Sherlock review – Episode 1 Series 3: ‘The Empty Hearse’

sherlock bbc The reveal of Sherlock’s death was always going to be a disappointment. The writers painted themselves into a corner it was impossible to get out of without God reaching down from above and lifting them out. I held out hope that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were actually the greatest TV writers in history and would pull it off, but, alas, that has not turned out to be the case.

Instead of one plausible explanation, they gave us three implausible ones, wrapped them in knowing winks and self-referential jokes, and just for good measure hinted that none of them were true. None of them, of course, were at all credible. They all for some reason focused on Sherlock’s desire to fool John Watson, forgetting that the whole point of the suicide was supposed to be to fool Moriarty’s men.

The first one, bungee jumping Sherlock, doesn’t work because Sherlock has no idea what the vantage point of Moriarty’s men is – if they’d seen him bungee into a window they’d kill his friends. The second explanation was one of the too many inside jokes in the episode – a nod to the Sherlock slash fiction. The third one, ostensibly the real explanation, that it was all a big plan and that Mycroft had Moriarty’s men taken care off, negates the need for a suicide at all, or at least, not one conducted in such an ostentatious way.

There are a thousand and one reasons the explanations don’t work, but I won’t go through them all, because the writers clearly know they don’t work. That was made clear with all the jokes in the episode. Here’s the thing: it matters. A plausible explanation matters. Because without one, the 15 minute conclusion to the last series was one big joke. ‘Ho, ho, isn’t the internet crazy with all its theories,’ is essentially Mark Gatiss’s explanation for Sherlock’s death.

Why should I ever get emotionally involved with these characters again? Why should I give a fuck about Watson’s wedding, Mycroft’s loneliness, Sherlock and John’s relationship? It’s just a joke. Who knows what’ll happen next episode. Maybe John’s fiancée will pull her face of at the altar and reveal herself to be Moriarty. Why not? Throw in something for Tumblr fans and break the fourth wall once or twice and they’ll get away with it.

‘Everyone’s a critic,’ Sherlock said at one point. Well, yeah, if you end your series on an emotionally charged, cliffhanger fake death, then you better come back with a credible explanation next series or people are going to be legitimately annoyed. With this episode, Sherlock took a huge step away from meaningful, fun drama and towards nonsensical pulp.

sherlock- series 3 bbcWith the death not-explained, the rest of the episode focused on a planned terrorist attack on London, using a train in an abandoned London underground tunnel to blow up parliament on November 5th, which is the exact same plot from both the comic and the movie version of V for Vendetta. ‘Paying tribute,’ is the phrase you’re supposed to use in these situations, though I imagine Alan Moore would use different words.

Aside from the cliffhanger, the other major problem left over from last series is the death of Moriarty. The show lost its chief villain, leaving a big hole in the series.

In this episode, someone unknown kidnapped John and trapped him inside a burning bonfire, leaving Sherlock clues to his location. This is the type of thing Moriarty would do, but Moriarty did these things because he wasn’t really interested in power or money, but in playing with Sherlock. Why is this new guy doing it? They can’t introduce another campy, dastardly villain with the same motivations as Moriarty and get away with it. Many people were already unhappy with Moriarty’s flamboyant portrayal, but Andrew Scott, in my opinion, made it work. Second time around I’m not sure it’ll stand up.

I don’t want to be totally down on this episode. I think Sherlock is one of the most original and enjoyable British dramas in years, and this episode was good at times. The back and forth between Sherlock and Mycroft was enjoyable and John and Sherlock are still a very fun team to watch.

But this episode was undeniably a step down in quality. It wasn’t tight enough, with long, drawn out sequences, like Sherlock’s motorcycle race, or the scenes of him jumping into his head to map-out the London Underground. This version of Sherlock also seemed a little inconsistent with that in previous series; more playful – disguising himself as a waiter to surprise John – and less inconsiderate to others.

And then there’s the very disappointing reveal. The writers couldn’t have predicted the huge reaction people were going to have to last series’ ending – thousands of web pages and online discussions – but if they didn’t have a tight reveal for the ‘suicide’ they shouldn’t have done it. Be less ambitious if you can’t pull off such a trick. Or, at the very least, if your trick is poor, don’t make it a cliffhanger and stretch it out into another series.

There’s another two episodes to go, and I sincerely hope the show can put all this behind it and continue the form of previous series. I really like Sherlock, but this episode wasn’t very good.

