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Sherlock: “The Empty Hearse” Review – A Superb Return

Sherlock fans, rejoice! Our long wait is over. After a two year haitus, Sherlock has returned with three new episodes to sate our appetites. The game is on!

Without a doubt, the most pressing question left after season two’s cliffhanger, which saw Sherlock leap to his apparent death in order to prevent Moriarty’s hired goons from killing the three people Sherlock cared about most in the world, was how the hell would Sherlock escape what appeared to be his certain death? Well, it takes awhile to get to the actual answer (or, I guess, the most plausible answer), but it turns out that Mycroft and Sherlock both anticipated that Moriarty’s endgame involved killing Sherlock, thus causing the brothers to put together an elaborate faked death- one that which only Molly (whose importance to Sherlock Moriarty carelessly overlooked) knew the truth of. It’s not completely clear if this is actually what happened, but I choose to believe it to be accurate (and I suspect most people will as well).

With that information out of the way (even though the actual reveal occurs near the end of the episode), let’s get into the meat of the storyline. As has so often been the case in the series, “The Empty Hearse” puts the relationship between John and Sherlock is front and center.  In the two years since Sherlock’s “death,” John has moved on with his life. He has met a wonderful woman, Mary (who is an amazing addition to the show, and is played by Martin Freeman’s real-life wife, Amanda Abbington), and is working up the courage to propose. Sherlock, on the other hand, refuses to take Mycroft’s warnings into account and simply assumes John will be thrilled to have him back and will forgive him in due haste so the pair can simply return to their crime solving ways.

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Sherlock works as an incredible series for a myriad of reasons, but chief among them is the amazing relationship between John and Sherlock. And when that relationship is fractured, it displays the clear degree to which the pair have developed a truly symbiotic relationship (albeit one that could easily devolve into a parasitic relationship in the wrong situation). They depend on each other to provide something crucial to each of their lives. John, whether he is willing to admit it or not, needs the sense of adventure that working with Sherlock provides him. Sherlock needs John to keep his more sociopathic reflexes at bay, and bring him a degree of humanity- a fact he willing admits. When Sherlock surprises John at the restaurant, Sherlock sees it as a rather joyous reunion, while John, understandably, sees it as a sign of painful betrayal.

While the boys appear to have reached an impasse in their relationship (John doesn’t want to forgive Sherlock, while Sherlock can’t seem to understand why John won’t just accept his return), it falls to a woman to try and patch things up. I’m sure the addition of Mary, John’s fiancee, will ruffle a few feathers (which, is certainly part of her role- to shake things up again), but I have to admit, I love the character (and, that’s saying a lot, since Steven Moffat tends to have trouble with crafting great female characters). Unfortunately, Mary cannot seem to get John to agree to help Sherlock with his latest case (a mysterious man disappearing on the Underground). But everything changes when Mary gets a message that John has been kidnapped and is in dire straights.

It turns out Mary and Sherlock make a decent team as well, as they manage to save John from being burnt to a crisp in a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire. Apparently a brush with death is enough to make the boys make-up (or, at least for John to agree to help Sherlock out), and our favorite duo is back to solving crimes. It turns out that (surprise!) the case Sherlock accepted regarding the Underground is directly linked to the matter of national security that Mycroft has been looking into (and trying to get Sherlock’s help with). Apparently, a member of the House of Lords is looking to re-create the Guy Fawkes attack on Parliament by blowing up an Underground car under Parliament.

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Sherlock, naturally, saves the day by flipping the bomb’s off switch (a particularly lovely touch), but not before terrifying John into thinking he does not know how to diffuse the bomb (which, to his credit, he actually doesn’t). In the tension-filled moments, John admits that he forgive Sherlock for faking his death, and expresses that he’s thrilled to have him back. It’s a wonderful moment (particularly for Freeman, who is exceptional in the episode), and I have to admit it’s great to see things (relatively) back to normal.

However, things still aren’t tied up in a neat little bow. Sherlock has been unable to deduce who ordered the kidnapping of John.  While we’ve had our joyous reunion of Sherlock and Watson, the episode ends on a sinister note, with a bespectacled man watching video footage of Sherlock’s rescue of John on a video loop. Is this the season’s new villain? Did he order the kidnap of John? And what does he want from Sherlock?

This is a very strong episode (traditionally, the series has its weakest outing in episode two, and its strongest with each season finale- with the premiere falling in the middle), particularly when it turns its focus on the relationship between Sherlock and John, and looks at how John’s own life changes impact both of them. Three seasons in, it’s time for both Sherlock and John to begin truly growing up (or, for Sherlock to mature as much as he can from an emotional perspective). My only gripe is that the episode’s mystery is rather bland in comparison to previous outings. However, the foreboding appearance of the man with the glasses at the close hints at interesting things to come.

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Final Thoughts:

–Full disclosure: I have seen all three episodes of the season, but I did feel an immediate kinship with Mary and feel that she adds something pretty interesting to the chemistry of the show.  I’m very eager to see what other people think of the character (she appears in all three episodes this year, with increasing amount of screen time). Perhaps part of my enjoyment of the character is that she doesn’t take the typical girlfriend/wife path and try to break up the bromance? I’m not sure, but I love the character and hope you all do as well!

— I am happy the show opted to have John spend some time processing everything that happened before forgiving Sherlock. Too often shows rush to reunite characters and brush over betrayals because drawing out emotional issues can take away from a brisk storytelling pace. Considering how much John truly cares for Sherlock, having him take time to be angry and feel betrayed (and, as Sherlock episodes tend to take place over days, weeks, or months of time), it didn’t take anything away from the episode’s central case either.

— As usual, wonderful work from both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. In the time between the second and third seasons, both actors have seen their careers take off on an international level. It is great to see that they have not lost anything from their characters, and, if anything, gained a greater screen presence and deepened their portrayals.

— One of the most interesting elements of Sherlock is how well the show utilizes its supporting cast. Excellent use of Molly and Anderson (to whom I certainly believe Sherlock told the true story of his death/resurrection) this week.

— I loved the various theories for Sherlock’s faked death that were floated around. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat took a few from around the internet.

Rating
9.5
Pros
  • Excellent pacing
  • Introduction of Mary
  • Reunion between Sherlock and John takes time, but is worth it
  • Hints of mysterious new villain
  • Humor mixed with drama expertly
Cons
  • Mystery isn't as strong as some others

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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