Sherlock, the popular BBC series, comes back in a bold way after a two-year long hiatus with “The Empty Hearse.”
“The Empty Hearse” is an episode that seems to have been tailored made to the legions of devoted fans of the show. It also seems to have been written by theories and fan fiction of said fans. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat can say whatever they want but I definitely believe they took a peek at the insanity going on the Internet during that time to inform some of their writing.
Now the major question is: “How did Sherlock survive the supposedly deadly fall?”
Well, the brilliant and frustrating thing is we still don’t know.
Which is what makes this episode brilliant. We leave the episode with one possible explanation but whom it is delivered to and how makes even that suspect. So all of your theories, in a way, are validated. Of course we, the fans, still want a straight answer. But because it’s Moffat and Gatiss, we are not going to get it.
No. This episode is not about how Sherlock survived. It’s about the effects that his resurrection has on those around him. It focuses on all the people in his life, but the main focus is on his heterosexual life partner and new moustache aficionado, John Watson.
All the applause truly does deserve to go to Martin Freeman, who plays John Watson with such ease that I can barely believe it’s been two years. His reaction to Sherlock’s resurrection is a thing of beauty. Freeman shows the warring emotions of the character battling it out deftly. He cycles through anger, shock, and a tinge of hysterical happiness before sticking with one and going with it. His struggle throughout the episode on Sherlock’s living state is very easy to understand. Also how he, inevitably, forgives Sherlock also provides a solid emotional landscape and commentary on their relationship. It is easily the most moving scene in the entire episode.
Benedict Cumerbatch, the other half of the dynamic duo, is also on amazing form. Again, he takes to the role like no time at all has past. He even incorporates changes that Sherlock may have undergone in his performance when he could have gone keeping Sherlock very similar to previous seasons. Two years of being separated from everyone he loves has made Sherlock a bit more emotional and understanding of human feeling. He still has no clue how to interact with others and can still come off as distant. When those he cares for, however, are concerned he is learning how to navigate such things.
No offense for Robert Downey, Jr. and Jonny Lee Miller’s interpretations of the character but Cumberbatch’s still reigns supreme with a deft, calculating distance and infused layers of emotional depth.
The second best parts of the episode include moments between the Holmes brothers. Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) has been effectively and sparingly used over the course of the previous two series. His role has slowly grown larger each time. A good portion of the episode is the Holmes Brothers interacting with each other in increasingly hilarious ways. The way Mark Gatiss and Benedict Cumberbatch play off each other in these scenes is nothing less than a delight to witness. Gatiss, who also wrote the episode, has a deft hand and good dose of dry humor in his performance as Mycroft Holmes.
Plus it definitely shows interesting insights into the Holmes family environment.
Other returning favorites such as Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), and Anderson (Jonathan Aris) are not the focus of the episode but are used well. Each actor has their own chance to shine and their own special moments with either member of the duo. The strength of the returning cast is on par with its returning leads.
The major new addition is Amanda Abbington, who is Freeman’s partner, playing Mary Morstan. Mary is a welcomed addition to the cast. Not only do Abbington’s and Freeman’s real life romance contributes to the comfortable, sweet, natural chemistry between the characters but Abbington provides a welcome, fresh perspective between the two. Mary understands and is okay that John needs Sherlock. Not only does she support it, she encourages it by trying to convince John to make-up with Sherlock. Mary also fits well between the John and Sherlock dynamic. She is the only one of John’s girlfriends who gives the relationship with Sherlock respect and, in turn, Sherlock respects her back.
All in all the character interactions, both new and old, are what make this episode such a delight. The actors all embody their characters and make those long two years worth the weight. The episode works best in the snappy dialogue, heartfelt moments, and slick direction. The only reason why it has four-and-a-half stars? The “case” that brings Sherlock back to London is not very interesting, nor does it feel needed. It facilitates things somewhat but gets rather clunky in other places. There are large swatches of the episode where a viewer can forget that the case is going on.
Other than that this episode shows that the two years between series two and series three were more than worth the wait for a Sherlockian. It’s truly brilliant to have the show back.