Two years. Two very long years. The trouble with a new series of Sherlock is it’s over in the blink of an eye. Even with the season premiere tonight of “The Empty Hearse” we only have two 90 minute installments to enjoy before the shows off the air once more. The big worry is will we be left hanging like we were at the end of Series 2? Fans have speculated since than just how did Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest and most arrogant detective, survive the Reichenbach fall? Fan pages were started and numerous articles explored different possibilities with as much importance as they do worrying about health care and foreign policy.
Tonight we got a logical explanation…sort of….well….maybe. “The Empty Hearse” beyond showing the emotional toll of Sherlock’s apparent death did a great job of playing with fans’ expectations and in the end it’s not completely clear. Yet the best thing that Sherlock could do was not make it clear whether the solution was completely true or not and it was done in a very entertaining manner.
Much like the ambiguous nature of The Curator in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, Holmes’ survival from the fall is left a bit skewed as far as its plausibility. While we are given an explanation straight from the horse’s mouth to Anderson it’s questionable at best. Of course his brother Mycroft being involved and having the leverage to pull something as elaborate off makes sense but it’s still muddled by statistics which is acknowledged. Even Anderson’s response seems to indicate he is not completely convinced and that he would have done it differently. This much like many of the other false scenarios in this episode are clearly send ups to fandom and the various theories that have been tossed around for the past couple years.
We begin to speculate right from the start when a rather action- packed scenario is produced involving a bungee jumping Holmes who breaks through a glass window giving a passionate kiss to Molly Hooper. This moment is broken by D.I. LeStrade’s declaration of “Bollocks!” and this is very much how these scenarios are played for the duration of the show. Much of “The Empty Hearse” divides its time between the personal side of Sherlock and the theories of his miraculous survival with only a third of it focused on the case.
The case involving a underground terrorist cell is revealed to be in the London underground with various references to other Conan Doyle cases brought along for the ride in particular the Giant Rats of Sumatra (Sherlock has a wall of “rats” and the abandoned station is the Sumatra Station). It isn’t played up too much and the case is basically the plot of V for Vendetta so we are left with a rather limp investigation that is basically used as a way to get the team back together.
What is established from the beginning is a complete shift in tone from the previous season and a far more humorous and light hearted scenario is instituted. For all the emotional anguish that John suffers seeing Sherlock alive (and he does so amidst Holmes’ Peter Sellers-esque waiter) there is something incredibly entertaining and expected of John constantly beating up his detective friend. It was going to happen because neither one of them puts themselves out there as an emotional mess. Freeman gives one of his best performances in the role here constantly juggling between being glad to be back working with his friend but also hating him for the hell he put him through. Cumberbatch plays Holmes very sincere but also completely clueless of how to understand human nature at times. It allows Sherlock to still present himself as a bit of an ass but it also softens him a bit allowing us to learn more about his internal workings.
We also get the introduction of an important aspect of the Holmes’ mythos; Watson’s fiancé and soon to be wife Mary Morstan played here by Freeman’s actual off screen love, Amanda Abbington. Very early on she shows an interest in Sherlock finding him entertaining and rather intriguing. She is perfectly fine with John’s relationship with Holmes despite the danger and while that is all well and good there is an aspect to her that indicates she has something else going on. She is charming and very kind hearted but it’s tough to take her relationship with John all that simple.
For me it’s perfectly fine to dial back on the serious tone we had been delivered for a while because this is a show with texture and is about a detective more than being a detective show. Sure, the plot was rather simple and the case solving methods were rather reserved but it’s great that we have been given more flesh to the character of Sherlock. “The Empty Hearse” was incredibly satisfying to say the least even if the end result was not made explicitly clear nor was the actual case much to work with. It was no “Study in Pink” but we have reached a newer chapter in the constantly short run of seasons where the case and how to solve has been laid out; now it’s time to solve the mystery of just who our hero is behind the scarf and overcoat. It’s a show about a detective not necessarily a detective show.