Sherlock recap: series three, episode one - The Empty Hearse
Sherlock lives! And we finally got an explanation – in fact, three explanations – as to how he did it Warning: contains spoilers
Wednesday 1 January 2014 22.25 GMT
theguardian.com / http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2014/jan/01/sherlock-recap-series-three-episode-one-empty-hearse
Well that was silly, wasn't it: moustaches, a game of Operation and a bomb made out of a tube train. But it was the reactions to Sherlock's death that were at the heart of the episode. In the Conan Doyle stories, Watson says, of his discovery that Sherlock is alive: "I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted." After that they both get on with their day.
Here, you got the full spectrum of emotional responses to seeing a ghost. Lestrade gave a laddish exclamation of "you bastard!", as if Sherlock had last been seen tied to lampost on his stag do. Molly, who was meekly poking around on her Sherlock'll Fix It day of minor mystery-solving. And of course, John, who at first lamped Sherlock out of sheer rage, then awkwardly blanked him to focus on his patient's thrush, before eventually giving in to a teary and grief-ridden forgiveness (which Sherlock immediately mocks).
'A bungee rope, a mask, Derren Brown? Two years and the theories keep getting more stupid'
But before that, the question we all wanted answered: how did he do it? Sherlock's creators wrote themselves into a corner at the end of the last series. Sherlock had to kill himself or Moriarty's assassins would have killed John, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade. Sherlock fell to his death, in front of John and a bunch of other witnesses. Yet at the end of the episode, we'd seen him scurrying around his own grave.
Rumours and theories have abounded ever since, but as co-creator Mark Gatiss acknowledged at Comic Con earlier this year, "There's only so many ways you can fall off a roof and survive. It's not black magic."
The real issue then, was not how Sherlock managed to survive a four-story fall, but how to make the reveal – after two years of waiting and such great expectations – not feel like a disappointment.
So instead of one explanation for Sherlock's survival, we got three. In the explosive episode opener, Sherlock bungee-jumps off the building and through a window and has a passionate snog with Molly, while Derren Brown hypnotises John into a slumber for just long enough to fit Moriarty's body with a Sherlock prosthetic mask.
Alas, this turns out to be just one of Anderson's conspiracies. The forensics expert, we learn, has become swivel-eyed and ridden with guilt at his role in Sherlock's undoing. Later we see Sherlock drop a dummy version of himself before it is revealed that he and Moriarty were in on the whole thing together. They stare into each other's eyes for a moment, then begin kissing. But again, this is revealed to be a theory from someone in Anderson's conspiracy club, The Empty Hearse, and a nod to some of the saucy slash-fiction written by the more devoted fans.
In the end, the real explanation is almost exactly as the internet had predicted – involving obscured views, a large inflatable cushion, the bloke who looked like Sherlock who had scared the kidnapped children, and – well done if you spotted it – the squash ball he was bouncing in the hospital which was used to stop his pulse. The inevitable anti-climax was dodged because it was playful with the internet furore. When Sherlock finally reveals how he did it to Anderson, Anderson stares back, frustrated. "Well it's not how I would have done it. Bit ... disappointed."
'I'm not lonely, Sherlock.' 'How would you know?'
For me, the relationship that blossomed the most in this episode was between Mycroft and Sherlock. Their sibling rivalry is compelling. We learn that Mycroft was crucial in preventing Sherlock's death and allowing him to remain a fugitive; meanwhile, Sherlock is concerned for his brother's lack of companionship, so it's plain that relations have thawed between the pair. Yet their competitive spirit and almost mutual disdain is enough to rival that of Sherlock and Moriarty. Mycroft sat unflinching while a Russian torturer beat Sherlock bloody. Sherlock later returned the favour by refusing to save Mycroft from seeing Les Misérables with their parents.
There are new relationships too, with both John and Molly finding partners in Sherlock's absence. Clearly there's something dodgy going on with Molly's boyfriend but I wonder too about Watson's Mary, played by Martin Freeman's wife Amanda Abbington. Rarely does TV let off-screen love play out so simply on-screen, and I'm not sure why Mary is so immediately enamoured with Sherlock. Those who have read the Conan Doyle stories will be aware of how he uses Mary, so it may not be plain sailing.
I also think we might finally see something happen between Sherlock and Molly this series. Sherlock's admission to Molly that Moriarty's greatest slip-up was that "the one person that he thought didn't matter at all to me, was the one person who mattered the most," felt like the first time we've seen him showing genuine unchecked feeling for someone else.
