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REVIEW: Sherlock 3×01 “The Empty Hearse”

Written by Patrick Smith

Newspapers’ column inches have been amply filled over the past couple of days, either vociferously reacting to or commenting on boisterous reaction to “The Empty Hearse”, the Sherlock Series Three opener. I’ve stubbornly turned the page and switched channel to avoid the rivers of noisy feedback that if nothing else are symptomatic of this show’s considerable success. Within the haven that is AP2HYC, I will impart my thoughts with an appropriate composure.

“The Empty Hearse” opens with the revelation of Holmes cheating Series Two’s gravity induced demise, aided by a bungee rope, some assistants and Britain’s trickster extraordinnaire, Derren Brown. This is in fact the forensics man, Philip Anderson’s particular theory, swiftly dismissed by the redoubtable Inspector Lestrade. He firmly insists that with two years passed, his death is a sad fact.

We’re subsequently served a rather comedic portrayal of an initially brutal interrogation in Eastern Europe. The detainee is of course Holmes and he’s not too promptly recused by his brother. The exchanges between Mark Gatis‘ Mycroft and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock have always entertained and that continues, with vigour. ‘You enjoyed it!’, Sherlock exclaims to Mycroft, referring to his torture. We learn that Mycroft has gone to great efforts to retrieve him as there’s an imminent terrorist threat. In a nod to the original Arthur Conan Doyle short story, ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ we discover that Holmes has spent the intervening two years, dismantling Moriarty’s network.’Thanks….. blud!’ is Holme’s level of filial gratitude as he makes his way back to London. Their banter later in the episode over a most demanding board-game is a joy to witness.

We’re then introduced to John Watson’s amore, Mary, nicely played by Amanda Abbington, (Martin Freeman’s real-life partner, no less), with a likeable combination of devotion, no-nonsense intuition and keen sense of humour. Holmes and Watson are reunited in a delightfully concussive triple-whammy, which gives ample and hilarious expression to Watson’s righteous fury for being kept in the dark.

We’re offered alternate theories as to how Holmes might have eluded the reaper, from members of the Empty Hearse Club, which Philip Anderson happens to chair including a mild and fun slice of slash fan-fiction. Reactions to Holmes’ return from Una Stubbs’ Mrs. Hudson and Rupert Graves‘ Lestrade are also rather charming, whilst utterly in character.

The relationship between Holmes and Watson is initially terminated, hence the presence of Dr. Molly Hooper, artfully conveyed by Louse Brealey, on a selection of minor cases. This is remedied when Watson is kidnapped and trapped at the base of a bonfire. A selection of anonymous texts enable Sherlock to save him, just in the proverbial nick of time.

I’m very pleased that The Terrorists take their sweet time in getting their plot afoot. It enables the treats hinted at above to be given liberal room in which to play out, much to this episode’s advantage. Holmes’ return is the real headline story.

With the level of panache to which we are now accustomed, so the plot is revealed. The underground network posing this threat is literal and the mystery involves a bomb laden tube train to be directed at the Palace of Westminster (Parliament) on November 5th. Did anyone ask Alan Moore? No matter! The mystery unfolds with plenty of pace and pause, sleek cutting and the lovely graphics. I’m a sucker for those. The climax provides opportunity for more frippery between Holmes and Watson as opposed to nervous nail-biting and I heartily approve.

This episode is very self-referential and anticipates audience and critical response alike. What pleases me that it does so with boldness and cheekily acknowledges, as Holmes does, ‘Everyone’s a critic!’.

The excellent final scene hints at darker and grander designs that might well give one cause to re-evaluate the preceding eighty odd minutes. And with good reason. To quote Watson earlier in this piece, ‘I want to know why, not how!’. Great stuff!

My only lingering question is how bad should I feel about enjoying the pyrotechnic destruction of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and all? Cue: fading evil laughter.

About the author

Patrick Smith