Warning: This review could potentially spoil the episode, so make sure you have seen The Empty Hearse before you continue
Two years ago, Sherlock Holmes was seen leaping to his death from the roof of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Since then, fans around the globe have anxiously awaited the return of BBC's Sherlock. During the interim, fans have speculated how Sherlock faked his death, and surely accepted a great deal from the Series 3 opener, The Empty Hearse scripted by Mark Gatiss. However, did the episode meet the expectations?
Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) has returned. After his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) informs him that a terrorist attack in the city is immanent, Sherlock goes about contacting John Watson (Martin Freeman), only to learn that John is engaged to be married. With the terror threat increased in London, Sherlock will have to make amends with John and save the day.
I will be up front here - I really liked this episode. Sure, it wasn't the series' strongest story to date, but it excelled where this particular story should. The Empty Hearse is primarily a character-driven piece, relying heavily upon the relationship of Sherlock and John and how it was (quite understandably) strained when Sherlock staged his death. Because so much of the episode was centred around Sherlock and John, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman's performances would be paramount. Indeed they were. Special attention must be drawn to Martin Freeman whose performance was excellent, especially in the scene where Sherlock reveals to his friend that he is still alive.
Many critics thus far have commented on the episode's lack of plot. I can see where they were coming from, but I cannot agree. I still found the plot about the terrorist threat to be very interesting, and Sherlock narrowing in on the mysterious goings-on in the underground was a truly fantastic scene. The Empty Hearse also featured other show-stopping moments - the most obvious being the motorbike chase through London as Sherlock and John's fiancee, Mary, race against the clock to save John whose trapped beneath a bonfire on Guy Fawke's night. I wouldn't be surprised if horror movie buff Mark Gatiss found inspiration for the bonfire vignette in the 1945 thriller, Hangover Square.
One of the things which I'm sure all fans were looking forward to was an explanation as to how Sherlock faked his death in the Series 2 finale, The Reichenbach Fall. Co-creators Gatiss and Steven Moffat executed this in an extremely clever manner. The episode depicted three solutions to this mystery (one of which featured Sherlock being in cahoots in Moriarty), and these were no doubt a nice way at poking fun at some of the show's fan-base who have been concocting theories since Series 2's airing two years ago.
In my opinion, The Empty Hearse nicely welcomed Sherlock back to television screens. It provided us with some of the series' finest character moments and brilliant performances from the principle actors. While lacking the complex plot which fans of the show have become accustomed to, The Empty Hearse was nonetheless a clever episode (filled with many canonical references) and a fine way to spend an hour and a half. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
I anxiously look forward to the next episode, The Sign of Three by Steve Thompson, a teaser of which can be found here.
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