Sherlock Premiere Recap: As He Lied Dying

sherlock-season-3-premiere-recap-faked-death-watson-engagedSherlock 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.

RELATED | Sherlock Boss: Season 4 Is Happening

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

What did you think of the Sherlock Season 3 premiere? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments!

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  1. Gilda says:

    Fantastic way to start the season!

  2. iammusic says:

    I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I watched Series 1 & 2 about a month ago, not thinking I’d get sucked in as much as I did. I love this adaptation. Cumberbatch and Freeman have an amazing chemistry that I have yet to see in another show. Amanda Abbington was wonderful as Mary. I love the pace of these episodes, much more interesting, at least to me.

    I admit, I’ve watched the other episodes in Series 3. And that’s all I’m sayin’

  3. TVPeong says:

    Loved the scene with Sherlock’s (and Benedict Cumberbatch’s) parents

    • Alice says:

      I loved that they followed up on that joke again with Mycroft frantically calling from Les Mis in the final scene. How handy that Benedict Cumberbatch’s parents are actors.

      • Cheryl says:

        I think Mycroft saying “You don’t understand…the HORROR!” while Les Mis plays in the background was one of my absolute favorite moments of the ep. ;)

  4. Lillian says:

    It aired in the UK, but the US hasn’t seen it, so please don’t spoil it for anyone. I’ve already seen all three, because I can’t wait. It’s not a spoiler to say that Sherlock’s parents were played by Benedict Cumbatch’s parents. Fun. Loved the ruffling of hair, then the kiss with Molly. That was hot.

  5. secretnerdprincess says:

    Because it just started in the US. It’s finished in the UK.

  6. Katlynn says:

    Just curious but why is there only 3 episodes in a season. Isn’t this considered a mini series?

    • Many shows that have less than 20 episodes are among the best of the best in the world. What this one does is take that “quality over quantity” saying and boosting it to infinity and beyond, condensing all the resources at their disposal (story wise – related to the books – , and production wise) into three must – see pieces of tv art (yes, I realize I might be overselling it, but it is just THAT good… you’ll understand when you finish all three episodes).

      … or it might just be to avoid schedule problems with other projects both Cumberbatch or Freeman might have

      • Ash says:

        Agreed about the quality vs quantity concept. The Walking Dead’s first season was only six and it was the best overall season so far and many viewers make the same points you did as to why seasons 2 and 3 lacked a little quality compared to the first one. Also, Sherlock is twice as long as 99% of American tv shows, so it has a decent amount of screen time, just less frequently throughout the year.

    • David4 says:

      The main actors are way too busy to do more a season. I see them as doing doing a trilogy every year.

    • Ethan says:

      each episode is an hour an a half. I think four and a half hours per season is just right.

    • DJ Doena says:

      British TV shows often have only 6 (regular episodes) per season.

      This is due to the fact that (often, not always) the showrunner is often also the head writer and only writer. This gives a show consistency but also burdens a single person who has to invent plots and characters.

      This is in contrast to the American system where you have a show runner and a whole team of script writers who write different episodes (which is the major cause for out-of-character moments on any given show).

      And since Sherlock is 90 minutes long: 6 / 2 = 3 episodes per season.

    • Quinn Mallory says:

      This show also just started as a fun project for the showrunner Steven Moffat to do while he was working on and eventually took over Dr. Who. It turns out to be such a success that they have continued it, but now face the problem that the main actors have become movie stars (thus the two year gap between Series 2 and Series 3).

    • chris says:

      Martin Freeman said in an interview that it’s like making three feature length movies–you try to make more than three in a year.

    • Sheldon W. says:

      Each of the three eps is a feature-length movie. So we’re getting a series of three movies a season – and extremely fine movies at that.

    • Bob says:

      Steven Moffat is too busy with Doctor Who. For season 3, Cumberbatch and Freeman were busy making movies. That wasn’t the case when the show started, as Cumberbatch and Freeman were “just” another couple of British actors. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see season 4 of Sherlock until 2015.

  7. Lariet50 says:

    LOVED the scene with Molly’s fiancé! My husband didn’t get why I was cracking up so hard.

  8. Angie says:

    Actually Michael, John says: “You are the best and WISEST man I have ever known”.

    • Michael Slezak says:

      Argh, my bloody American ears heard it wrong. Certainly makes more sense as “wisest.” Thanks for the correction.

      • Cheryl says:

        This is word-for-word what Steven Moffat said about Mark Gatiss when receiving his Bafta Special Award (presented by Benedict Cumberbatch and Matt Smith!). I wonder which came first, the script or the Bafta comment…

  9. Ladyhelix says:

    When the handsome man in a swirl of his coat stopped a motorcycle and then hopped on with his little lady – did anyone else have a Spike flashback?

