Sunday, April 27, 2014

BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode # 1 "The Empty Hearse" - Review

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes wearing deerstalker with Martin Freeman as John Watson in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 1 The Empty Hearse

Dear Readers,

Having seen and enjoyed Season 3 of BBC Sherlock, I have decided to put down my thoughts.

The first episode The Empty Hearse has been long awaited by fans eager to unravel the mystery of how Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) survived his fall at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall”.

Readers who have not yet seen the episode are welcome to skip the rest of the post, if they wish to avoid plot details.

Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 1 The Empty Hearse

The opening scenes offer a quick recap of the closing scenes of The Reichenbach Fall. Sherlock is seen taking the help of Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) and even shares a kiss with her. The body of the dead Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) is substituted for Sherlock's with the help of a mask.

This is yet another of the theories proposed by Anderson (Jonathan Aris) to the hapless Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves).  Lestrade is as usual dismissive of  this theory. We saw a similar scene being played out in the Christmas 2013 minisode “Many Happy Returns”.

Sherlock Holmes is being held captive and physically tortured. He manages to distract his captor through his deductions. The other person sitting nearby is revealed to be Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss).

Sherlock has been working his way to dismantle Moriarty's criminal empire. Mycroft needs Sherlock's assistance to thwart an impending terrorist threat to London. Sherlock promises Mycroft that he will work on the case.

Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 1 The Empty Hearse

Sherlock's immediate priority is to reunite with John Watson (Martin Freeman) and the rest of the usual gang. Mycroft informs Sherlock about John's whereabouts for the day and Sherlock plans a reunion.

Sherlock adds a touch of drama by improvising a quick disguise and a French accent to surprise John at the restaurant. John is about to propose to Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington). Sherlock's arrival not only shocks John, but also disrupts John's plans for the evening.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington as Sherlock, John Watson and Mary Morstan in the restaurant in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 1 The Empty Hearse

John is not happy with Sherlock's actions and expresses his displeasure by attacking Sherlock more than once. Mary promises to bring John around.

A disappointed Sherlock recruits Molly to be his assistant. John gets kidnapped and it is up to Sherlock to save both John and London.

Click on the link below to buy your copy of Season 3:

The episode is a mixed bag, with far more misses than hits. The usually reliable Mark Gatiss spends a considerable amount of screentime to fan service. The theories about how Sherlock survived the fall are especially unpalatable. While some fans might be thrilled to see their fantasies come to life on the screen, I was taken aback.

There are also lot of meta references. Martin Freeman's finger gesture, Martin and Amanda being John and Mary, Benedict's real life parents Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham and Martin/John's remark about Benedict/Sherlock enjoying being Sherlock again.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington as Sherlock Holmes and Mary Morstan in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 1 The Empty Hearse

This combination results in a weak episode. The climax is also arguably a big letdown. The Empty Hearse is in my opinion, the least watchable/entertaining among the ten episodes aired so far (including the Christmas minisode).

However, there are some delights to be had. I personally liked the deduction game between Sherlock and Mycroft involving a prospective client's hat at 221 B Baker Street. The scene refers to the deductions made by Sherlock Holmes about Henry Baker's hat in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.

The client scenes at 221 B Baker Street are enjoyable as always. Couple of these cases refer to A Case of Identity and The Adventure of the Creeping Man.

Another of my favorite scenes is the investigation of the corpse. I enjoyed Sherlock's comments about the corpse belonging to a shoddy Victorian outfit from a museum and being displayed on a dummy. Mark Gatiss has often commented about the overly serious nature of certain Sherlock Holmes adaptations. This is clearly Mark's handiwork, done is true Sherlock style.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes wearing deerstalker in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 1 The Empty Hearse

Benedict Cumberbatch continues his superlative turn as Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective. It is a tribute to his acting skills that despite the previously mentioned weaknesses in the script, he manages to deliver such an impressive performance.

I especially liked Sherlock's reunion with Greg the best. Perfectly acted by both Benedict and Rupert, this was both humorous and touching in equal measure. The closing scene where Benedict dons the deerstalker nicely captures the essence of how perfectly he has been cast as Sherlock Holmes.

Martin also displays his acting chops in the scene with the old seller of books/DVDs. A double reference to Dr Verner (The Adventure of the Norwood Builder) and The Adventure of the Empty House.

Mary reading out aloud John's blog entry was another nice touch. She almost read verbatim few lines from The Sign of the Four. The rest of that blog entry refers to the plot of The Adventure of the Speckled Band.

Speaking of references, Mark Gatiss has included a number of nods to the Canon. Please click here to read all the Canonical references.

Another plus is that the season really picks up with the second episode The Sign of Three”.

Recommended to fans of the series. Watching the episode with lowered expectations will definitely help increase the enjoyment factor. 

Click here to read all my posts about BBC Sherlock. 

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Image Sources: BBC Wales, Hartswood Films, Masterpiece Theatre


  1. Glad I'm not the only one underwhelmed by this episode. Like over on Dr Who, I think critical acclaim has gone to the heads of Moffat and Gatiss a little and they're maybe enjoying themselves a little too much at the expense of the drama. Too many in-jokes, a weak mystery and a slide towards sitcom. I enjoyed it but not half as much as the previous series. Like you, I liked the next better but overall I found series 3 a real let down. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the other two!

    1. Agree with you, GK.

      The slide in quality is pretty obvious in the third season and specifically in this episode. Hopefully, common sense and wisdom will prevail and the show will be back to it's usual standards in the upcoming season(s).


  2. Hello, I am from France and I like the bbc sherlock show very much. Reading your blog is such a pleasure! Amazing job on the canonical references. Thank you.

    1. You are most welcome, Athemag. I too love the BBC show and am glad to meet a fellow fan :)


  3. I is my least fav episode, too.

    I think it's main problem is that there are good scenes in it, but they are not really well connected.

    1. Agree with you. There were some good scenes, but the episode as a whole felt uneven and disjointed.


  4. "has included a nod to the Canon"
    Can you please what is this "canon" canonical references??? Please please
    At firstcI thought you meant Conan.