Sherlock lives! (Not really a spoiler, people…otherwise, there wouldn’t be a Season 3 of Sherlock.)
But how exactly our protagonist faked his rooftop suicide at the end of Season 2, what circumstances draw him back into the land of the living and how his
boyfriend BFF Watson responds to the unexpected resurrection, those are the key questions hovering over “The Empty Hearse,” a mind-tingling, nail-biting and very, very funny chapter of our British detective’s saga.
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The action opens with one of several “theories” about how Sherlock survived his fall and subsequent burial — one involving a bungee cord and a prosthetic mask — from an unlikely source: Detective Anderson, whose doozy of a tale fails to impress DI Lestrade. (My fave alternate theory, though — courtesy of a conspiracy theorist in Anderson’s “Empty Hearse” chat group — ends in a Sherlock-Moriarty smooch!)
Shortly thereafter, though, we cut to a night-vision, helicopter pursuit of a shaggy-haired man sprinting through a Serbian forest, and we know it’s got to be Sherlock. After a brutal interrogation, Mycroft arrives incognito and springs his brother — who it turns out has been off the grid for a full two years. Sherlock’s been busy dismantling the late Moriarty’s network, but Mycroft has a more pressing issue: An imminent attack on London by an underground terrorist cell.
At the same time, Watson returns to 221B after dropping off the grid himself — so to speak — without so much as a phone call to poor Mrs. Hudson. In one of the more hilarious moments from the premiere, she’s shocked to learn he’s moved on romantically “so soon after Sherlock,” too. “What’s his name?” she asks, as Watson pretty much fails to convince her he’s not gay (and that he should keep his shaggy moustache).
Sherlock, of course, decides to resurface on exactly the night Watson’s about to propose to his lovely girlfriend Mary (Amanda Abbington, so sparkling in the role you almost don’t mind her sinking the Sherlock-Watson ‘ship). Sherlock quickly (and uproariously) steals a variety of items from the restaurant’s diners, disguises himself as a wine-expert waiter, and yet can’t seem to catch the tense and distracted Watson’s eye while standing right under his nose. Long story short, the proposal gets interrupted at the last (and worst) possible second, leading to Watson choking Holmes on the restaurant floor, punching him in a diner, and head-butting him in a gyro shop. He just can’t understand why and how Sherlock let other folks in on his secret, but left him to mourn for two whole years.
“Gosh, you don’t know anything about human nature, do you?” Mary asks Sherlock in a quiet moment, as Watson huffs off to catch a cab.
There’s work to be done, though, even if Watson is determined to freeze out Holmes. And so Sherlock begins studying a group of “outliers” in London — folks whose sudden movements might tip him off that a terrorist act is nigh. In the absolute best sequence from the episode, director Jeremy Lovering intersperses scenes of Watson at work in his doctor’s office and Holmes going about his own business: Watson’s middle digit is raised while he puts on a glove; Mrs. Hudson asks how Watson responded to Holmes’ return; Holmes begins to sound out “fff…”; Watson tells a patient to “Cough!” (sound those out together if you don’t catch the humor immediately); “Oh dear,” says Mrs. Hudson.
Sherlock recruits the lovelorn Molly to assist him as he investigates a variety of cases, when they come across a peculiar security expert for the London underground who’s got some verrrrry interesting surveillance footage: Guy gets onto an empty train; train arrives at the next station sans guy! And what’s more, the train operator hasn’t been to work ever since. After it dawns on Holmes that the man’s face is very familiar, Molly tells him she won’t be able to continue working with them. Turns out, she’s moved on, too, with an engaement ring, a dog and a very normal, happy life. “I hope you’ll be very happy,” says Holmes, letting go. “After all, not all the men you fall for can turn out to be sociopaths.”
As they part, he gets a frantic call from Mary: Watson’s been abducted, and she’s getting strange, threatening texts from his captors. She rushes to 221B, and the duo hijacks a motorcycle and races off to rescue the man they love most — as we learn Watson is buried beneath the kindling of a Guy Fawkes Night bonfire. (True confession: I intermittently buried my head under my arms, pounded the couch and squeaked “Nooo!” during the entire terrifying, suspenseful race to the rescue. Also: How much do we love that Mary identified the skip code?)
