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.