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Sherlock, Ep. 3.01, “The Empty Hearse”: The mystery is solved

Sherlock promo image, S03E01, "The Empty Hearse"

Sherlock, Season 3, Episode 1, “The Empty Hearse”
Directed by Jeremy Lovering
Written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt
Aired Wednesday, 1st Jan 2014 on BBC1

It has been almost two years since Sherlock Holmes was seen faking his death, leaving his faithful companions John Watson and Mrs. Hudson to grieve his unfortunate passing.  In this seemingly short space of time, both Cumberbatch and Freeman have made their own mark in cinema, putting them very much high in demand in Hollywood.  But regardless of their cinematic achievements, everything comes back to Sherlock and one of the most elaborate mysteries in recent years.  So after two years we finally find out – how did he do it?

“The Empty Hearse” sees Holmes ‘return to life’, with the help of his brother Mycroft, from a two-year undercover mission dismantling Moriarty’s overseas network.  However when he returns to London, he comes face-to-face with angry acquaintances, conspiracy theory groups, and overdue explanations – not to mention an impending terrorist attack on the city.

The opening scene is nothing short of intense as Holmes fakes his death using bungee rope, a famous hypnotist, and some convincing make-up.  However, all the excitement quickly dissipates as it is revealed to be a theory of none other than former forensic expert Anderson (Jonathan Aris), trying to convince the skeptical Lestrade that Holmes is indeed alive.  How he actually did it, however, is a bit less fantastical – it instead involved a huge airbag, a corpse, and Mycroft’s timely assistance. Sure to fit in with some of the fan theories created after “The Reichenbach Fall“, it presents itself as a fairly simple plot so there is a slight disappointment at the almost ordinary – anti-climatic, even – explanation.

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However, all seems forgotten when people start talking.  The humorous banter between Holmes and Watson is nothing short of brilliant – from the awkward reveal in a crowded restaurant to disagreements over facial hair, it is the kind of chemistry that has been sorely missed and rarely bettered.  Both Cumberbatch and Freeman are on top form and together with the episode’s great editing and witty dialogue (the cut scenes are nothing short of entertaining), it is hard not to think of them as two old friends that you are dying to catch up with.  But as Holmes discovers that he is no longer the ‘significant other’ in Watson’s life, the core of their partnership is evidently under threat, something that obviously rattles Holmes up to the episode’s heart-racing climax.   There is also a strange, almost newfound, relationship between the Holmes brothers. As they bicker over deductions and games of Operation, the idea of them once being ‘mortal enemies’ is ridiculous and this could possibly lead to more screen time for the multitalented Gatiss – if anything, just to see the two of them squabble like children.

Initial fears of whether co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt could deliver against the sky-high expectations of both fans and critics are to be expected.  But with so much going on in 90 minutes, there is plenty to satisfy even the die-hard fans and may even remind Elementary fans that when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, the Brits have still got it.  A triumphant return for Cumberbatch and co. and a brilliant way to start 2014.

– Katie Wong


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