Random notes:

  • Very fortuitous for Sherlock that a motorcycle showed up just as he needed a fast mode of transport.
  • The bit with John inside the bonfire was almost like something from James Bond: the villainous scheme, the hero showing up just in time. Like I said, the sociopath Moriarty allowed the show to get away with this stuff in the past. Going forward…
  • There were some half-assed attempts to add some current affairs into the episode with brief mentions of terror bills and governments ‘spying on our own people.’ I really hope they come back to this, because otherwise it’s just a bit rubbish.
  • I’m sure lots of people liked the self-referential jokes – the mentions of the reveal being ‘a bit disappointing’ for instance – but I felt that it was used to paper over the flaws in the writing; ‘We fucked this up so we are breaking the fourth wall to make up for it.’ Jokes don’t excuse poor writing.
  • ‘There is a clue everybody’s missed,’ writer Steven Moffat said in a 2012 interview with The Guardian. ‘So many people theorising about Sherlock’s death online – and they missed it! We’ve worked out how Sherlock survives, and actually shot part of what really happened. It all makes sense.’ Does it Steven? Does it? Where, exactly, is your missing clue?
  • ‘I don’t care how; I want to know why,’ John said about the reveal. Yes, the why is more important than the how, but not when you structure the climax of your TV show to end with a big mystery. In those situations, the how is pretty important.

Sherlock Reviews: Episode Two, Episode Three

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10 thoughts on “Sherlock review – Episode 1 Series 3: ‘The Empty Hearse’

  1. Yep…. 100% agree with you. Better have a brilliant fucking solution for us somwhere in the next 180 minutes. This isn’t fucking Lost (JJ Abrams) where you hand us several little puzzles and never explain any of them! I.O.U.? An all-of-a-sudden enlightened (to death) Moriarty on that roof? Whats up with the Rich Brooke alias? Kid terrified of Sherlock? Better be joking with that “guy who kinda looks like Sherlock” shit! I love this show!, but i hope theyre messing with us here and they have real solution. Please tell me they actually wrote a solution…..

    • Now granted…. i am in the US so i cant watch the episode yet, but unless Britain is just messing with me, we didn’t get answers to anything! I expected some juicy spoilers guys!!

  2. USA here. Thank you for confirming that I’m not yet a brain-dead Yank as this was the worse time to be had apart from American television, watching such dribble; and such high expectations were kept throughout the waiting-season. While viewing, I had most often been wanting to be elsewhere perhaps more excitedly more entertainingly more fulfillingly mating with Moriarty–trust me, I’m not thinking to be at all Gay–rather than watching Sherlock series 3 part doom. It is doom for this series, and for us it is sad, ever so. Crap.

  3. I totally agree with you about the quality drop in this new season, and how certain scenes were unnecessarily drawn out. How ‘Sherlock’ doesn’t feel like ‘Sherlock’ anymore, and how it is really annoying for the writers to think that they can get away with it if they break the fourth wall, but I just wanted to say that your apparent distaste for Tumblr is also really annoying. I have a tumblr, I’m quite obsessed with shows such as ‘Sherlock’, I’m quite obsessed with my ships, but that doesn’t mean I’m somehow stupid or happy with the show because they showed a screwed up Sherlock/Moriarty scene, or because they showed us how they know that fans have theories. That was really amateur. What I wanted to say is that you need to rethink your stance on Tumblr fans, because while some of us want to see fanfiction like episodes, not all of us do. In fact, majority of us don’t.

    • Not having a go at Tumblr; having a go at the Sherlock writers for pandering to the obsessive fan base found on Tumblr. I’m aware that many of you guys would be just as disappointed with these new episodes as the rest of us (and I don’t see anything wrong with obsessive fans – I am, myself, a TV obsessive). Thanks for the comment!

  4. Wonderful review. Unfortunately I agree with every word, you wrote. That was the biggest cliffhanger cop out in tv history. Not only was the solution ridiculous and inelegant but almost NONE of the loose ends, like IOU or the cryptic talk on the rooftop was resolved. Apparently Mofftiss aimed too high and got burned. Now, there have been other shows with badly resolved cliff hangers. If the show is still good, I wouldn’t care too much. But Mofftiss openly invited fans to video sleuthing, and stirred the pot with cryptic remarks. That’s what makes me most angry. Acording to them, nobody hit on the right solution? Small wonder! Many fan solutions were much better than this ridiculously blue pillow, and Mycroft as deus ex machina.
    Agree, btw, with your review of the second episode as well. I was bored most of the time.The actors are still great, so, it’s the writing, which is seriously off.

    • Reading through Moffat’s comments over the last two years is a very frustrating experience. The guy was just openly bullshitting. And I’d forgotten about the IOU thing until you and Natron above brought it up but as far as I can remember they never payed that off at all. You can’t do that; set up mysteries and then abandon them. Really sloppy writing.

      Thanks for the praise and the comment, cheers.

  5. Of the people I know, I was the only one who was right about how Sherlock survived. I said that the writers probably didn’t know and were desperately trying to think of something. 😀
    Seriously, that was really obnoxious though. But what is to come is much, much worse…

  6. Spot on review. The whole bomb on the train plot was so deeply buried in irony, winks, nods, and useless CGI sequences that I completely lost interest. And don’t even get me started on the episode’s structure (or rather complete lack thereof). All in all, this was a very disappointing follow up to what was once a very compelling and well done television series.

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