SHERLOCK: “The Empty Hearse”

FINALLY, after two long years of rabid speculation, the great mystery of Sherlock’s survival will be revealed…OR WILL IT?

I’m going to try something different with my Sherlock recaps. Since I’ve already seen the episodes (don’t worry — I won’t give any details about what’s to come!), I’m going to do these stream-of-consciousness-style as they air. Hopefully it won’t be too weird.

Sweet — viewer discretion advised!  This ain’t your grandma’s PBS.

The game is on…

We open as we left. Sherlock is back on the ledge. “Keep your eyes fixed on me,” he asks John. Behind him, Moriarty is getting dragged away by unseen associates! He’s getting a mask of Sherlock’s face applied, Mission: Impossible-style! Sherlock jumps, attached to a bungee cord, and as quickly as he descends he is ripped back upwards in  what I can only describe as a “rock star Christ figure.” He is SO awesome, in fact, he kisses Molly on the way out. Watson, meanwhile, gets hypnotized, his watch reset, and then “awakens” to find the body.

Well… that’s one theory, at least. Anderson’s theory. Our newly-bearded, esrtwhile pain in the arse detective is looking ragged, and feeling guilty. (As he should, you know. Him and Donovan.) But he’s been sharing his crazy ideas with Lestrade for weeks — “I believe in Sherlock,” he says — but Lestrade thinks he’s being ridiculous. It doesn’t matter that Sherlock has finally been vindicated after all the accusations he weathered in the last episode. He’s still dead. Right?

John Watson has a mustache. Not a great look for him. But he DOES have a girlfriend (a charming Amanda Abbington, who is Martin Freeman’s real-life wife! ADORABLE!), so despite the recurring nightmares, he at least has some chance at happiness post-Sherlock. And where is our favorite high-functioning sociopath? Getting beat up by a gang of Serbian thugs. What’s he doing there? We don’t know; it doesn’t matter. But Mycroft has found him. There’s an active underground terrorist network in London. Time to get back to work. Time to come back to life.

Credits!

This episode was written by Mark Gatiss (who, as you know, plays Mycroft), and like much of this third season takes an inward look at the characters. The relationships take center stage over the typical “mystery of the week” format. I kind of like it, actually, though with only three episodes to deliver, every moment feels incredibly important, even more so than usual. How do you deliver on two years of hype with only three weeks worth of programming? Those crazy Brits.

Anyway: Sherlock, having finally dismantled Moriarty’s vast network, is long overdue for a haircut and a shave. He’s (understandably) pissed at his brother for waiting so long to get him out of that Serbian den. “You were enjoying it,” he accuses Mycroft. Mycroft demurs. I love Mycroft.

Watson is back at Baker Street for the first time in what seems to be a long time, and Mrs. Hudson is mad at him for never calling once in the interim. Watson’s sorry, but his excuse doesn’t hold water. Hmm… I wonder if the tables are about to be turned…

All of Mycroft’s intelligence points to a major terrorist attack in the heart of London, but there’s no more info to go on than that. Sherlock is handed a file bringing him up to speed on John’s doings, and — like everyone else — he hates the mustache.

Mrs. Hudson still thinks John and Sherlock were boyfriends. “I AM NOT GAY,” John is quick to announce. (The more uncomfortable Watson gets, the funnier Martin Freeman is.) Sherlock, meanwhile, decides to “just drop by” to see him. He even gets his old coat back, so you know things are about to get real.

He finds John and his girlfriend Mary at a restaurant, and pulls off a quick switcharoo — a bowtie, glasses, and greasepen French mustache — to turn himself into a waiter. He even affects a nasally French accent. He tries to cue John into turning around and recognizing him, but no dice. And why is John so distracted? Because he’s about to propose. Oh snap! John!!!