Watson pulled from the flames — and indebted to Holmes for saving him — our crime-solving duo gets reunited. (Hurrah!) Holmes pegs the mystery subway dude as a minister of overseas defense who’s been working for the North Koreans since 1996. And with Parliament about to vote on a major anti-terrorism bill, it dawns on Holmes: The underground network mentioned by a dying agent to Mycroft is literally underground.
Holmes and Watson race to a station that was abandoned before it ever opened for business — and happens to be located right underneath the Palace of Westminster. They discover demolition charges everywhere, and a missing subway car that’s been configured and wired as a gigantic explosive device — one which Holmes doesn’t know how to detonate. (GAH!) Watson doesn’t believe him — “You’re just trying to make me say something nice,” he grumbles — but as the 2 minute, 30 second countdown ticks on, the good doctor admits he was broken by Sherlock’s demise. “I wanted you not to be dead!” he shares. “You are the best and the
worst wisest man I have ever known. And yes, of course I forgive you.”
Sherlock bursts out laughing. There’s always an “off” switch on terrorist bombs, he reveals, flicking the lever and ending the awful threat. “You utter cock!” seethes Watson, with murderous intent. But as Holmes points out, “Killing me: That’s so two years ago!”
Crisis averted. And eventually, a reunion party of all our core players back at 221B, interrupted by an impromptu press conference for our vindicated detective. But wait…two things!
First, how did Holmes actually survive? He offers an explanation to Anderson that — I’m 95% certain — is the truth. (Though if a different version of events is revealed before the season finale, I won’t be shocked). It goes something like this:
Sherlock reveals there were 13 distinct possibilities through which he could escape his rooftop showdown with Moriarty. He’d allowed the arch villain, of course, to think he’d won, to think he’d tarnished Sherlock’s public rep forever. Once Moriarty ended his own life, though, Sherlock needed to fake his own suicide — otherwise Moriarty’s henchmen would target his three favorite people: Watson, Mrs. Hudson and DI Lestrade. (Moriarty miscalculated that Molly, too, had a little hold on Sherlock’s heart).
And so the plan was put into place: Once Sherlock texted Mycroft to set the wheels in motion, a magic trick was enacted. A group of seemingly unconnected passers-by rolled out a giant inflatable cushion to break Sherlock’s fall. Sherlock implored Watson to stay in his exact position and make eye contact — Watson’s view obstructed by an ambulance station, naturally — and he then leapt to his “death.” Meanwhile, Molly had located the dead body of a Sherlock lookalike used to trick the abducted little girl from the Season 2 finale to finger Sherlock for the crime. She swapped the body onto the sidewalk just as a random bicyclist knocked Watson to the ground and slowed his run to Holmes’ body. “The rest was just window dressing,” Holmes adds, including a squash ball, some fake blood and the trademark coat. “I’ve got lots of coats.”
Anderson, naturally, declares himself “a bit…disappointed.” To which Sherlock shoots back, in beautifully meta fashion, “everyone’s a critic.”
Second, the episode ends in a cluttered and creepy room, where a creepy, older gentleman replays surveillance footage of Sherlock and Mary’s rescue of Watson from the bonfire. A new Big Bad is upon us — and methinks we’ll be seeing more of him in the coming weeks!
“Live and let live: That’s my motto.” –Mrs. Hudson, reacting to Watson saying he’s not gay, and is in fact dating a woman
“I don’t shave for Sherlock Holmes.”
“You should put that on a t-shirt.”
Watson and Mary discussing his decision to lose the awful ‘stache
“I’ve written a blog on the varying tensile strengths of different natural fibers.”
“I’m sure there’s a crying need for that.”
Mrs. Hudson weighing in on Holmes’ boast to Mycroft about his ability to differentiate Icelandic sheep wool from alpaca wool
“I prefer my doctors clean-shaven.” –Sherlock, eyeing the freshly shorn Watson
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