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.