Sherlock: 301 “The Empty Hearse” Spoiler-Free Review
Cult Fix was lucky enough to attend Sunday’s BFI premiere of the opening episode of Sherlock’s third series, The Empty Hearse. Here’s our spoiler-free verdict.
It’s been almost two years since we saw Sherlock take that unforgettable plunge off the roof in The Reichenbach Fall. Of course the biggest question of all remains, how on earth did Sherlock survive? There have been countless theories and writer Mark Gatiss embraces that fact and runs with it for this opener. It’s beyond the remit of this review to go into full details (Steven Moffat again begged the audience not to reveal anything) but what we will say is that you don’t have to wait long for answers. Or do you? You see this episode has a bit of fun with the viewers rather than just handing it all out on a silver platter. There are knowing nods, winks and playful jabs at some of the increasingly elaborate theories out there. The episode is also fully aware that whatever the solution, it won’t be good enough for some.
The opener takes place two years on from the Series 2 finale and when we first see Sherlock he is in a very different place. So different you won’t be quite sure it’s him until the metaphorical curtain is lifted. What pulls Sherlock out and back to London is the threat of a huge terrorist attack on his old home turf. But before he deals with that he needs to reunite with John Watson and sort out the whole little issue of not actually being dead.
Watson has moved on with his life. He is a GP and is preparing to pop the question to his new love interest, Mary. And he’s also got that terrible moustache, much to everyone’s amusement. It doesn’t take long for Sherlock to reappear in John’s life and let’s just say the ensuing scenes are absolutely hilarious. In fact this could easily be the funniest episode of Sherlock to date.
By now we’re in very safe hands with our two main leads. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are two actors at the top of their game and despite the long gap between series the pair’s chemistry is still as electric as ever. They bounce off each other like an old married couple. There’s also a smattering of quieter moments and some genuinely heartwarming scenes.
John and Sherlock’s relationship is really at the heart of this episode and as such the central plot takes a bit of a backseat. That’s really the biggest criticism you can level at the episode. There’s a few mysteries, but all are peripheral to the character moments. Wonderful moments no less, but one hour in and you may be wondering where the main plot is. This episode also sets up a few things that will inevitably be covered over the course of the series, so there’s a feeling that this is just the start of something bigger.
It’s no secret that Martin Freeman’s real life partner, Amanda Abbington, is playing Watson’s (soon to be) on screen wife. There’s been some fears that this addition could spoil the interplay between our lead leads. But those fears can be rested, at least judging by the opener. Abbington is a fun addition to the cast and allows for some playful banter between her, Sherlock and John.
And what of the other supporting cast? You get to catch up with everyone, though some see more of the limelight than others. Mycroft enjoys plenty of verbal jousts with his brother, Mrs Hudson gets some hilarious scenes with both Sherlock and John early on, and Lestrade’s reaction to Sherlock’s return is a cracker. Even Anderson gets something to do, something all the fans have been doing since 2012. Of all the characters though it’s Molly who gets a far bigger chunk of the action than usual and some very sweet moments with Sherlock. There’s also a couple of surprising visitors to 221B Baker Street that you won’t expect…
Director Jeremy Lovering may be new to Sherlock but the opener has lost little of the style that the show is known for. The on-screen text and visual trickery is present and correct, though perhaps it’s not quite as slick. What is particularly strong here is the use of the London scenery. There’s some nice set-piece action making use of the iconic landmarks and one truly explosive scene. The latter scenes in the Underground also evoke some of Mark Gatiss’ horror inspirations such as Doctor Who.
Overall then it’s a solid enough opener. While the plot is a bit thin, the character moments do a great deal to make up for it. It’s not the best we’ve ever seen from the show, but the bar is so high it is understandable they can’t all be truly exceptional. Still, even “good” Sherlock is better than the vast majority of TV out there.