Review: Sherlock – The Empty Hearse


It’s been a long wait, but at last we’ve arrived. After countless theories, repeats and thoroughly analysed scenes, Sherlock Holmes returns to British television with a hell of a kick-starter for 2014 – and that niggling question of how he did it is finally answered.

But not before the devils of writing, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss string you along for the majority of the episode. The Empty Hearse springs straight into the action on the roof of the hospital, with Andrew Scott making a short-lived return before signing off a second time – not that we didn’t know that already. Throughout the sequence, you’re never quite sure if you’re believing what you’re seeing. Starting off quite logically, the methods of how he did it seem entirely plausible, if not a little overdramatic, with Sherlock crashing through a window, giving Molly a quick kiss and parading through the hospital as John mourns his apparent death below – until you realise you’re being had.

From the very beginning of this episode, you have to admire the craftsmanship of the writing. Moffat and Gatiss have it off to a tee. With all the speculations and theories by fans bombarding the internet, not to mention their Twitter accounts, it should have been expected that they were going to mess with us a few more times. When filming began, the internet was teething with new information, including the reshoot of the suicide scene, which had photos of Cumberbatch leaping with a bungee rope and Derren Brown hypnotising John, both which featured in the opening sequence. Considering they were filming out in the open, there was fear that plot spoilers would surface, but it would appear they’re cleverer than we anticipated. They constantly play with the expectations of their audience, paying homage to them in a fashion while also giving an action-packed opening.

Other than the suicide theory being revealed, there was one other scene that has been eagerly anticipated and that was the reunion of the doctor and the detective. Their meeting had been set up perfectly, more on John’s end, who had just revisited Baker Street and had tea with an agitated Mrs Hudson, with whom he’s dropped out of contact. Though John comes across as a bit of a grumpy sod (no surprises from Martin Freeman), it’s not difficult to see the agony behind his vacant expression. Mrs Hudson deals with it in arguments, John handles it in silence. Contrasting with his dark times, we are also introduced to the future Mary Watson (played by Freeman’s real-life partner Amanda Abbington) who takes a bit of getting used it, perhaps due to the time and the place: we first see her with John in the middle of dinner which doesn’t give her much room to ground her character, not to mention that we’re already on the edge of our seats waiting for Cumberbatch and Freeman to reunite on-screen. But thankfully, it’s not much further into the episode that she gets to open up and easily becomes a very welcome addition to the Baker Street gang.

So, just as I have stalled this section, we finally get there – the reunion, and it’s handled beautifully. Beautifully written, beautifully acted, everything. There was no fault in that scene, to my eye. In-keeping with his character, Sherlock swans him after taking off his disguise as though their reunion was going to go smoothly, as if everything he’d done could be just forgotten. John had other ideas. If Freeman had reduced the nation to tears at Sherlock’s graveside, he manages to do it again, and this time without words. Everything is in his expression, just staring at Sherlock, not sure how to react, merging between joy and anger. That mostly turns to anger when Sherlock does what he does best and says the wrong thing. It’s their reunion that becomes the central theme of the episode, and it should be. Having gone through two years of hell, John was never just going to let Sherlock walk back into his life, and the way in which the writers go about is rewarding, not jumping straight back into the old days. They allow the two to come together on their own terms.

It’s just a shame that the rest of the story tries to overshadow it. The underlying mystery is an underground terrorist attack on London, which is the reason for Mycroft to bring Sherlock back to London. Though it’s not the grandest of cases in the show’s current history, it’s a nice level between taking over the show and not being interesting at all.

Overall, Sherlock is back and better than ever. Though there are a fair few moments where it feels like that pace has halted or is taking a little too long to get to the point, the writing is up to scratch and the actors are all superb. Every moment between Sherlock and his friends was lovingly done. Cumberbatch and Gatiss have a few scenes together where you’re not sure whether to love them or hate them. It’s nice to see that Molly steps into her own, finally able to leave her infatuation with Sherlock behind which was annoyingly undermined by a throwaway joke at the end. And Lestrade – well, is Lestrade.

On a final note, concerning the actual, confirmed theory of how Sherlock did it, they were never really going to do it without inciting disappointment. A lot of people will be happy with the end result (or at least content) but personally, that felt like the moment which should have been rewarding to the fans, but wasn’t. The main contributing factor to his survival hadn’t been hinted in the slightest, which again, some may not consider a bad thing, but after placing clues for the fans to find and not using them themselves, seemed a bit of a cop out. There were factors which the fans got right, but seemed small in comparison. That being said, it was plausible, therefore acceptable.