John is so earnest and awkward, and Mary really seems like a good match for him. She’s clever and funny, and he bumbles his way through the proposal before Sherlock interrupts him…and reveals himself. John very nearly has a heart attack. “Short version: not dead.” It’s uncomfortable. Much more than Sherlock anticipated. Now Mary realizes who he is. John is pissed, but (so far) silent. Sherlock: “Okay, now I realize I probably owe you some sort of apology–” but John pounds his fist on the table. “How could you do that? HOW?” Sherlock just has one question, but after wasting it to make fun of John’s ‘stache, finds himself tackled in the middle of the restaurant. Oh, Sherlock. You dummy.

The three, presumably having been kicked out, are now in a cafe. Sherlock is attempting to explain how he faked his death (there were thirteen possibilities; it was Mycroft’s idea) but John only wants to know WHY. And who else knew about it? Well, Mycroft, Molly…25 of Sherlock’s “tramps”…and John lunges for him again.

A third location. Essentially, dozens of people knew Sherlock was alive. But not John. Not his best and only friend. John is (understandably) furious. But Sherlock tells him that he needs his help, and assumes that John has missed the “thrill of the chase.” And for the third time, John attacks him. SHERLOCK. HE IS YOUR FRIEND. YOU BIG DUMMY.

Now with a bloody nose, Sherlock has a brief word with Mary (and he can’t keep himself from giving her a quick “read,” but turns up nothing unusual or nefarious, save one word: “Liar.”) Mary sweetly tells him that she’ll bring John around. Sherlock goes on to meet his other old friends: Molly, whose smile could light up the Thames;  Lestrade (“OH, YOU BASTARD.” They hug. It’s amazing); Mrs. Hudson, who screams and screams and screams.

Okay, we’re back on the fateful ledge. Is this how Sherlock did it? Pushed a dummy off, while he and (an alive!) Moriarty giggle like schoolgirls, then lean in for a kiss…??? THE GIFS OF THIS WILL BE OUT OF CONTROL OH MY GOD. This is just blatant fan service, but–

“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?” Anderson asks. Don’t be silly! This is his little club, a meeting of the Association of the Empty Hearse, where they come up with different implausible theories to explain how Sherlock could have escaped. This girl thinks her idea is just as good as Anderson’s. But it’s about to all become moot, as they are in for quite a surprise: #SherlockLives. Sherlock Lives! Hat Detective Alive! It’s lighting up the Twitterverse! Anderson is right!

Watson is shaving his mustache. Thank God.

Baker Street. Terror Alert raised to “Critical.” The government has “solid information” about an attack, incredibly vague and not unusual news an agent apparently gave his life for. But Mycroft and Sherlock are playing Operation, and bickering like they have for decades. It’s hilarious. Mrs. Hudson is just happy to see Sherlock back again. “Isn’t it wonderful,” she asks Mycroft. “I can barely contain myself,” he drily replies.

Sherlock wants to play something else. How about “Deduction?” They discuss the characteristics of a beanie left at the apartment, and its owner. Hey, guess what? Mycroft is also completely brilliant at this little game, and has even bested Sherlock  many a time. Just not this time. Sherlock goes back to work staring at his wall of clues and photographs. Meanwhile, John is at his private practice, hating himself. There’s a fun sequence where Sherlock and John’s dialogue overlaps across scenes, a clever bit of writing and editing. Ultimately, Sherlock can’t handle doing this alone, so he bring in sweet Molly to be his assistant for the day.

As Sherlock takes on boring cases and solves them within minutes, John is becoming increasingly agitated, now fully aware the Sherlock is back out there. He knows he can’t keep himself away from Baker Street. It’s only a matter of time. He’s so paranoid that he mistakes an old man in his office for Sherlock, but — as it happens — the guy’s not wearing a fake beard. Oops.

Sherlock and Molly are led into a dark basement by Lestrade, where they find waiting for them a skeleton behind a desk that has Scotland Yard baffled. It’s interesting, ish, though Sherlock can hear John’s voice in his head berating him for being a “show-off” and a “smart-arse.” But they find a book in the desk: Why I Did It, by Jack the Ripper. Ooookay. So, the whole thing is a fake. “Why would someone go to all that trouble?” Molly asks. “Why, indeed?”

