Sherlock- The Empty Hearse BBC One
*Spoiler alert. I tried to write spoiler free but it was too hard. Please don’t read until you have seen the episode. It is very long and for that I’m sorry. I got a bit carried away with Sherlock being back. There is so much stuff that I had to leave out. I could go on about this show for ages. If you stick with it you deserve a round of applause*
Two years ago we all gathered round the television wondering how they were going to get out of that swimming pool. Well this year we found ourselves around the telly once more but this time we were all wondering how on earth he did it. It was the million dollar question. Fans had been driven half mad with theorising, guessing and analysing and finally we were going to find out. Naturally I was excited. In fact I squealed. It was a bit sad.
So as the episode opened I was thrilled to see that they were giving us what we wanted and getting straight on with the explanation. It would have been cruel to make us wait more, wouldn’t it? And what we saw started off in truly spectacular and ingenious fashion. A fleshy mask attached to Moriarty’s dead body? BRILLIANT! Sherlock bungee jumping off the hospital roof? Ok, silly but I’ll take it. Sherlock smashing his way through the window, ruffling his hair and snogging the face off Molly Hooper? AMAZING! And also hot!
The man on the bike being in on the act? I KNEW IT. Derren Brown turning up to put John into a trance so that he notices none of this? Wait, Derren Brown? Now this is just ridiculous. It was all going so well until Derren Brown turned up. Just as I was about to have a full blown strop and turn off the telly, all of this preposterous nonsense was revealed to be a theory of Philip Anderson, Sherlock’s former nemesis in Scotland Yard who, consumed with guilt for believing that Sherlock was a fake, driving him to throw himself off the roof of St Bart’s hospital, is now the founder of The Empty Hearse, a society who gather to theorise about the ways that Sherlock faked it. What was particularly brilliant about the inclusion of The Empty Hearse group is the fact that it allowed for this week’s writer, Mark Gatiss, to explore some more outrageous theories, like the wonderfully silly one dreamt up by Laura (Sharon Rooney) in which Sherlock and Moriarty sit giggling like 12 year olds, armed with a dummy with a paper plate for a face, prank calling John as they throw said dummy off the roof. Of course, they realise that they’ve fancied each other all along and it ends with more snogging. I laughed, a lot. For all the theories we’re still no clearer as to how he did it. I’ll leave that for the end.
The marvellous thing about Sherlock is how very funny it can be and I would go as far as to say that this is the funniest episode yet. The other big reveal of the episode was Sherlock’s return from grave to John, the one who had been the most hurt by Sherlock’s death. It was a typical Sherlock affair, flashy, show-offy and not in the least bit well thought out. Sherlock inadvertently picks the day on which his best friend has chosen to ask the new most important person in his life to marry him, the lovely Mary Morstan (played by Martin Freeman’s real life partner Amanda Abbington). What ensues is in parts both incredibly funny and deeply emotional, especially when it finally dawns upon John that his final request to Sherlock had now in fact come true. But first to the funny. Sherlock’s ‘genius’ plan features stealing various items from customers, including eyeliner for the worst drawn on moustache of all time (Although not the only terrible tache of the episode) to emerge as a wine waiter with an awful French accent. A note to anyone who needs comedy French accents, Benedict Cumberbatch is your man. My special favourite was the pronunciation of the word recommendation.
John has other things on his mind and fails to notice his outrageous accented waiter for who he really is, causing Sherlock to stomp off in a petulant huff, only to come back at exactly the wrong moment once Mary has arrived. Three series in and we are all used to nods to the original stories but I was especially pleased with this one as I’ve always found it one of the best Sherlock moments. The fact that in both The Empty House and Hearse Sherlock has the nerve to crash back down into his friend’s life in such a way that would provoke a huge reaction is enduringly hilarious and I felt that the way it was dealt with here was spot on.
