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(seriously…I cannot stress that enough)
Well, here it is. Nearly two years later, the cult-favorite Sherlock returns. Well, in England anyway. It has been a long-awaited return for fans of this modern interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. Last season, we left Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) in an almost impossible position after arch villain Moriarty forced Sherlock to jump off a building, killing himself. He died. Watson (Martin Freeman) saw it. But, lo and behold, turns out Sherlock is alive! Watson doesn’t know this. And viewers are left wondering for two long years on how Sherlock survived his fall.
Theories abounded to how Sherlock actually did this. There have been some crazy, overcomplicated ideas cooked up by fans over the past two years. The fact it was two years, only fueled the fire. Personally, I was more interested in how Sherlock’s reputation was going to be restored after it was so utterly destroyed. “The Empty Hearse” addresses these issues in addition to telling its own story.
First, the reputation: this was so easily resolved. In some ways I am disappointed it was hand-waved away. In other ways, it actually solves one of the big problems I had from the previous episode (which I otherwise loved). In “The Reichenbach Fall”, Moriarty destroys Sherlock’s credibility with some well-placed manipulations in the media. The thing I had a problem with was that, while it a clever plan and it made for some good drama, it would completely fall apart the moment anyone actually investigated it. When I watched the earlier episode, that nagged at me, but I let it go (suspension of disbelief and all). Brilliantly, the writers addressed that very issue in this season opener and pretty much claimed that the charges against Sherlock were bunk and his reputation was promptly restored. Nicely done, even if it was “dramatically too easy”.
Now, the resurrection: they never fully explain it! BRILLIANT! Episode writer (and series co-star), Mark Gatiss, likely knew that no explanation would satisfy everyone. And, given the rabid online fanbase Sherlock has, if one thing seemed wrong with the way out, you’d have legions of nerds complaining to high heavens. Instead, the episode somewhat intentionally avoids the matter. They touch on it here and there. Several possibilities are suggested (some comical, some intentionally overly complicated), but the actual resolution is left vague. In fact, one scene gets incredibly meta when Sherlock is trying to explain his tale to a disappointed conspiracy journalist who begins to poke holes in the story.
The thing is, as Watson points out, it doesn’t matter. “The Empty Hearse” was not about how Sherlock survived, but, rather, how is he going to patch things up with his broken friendship with Watson. Watson is understandably mad that Sherlock faked his death and didn’t tell him. Even more mad when he learns that other people (who Sherlock was not as close to as he was with Watson) knew he was alive.
Much of this episode, Watson and Sherlock are apart from one another. There is some story about a terrorist threat against London or something. It doesn’t really get going until the mid-way point and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Sherlock is not a show about the plots. Strange as that might seem. I’ve usually found most episodes to be all over the place a bit too much to keep me really invested in the story.
What keeps me coming back (and I suspect many of the show’s viewers) are the characters and their interactions. Cumberbatch and Freeman are great to begin with, but they have such a fantastic chemistry, it keeps you glued to the screen. Sherlock as a series isn’t about stopping the villain of the week. It’s about the Sherlock/Watson friendship. The show hinges on it. This episode hinges on it. When these two characters are together on a train ready to explode during the episode’s climax, I’m not worried that they are going to die so much as that they are going to die at odds with one another. I want to see that forgiveness. Cumberbatch and Freeman make it work and sell it. Lesser actors would not have been able to do it.
This is a real turning point in the series, I feel. Sherlock is changed by this experience. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s changing. Before when Sherlock would interact with people, he would often be dismissive of others. Socialization wasn’t his thing. Now, he’s noticeably different. He is much warmer to those closer to him. Watson, of course. But especially Molly (Louise Brealey). Sherlock would usually take her for granted, but how he’s showing emotion and gratitude for her help. That is a huge thing for him. I look forward to see how this change in him will develop.
Speaking of the supporting cast, I really like the addition of Watson’s fiancee, Mary (Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s real-life partner). She is a complete breath of fresh air in the sense that she actually likes Sherlock (as opposed to Watson’s previous girlfriends) and can see completely though his bullshit. As such, Sherlock seems to approve of Mary (also as opposed to Watson’s previous girlfriends). I look forward to seeing more of her on the show.
Fans of Sherlock are going to love the episode. If you are new to the series, hopefully you’ll be taken with it, though you might be a bit confused as to what is going on. Luckily, the series is on Netfilx and there are only six previous episodes. Check them out, then check this out!
“The Empty Hearse” will air in the US on January 19th on PBS.