It’s been a long time between drinks for John Watson (Martin Freeman) and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch). But thanks to Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss), he’s back from foreign lands to help solve the mystery of the underground terrorist network.
Finally we have a resolution to The Reichenbach Fall (S02E03), Sherlock’s apparent demise, both literally (by falling off the roof of St. Bartholomew’s hospital) and reputationally (through being discredited by James Moriarty, chillingly played by Andrew Scott).
The Sherlock team appears to be firing on all cylinders in The Empty Hearse, and there’s a lot to be said for slick production design, clever cutting (especially in the scenes which alternated dialogue between Sherlock, Mrs. Hudson and John at work as a general practitioner) and on-screen-displays. But they won’t do anything good if they’re not paired with a decent story. Thankfully the story delivers solutions, laughs, and a new boss for Sherlock to deal with now that Moriarty has left this mortal coil for real thanks to a gunshot wound delivered through his mouth. This was the one aspect of The Reichenbach Fall, the series 2 conclusion that never sat well with me, though it is explained by Sherlock in this story. Moriarty apparently had a death-wish, and besting the only person worth his time presumably was his dying wish. That he failed due to the careful planning of the Holmes boys initially confused me. Moriarty’s plan was that Sherlock had to die in order to avoid Lestrade (Rupert Greaves), Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) and Watson being executed. That they were never in danger thanks to the plan meant that there was no need for Sherlock to jump off the building. However, reading between the lines, I wonder if the danger would have remained, and that Sherlock spent two years dismantling Moriarty’s network seems to bear this theory out.
The story opens begin with a solution to Sherlock’s death, posed by Anderson (Jonathan Aris), who now appears to be ex-police and a scruffy Sherlock groupie. He has created a fan club for Sherlock aficionados, “The Empty Hearse”. The solution is clever and involves a bungee cord, a kiss for the damsel (Molly Hooper) and Sherlock riding off into the sunset. Greg Lestrade gives a succinct response, and we find that Sherlock, after two years, has been exonerated. Not that it helps anyone as everyone believes he’s dead.
This is the first of several alternate solutions which include Sherlock and Moriarty in visual slash fiction, and what could be the real solution which involved an inflatable landing-pad, an ambulance station, an impostor who scared the pants off of some kids in The Richenbach fall, and most importantly, a lot of people who weren’t John Watson.
Here’s the core of the story: John’s loss, and the fact that there were at least 25 other people in on the job of saving Sherlock’s life. Writer Mark Gatiss has woven the whole episode around this element: Sherlock’s international shenanigans, the threat to the houses of Parliament, the groupies and reuniting with everyone else. Even John’s pending engagement (as-per the books, and to real-life partner, Amanda Abbingdon), interrupted with aplomb by Sherlock himself, is window-dressing to this story. Una Stubbs’s Mrs. Hudson alludes to an underlying sexual tension between the two men when she asks if John’s intended is a nice man. Sherlock and Watson are, after a fashion, in love with each other. It’s a manly love, and certainly not romantic. It’s a friendship that has parallels in other stories, such as Star Trek with Kirk and Spock. Sherlock and Watson belong together. At least until next week, when John gets married.
Points to those who realised that Sherlock’s mother and father are, in-fact, Benedict Cumberbatch’s actual parents, Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carter.
As the story continues, Watson is accosted, knocked-out and buried beneath a Guy Fawkes fire. His fiancee and Sherlock rush to the rescue on a purloined motor-bike and with only seconds to spare, rescue the good doctor. Someone is playing games with Holmes, perhaps a copycat of Moriarty? Perhaps the power behind the consulting criminal’s throne? That it was Mary, John’s Fiancee, who got the message rather than Sherlock himself suggests other nefarious purposes.
We move on, however to the mystery of the underground terrorist network and its solution reminded me rather of V for Vendetta: an abandoned tube station and a carriage packed with explodey goodness destined for the Houses of Parliament. That the bomb had a simple off-switch was rather disappointing, however, it did allow Sherlock to get Watson to confess how he really felt — forgiveness, admiration and loss — and conveniently avoided the well-worn trope of red-wire/blue-wire that usually occurs whenever a bomb is concerned.
The Empty Hearse had a lot going on, and one might think it too complex, or on the other hand, too random. However, it did give us comedy gold in the form of Mycroft versus Sherlock playing “Operation”, two separate discussions between Sherlock and Watson, both ending in violence (and I should have taken bets on this, as I predicted it in my review of the series 3 trailer), and Anderson finally losing his shit after being told the real story of how Sherlock survived.
Was The Empty Hearse worth the wait? Perhaps. It was certainly a ride!