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After a two year hiatus, which was playfully mentioned throughout the episode, PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery series Sherlock finally made its return.
Starring bona fide movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson, Sherlock is more a series of TV movies than anything else. With “The Empty Hearse,” Sherlock had to not only explain why and how (or so the fans hoped) Sherlock had faked his own death but also re-acclimate Watson and Sherlock to each other, and solve a mystery all in less than two hours. And while Sherlock is as fun, quickly paced, and well acted as always it is clear that the show isn’t the same as it was two years prior.
“The Empty Hearse” achieves its first goal quickly – explaining why Sherlock faked his death. After being extracted from a rather violent interrogation by his brother Mycroft, Sherlock explained that he faked his death so that he could find and root out entire Moriarty’s network of criminals, although saying there were still a couple out there. Mycroft finally had to bring Sherlock back to London because there was a terrorist plot by an underground terrorist cell for which he needed Sherlock to find. And so, Sherlock Holmes was returned.
In the two years since his death, however, Watson had taken a job as a doctor at a clinic and had found a girlfriend named Mary to whom he was planning on proposing. Watson, complete with mustache that no one liked, had asked Marry out to a fancy dinner to propose to her – giving Sherlock the perfect opportunity to reveal himself to Watson.
In what was a good scene that reintroduced the audience to Sherlock’s observant powers, in the stylized manner the show is known for (close ups of items along with on screen text of what Sherlock is thinking), Sherlock acquires multiple items to disguise himself as Watson’s French waiter. After Watson finally notices who is waiter is a funny sequence of Watson fighting Sherlock and getting kicked out of various restaurants begins as Sherlock intermittently tells Watson who knew he faked his death. The writers also played with the audience’s expectations as they stopped Sherlock midsentence as he was about to describe how he faked his death.
While Sherlock tries to replace Watson with Molly Hooper, an experiment that doesn’t succeed, Watson tries to find a way to forgive Sherlock and be his friend again. Unfortunately, Watson doesn’t have much of a choice as he is drugged, kidnapped, and then placed at the bottom of a rubbish pile that is set to be put aflame by a citizens celebrating Guy Fawkes day. Sherlock and Mary arrive just in the knick of time to save Watson as they race through London streets and walkways to pull him from the pile. Finding out who was behind this seems to be a recurring plot for the rest of the season.
Another possibly recurring aspect of the show comes in the form of Sherlock’s feelings/inner voice. In a scene where Sherlock is investigating a crime scene, complete with the evidence he sees popping up in text on screen, Sherlock’s inner thoughts also pop up on the screen. These thoughts, however, are not about what he is investigating or detecting but instead seem to be in regards to his emotions – particularly in regards to Watson. Things such as “jealous?” pop up in orange text and Sherlock verbally pushes them back down so he can continue to investigate. While this only happened once in the episode it should be interesting to see if they become a recurring theme for the show, humanizing Sherlock at least a little bit.
The main mystery, which was not given all that much importance, finally comes to a head when Sherlock and Watson find an abandoned tube station that contains a missing subway car that is laced with explosives. As Sherlock frantically searches his “mind palace” for a way to diffuse a bomb, coming up with nothing, the show dramatically cuts to Sherlock explaining how he faked his own death to the head of the Empty Hearse club. This decision was completely odd as it took the audience out of the tension of the subway car for the explanation that, by the end of the scene, was still melodramatically questioned by the club’s founder. Even after having played with the audience throughout the episode as multiple explanations were quickly debunked as fan fiction or with Sherlock being cutoff from explaining, this was a weird inclusion at this point in the show.