    Also – why did they think we would want to “live tweet” during Sherlock? It’s not like most other shows – where you can take your eyes off the screen and pay partial attention for a few seconds and not miss anything. As if we’d WANT to take our eyes off the screen after waiting 2 years!

  10. Sara says:

    Nitpicky issue with the recap: Mary didn’t “frantically call” Sherlock as he and Molly parted. She got the texts and then went to 221B and told him. Also, I think John is misquoted with what he said on the train. I would have to watch it again (which I of course will be doing) to get the exact quote, but I don’t think he called him “the best and the worst man.”

    I am so glad this show is back!!! It has been a long 2 years without it! I kind of got a huge kick out of the “theories” shown, as it seemed like Moffat and Gatiss picked some of the more popular/entertaining theories thrown about by the fandom and used them.

    Can’t wait for the next episode!!!

  11. Kaghi Toerghosum says:

    Not best and worst. Best and wisest. It ‘s a quote from Conan Doyle.

  12. Eliza says:

    Amazing series was amazing as always.

  13. rachelle says:

    I’ve seen all 3 episodes already. I cried during each. Fantastic season. Fantastic and unparalleled chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman. And Abbington is just so perfect as Mary. Her comedic timing is damned amazing and her chemistry with Cumberbatch (as well as Freeman) is stupendous! I love this show more than I can express. I wish I could just lift my thoughts and heart and paste it on here!

  14. Shazza (UK) says:

    Much as I love Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, the real star of the show has always been, for me at least, Martin Freeman as Watson. His reaction in the restaurant when he realises Sherlock is alive was absolutely perfect.

    • Jules says:

      I have to agree with you. Freeman plays this whole scene perfectly. But I think Benedict’s scene are truly amazing in the third episode. But I’m not going to spoil it.

      • Alle says:

        Cumberbatch in the first reunion scene was very subtle, a perfect balance by using the sort of faked comic relief to cover the fact that Sherlock’s extremely nervous about the reunion. It’s a much more difficult and complex scene for Cumberbatch than Freeman’s straight forward emotional scene. The middle ep. is practically Cumberbatch’s; people have watched it knew what I mean. For me, no Sherlock no show. People who believe that Watson is the star of the show should send requests to the BBC to make a show John Watson, which I won’t be watching, but I’d like to see how such a show perform to the mass audience.

  15. Erika says:

    Martin Freeman at his best! <3

  16. Elyse says:

    WOSU in Ohio doesn’t show Sherlock until tonight. Is it the only PBS affiliate that does this??

    • NoChance says:

      Read on Twitter last night (Sunday) that one station in upstate New York isn’t showing it until February 2.

      • Elyse says:

        I follow PBS on Twitter and I was so confused Sherlock wasn’t showing on my TV guide. I guess that just means I should always follow the affiliates twitter page!

  17. Don says:

    The BEST thing on the Tele!

  18. Tony says:

    Awesome premiere! And the crazy scenarios on how Sherlock faked his death were both parts genius and hilarious (whichever one was true).

    The scene with his parents was absolutely well done and probably my favorite of the night.

  19. DJ Doena says:

    >Sherlock lives! (Not really a spoiler, people…otherwise, there wouldn’t be a Season 3 of Sherlock.)<

    Well, they could pull a "Sledge Hammer!" five-years-earlier-season. ;-)

  20. Jim says:

    This cast sould continue exactly what they are doing, exactly the way they are doing it. However, I think that they shound also consider doing a major motion picture project that is set “in period”. The creators of the show admit that they were influenced by Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes films. Basil Rathbone played Sherlock, both in period, and also in a modernized version.
    But in any case, what a fantastic premiere!

  21. Lecholls says:

    Mycroft calling from Les Mis made me laugh and laugh. It was a joy to have Sherlock and Watson back on my screen.

    • Ruby Baresch says:

      I didn’t understand what Mycroft’s call during Les Mis was about. Now I have that song looping in my head.

  22. Clinton says:

    FYI: Amanda Abbington is Martin Freeman’s real-life wife. And she’s awesome as Mary.

  23. AnthonyH says:

    In addition to the error above about Sherlock getting a call from Mary, and the error about the critical line from John Watson, I’m sure the writer meant to say “defuse” or “deactivate” the bomb, not detonate. Also, it wasn’t a random bicyclist who knocked Watson to the ground, but a deliberate bicyclist as part of an elaborate scheme, which required Watson to be slowed down.

  24. Mary says:

    Did anyone realize that the guy that hypnotized Watson in the first theory of the night (courtesy of Det. Anderson) was real life British illusionist Derren Brown? Also Amanda Abbington is Freeman’s real life partner. I didn’t know those were BC’s real parents though. Very cool and a great episode.

  25. Lorie says:

    Loved, loved, loved this season premiere! Watson hitting Sherlock so many times was awesome. He deserved it, though. Mrs. Hudson’s reaction to Watson dating a woman was hilarious. Sherlock & Molly’s kiss was super hot!

