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?
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.