TV Review: Sherlock - The Empty Hearse [Series 3, Episode 1]

on Saturday, January 04, 2014
'Sherlock' Series 3, Episode 1: 'The Empty Hearse' (UK Airdate: 1 Jan '13) // Words: Saam Das

15 January 2012 - the final appearance of Sherlock Holmes as he plummeted to his supposed death in the series two finale, 'The Reichenbach Fall'. Of course, by the end of that episode, it transpired that Sherlock had not actually died at all, and we were left on tenterhooks for the best part of two years to find out how he'd cheated death. For me, at least, 'The Empty Hearse' did not disappoint. SPOILERS from here on.

The usual suspects returned for the series opener, with new mega-stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back as Holmes and Watson, alongside co-creator Stephen Moffat (who wrote this episode). Jeremy Lovering, whose debut feature film 'In Fear' recently hit the big screen, opted for a kinetic approach to his direction, with frequent dollops of humourous editing. Here's some of the most notable talking points of the episode.

Anderson's guilt

The episode immediately addresses Sherlock's death, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, as a guilt-ridden Anderson (Jonathan Aris) tries to explain to DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) how Sherlock spectacularly staged his suicide. It was completely and almost gleefully over-the-top, with the appearance of Derren Brown being particularly unexpected yet delightful. Both Anderson and Donovan (Vinette Robinson) were culpable for Sherlock's plunge, and we hope to see more from Donovan. Already it feels like Anderson's had more character development than in the two previous series combined.

Family fortunes

Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) rescues his brother from the clutches of the Serbian underground, in a rare excursion into fieldwork. The duo's relationship has felt distant thus far in 'Sherlock' but 'The Empty Hearse' hints at a more fruitful and engaged collaboration from here on in. Which is most pleasant. Unlike the slightly cringeworthy use of "blud" in one of their exchanges. Naughty Moffat. But including the remarkably ordinary Holmes parents (Cumberbatch's IRL parents) was a wonderful addition. Well played, Moffat.

The French waiter

While the question of how Sherlock escaped death was at the forefront of our thoughts, the more pertinent question should have been how he would assimilate back into the lives of the people he left behind. Most significantly, John. His gambit of posing as a waiter was typically misguided, eliciting a superbly disbelieving reaction from Martin Freeman.


How big a role is Mary (Freeman's off-screen wife Amanda Abbington) going to play as the series continues? Her introduction was a positive one, siding with Sherlock immediately and showing a canny nature when she is texted a "skip code". Whether her fate is that shared in the books is another matter of concern.

"The one person who mattered the most"

My favourite character dynamic is likely the one between Sherlock and Louise Brealey's understated Molly. Their interactions are often played for humour, yet the tenderness underneath regularly emerges - here, Sherlock quite explicitly concedes his fondness for her. Molly's streak of being unlucky in love looks set to continue however, with suggestions that her new fiancé is a shady figure.

Capturing the zeitgeist

The anti-terror bill discussion was surprisingly in tune with last year's NSA revelations, although in combination with the Parliament bomb plot ending up coming across as more of a rehash of 'V For Vendetta'. The real meta-element of 'The Empty Hearse' came with its addressing of the fandom surrounding Sherlock - particularly the dubious homosexual fan-fiction, generally found on Tumblr. Early on, Watson's vociferous "I am not gay!" seems to be as much a shout to the over-imaginative fans as it is to Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs).


Thankfully, we did get an actual explanation as to how Sherlock cheated death. Even though it took a considerable time to get there. And seeing as he told Anderson, we're not quite sure it's true. But it did make sense. One of thirteen possible scenarios meticulously drawn out by Sherlock and Mycroft, LAZARUS involved a squash ball to stop the pulse, a dead doppelganger body, and some good old practical horror make up. It satisfied but many, like Anderson, were perhaps left "a bit...disappointed".

The eye/glasses/face

After the hubbub of the Parliament bomb plot dissipates - with Sherlock simply switching off the bomb on the tube car(riage) - we are left with the partial image of a face, purportedly the person behind John's kidnap. Presumably a new super villain of sorts, although we couldn't stop thinking about former England football manager Sven Goran Eriksson.

Watch 'The Empty Hearse' on BBC iPlayer for a limited time. Episode 2 airs on Sunday 5th January.

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