Review – Sherlock, Series Three, Episode One: The Empty Hearse
Two years after his “death,” Sherlock returns from the grave when London is threatened with a terrorist attack. However, he soon discovers that things have changed and that John has moved on.
I remember the day that the release date for Sherlock’s new series was announced; I squealed rather loudly. I’ve watched from the very beginning, and let me tell you, waiting for two years to find out how Sherlock and John were going to escape the bomb-rigged, gun-laden swimming pool at the end of Series One was hard enough. But, this cliffhanger was even worse – how did Sherlock jump off a building and practically die in John’s arms, only to not actually be dead? I’ve read endless theories, calculated explanations and re-watched all six episodes tirelessly in the hiatus, and this resulted in the entirety of December being a big countdown for me.
In The Empty Hearse, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman return as consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and ex-army doctor John Watson. Freeman, complete with post-Holmes moustache, excels as a changed man from the John we’ve previously seen, due to the loss of his best friend. He’s accompanied by his new beau, Mary Morstan, who’s portrayed by Freeman’s real life partner, Amanda Abbington. The introduction of a woman into the duo’s dynamic was questioned by fans, but Abbington is an exceptional addition to the already superb cast. Her Mary is effervescent, comical and extremely likable from the offset.
Benedict Cumberbatch is exceptional as always, stealing scenes with his undoubted presence and fantastically speedy monologues. His reunion with John is touching yet hilarious, much as the entirety of the episode. There are some fantastically well put-together dialogues, cutting between scenes to portray two sides of one story, however this can get a bit jumpy. The cinematography is executed in the style of the previous series, with high angle shots, clever ‘mind palace’ graphics and some striking special effects.
There was a focus on Louise Brealey’s Molly Hooper, with the ninety-minute episode highlighting the growth of her relationship with Sherlock. Amongst all the chaos and emotion, their friendship is undisputedly heart-warming. Mentions must go to Una Stubbs as landlord and motherly figure, Mrs. Hudson, and Rupert Graves as all-round nice guy, DI Greg Lestrade for their solid acting throughout, keeping the show grounded through some of its wackier moments.
The episode features three different theories as to how Sherlock could have faked his demise, and one is definitely a nod to all the fanfiction written in the long gap between this episode and the last, The Reichenbach Fall. Three different explanations, but no hint as to which is the right one, or if it’s one of them at all. The writer, Mark Gatiss (who also plays Sherlock’s insufferable brother, Mycroft), succeeds in referencing fans of the critically acclaimed show, particularly in his use of Anderson’s (Jonathan Aris) ‘Empty Hearse’ club, a group of enthusiasts who meet and discuss Sherlockian survival theories; a very clever screenplay choice, and one that has the potential to be cheesy, but really isn’t.
After two years of waiting, I was understandably nervous for its return. No need really, as Sherlock delivers on all levels. Cumberbatch and Freeman are a steadfast combination of brilliance, supported by a killer script and an army of still-developing characters. There is no way this episode will disappoint.
RATING – A