There is one undeniable truth about Sherlock’s season three premiere, “The Empty Hearse.” It’s damn good television.
There are spoilers ahead, because how am I supposed to talk about the first episode of season 3 without them? Seriously, watch the episode first, don’t read this first.
After a two year hiatus, Sherlock is back and as smarmy as ever. Which is good, because the Tumblr fandom was losing its damn mind. (Although, I don’t know that the show being back has actually changed anything.)
John Watson, a doctor who’s ex-military, once again works as a civilian doctor in London. John mourns the loss of his good friend and partner, Sherlock Holmes. In the season two finale, Holmes, an awful violin player and sociopath, jumped to his death after being put into a no-win scenario by the master criminal from the first two seasons, Moriarti. Moriarti forced Holmes to choose: Holmes could either kill himself, or his partner Watson and his landlady would both be shot and killed by snipers. So, Sherlock sacrificed his own life to save his friends, no small task for a man to whom human emotions are the biggest mystery of all. Season two ended with Watson at Holmes’ grave, talking to his fallen comrade.
But please, there’s just one more thing, one more thing, one more miracle,
Sherlock, for me. Don’t be… dead. Would you do that just for me?
Just stop it. Stop this.
Then of course we got a pan away from the grave, and whose face do we see, watching Watson? Since this is the season three premiere review, I bet you can guess.
Some may argue the season 3 premiere is too focused on fan service this go-round to have a substantive plot. And there is plenty of fan service, make no mistake. A lot of this episode is very tongue-in-cheek. However, Sherlock has always been about fan service from the very first episode. Yes, it’s slightly more self-aware than before, but it’s fun and its self-awareness doesn’t detract from the episode. The Moriarti/Sherlock make out fake out is genius.
Now for the problems with this episode, be they slight. Since much of this episode has to deal with the sorrow and anger surrounding Watson’s character as he deals with the loss of his friend, a lot of the episode focuses on the relationship between the two characters after Holmes comes back from his two years abroad tracking down the rest of Moriarti’s underground global terrorist network. As such, the mystery in the episode is one of the weaker ones. The case of an impending terrorist attack is not the only major mystery in “The Empty Hearse” though, and even the episode name is a throwback to the most important question: how did Holmes fake his death? I won’t tell you the answer, but suffice to say even when it is revealed, it is also hinted at by Watson that Holmes will never actually tell how he really pulled off faking his death.
This episode is able to evoke all the important emotions in the viewer: from sorrow to joy to just plain confusion, fear, and anger; Sherlock, and indeed “The Empty Hearse,” is an episode—and a show—that is packed to the brim with visual information, and it is a powerful beast. It moves quickly, and often if you blink, you’ll miss another piece of the puzzle. Yet it also revels in fantastic sweeping shots of London, such as when Sherlock is standing on top of a building like Batman, surveying the city he loves so dear. As an American viewer, occasionally I miss a phrase or two, which of course lead me to rewatch. However, I’d rewatch this episode even if I caught every single thing the first time. It’s just that entertaining.
Sherlock is all at once a complicated and complex show, and a very simple one. It is both easy to take in, and difficult, in the way that the best television programs are. It has an Arrested Development, and X-Files quality of…rewatchability (look ma, I inevented a word.). It tears at the heartstrings like a homicidal violin player. And, most importantly, it gives you that need to watch more, to take in more. You go into withdrawal like a damn junkie when you hear the end credit theme begin! And while I’m mentioning it, the score is just as nuanced and wonderful as always.
Sherlock rewards you for being a fan. Despite a silly over-the-top scene where suddenly Sherlock is an action hero again, riding a motor bike up and down stairs which was reminiscent of the first episode of season one where he runs across the tops of buildings and jumps from roof to roof, Cumberbatch et al. nail this character. Holmes manages to be modernized, yet there are enough nods to the Doyle work to keep fans of the stories happy. But rest assured, if you haven’t read the source material, you can enjoy the show just fine. And Freeman’s portrayal of John, and his interpretation by the team of creators, is crafted with the same care.
If you’ve never seen the show, the first two seasons are up on Netflix Instant. I urge you to at the very least give it a shot. And if it isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine. More for the rest of us JohnLockers… I mean fans.