Image source: blogs.independent.co.uk
It’s finally here! But how did I feel about the eagerly anticipated Season 3 Episode 1 of the BAFTA-winning BBC series (Which, let’s be honest, does wayyyy more justice to Arthur Conan Doyle’s character than Robert Downey Jr’s overly-“action hero” Sherlock Holmes)? Meh… I’m kinda disappointed.
Let me clarify. The Empty Hearse was not bad; it just did not live up to the stratospheric-high standards of the past two seasons. However, this episode has clearly received almost widespread critical acclaim from the majority of reviews I’ve read, so the vast majority of Sherlock fans will probably not agree with me. In fact, this will definitely be one of the more negative reviews of The Empty Hearse, so brace yourself.
I’m going to have to reveal some spoilers (heads up, those of you who somehow have not seen this episode yet) to justify my disappointment, so here we go…
SPOILER ALERT: Read beyond this point at your own peril.
Let’s start with the good stuff. I liked how they paid significant attention to how hurt John (Watson) was. It was realistic. At the end of The Reichenbach Fall, John begged his best bro for one favour: to not be dead. Sherlock heard him and still disappeared from John’s life for two years (the same way he disappeared from our lives for two years. I like what they did there.). When Sherlock finally reappears in John’s life in one of the most adorable ways possible (because it included the French accent being applied to that oh, so low Cumberbatch voice), John naturally hits Sherlock in the face multiple times. John is visibly hurt throughout the entire episode, and it takes a near-death experience for John to finally forgive Sherlock. That was very realistic. I liked that.
Speaking about realistic character development, I liked how the episode revealed more about Sherlock’s relationship with fellow Holmes bro Mycroft and his parents (played by Cumberbatch’s real parents Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham). It made Sherlock a more believable human being, albeit the genius-level intellect. That certainly didn’t hurt.
This episode also, in a way, paid homage to Sherlock fans. There were so many moments that practically translated into a “Here’s to you, fans” salute. Sherlock’s “death” that concluded The Reichenbach Fall was nearly two years ago, and this gave Sherlock fans/Cumberbitches/both (like yours truly) plenty of and way too much time to accumulate our own theories as to how our dear Violin-playing, adorably blunt and brilliant-and-he-knows-it “consulting detective” survived.
Several fan theories were not only discussed by various characters, but also hilariously acted out, including a particular Sherlock/Moriarty shipping which probably came from all you fan fiction writers out there. Johnlock shippers were even acknowledged as well, with John telling Mrs Hudson “Sherlock was not my boyfriend!”. Sherlock’s return to London resulted in a flood of #SherlockLives hashtags attacking every mobile device, which undoubtedly happened here in the real world as well. The hashtag was actually trending on Twitter months before this episode even aired. I liked this playful fan acknowledgement. Well done.
Now, the bad stuff. The Empty Hearse seemed a little… direction-less. The unresolved Sherlock and John feud overshadows everything else in the episode. We are told from the get-go that an underground network plans to bomb London, and yet this is quickly brushed aside so many times in the episode because, to us emotionally-attached fans, the Sherlock/John partnership seems more important. While we might not always see the big picture of the crimes until much later in Sherlock episodes, we are usually aware of the direction a string of seemingly unrelated crimes is taking quite early in the episode. Halfway through The Empty Hearse, however, I still did not quite know where the crimes were headed. When the main danger finally became apparent, there seemed to be a sudden rush into it without sufficient build up (even though there was) because much of the earlier half of the episode was focused on Sherlock’s attempts at reconciliation with John.
I hated how mysteries were solved in this episode. A blogger whose name escapes me pointed out the disappointment regarding the use of “withheld information”, and I could not agree more with him/her. A mystery surrounding the disappearance of a London Underground train carriage and its sole passenger along a route that has no possible exits, as confirmed multiple times by an Underground employee, is solved later in the episode when said employee finally remembers that there was a half-constructed train station along said route. Never before has Sherlock solved mysteries through withheld information from the same client that considered the phenomenon a mystery in the first place. The Sherlock fan in me was screaming “What the eff?!”. Lazy, boys. Lazy. And that off switch button on the bomb? Jeez! This is Sherlock, for crying out loud. The epitome of an anti-climax.
I was also disappointed with the lack of displays of Sherlock’s skill of deduction. Don’t get me wrong; it definitely comes up several times in the episode. It just wasn’t as meaningful as in previous Sherlock episodes. Sherlock’s deductions, which are usually integral to solving the primary mystery, typically involve Sherlock making an observation and revealing the signs that led to his deduction later in the episode, or him rapidly describing the signs and deductions in one breath. This episode didn’t feature enough of that. There was a Mycroft vs Sherlock “deduction game” early in the episode which involved the Holmes bros tossing a hat at one another and sparring with observations about the owner of the hat. Was this the writer’s way of satisfying what he knew would be fans’ hunger for more displays of Sherlock’s observations skills? Not tastefully done, IMHO.
Long story short, I was disappointed with The Empty Hearse. Not because it was a bad episode, but because this wonderfully written miniseries had set high expectations for me. Nevertheless, the vast majority of viewers seemed to enjoy it.
I’m just glad Sherlock’s back!