My hat is doffed to Mr Martin Freeman who brings us down from the silliness with a bump in his beautiful portrayal of a man who has been sent deeply into shock. His breath was guttural, he struggled to speak, to face up to what had been presented to him. His was an image of a man barely holding it together. I found it compelling viewing, a glimpse at a man who had only just begun to piece his life back together after witnessing the worst thing in the world. However the silliness did return when Sherlock “Subtle As A Brick” Holmes dared to comment on John’s mournstache (sadly not my word but a genius one so I’m stealing it). John, like any reasonable human being who had just a) been confronted with a man he thought was dead and b) been insulted, proceeded to THROTTLE THE BASTARD, getting them all chucked out. The whole reveal was everything I had wanted from the two of them and I must applaud Mark Gatiss for writing such a marvellous reunion.
So with all the niceties over the team get on with what they do best, solving crime. Or at least Sherlock does, John has moved on with his life and is now treating thrush, piles and undescended testicles. Nice. Sherlock in the meanwhile has teamed up with lovely Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey). The development of this relationship has been really interesting to chart throughout the three series and it is at its sweetest here. As Sherlock says, Moriarty never counted on Molly mattering to Sherlock, a huge mistake on his part, especially as he used her to get to Sherlock in the first place. It is very telling of the real trust and affection that Sherlock has for Molly as he asks her to become his crime fighting partner for the day. She has shot up in his esteem from being just the girl who got him coffee and body parts to a real friend and a principal player in his scheme to survive his fall and this is a relationship that I really hope we get to see blossom even further. They do make an excellent crime fighting duo, unearthing the principal mystery of the episode, a disappearing Lord and underground car.
The episode isn’t without its flaws, the most glaring of which would be the decidedly flimsy central plot. A uncharacteristically simple mystery involving a modern day Gunpowder plot all seems to be over and done with within a few minutes. The antagonist, a Lord Moran, doesn’t have a single line in the whole proceeding, he is reduced to sitting in a hotel and evilly pressing bomb buttons. In any other episode I would have complained far more vehemently about a real lack of any central mystery but I feel that was never any of the writers’ intentions for this first episode. The real central story is Sherlock attempting to win his friend’s understandably shattered trust back and adjusting to the fact that they will never be quite the same again.
There is no better scene to illustrate Sherlock’s desperation at regaining John’s trust than the immensely emotional climax. It is a scene in which both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are devastatingly beautiful in their acting. When both are faced with certain death in the form of a giant explosive train car, it all kicks off. We see a Sherlock unlike before, in a state of blind panic and it makes for a disconcerting picture. Our Sherlock who is normally so cool and calm in the face of danger is scrabbling around like a madman, unable to stop the devastation that is about to be unleashed. Cumberbatch really cranks up the old emotion here, tears pouring down his face and, the real emotional kick to the stomach, his breathy, broken delivery of the line “I’m sorry.” It is an apology that forces you to believe him, he is literally on his knees begging John for the forgiveness he so desperately wants. Freeman, not to be outdone, is just as stunning, making us all cry with the words we all wanted to hear “Of course I forgive you.” Unfortunately for John, he ought to have known better because a few minutes later Sherlock is rolling around on the floor, killing himself laughing as he reveals that the bomb had an off switch after all. Poor John. The beauty of this scene is that Cumberbatch does such a good line in deceiving emotional performances it’s very difficult to know if any of what Sherlock said was true. I am inclined to believe the best in him though and that he didn’t know about the off switch until rather late in the game.
BUT HOW DID HE DO IT, I hear you ask. Well honestly, I’m not sure. There is an explanation, given to Anderson involving a corpse that looks like Sherlock, a giant inflatable bag, an ambulance station and a squash ball. It was rather a let down I must admit. But as Sherlock kept saying, there were 13 possible scenarios up on that roof so I have no idea if what we were told is the truth or if it is something totally different. It is the joy of the show to keep us all guessing and I expect nothing less. Next week we’ve got a wedding. Sherlock’s best man. I can’t wait.