When the belated second season of Sherlock came to a close with The Reichenbach Fall, the internet appeared to go into a near terminal meltdown. How did Sherlock Holmes survive the plummet? Or did he plummet at all? Overnight every person with a television and an internet connection became a wild conspiracy theorist and every possible scenario was run over and over again in the hopes of finding that final piece of the puzzle. In short, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had written themselves into an almighty hole.
The leaps required to make it out of similar holes have handicapped Sherlock in the past (The Hound of The Baskervilles was the primary culprit), suspending our disbelief before quickly descending into the sort of semi-ridiculous plot wrap-ups we came to expect of lesser shows. It remains unclear whether the supposed revelation in The Empty Hearse is the actual payoff or yet another round of the audience being teased with false truths. As a genuine reveal though, it’s fully aware of its own underwhelming nature (one character essentially states as much) and it’s difficult to tell whether this is Gatiss and Moffat sneaking out the back while everyone else waits for a new show of genius, or if we are being toyed with in lieu of a more grandiose revelation.
But then again, this is an episode defined by its handling of the audience. It feels tailor made for the copious Sherlock fandoms and is packed with in-jokes, self-awareness and a whole heap of fan service. It’s nice that the super fans get their own episode, but it leaves the slightly less tumblr-savvy viewers among us feeling a tad left out. Sherlock has always had its tongue firmly in cheek, but The Empty Hearse occasionally feels like its stretching itself for the sake of a knowing chuckle. That being said, even by Sherlockian standards, this is an incredibly funny installment, and it seems harsh to begrudge the more invested fans their moments when there’s so much genuine comedy left over for the abject newcomer.Next
With all the nods to slash fiction and facial hair, it’s easy to forget that amongst it all there is a case to be solved. This is especially easy considering it’s a throwaway one. This isn’t an episode about Sherlock Holmes catching criminals, this is an episode about a ghost reappearing from the blue and digging up dirt long buried. It almost would have been worth throwing out the subplots altogether, leaving the focus on a group of characters who have moved on without ever quite letting go. As it is though, the case is imperfectly structured, falling back on coincidence and overlong inductive leaps to reach its conclusion. As in Conan Doyle’s books before it, Sherlock is at its best when the clues are hidden in plain sight, rather than resorting to withholding the information until someone conveniently trips over it.
But forget about such needless trifles as international terrorist plots, there’s something far more important to pull you’re attention here: The boys are finally back!
Cumberbatch and Freeman’s interactions are the show’s pride and joy, and despite the hiatus, the back and forth between Holmes and Watson remains as entertaining as ever. It’s really just a privilege to sit and watch a pair of gloriously written characters wading through one of the greatest British programmes of the Millennium. Even when Sherlock is at its worst (which it rarely is), it’s still a fantastic piece of television, packed with snappy editing and punchy dialogue, effortlessly exuding the kind of energy that would leave most shows gasping for breath.
The Empty Hearse may be a flawed addition to the canon, but I cannot stress enough how good it is to see some of Britain’s brightest lights back together and making something truly special. The current explanation as to Holmes’ survival – which for the meantime we must assume to be genuine – proves to be minor a cop out, but the slavish analysis of The Fall made that all but inevitable. It seems a more natural reaction to just shrug it off and chuckle along.
The episode as a whole is endearingly uneven – a patchwork of raw emotions and in-jokes that serve to perfectly reflect the newfound instability of a set of characters we’ve swiftly grown to love.
The Empty Hearse may not be as brilliant a season opener as A Scandal in Belgravia, but it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser that manages to brilliantly strike the balance between familiar ground and new territory. It may be flawed, but it’s a love letter to the fans, who are bound to universally adore it.
Sherlock is back in business folks, and it was well worth the wait.