Sherlock: “The Empty Hearse” Review

I’ve just finished watching “The Empty Hearse”, and, well, it’s a very strange feeling. Finally having Sherlock Series 3 is surreal. I was actually not really looking forward to watching it; I have become exhausted over the past year by the depth of my dislike for the majority of the cast, fandom, and writing team, and I tuned in more out of duty to this blog than a genuine desire to see more of Sherlock and John et al.

Given my apathy, I am surprised to report that I enjoyed the episode. I’m not sure if it was a case of having such low expectations that I couldn’t possibly be disappointed, or whether it was actually good, but, well, there you go.

sherlock_60804Spoilers abound beneath the jump.

There’s not a lot to say about the plot. It progressed pretty true to fan predictions: Sherlock appears after getting rid of Moriarty’s network and surprises John; John reacts with anger and betrayal, surprising Sherlock, who expected to be welcomed back with joy; they are brought back together by a case, and in the end Sherlock both gets the bad guy and his best friend back.

I must say, though, that Mark Gatiss must have watched both V for Vendetta and the first RDJ Sherlock Holmes movie several times while working on the plot of this. Both involve a plot to blow up Parliament, if I recall correctly, and “The Empty Hearse” goes the extra Fawkes-mask-inspired mile and attempts to do so via a train car filled with explosives. All in all, it was predictable but enjoyable.

It's you and me against the world, Bela.

It’s you and me against the world, Bela.

Before I go any farther, though, I have to talk about Mary Morstan. I was legitimately terrified of how she would be portrayed, given the writing staff’s track record with female characters, and even more frightened of how she’d be received, given that fans were likely to see her as coming between John and Sherlock romantically. I didn’t want to find myself caught in the unenviable position of defending a character I didn’t like very much just because she didn’t deserve the level of hate she got just for being a lady.

Instead, as with many things about this episode, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Mary. She’s bubbly and engaging without being a Sexy Moffat Flirtatious Quip Machine™, and I really quite liked her. I was a little suspicious of how accepting of Sherlock she was initially, given that he was basically a stranger to her and that he had clearly hurt her boyfriend deeply, but I saw her encouraging John to rekindle ties with Sherlock as a sign that she knew how much being around Sherlock helped John to be a better person. I look forward with careful optimism to what happens with her in the future (frightening, given that Moffat’s involved in the writing of the next two episodes).


I also think that it’s cool that fandom has mostly responded to her by ushering her into a John/Mary/Sherlock OT3 (I soooo ship it) rather than casting her aside for daring to be engaged to John while not being Sherlock.

Molly’s treatment was a little more questionable, but I was won over by the touching scene between her and Sherlock where he thanks her properly for putting her neck out for him during the Reichenbach fiasco. I’d’ve rather the writers allowed her to finally settle down with a nice boy, though, rather than continuing the running joke that she keeps accidentally falling in love with sociopaths. She was portrayed as less of a hopeless case up until that point, though, which was a refreshing change from the last few series where she was the constant butt of jokes.


Oh, Miranda, you will always be my Mummy Holmes headcanon…

There were also some great brotherly moments between the Holmeses, which was nice. We haven’t had anything like that in previous series, and it was cool to see them communicate rather than bicker. It was less exciting to see the Holmes parents briefly—although I thought it was adorable that they were played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s actual parents, I’ve always imagined Mummy and Daddy to be just as frighteningly competent as their children.

There were surprisingly few things I hated about this episode, interestingly enough. My biggest complaint is that the show seems to have a disdain for its fanbase that boggles me. The treatment of the show’s ‘fan’ characters, especially Anderson and his club, is akin to that of Supernatural‘s Becky: they’re all shown as slightly unhinged conspiracy theorists with a tenuous hold on reality and, if female, an unhealthy obsession with slash pairings. (If male and suggesting heterosexual pairings, no one questions your shippy fantasizing.) These people are clearly stand-ins for the show’s real life fans, so it’s oddly shitty of the writers to choose to portray the people most loyal to the show as hopeless weirdos.

On that note, I wasn’t quite sure I bought Anderson as the fanboy he’s become. It was touched on for a second that he was consumed with guilt following Sherlock’s name being cleared, but I’d’ve liked a little more show and a little less tell in that regard. I can believe that it could happen, but I would have liked to see a little bit more of how it happened and less of him being mocked for what he’d become.

Obviously there are the standard complaints on the representation front: egregious Johnlock queerbaiting (and some utterly jawdropping Sherlock/Moriarty queerbaiting), but no real queer people; a lack of female characters who are not defined by their relationships with men; not even coming in the vicinity of a Bechdel pass; and no people of color, except of course the people Sherlock was investigating as terrorists. Donovan didn’t even make an appearance. I only mention these in passing because, though I certainly believe that more representation always makes things better, I wasn’t really expecting Sherlock to deliver anything resembling thoughtful or progressive representation. That’d be like expecting Supernatural not to brutally murder all of its women and characters of color.

My last complaint is about the special effects. The BBC must have quadrupled the effects budget for this series because it was absolutely jam-packed with slo-mo, fast-mo, flashy transitions, tons of Sherlock’s on-screen thought bubbles, and other frills. It could have easily used half the effects and been just as effective without giving me a headache.

All that said, I find myself actually looking forward to the next episode. We’ll see if I have such a good time with it once Moffat’s included in the writing credits.