Sherlock: 301 “The Empty Hearse” Review
Reviewed by David Selby
Almost two years after the tantalising Series Two finale, The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock burst back onto our screens. Indeed, it was almost as if Sherlock’s bizarre world of shock and speculation was in fact our own, making the episode and its characters vastly easier to relate to. Anderson represented the obsessive fan, Lestrade the casual viewer, and the former’s group of conspiracy theorists the wider fan-base. The different methods by which the protagonist faked his death were echoes of the countless fan theories that came to light in the last year – some more Tumblr-influenced than others. The meticulousness of the ideas – for instance the angle – almost burlesqued the fervent fans’ implausible schemes. The space of time passed between episodes, meanwhile, was the same as the viewer’s last experience of the show. Overall, The Empty Hearse felt like both a taster of Conan Doyle’s unconventional criminal networks and a slice of the real world.
Largely, it was effective. The highlight of the opener was arguably Sherlock’s diverse revelations; Lestrade’s being a particularly heartfelt but also amusing moment. John lacked the former’s lenience. In comparison to Conan Doyle’s original, Watson struggled to accept his friend’s deceitfulness. It was an absorbing sequence; Sherlock’s expectations of his friend defied, Watson furious and his wife perplexed by Sherlock’s lack of awareness.
My issue, however, was that the viewer was left with similar sentiments to Watson’s after discovering his friend survived. Why did he do it? I’d hoped for some kind of clarification from the man himself. There were allusions to Moriarty’s criminal network and to John ‘letting something slip’ – however the fact that Sherlock informed various other individuals was detrimental to his relationship with John. Had it just been Molly (and at a push Mycroft: after all, he is the British government), it would have been more understandable (“the person who mattered the most”). As it was, the ‘best friend’ dynamic was compromised. With less people ‘in’ on Sherlock’s secret, there would have been more room for Sherlock to reveal himself to others – moments, in my opinion, which were more entrancing than the fall scenarios.
I could have done without the overly-hypothetical tone. The final revelation just milked a good joke; something certain would have been more pleasing after a two-year wait, but I’ll withhold my verdict until the series is over (perhaps there’s a reason we haven’t been told yet). Whilst the theories were entertaining and stimulated mass nail-biting, they were harmful to the overreaching storyline which exhibited the potential to be compellingly horrific. The most powerful – and perhaps well-directed moment – was Sherlock’s realisation of the damage the terrorist plot could cause. By the end of the episode, all sense of peril was lost, undermining some admittedly ingenious concepts. Some bombs may indeed have off-switches, but by Sherlock’s standards, it was an unsatisfactory dénouement. Nonetheless, Sherlock’s pleas to John – his confession to being clueless – will become a landmark for the show. Sherlock has finally admitted to being wrong.
It was still a hugely enjoyable episode. Mary comes across as a strong, relatable character, and there were plenty of gags to lighten the tone throughout. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were, as per usual, enriching to the series’ standards. More of Sherlock and Molly investigating together would be nice; they hit it off flawlessly and made for a beguilingly multifaceted crime-solving duo. The introduction of new characters, such as Sherlock’s parents, shows signs of a promising future for the show.
Something else worth noting is how the series seems to have changed in terms of atmosphere and tone. A lot of this is thanks to a new soundtrack by composers David Arnold and Michael Price which includes an electrifying variation of The Game is On. I think it’s fair to say that it’s one of the year’s most anticipated musical releases.
Whilst a strong and enjoyable opener, The Empty Hearse did have some faults. As a fan, on the other hand, I was simply elated to see Sherlock Holmes back on our screens, and with his usual enchanting splendour. Bring on the rest of the series.