Sherlock: The Empty Hearse

#SherlockLives

Lestrade: "Bollocks!"

I think I agree with Greg. To say that I was peeved at tonight's cold open would be something of an understatement. I was apoplectic. My dander was, as they say, well and truly up. Two full years waiting for that explanation? And then the truth dawned that we were being hoodwinked, and my umbrage turned to relief. Well played Mssrs Moffat and Gatiss. I hate you both, but you got me. You got me good.

Unlike Lestrade who almost kissed him, Watson was initially incensed by the return of his friend. Contrary to the events in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Adventure of The Empty House' -- where John was positively euphoric to see Sherlock back from the dead -- Watson instead chose to kick his arse. Repeatedly. And who can blame him? Twenty five tramps, Molly, Mycroft, Mum and Dad (brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham, Cumberbatch's actual parents), and yet not one word to John or Mrs Hudson? Shame on you Sherlock. And shame on Watson for not taking care of Mrs Hudson in his absence. She was understandably miffed, although evidently not miffed enough to deny him a plate of Peek Freans Assorted and a china cup.

The pacing of tonight's episode was impressively high octane. I liked that Watson's story started innocuously on the same underground network that he later almost died on. What a transformation of circumstances. And there was more than a tinge of Dan Brown's 'Angels and Demons' about Mary and Sherlock's race against the clock across London to save Watson from a fiery death. That's why we look under bonfires before lighting them. Wildlife organisations across the country must have been going ballistic. Using the Underground to blow up Parliament, also made me think of Alan Moore's 'V for Vendetta'. Lovely CGIed shots of the Palace of Westminster going kaboom. But what about the big explanation? Did it satisfy?

In an episode full of deception, when the 'solution' finally did arrive, it was hard to believe a word of it. Even Anderson was justifiably sceptical. I loved the various fake-outs, although I can see how the meta-narrative might've irked some. It's as if Moffat and Gatiss took every fan theory from the past two years, and then wrote them into the script. Sherlock's comment that 'everyone's a critic', pretty much hit the nail on the head. No matter which of the thirteen possible solutions they'd used, there was always going to be a section of the fan community throwing their arms in the air and crying foul. The Derren Brown solution was too stupid; the Holmes/Moriarty sexual tension scenario too homo-erotic; the collapsing pavement caper too far fetched; the giant airbag plan too mundane: it was a no win situation.

Moffat made a comment after the episode aired that they'd always known how they'd bring Sherlock back, and I suspect the explanation Holmes gave Anderson was mostly it. There's clearly still room for speculation, but Watson seemed more interested in the whys of Sherlock keeping him in the dark than the hows of the deceit itself. Every time Sherlock tried to explain his methods Watson silenced him, denying him the opportunity to revel in his own genius. And a shout out to Grace who posited the squash ball theory in the comments section two years ago -- you nailed it, buddy. Amusingly, my own mask solution appeared in the first five minutes and it pissed me off no end. Thank goodness they didn't go with that crap. What was I thinking?

Sherlock made the rookie error of assuming that everyone's lives would remain unchanged in his absence. But two years is a long time, and contrary to expectation, both Watson and Molly had moved on. (Whether you class Molly going out with a Sherlock lookalike as 'moving on' is obviously open to debate.) I liked that Sherlock rewarded her for the part she played in faking his death. He may be a social incompetent, but him thanking Molly was the perfect salve to his often dismissive attitude towards her. I'm not sure taking her to work with him was the best way of curing her of her infatuation, however. Her insistence to Lestrade that she'd 'moved on' sounded somewhat insincere to these sceptical ears. We all saw how she reacted to that kiss.

In fact, I thought Sherlock's apology to Molly was marginally more satisfying than his apology to John. He appeared perplexed when his admission of blame didn't assuage Watson's anger immediately. He also seemed unable to grasp that sometimes an apology just isn't enough --  especially when it lacks sincerity. It wasn't until the end, when their deaths appeared inevitable, that Watson finally accepted his apology, and even then it was dependent upon Holmes exploiting the faux tension he'd created. At least with Molly his apology had the fa├žade of being heartfelt. Yet, despite Watson initially calling him a cock, he did eventually forgive him. Maybe Sherlock knows more about human nature than he lets on. Or perhaps Watson's more tolerant of his friends inscrutability than we give him credit for. He's had plenty of experience, after all.

Besides, Watson is desperate to be in the thick of it again. He needs something to supplement the banality of his everyday existence: evidently piles, undescended testicles, and thrush are insufficient mental sustenance for an ex-army doctor. And, thankfully, Mary Morstan approves of Sherlock. I like that neither Holmes nor Watson seem to know what to make of her. Holmes stood for a long time watching their taxi disappear, seemingly unable to fathom how Mary could be so certain of achieving what he -- the great Sherlock Holmes -- could not. And from Watson's perspective, how could she be so forgiving of a man capable of such a heinous lie? I like Mary -- she fits into the ensemble seamlessly. But why did 'liar' and 'secret' flash up in Sherlock's mind palace when he looked at her? Is there more to Mary Morstan than meets the eye?