  26. sarah says:

    i’m from the uk but i’m not gonna spoil anything for you but i will say that while episode 2 is really funny, episode 3 is the best episode to date and is just amazing and the ending omg i screamed like a little girl.

  27. Jim says:

    Jim again,

    To answer your question, Basil Rathbone made two films in period, for 20th Century Fox, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes…

    These were lavish costume pieces. But then the series switched to Universal Studios and they made 12 “modernized version” of Sherlock Holmes during the 1940’s…

    The creators of the current “Sherlock” series have repeatedly acknowledged that the modernized version of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes was their inspiration for this series…

  28. EDC says:

    Cumberbatch is pretty much wasted in this crappy Marysue (as in writiters’ mentality, especially Gatiss’s writing in ep. 1 & 2) series 3, despite delivering a tour de fource performance through out the three eposides. The writing for this series is the worst Holmse-characterization I’ve seen, and it’s insufferable. Cumberbatch should leave this crap ASAP when it’s still high on ratings in the UK, otherwise he’ll become a joke.

  29. WonderWaage says:

    Oh yes. We loved that Mary identified the skip code. Oh yes… AHAHAHAH OH YEESSS!

  30. Cathy says:

    “I will kill you.”
    “Kill me? Oh, please. That’s so two years ago.”

  31. tvdiva says:

    The first episode was hilarious, but the second is even funnier with Sherlock doing wedding planning and giving the best man speech. This is the best Sherlock season yet.

  32. ziggy says:

    I loved the scene where we were lead to believe that Sherlock and Mycroft were playing chess, but it turns out they were playing Operation.

  33. Mrskbc says:

    I had a big sense of déjà vu during the scene with the underground train. I recognized the plot line of a subway car being packed with explosives, located on an unused/unknown part of the system, and then the tense scene where it goes hurtling toward (parliament? Some other government building?) and the hero frantically trying to defuse it. I was startled and even said, wait, I’ve seen this! But of course, I hadn’t. Just reminded me eerily of something else I had seen. And couldn’t place. Anyone else have they déjà vu feeling, and know where it comes from? So excited to finally see the season 3 opener, and loved it!

  34. Sheldon W. says:

    “Gosh, you don’t know anything about human nature, do you?”

    My pick for understatement of the week.

  35. Abby says:

    Not much of case, but I don’t mind, because all the Sherlock/ Watson, Sherlock/Mycroft, Sherlock/ Mary interaction was so worth it! What a brilliant cast! Cumberbach might get the most attention, but Gatiss and Abbington were fantastic as well. Freeman just killed it in the restaurant scene.
    My favorite moments:
    The Holmes boys playing games
    Sherlock jumping thru window, then ruffling hair.
     “fff…”- “Cough!”
    Watsons reaction to seeing Sherlock
    All of Marys interaction with Sherlock
    Killing me: That’s so two years ago

  36. WhyohWhy says:

    Don’t you mean “deactivate” not “detonate”? I don’t think Sherlock would want to detonate the bomb.

  37. JM says:

    Okay, I’m a little late, so I hope someone reads this. I’m confused about the whole scene between Holmes and Anderson.

    It seemed like Holmes was saying that Anderson did all those events, Jack the Ripper scene, kidnapping Watson, then the bomb to draw out Holmes, which I found hard to believe. Or was playing with Anderson to figure out IF he did all of them, when, in fact, he only did the Ripper one.

    Then Anderson says ‘If this is the truth about how your survived, then why are you telling me, unless…’, then he goes beserk and pulls all the papers down from the wall. Which I took to mean that the explanation WASN’T true.

    Lastly, in one of the final scenes, Watson asks why he was kidnapped and almost killed. Holmes says that he doesn’t know. Cut to the man in glasses watching Holmes pulling Watson from the fire.

    So does this mean that all three events weren’t related at all?

    Ripper scene by Anderson

    Bomb by the minister and terrorist group

    Kidnapping by the ‘man in glasses’?? Perhaps in order to reunite Holmes and Watson???

    Please help me clear this up!!!

    • Sharon says:

      I believe the three scenarios are not related. Except that perhaps the man in the glasses orchestrated the kidnapping and the bomb both.

  38. Yuri says:

    The funniest thing is that after years of speculation, the writers didn’t really have a clever idea on how Sherlock faked his death either. That’s why they went on this route: depicting several funny, absurd scenarios and one plausible (and hugely disappointing) one that they can think of. Yes, Sherlock may not have told the true version to Anderson, and who knows what really happened but Anderson and his fanclub in this episode represent the fans, and the writers are Sherlock with his “everyone’s a critic” comment. They even predict fans reaction through Anderson to prove their point. Good one, Moffat!

  39. Sharon says:

    I love how they worked in the “Giant Rat of Sumatra” unknown case from the Doyle books. So clever.