Sherlock Review: The Empty Hearse
The episode begins the way we all hoped it would, with an explosive reveal as to how Sherlock faked his death. It seems like something from Die Hard-esque action flick, with quick fire changes, a surprise guest appearance by Derren Brown (who consequently was sitting right in front of us in the BFI screening), bungee ropes, and bursting through glass windows. Sherlock seals the deal with a kiss, and perhaps all of us feel a little jealous of Molly Hooper in that moment. But we’re also beginning to suspect that something is a bit off. The punch line of course, is that all of this is Anderson’s fantasy.
When the episode aired at the BFI, before the airing of the delightful Sherlock Christmas Special, this was the first time many of us had seen Anderson since the last episode 2 years ago. In that moment, all of us felt a kinship with the slightly bedraggled and bearded Anderson, who pleaded with Lestrade to believe his wild theories. It was such an abrupt 180 of feeling that we’re reminded again of the power the writers of this show hold over us. A terrible and delightful power.
The style of the new director Jeremy Lovering becomes apparent very quickly. The show is darker, edgier, with shape cuts and a moodier appearance. Despite the gruesome implications of Sherlock’s introductory scene, it’s kept upbeat with the same deduction humour from previous series, and we know Sherlock Holmes is still well on game.
In contract John Watson appears on a long, mournful ride through the London Underground. It sets the mood, but also lays out for us the first clue to the themes of the episode. As John walks back up to 221b, children ask for a ‘penny for the guy’, an old tradition which signifies that we are about to experience bonfire night. Gunpowder, treason and plot – and so Mark Gatiss has told us everything, and yet we suspect nothing.
The reunion scene we were all expecting was far more hilarious than we could have imagined. Benedict Cumberbatch treats us to a flavour of his more comical acting, and keeps us on the edge of our seats whilst we wait for John to notice him. Of course, Martin Freeman is a superb character actor, and when John does finally notice Sherlock, the mood of the scene flips on a dime. Whether through actual ignorance or wilful ignorance, Sherlock has failed to predict that John Watson will have strong feelings about his death, as if he paused in time the moment Sherlock left. You feel acutely what Sherlock feels in that moment, that he’s made a terrible tactical error, and he’s about to pay for it. Which he does, and I believe Sherlock Holmes has had that coming for a long time.
We are also introduced to a new character, Mary Morstan. Played by Martin Freeman’s real life partner Amanda Abbington, she is captivating from the moment she’s on the screen. It would take a strong person to pull John Watson out of the state that Sherlock’s death left him in, and Mary is clearly steadfast and strong, as well as light hearted and funny. Even she is not immune to the magnetic pull of Sherlock Holmes, but rather than being a polar opposite, she is his compliment in John’s life. Sherlock can deduce the mind of a man, but Mary can deduce the heart.
We are given another fine example of Jeremy Lovering’s directing skills, when we are treated to split scenes between Sherlock and John’s lives. It’s fast, funny, and reminds us of all the reasons that they’re better off together. Sherlock hears John in every deduction he makes, even when long suffering Molly tries to be there for him, and one can’t help wondering for how long Sherlock has been talking to his imaginary John.
We are given a pre-emptive climax when John is put in danger. The fear in Sherlock’s eyes is evident, and we are also given a taste of how smart and resourceful Mary is. The race across London and the absolute helplessness of John in the bonfire is heart stopping, and the tension is palpable until the moment he’s pulled from the fire.
The meat of the plot is a story about terrorism, a reflection on our own current fears, and it is just as exciting and thrilling as you would imagine. Woven into Sherlock’s return are all the clues and clever twists and turns which eventually lead John and Sherlock underground, placing them in peril and forcing John to confront his emotions over Sherlock’s death and return. The show never fails to thrill, and Mark Gatiss teases us just at the last moment, with what may or may not be a real solution to the Reichenbach Fall.
One of the overall themes that runs through the entire episode is that of relationships. New ones that have formed, and old ones that need to be strengthened anew. At the BFI Q&A Mark Gatiss spoke of how they tried not to keep using the same characters over and over, to avoid the show becoming too episodic, but that we the audience delight in keeping up with our favourite side characters. The Empty Hearse is not just about Sherlock returning and being back in John’s life, it’s also about Sherlock learning to appreciate John as a friend, as well as the other people they pull along for the ride. To paraphrase the wonderful scene where Sherlock shows up Mycroft over the hat deductions, a scene which directly parallels Mycroft’s comments in A Scandal in Belgravia, how would one know they were lonely if they had not had the experience of friends in the first place? Now Sherlock knows loneliness, he has grown and changed, and he and John continue to shape each other for the better with their friendship.
But who is the man behind the curtain? A new villain is on the horizon, and it looks as if Sherlock and John’s troubles are far from over…
Kafers is a Baker Street Babe, humble artist, and history enthusiast who can speak Mandarin Chinese very badly.
You can see more of her work at www.kafers.co.uk