I'm not sure why I freak out so much when ITV's Poirot mangles the source material, yet am so forgiving when Sherlock does the same. I enjoyed what Gatiss did with Watson's bearded, balding patient. In 'The Adventure of the Empty House' it was Holmes disguised as an old man who dropped 'British Birds', 'Catullus and the Holy War', and 'The Origin of Tree Worship' in the street. Re-jigging the old man's identity and location, and making his innocuous collection of books sound like porn titles, definitely tickled my funny bone. Maybe the shift in era has something to do with it. I think I see the show as something entirely separate from Conan Doyle's original stories -- although it clearly has its roots in the same soil.

And despite my best efforts to the contrary, I've grown fond of these broken characters. I loved watching Sherlock and Mycroft mentally jousting over a game of Operation, Mrs Hudson's incredulity at Watson's heterosexuality, and the way John constantly struggles with a wealth of repressed emotion. His inability to speak, and his violent outbursts at Sherlock's absence of tact, give his character a depth and realism that I just adore. And, personally, I didn't think the moustache looked too bad. Not as bad as Sherlock's deerstalker anyway.

Bits and Pieces:

-- Did they really need a lookalike corpse for the deception to work? Surely, if Sherlock had simply thrown himself on the ground and had his stooges apply blood, it would have worked equally as well?

-- Why was Molly in Anderson's 'bollocks' scenario at all? She wasn't needed to supply a fake body: the body was Moriarty's. Was she just there to be kissed? An example of the meta-narrative making a nonsense of the plot?

-- Even when apart, both John and Sherlock can hear each other in their heads. That can't be healthy.

-- Does anyone bother looking at security footage when no crime has actually been committed? Howard Shilcott really must love trains.

-- Nice substitution of the locked room mystery with an impossible train mystery.

-- Mycroft's agony and horror at being forced to endure Les Miserables made my day. He sounded positively appalled by it.

-- Nice to see Andrew Scott back and in such good form.

-- Mary Morstan was played by Martin Freeman's wife, Amanda Abbington. Is there anybody involved in this show who isn't related to somebody else?

Quotes:

Mrs Hudson: "A woman?"
Watson: "Yes, of course it's a woman."
Mrs Hudson: "You really have moved on, haven't you?"
Watson: "Mrs Hudson, how many times...Sherlock was not my boyfriend."

Sherlock: "Well, the short version. Not dead."

Sherlock: "SHUT UP, JOHN, I DON'T WANT EVERYONE KNOWING I'M STILL ALIVE."
Watson: "OH, SO IT'S STILL A SECRET IS IT?"
Sherlock: "YES, IT'S STILL A SECRET. Promise you won't tell anyone."
Watson: "SWEAR TO GOD!"

Watson: "Can you believe his nerve?"
Mary: "I like him."
Watson: "What?"
Mary: "I like him."

Mycroft: "I'm not lonely, Sherlock."
Sherlock: "How would you know?"

Mrs Hudson: "What did he say?"
Sherlock: "Fff....."
Watson: "Cough."

Sherlock: "Moriarty slipped up, he made a mistake. Because the one person he thought didn't matter at all to me was the one person that mattered the most."

Watson: "You are the best and wisest man I have ever known.. and of course I forgive you."

Watson: "You cock!"

Watson: "I'm definitely going to kill you!"
Sherlock: "Oh please. Killing me... that's so two years ago."

Lestrade: "So, is it serious... you two?"
Molly: "Yeah. I've moved on."

6 comments:

migmit said...

Wait a sec... You actually buy this story Holmes told Anderson???

Paul Kelly said...

Hi migmit, I said 'mostly' although I did complain about one aspect of the solution in the 'Bits and Pieces' section. The substitute corpse part didn't seem necessary to me.

Mark Greig said...

Wunderbar! Magnifique! Estupendo! Meraviglioso!

The Sherlock team really outdid themselves with this one. I'm not even bothered that we didn't really get a definitive explanation of how he survived. It was just that good.

Bring on 'The Sign of Three' (fingers crossed it isn't as disappointing as the all the other middle episodes).

Swoooze said...

Good episode. I loved that the rubber ball theory suggested here actually got mentioned!

One thing that threw me though is that Watson's fiance played by Amanda Abbington looks just like the reporter who was in the final episode in series 2 played by Katherine Parkinson. In fact I thought it WAS her for the whole episode and kept wondering why Watson forgave her and why neither him nor Sherlock were mentioning it and I wondered whether she was writing a story on Watson...

... Then when I found out they were different actresses I was confused as to why I thought they were the same. And then I remembered that damn Maltesers adverts!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beJzxaYzUqk

Josie Kafka said...

This was lots of fun, and I enjoyed the meta narratives about how Sherlock might have done it. I liked the way they made a huge terrorist plot a B-story, too, and let Watson and Holmes be the A-story.

The American broadcast version really suffered from a lack of commercial breaks, though. (I can't believe I just said that.) Without commercials to break things up, the sudden switch from "Oh, no, bomb!" to yet another version of how Sherlock faked his death was simply confusing.

Savonista said...

I also adored the reference to the Speckeled Band this time though the daughter is heartbroken from online dating which her father arranged.
Does anyone know the other Sherlock Holmes mystery briefly referenced by the cheating husband?