Studying Sherlock: “The Empty Hearse”

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I suppose there’s one benefit to getting into a TV show late: the absence of waiting times between series. While most Sherlock fans would have had to wait two years for the resolution of how Sherlock did it, I could have found out anytime I wanted. Of course, that has its drawbacks, cliffhangers allow for speculation and conversation, the elements a lot of fan communities thrive on. But, if you’re someone who can’t stand in a queue for McDonald’s without making noises of impatience like I am, then hey, everything has its pros.

So, Series Three. I must admit it feels weird to say that still, considering a lot of TV dramas would still be on their first series (or just starting their second) after six episodes. Two years have passed for the characters and the live audience, and The Empty Hearse aims to tell us how Sherlock did it, and how the characters have moved on/react to him coming back. Except, that’s not all it does. The Empty Hearse tries to add a standard plot about a bomb in there as well. While the character work and explanation are stunning, it’s the plot which turns this story from a great one to a good one and probably the weakest episode of the show this far.

In my opinion, it is the character work which makes Sherlock stand out from all other crime dramas on TV. While I love shows like Death in Paradise and Law and Order UK, Sherlock is special because it’s not actually a detective show, rather a show about a detective. The character work here is stunning. What’s interesting is to see how each character reacts to Sherlock’s “resurrection”. Mrs Hudson starts screaming, Lestrade calls him a bastard (delivered perfectly by Rupert Graves), and Molly and Mycroft both knew. It is, of course, John Watson’s reaction to Sherlock coming back which is the most interesting reaction. The John/Sherlock friendship is what this series is based on, and the way in which Watson reacts to his friend is both wonderfully performed and acted. There’s anger, there’s annoyance, but there’s also elements of respect and love, effectively a summary of their relationship. The scenes they have together, especially in the restaurant and on the tube carriage, allow for some funny and touching moments between the two characters. They’re the scenes which make this episode work, with Gatiss writing their pairing beautifully.

There’s also some great moments with the other characters. The scenes where Molly stands in for John are also a highlight for me. Part of this is because Sherlock and Molly are my two favourite characters, Sherlock being the most interesting and Molly being utterly adorable, but I do think they have a really sweet and touching relationship, and the scenes they have together always make me smile. They’re probably the closest thing in fiction I have to a “ship”. Saying that makes me feel a bit ill, as I have no desire to see them get together in a romantic way, but I do love their moments together greatly.

This episode also sets out to explain how Sherlock did it. The resolution is witty, clever, and bonkers, like the character and the show itself, so it certainly isn’t a disappointment. It was certainly well thought out by the writers, so eccentric it was believable, and a lot of fun to watch, so I’m very happy. I also enjoyed some of the other ways speculated by the characters, such as the Derren Brown explanation, and the one where Moriarty and Sherlock are holding a dummy by the rope and then proceed to kiss. Gatiss does do humour very well, as do the actors, and they’re very entertaining scenes. Okay, the concept of the Empty Hearse does seem like it is trying a little hard to be meta, but it’s fun and it’s enjoyable, I can’t complain.

Where this episode faults is its plot. Firstly, a terrorist bomb is rather unimaginative for Sherlock, and secondly, while at times it provides moments for the characters to develop and have some lovely moments, it gets in the way at others. I could have happily watched 90 minutes of Watson’s reaction to Sherlock coming back. It’s the character moments which make Sherlock work in my opinion, the plot here does feel like it was taken off a crime show plot generator.

As this is the opening episode, it also sets up an arc for each of the characters. The last series saw Sherlock become more emotional and his downfall, this series has seen Watson nearly get burned in a bonfire. It was definitely an intriguing scene, and I can’t wait to find out why. This episode also introduces the character of Mary. Here, eh, she’s okay, doesn’t really have much to do, but I’m sure she will get some good character work over the next two episodes. Amanda Abbington is fun and pleased to be there, and she’s certainly a likeable character, so I can’t wait to see what gets done with her.

Production wise, stellar as usual. There’s also some really good comedy here, something which I have started to expect from Gatiss. He’s definitely the best at portraying the quirkiness of the Sherlock/John relationship, probably because he’s a little bit odd (in a good way) himself. The “ff…/cough” gag gave me a laugh, as did the making fun of John’s facial hair.

Overall: In the moments it’s good, it is superb, the character work here is stunning, but the boring plot does ruin it slightly. It’s a good, watchable, piece of TV, but it’s nothing more.

7/10

Episode Ranking
1. The Reichenbach Fall
2. A Study in Pink
3. The Great Game
4. A Scandal in Belgravia
5. The Hounds of Baskerville
6. The Blind Banker
7. The Empty Hearse

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