Next, Sherlock and Molly visit the flat of a tube aficionado (the guy who owns that beanie), who has a security tape showing a mysterious man getting on at Westminster — but at the next station, the train is one car short, and the man is missing. Who is this man, and where did he go? Sherlock thinks he knows the answer to the first question…

John, giving in to his impulses (or is it giving up?), arrives on the porch at Baker Street, but is — ACK! —  swiftly injected in the neck and kidnapped by unknown assailants. Oh geez.

Sherlock thanks Molly for spending the day with him, and acknowledges that she made his escape two years ago possible when Moriarty assumed she didn’t matter to him. He notices that she’s engaged, and wishes her happiness. “After all, not all the men you fall for should turn out to be sociopaths.” Poor Molly.

And poor John! Oh no! He’s bound and woozy…somewhere.

Mary gets a cryptic text, and figures it out immediately. (Wicked smart, this one.) She takes it to Sherlock, and the two set off for the church they realize John is being held at. He flags down — well, steals — a motorcycle to expedite the process. The texts keep coming, counting down how much time they have left to save John. Sherlock’s massive brain thinks of shortcuts through the city to reach St. James the Less…

…where there is about to be a bonfire, to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. And John is trapped inside the woodpile! But Sherlock and Mary get there just in time, and pull him out of the flames, a little “smoked” but alive. But none of them have any clue who put him there, or why John was singled out in the first place.

Baker Street, the next day. Sherlock is meeting with an older couple when John shows up, and they turn out to be Sherlock’s parents! They’re so cute and English and old! (Wait, looking something up…THOSE ARE CUMBERBATCH’S ACTUAL PARENTS! SQUEAL!!!) They want him to go see Les Mis, but he’s planning to stick Mycroft on the hook for that. (Aw. Well, I get that it’s not Sherlock’s kind of show.) But, unfortunately for John, that’s two more people who knew Sherlock was alive, when he did not. Ouch.

Their attention turns to the case at hand. Sherlock has remembered the identity of the man in the security video: a diplomat, who has been secretly working with North Korea for years. In a flash, he has it. It’s not an “underground terrorist network” — the network is literally underground. Whatever is going on, it’s happening between those two stations. And it’s happening on the fifth of November: the anniversary of Fawkes’s failed attack on Parliament.

Opinion: the actual case at the center of this episode unfolds swiftly — maybe a little too swiftly — with the focus actually on Sherlock’s return and the ensuing fallout. In fact, the terrorist threat almost feels like a distraction, and some of the details aren’t even that clear. I just wanted 90 minutes of Sherlock and Watson hashing out their issues! Was that too much to ask?

Yes? Okay.

Well, there IS bomb underneath Parliament, Sherlock surmises, and with the help of their train-loving friend (again, a rushed development, if convenient) locates a never-opened station deep underground in that exact spot. And there, further down the track (“Just don’t touch the rails,” Sherlock cavalierly warns John) they find their missing train car, with munition charges planted nearby.

And inside the car, they find the bomb. Uh-oh.

Which starts to count down. Double uh-oh.

There’s no time to call the authorities. They have two and half minutes to deactivate it before they and Parliament get blown sky-high. John is LIVID that Sherlock — like always — didn’t call the police when they had the chance. He implores Sherlock to use his “mind palace” to think of how to turn the bomb off, but Sherlock comes up empty. For the first time, he doesn’t have the answer. He fumbles around aimlessly. “Sorry…I can’t do it, John. I don’t know how. Forgive me.” “What?” “Forgive me, John, for all the hurt I caused you.” “This is a trick — a trick to get me to say something nice.” Aww. John: “I WANTED you not to be dead.” “Well, be careful what you wish for.” It’s a genuinely emotional moment. Both of them have so much to say, two years of pent up feelings and hurts, and no time to say it. But John forgives Sherlock. He waits for the explosion, and……

