Sherlock: The Empty Hearse review

The short and spoiler free version:

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Overall: A satisfying next installment in the Sherlock saga.
Summary: Sherlock comes back and everyone deals with the consequences. Also Mycroft needs him to investigate a terrorist organisation.

The slightly longer version (spoilers):

First of all, can I get a hallelujah? Sherlock fans (myself included) have waited a long time for this episode. And now it’s here! I’m a bit slow off the bat to this review, and no doubt everything to be said about the episode was already thought of by its collective fans within an hour of the episode having aired. But although I lack Sherlock’s analytic ability, here I am.

Shall we start with the theories? The opening was a deceptive gem, I have to say. After years of waiting for the answer, we get several. This will be the first part of an ongoing comment of the writers’ awareness of fandom. Whether or not you think the writing of shows, or Sherlock in particular, should be influenced by awareness of fans, is down to personal opinion. Here though, obviously, there is an appreciation of the way fans had thought up solutions to the fall. Anderson’s slightly underwhelmed initial reaction to the true explanation is really just beating any underwhelmed fans to the bat. If indeed, that was the actual explanation… (Because as an aside, I have to ask, if Moriarty’s people needed to see him jump surely they would have needed to see him hit the ground too, which they wouldn’t have. And if Mycroft took care of it, then did he really need to jump?) But, like John, all our feelings are about the reunion, not the method.

John. Sherlock. The reunion scene which was so compellingly acted that anyone with half a heart would have a pounding one.

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This is debatably the most expressive we have seen Sherlock in an episode, and each of those expressions is not one of a settled Sherlock. His awkward use of humour as a coping mechanism is obvious and painful to watch. And I think everyone cheered when John let him have it, even though in our hearts all we wanted was for them to work it out and have our favourite duo back together. Both our characters have been through a tough time off screen, and I believe we will see more of this play out in upcoming episodes, especially on Sherlock’s side. It is the most human and most broken look at Sherlock yet, his arrogance masking the fact that he knows how important John is to him, and how much their friendship means.

Those after a large intricately twisting plot will have to make do with a few isolated analyses, but those focused as I am on the character development will be coming back for a rewatch. We are treated with the interactions of Sherlock with Molly and Mycroft. His ‘how would you know’ to Mycroft is a beautiful note to not being able to miss what you’ve never had – unlike the way Sherlock can miss John. His kindness to Molly shows how he has changed from the Sherlock that mostly dismissed her – he learnt a lot from John. My heart went out when Sherlock told her just to be herself, and even though there is no overt romance the classic X wants Y but Y wants Z strings are definitely pulled. His interaction with Molly is an obvious contrast-highlight to how well he is fitted to John’s companionship. And the voice in my head isn’t going to keep quiet about the voice in Sherlock’s either. My personal feeling is that it is his own self-criticism, he no longer feels as comfortable in his own skin after being away so long and doubts are creeping in. The criticism of others is intruding on his mind. He’s stressed, and there’s no John with him to reassure him that despite being different, he’s still fantastic.

Favourite duo aside, Mary Morstan is a delightful addition to the show. She won me over from the ‘I’ll talk him round’ and I truly fell in love with her at the ‘I like him.’ She doesn’t so much talk John around as patiently insist he go talk it out. Her ability to see the value of their friendship definitely gets her kudos. However paying attention to Sherlock’s quick scan of her highlights ‘liar’ and ‘disillusioned’ which will surely come into play later on. I’m looking forward to all the character-centric action that’s due to me in the next episode, with the wedding.

Other loveliness: Sherlock’s parents. The darlings. And Molly’s Sherlock-alike, and Sherlock’s response to him. Priceless. I would have liked to see a bit of Mike Stamford, maybe, the guy that introduced them in the first place. I think he would be invested in something like this, but that’s an aside, as is John’s therapy, which also wasn’t mentioned in this episode.

But oh, the ending. I think Sherlock’s hysterical laugh of relief in the train was what we all felt when John forgave him. Overall a wonderful episode that leaves fans and casual viewers alike hanging on for the next episode.

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A brief note on queerbaiting, fanservice and fan representation:

Whether you’re sick to death of the discussion or completely new to it, I’m just going to add my two cents at the end here.

This has been discussed elsewhere. This is an ongoing argument over several shows of which Sherlock is only one of those under such scrutiny. Especially in this episode, because of Mrs Hudson’s comments to John. This was commented on in this review, as well as on other social media. To summarise, the idea of having someone that knows them as well as Mrs. Hudson, as opposed to a complete stranger, making that sort of comment now after knowing them so long, is queer baiting. The idea that if there is something between them it should be explored, rather than pulling a quick ‘no homo’ and simply using it as a tool to draw an audience. Or to mock the interpretations of the fandom.

It’s a difficult grey area in general, made more so by the fact there isn’t that much queer representation on TV. (Or at least not certainly enough for audience that want it.) So where do we draw the line between fanservice and queerbaiting, between teasing the fandom and abusing it?

How do we see Mrs Hudson? Is she meant to represent the Sherlock/John shippers of the fandom here? Or is she meant to be just the landlady, who simply happens to think, misguided or not, that the residents of 221B are a charming couple but doesn’t mind either way? The show would suggest the latter. John, for all intents and purposes, has declared himself straight. If some say he is in denial or simply not comfortable expressing other feelings, do we say they are reading into something not there and they should stop blaming the show? Or do we say the powers that be are saying one thing and showing another, cruelly milking the audience all the while? It comes down to a matter of interpretation and intent, neither of which are easy to define unless explicitly stated. Not to mention part of the pleasure of the show is leaving some things open to viewer interpretation. Do we spoil that by crudely drawing a line to validate one side or the other?

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If you’re going to pick on an area for queer-baiting, I’d call on the Sherlock/Moriarty kiss. It was a disregarded theory as was the one where he kissed Molly – but we saw one kiss and not the other. Ah, society is a silly thing. Do leave any comments you think about this issue.

For the representation of fans as seen in Anderson and his fan club, I’m actually okay with this. The theories are disbelieved but to my mind not disrespected unless you choose to see it that way. I do have issues with what the writers have done with Anderson’s character because I find it a bit unlikely, but the idea of a character in that role in itself doesn’t bother me.

Bring on the next episode.

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