

      This really felt like one of those damned if you do/damned if you don’t situations. Acknowledge the fan theories and you get accused of being either self-referential or thumbing your nose. Ignore the fan theories and you’re accused of, well, ignoring the fans and being too up yourself. Better them, than me, I say.

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