Flashback? Flash-forward? Sherlock is giving an explanation on tape about the events of “The Reichenbach Fall.” Mycroft came up with the entire plan from the beginning, including the parts where Moriarty destroyed Sherlock’s reputation. The only thing they didn’t count on was Moriarty’s deathwish, but that didn’t really affect their ultimate plan for Sherlock’s escape. As he said, there were thirteen different scenarios. They just picked the best available: code name, “Lazarus.”

The street was entirely closed off, save for Sherlock’s army of street informants, so every living soul that saw him take the plunge was in on it…except for poor John Watson. Thanks to John’s position on the street, being blocked by the ambulance station, he didn’t see what happened next: Sherlock hit an air bag, which was immediately shuttled around a corner just as John rounded the other side. John briefly saw a body (double) on the ground before getting knocked down by the cyclist, at which point the corpse was replaced by the real Sherlock, covered in fake blood, with a squash ball under his armpit to stop his pulse. Neat trick. Easy as pie.

Of course, Anderson — who Sherlock has been telling this to — is not impressed. “Not the way I’d have done it…I’m a bit disappointed.” HAHAHA. Wait, why is Sherlock even here? Because Anderson and his fan club were behind the silly “Jack the Ripper” stunt. But of course, despite “wasting police time” and “distracting” Sherlock, all is forgiven — “HANG ON,” Anderson begins. He starts to question Sherlock’s story again. “If you really did it, I’m the LAST person you would tell…” He might be right, but Sherlock is gone. Anderson, sweet Anderson, laughs hysterically, and starts tearing all of his notes and news clippings off the walls. Awesome.

Back in the train car, John still bracing for the end, and now Sherlock is laughing. There isn’t going to be an explosion, because he’d already turned off the bomb. “There’s an off switch. There’s always an off switch.” Watson, duped again, can’t believe it. “I’m going to kill you!” he cries.  Sherlock smiles. “Killing me… that’s so two years ago.” SHERLOCK YOU’RE SUCH A JERK SOMETIMES I MEAN GOD. John, I totally get it. You should hit him again. That was cruel.

Anyway, the diplomat behind the scheme is caught, and nearly every bow neatly tied up. We even meet Molly’s fiancee, a tall fellow with a scarf and coat that…uh, looks an awful lot like Sherlock’s. Yikes. Everyone sees through it, except Molly. Poor Molly.

The only question left unanswered: who kidnapped John? Sherlock still doesn’t know. “I don’t like not knowing.” Watson — finally — also asks him how he did, in fact, cheat death two years ago, but Sherlock brushes him off as he heads out the door (wearing his famous deerstalker hat) to face the cameras….

…But in an unknown location, a mysterious man is watching video of John’s fiery rescue on an endless loop. Looks like we just met this season’s big villain.

So did we get an answer to the burning cliffhanger? Kind of. Depends on if you believe Sherlock. It’s a perfectly fine answer, a plausible answer, and the show is just cheeky enough to leave the door open a crack to there maybe being more to it. It’s an acknowledgement that after all the fan theories and hype, it would be near impossible for whatever Gatiss and Steven Moffat came up with to satisfy all the fans, so why make it definitive if you don’t have to? I’d certainly argue they didn’t have to. I thought they handled it beautifully.

All in all, it was a brilliant return for Sherlock — both for the character and the show. As I’ve said, this season will feel a little smaller in scope, more character-based than mystery-based, but if this premiere is any indication, it should be just as delightful as ever. When you’ve got the peerless Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as your foundation, it’s hard to screw it up (not that some episodes in the first two seasons weren’t worse than others), but the writing is still sharp, the visual style still extremely clever, and the rapport between the two leads is unparalleled. It’s SO good to have this show back.

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