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Sherlock season premiere recap: 'The Empty Hearse'

‘The Empty Hearse’: Sherlock’s brilliant premiere trolls Watson and fans alike

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Sherlock Recap


TV Show
run date:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Current Status:
In Season

Two years. Two years we’ve waited. Nobody should have to wait two years for a TV show. Star Wars movie? Sure. To get married? Okay. To flip your condo? Fine. But not to see a TV show. Especially a show that’s as brilliant as Sherlock AND concluded with a huge cliffhanger. The wait was downright cruel. We understood, in theory — the stars of Sherlock were busy slaying orcs and menacing the Enterprise and other big-screen ventures. But it was still an awfully long time, and wouldn’t you know it — that wait has been mixed into the creative DNA of Sunday’s season 3 premiere, along with plenty of other fan-driven notions.

So now it’s back. The best bromance on TV. The crime drama for those of us who don’t even like crime dramas. The title of the new 90-minute episode is “The Empty Hearse,” playing off Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes-return story “The Empty House.” To fans, though, this is “the one where Watson finds out” and the one where we find out how Sherlock survived his fall — But do we really find out? We got the answer from PBS. Plus, we’re going to do a deep-dive on the best scene in the episode (and it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of).

We open with instant excitement as we’re back at the rooftop: We’re going to find out how Sherlock survived! We’re going to find out immediately. No mucking around. And what we see is … insane. Scenes leading up to Sherlock’s rooftop leap, a reminder that Sherlock told Watson it was “a magic trick” and that he insisted Watson stay in that exact spot across the street. Then: A team out of nowhere grabs Moriarty’s body, puts a Mission Impossible-style Sherlock mask on the corpse, Sherlock leaps with a bungee cord, bounces back up and smashes through the window, smooches Molly (!) and Moriarty’s disguised body is left on the sidewalk for Watson to find — but not before he’s given a hypnotic delay by Darren Brown (U.S. translation: British hypnosis celebrity). It’s all very exciting …

And pretty disappointing in its ridiculousness.

Just when we’re starting to think, “Oh well … maybe the rest of the episode will be better?” We hear–

“Bollocks!” Lestrade denouncing Anderson’s theory that we just witnessed as to how Sherlock faked his death. We realize: We’ve been punk’d! Or whatever the Brit version is of Punk’d. Relief floods. Oh Sherlock, we knew you wouldn’t do that to us. Lestrade chastises his ex-forensic guy Anderson, who’s now turned into a Sherlock conspiracy theorist racked with guilt for seemingly driving the detective to his death. “Two years and the theories keep getting more stupid,” Lestrade says.

While it takes some big Baker’s Street balls to troll fans who have been waiting this long, it’s quite clever to bring the Internet speculation surrounding the cliffhanger into the show itself.

More action: A man running, being hunted by Serbians in a modest-budget British-TV way. We see Sherlock being beaten, sort of. No face, but clearly the gym training is paying off (if not for Benedict than at least for his body double). He tells his tormentor his wife is cheating on him, ridding himself of one guard. Then his brother Mycroft steps forward,  disguised as another guard, and tells him and us that there’s a terror attack being plotted against London by an “underground network” and it’s time for him to come home. Sherlock gives us a little smile.

Blasphemy confession: I’ve never liked the Sherlock credits and titles theme much. I mean, they’re fine. But every other element of Sherlock is elevated — the writing, direction, acting. The titles seem like what you’d expect from a BBC drama of a modern day Sherlock, sort of CSI: Baker’s Street, and no more than that. In other words, it’s like they were designed for a more modest version of Sherlock than the one the producers and cast actually pulled off. I know, I know, you disagree. That’s okay. Our relationship is strong enough to handle our difference of opinions.

Sherlock gets a shave and a haircut and we learn he spent the last two years dismantling Moriarty’s network.  The best bit is Sherlock asking about Watson, quite casually, like he doesn’t care all that much. He sees Watson’s photo. Watson was so devastated at the loss of his friend that he’s grown a horrendous ‘stache. Sherlock says he’ll have to shave, “It makes him look ancient. I can’t be seen wandering around with an old man.”

Mycroft warns Sherlock that Watson has moved on with his life. “What life? I’ve been away,” and proposes surprising Watson. “He’ll be delighted.” Mycroft is amused at how much his brother is misreading the situation.

NEXT: The big reunion