'There's an off switch. Terrorists can get into all sorts of problems unless there's an off switch'
Among all that, there was an actual plot to this episode, but it felt like a bit of an afterthought, once all of the character loose ends were tied up. Bizarrely for New Year's Day, this was a modern day Guy Fawkes story, led by a cabinet member and peer who – and we're told this as if this sort of thing happens all the time – has been spying for North Korea since 1996. He was planning to blow up parliament using a bomb hidden in a tube carriage. But once Sherlock had worked that out, all they had to do was find it and switch it off. Oh, and John was minutes away from being burned on a bonfire as a real-life Guy, but noone is sure what that had to do with anything just yet.
Notes and observations
• Moffat really likes Derren Brown. First he was the cover story for disturbances in Trafalgar Square in The
Day of the Doctor, now he's got a cameo in one explanation of Sherlock's fall.
Sherlock – TV review
After the fall – an explosive return for Cumberbatch and Freeman, full of fizz, whizz and wit
By Sam Wollaston
The Guardian, Thursday 2 January 2014 / http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2014/jan/02/sherlock-tv-reviews
So that's how Sherlock (BBC1) did it. He had a bungee cord attached to him when he jumped, bounced back up before hitting the ground, hopped in through a window, had a cheeky snog with Molly, then disappeared to the forests of eastern Europe in order to dismantle Moriarty's network. Watson, meanwhile, was briefly hypnotised by Derren Brown – Derren Brown! – as Moriarty's body was laid on the pavement with a Sherlock Holmes mask on. Exactly what I thought …
Oh, that's just writer Mark Gatiss having a laugh at us, the fans and fanatics who've spent most of the Great Hiatus speculating and theorising. That's not what happened. Nor was it a cardboard cutout that fell, released via string by Holmes so he could pursue a rooftop gay romance with Moriarty. We still don't know what happened. Maybe, as Watson says, it's not important how he did it.
He – Watson – has done his grieving and has left 221b Baker Street to gather dust and memories. Now he has very unwisely got a new moustache, but more wisely – and astonishingly, given the moustache – got himself a new girlfriend. A serious one: he's in the process of popping the question, at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, when Sherlock pops rudely but hilariously back into his life in the form of a (comedically moustached) French waiter. "Short version: not dead," he tells his old friend. No wonder poor John is a little put out. You might also say poor Sherlock – such a massive mind but no idea about how human emotions work.
A lot of this one is about the delicate reassembling of Sherlock's and John's friendship – always tricky when one of you has come back from the dead. Slowly he wins him back, though. By being Sherlock Holmes. By winning over the new girlfriend – of course he does, he's Benedict Cumberbatch, that's not going to be hard, even if John's new gf is played by Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman's actual missus. Oh, and by rescuing John – dramatically and terrifyingly – from the middle of a huge burning pyre. Nice motorcyling, to get there (just) in time.
There is actually a case in here too, a fabulous modern-day take on Guy Fawkes's gunpowder plot. It's not just an underground terror cell, but an Underground terror cell that has rediscovered a disused station right under the Houses of Parliament. There's a tube train packed with explosives, primed and timed to go off during a sitting to vote on the anti-terrorism bill, on November 5th. Movember 5th. Boom!
The episode is packed with explosive sparkle too, fizz and whizz and wit. I enjoy the childish na-na-na-na-na sibling rivalry between Sherlock and brother Mycroft, and their game of not chess but … Operation! Mycroft seems to be gaining importance. I guess you can do that if you're the writer, and the executive producer; you can make the character you play as big as you bloody well like.
But Arthur Conan Doyle hasn't been abandoned or forgotten. "London: the great cesspool into which all kinds of criminals, agents and drifters are irresistibly drained," Sherlock muses. So it's been updated a bit, stolen from Watson and given to Holmes, but that comes, originally, from A Study in Scarlet. There are knowing nods and mischievous winks all over the place in Sherlock – to itself, to the people who watch it and worry about it, and to the books that inspired it. There may be hashtags, blogs and motorbikes, but the spirit remains in keeping. I think Sir Arthur would approve, enjoy it too. Hard not to really.
So, finally, here's an explanation of the (Reichenbach) fall, then. Sherlock jumped into a sort of bouncy castle airbag, hidden from John by a building. John was distracted from witnessing the removal of the bouncy castle by a collision involving himself and a bicycle. Meanwhile, Sherlock applied fake blood, and assumed the dead position. With a squash ball – the one he was playing with before, remember? – under the armpit to temporarily halt his pulse.