Despite my petty, pedantic little criticisms, it’s undoubtedly a great start to the New Year and a fantastic start to the new series. It’s a shame that within two weeks it’ll all be over and we’ll have to deal with whatever cliff-hanger Moffat and Gatiss leave us with this time. But before that, we have a new nemesis on the horizon, and given his 30 second appearance at the end, he may be just as formidable as Moriarty.

The second in the series, ‘The Sign of Three’, airs Sunday 5th January – and there’s a wedding to prepare for.

2 thoughts on “Review: Sherlock – The Empty Hearse

  1. I agree with most of the things you’ve said here, but I personally think you’ve missed the point in terms of how Sherlock did it; there is no actual confirmation as to how he did it at all, so it’s not disappointing – the writing has Sherlock’s final explanation of how he did it completely undermined by Anderson’s disappointment and then not being convinced that Sherlock would tell him the truth at all, which is greeted by Sherlock disappearing with neither confirmation nor denial of his truthfulness.

    I think that that is what actually makes the ‘reveal’ brilliant… even after this episode, we still aren’t -quite- sure of just what did happen.

  2. Rover, you are absolutely right. In fact, I’ve spotted several glaring errors (deliberate, of course) in Sherlock’s description of how he faked his suicide. He was pulling Anderson’s leg, and Anderson began to realize this before Sherlock even left the room. Here’s why the description is bogus.

    He states that Mycroft’s men “persuaded” the sniper not to shoot John. But we saw the sniper casually pack up and leave after witnessing what he thought was Sherlock’s suicide — per Moriarty’s instructions. We are even shown a scene of the sniper on the stairway landing as viewed through another sniper scope behind him. A rifle with a scope to shoot a man twelve feet away in a stairwell?

    Nope. Don’t think so.

    In The Reichenbach Fall, the sniper is carefully prevented from seeing anything that would reveal the hoax, because his view of the sidewalk landing area is obscured by the low brick ambulance station between him and the sidewalk where Sherlock lands. But in Sherlock’s description to Anderson, the large air bag was inflated on the opposite end of the building from where John stood — and this would be in plain sight of the sniper! It was also taken back to that area to hide it from John after Sherlock jumped.

    Again, nope I don’t think that was true.

    The air bag could not possibly have been unrolled, inflated, and moved into position in the time between the moment when John’s cab drove past the end of the ambulance station and the time Sherlock jumped. Remember, they couldn’t even start the job until John was in position on the other side of the ambulance station, so that the team could prepare the air mattress without him seeing it.

    Sorry, that wouldn’t work either.

    And about those people who did all the work: they were people from Sherlock’s homeless network? Really? Where did homeless people get all those costumes (nurses and doctors uniforms, etc.), and where did they get the big air bag?

    Did Mycroft provide all that? Probably . . . but wait a second.

    Sherlock told Anderson that he contacted Mycroft to set up the hoax. That I definitely believe, but we know Mycroft hates to deal with people — so how did he round up all those loyal homeless folks and get them organized in time (less than twelve hours)? Okay, Mycroft could give orders to a whole team of trusted government agents to round up the homeless people and –

    — Wait a tick! If Mycroft already had a team of agents helping prepare the hoax, why bother with the homeless people at all?

    It seems much more likely that Mycroft gave orders to his group of trust government agents to set up the hoax — not a scattered group of homeless people.

    And what about that highly unnecessary corpse which Sherlock claimed was thrown out a window? Why use a corpse for those brief seconds, when all Sherlock had to do was lie down (which he died) and have blood squirted on him (which he also did).

    And who was that convenient doppelganger who look just like Sherlock? Sherlock himself admitted he didn’t know! He told Anderson that Moriarty had located a man who looked “a lot like me,” and used him to scare the kidnapped children. Then Moriarty killed the man, and Molly just happened to locate the body in a morgue. Sherlock referred to him as “that man — whoever he was — “. Sherlock didn’t even know the alleged man’s name? Two years after the suicide hoax?

    Not likely.

    So, there you have it folks. Sherlock was clearly pulling Anderson’s leg — a bit of revenge on one of the people who had called Sherlock a hoax. The real suicide plan was undoubted similar, but much simpler and more efficient – without a huge blue air bag, a looka-like corpse, a team of amateurs’ to prepare the scene, and blatant contradictions to what we know happened in The Reichenbach Fall.

Comments are closed.