Series 3, Episode 1: The Empty Hearse
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, Amanda Abbington, Louise Brealey
We finally made it. After two long years we have finally been blessed with a new episode.
The Empty Hearse (loosely based on the short story, The Adventure of the Empty House), picks up from where The Reichenbach Fall left off. We are back on the roof of Saint Barts, only this time we’re seeing behind the scenes. While Sherlock is giving his speech to John, we’re seeing people in motion; the disguise of Moriarty’s dead body as Sherlock, Sherlock using a bungee cord to jump off the roof, smashing through a window and planting an enviable kiss on Molly Hooper. Obviously something is amiss and it’s not long after that moment we see that we are watching Anderson’s theory of how Sherlock could have survived.
It is a great opening sequence whereby you find yourself hooked to the screen, yet yelling out ‘BULLSHIT’ at the same time.
The Empty Hearse revolves around Sherlock revealing himself to John, and the imminent terrorist attack on London Parliament by parties unknown. We’re introduced to a few new players as well; Mary Morstan, John’s fiancée (and Martin Freeman’s real life-partner); a brief glimpse of Charles Augustus Magnussen (based on Charles Augustus Milverton, played by Lars Mikkelsen); and Sherlock’s parents (played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s real life parents).
Sherlock’s reveal to John that he is alive is pure genius. The sequence is funny, heartbreaking and tense all at the same time and is brilliantly played by Cumberbatch and Freeman. It is also a testament to the writing skills of Mark Gatiss and not just in that scene. The episode is full of exceptional laugh inducing one-liners and scenes, including a particular intimate interaction with Sherlock and Moriarty on the roof of St Barts and frequent jibes at John’s new moustache.
The episode is close to perfection as stories come and is worthy of the shows huge reputation. The bonfire scene is another that was done perfectly, a scene that will have you on the edge of your seat.
The episode highlight, of course, is the undeniable chemistry between Sherlock and John which is played so well by Cumberbatch and Freeman, who seem to take their on-screen relationship to a whole new level. Sherlock and John need each other, they balance out each other and it was never more obvious than it was in this episode.
Amanda Abbington is a refreshing addition to the duo, bringing in a whole new dynamic. I am looking forward to seeing more of her.
And yes, we finally find out how Sherlock survived the fall and surprisingly, it seems that the answer was strikingly obvious and though the it won’t satisfy everyone, it works. Some aspects of his survival fans had guessed correctly including; the use of the squash ball to cut off his pulse, switching bodies briefly with the man responsible for the kidnapping in The Reichenbach Fall. The funny thing is how the writers, actors and crew managed to get away with it, because the entire sequence was filmed in broad daylight, in-front of fans. How did that not leak? It is a true testament to the dedication of the Sherlock fandom, and their love of the program, for them to not spoil anything for each other.
As a hardcore Sherlock fan myself, I find it difficult to talk about anything negative in regards to The Empty Hearse, though one aspect for me was a little disappointing. I really missed Paul McGugian’s directorial touch. McGugian was the main director for Sherlock in seasons one and two, having directed a total of four episodes. However, he is currently working on a feature film which may be why he is absent for the third series. McGuigan’s work on the show was phenomenal, from the on-screen text, to his use symmetry to balance out every scene, his beautiful composition of shots and variety of ways to go from one scene to the next.
That is not to say that The Empty Hearse wasn’t directed well, Jeremy Lovering did a fine job but it left something to be desired. Sometimes his shot composition was off, the colouring not right and I’m fairly certain that the scene in which Sherlock and John enter Westminster Train Station there is a large group of fans on the right hand side near the corner who are watching them. A particular cringe-worthy scene sticks out in my mind where John and Sherlock are watching surveillance footage on their laptop and you can see their reflections on the screen, but it’s too messy, too blurred to be beautiful. But perhaps I am being too harsh.
All in all, The Empty Hearse is an exciting, well-written and brilliantly acted episode and a perfect introduction to series three. To be blunt, our only main fault with BBC’s Sherlock is that there aren’t enough episodes.