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We Review Sherlock's "The Empty Hearse"

We Review Sherlock's "The Empty Hearse"


If you eliminate the the impossible fan theories, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the spoilers. Seriously, if you keep reading and you haven't seen "The Empty Hearse" yet, we cannot be held responsible for your anger. SPOILER ALERT!

After two terribly boring years, what is possibly the best Sherlock Holmes adaptation has returned to American screens complete with a promise to answer those questions about what really happened at the end of season two’s “The Reichenbach Fall.”  But, with “The Empty Hearse,” its first comeback episode since 2012, did Sherlock deliver the goods? Well, that depends on what you actually want out of this show. Co-writers and co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had a huge challenge with this debut insofar as they knew the fans needed to be kept happy, but at the same time, needed to satisfy their own need push the show in a direction they’re specifically interested in going.

This “Give the fans what they want/don’t give the fans what they want” tactic worked, mostly. “The Empty Hearse” opens with a detailed explanation of how Sherlock faked his death on the rooftop with Moriarty. The body that fell was really Moriarty’s body with a Sherlock Holmes mask on. Duh! So that it’s! Totally explained.

Pysch! Actually, all of this is just wild speculation from Anderson to Lestrade, the former of which has gone from being a Sherlock Holmes detractor to becoming a bigtime superfan, even to the point of founding a #SherlockLives club called “The Empty Hearse.” The episode pulls this gag twice more: a complicated and convoluted “explanation” of how Sherlock pulled off the fake death, only to have reasonable doubt be placed right back in your head. If you want to know definitively how Sherlock faked it, this episode does not, repeat does not, really tell you.

As both a compelling Sherlock mystery and a pastiche of the original story, “The Empty House,” this first episode sort of fails. There’s a crooked politician called Moran who can blow things up remotely with bombs, a kind of homage to the original Moran, who was a nutso sniper. (Too many snipers probably in the previous episodes?) The reunited Sherlock and John figure out where the bomb is and deactivate it. On paper, the twists and turns just aren't as intelligent as the whole of the show. However, what this episode lacks for in substance it makes up for in style.

Since Gatiss and Moffat are running out of really memorable and epic source material for Sherlock, the thinness of the plot of “The Empty Hearse,” isn't totally their fault. The original story isn't all that memorable, and the nods to it here are fantastically more memorable than the source material. As in the story, Holmes appears to Watson in disguise before revealing himself actually alive. And it’s here where “The Empty Hearse,” really shines; in being a fantastic character-oriented story which depicts both delightfully and painfully how Sherlock Holmes has to reintegrate himself into the land of the living. John’s shock and indignation at Sherlock not being dead is brutally sad and ridiculously hilarious simultaneously and the sequence in which John smacks Sherlock over and over again in different settings, with escalating veracity is worth the entire episode. Not to mention, the endless cracks about John Watson’s new mustache never get old.

Rounding out the character-study vibe of the new season is the introduction of John’s fiancee, Mary Mortsan played cunningly charming by Amanda Abbington. As a kind of nod to the original Holmes novel The Sign of The Four, this is to be the woman who causes Watson to move out of Baker Street for good! And if you think the chemistry between Amanda Abbington’s Mary and Martin Freeman’s John is sparkling, that’s because they’re real-deal married!

So, while the intellectual acrobatics of “The Empty Hearse” might not be up to snuff with “A Study in Pink” or “The Hounds of Baskerville,” the emotional jabs and laughs are simply better than ever. If the ultimate mystery to be solved is that of the human heart, then Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock might just be the most human version of the character we've ever seen.

What did you think of "The Empty Hearse?"

Tags: tv, spoilers, reviews, bbc, benedict cumberbatch, martin freeman, sherlock

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About the Author
Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths, forthcoming from Plume (Penguin) Books on 11.24.15. He's written for The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Awl, VICE Motherboard, Clarkesworld Magazine, and is a consulting editor for Story Magazine. He lives in New York City.

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