A Sherlockian Synopsis – Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 1 “The Empty Hearse”

January 19, 2014

I Believe in Sherlock Holmes
The Empty Hearse appears to pick up where we left off – but the soundtrack belies the solemn sight of Sherlock’s last moments before the fall, and of course, reveals itself to be the conjecture of none other than the former skeptic Anderson.

With all the suave sexiness of a music video, Sherlock bungeed off the roof to snap back from the pavement and fly through a third story window where Molly Hooper awaited him. He nonchalantly fluffed the glass out of his trademark coat and dark locks, before taking her face in his hands, kissing her deeply and striding out the door never to be seen again. His accomplices affixed a Sherlock mask to the dead body of Jim Moriarty and arranged his corpse where Sherlock presumably would have landed on the pavement, just in time for John to recover from being hit by the bicyclist and see his friend lying there dead, but not before, apparently, running into famed hypnotist Darren Brown who put him out for another few seconds while he changed the time on John’s watch.


Make-out session with Molly Hooper aside, it doesn’t take a Sherlockian to note that Anderson’s theory was, as Lestrade so eloquently put it, “Bollocks!” John may accurately be described as one who sees without observing, but would he really not notice the difference between the visage of his best friend, mask or no, and Jim Moriarty, who’s figure stood at least a foot shorter than Sherlock’s? And how could they arrange a proper wig in such a short amount of time? As a curly coifed person myself, I can attest  – nonsense for sure!

As we saw in the Season 3 Prequel: Many Happy Returns, resident naysayer Anderson, who you might say even helped affix a nail to the empty coffin, has switched teams and is now Sherlock’s biggest fan, having formed a club he has dubbed “The Empty Hearse,” where likeminded Sherlockians may gather to discuss theories of how Sherlock faked his death. Anderson may have lost his job in forensics, but what he has lost in his career path he has gained in facial hair and Sherlock-related obsessions! Having got rather accustomed to his derisive sneer, it is quite something to see a bedraggled Anderson positively blubbering over Sherlock! Of course, he has all the motivation in the world to keep Sherlock alive in his mind now that Sherlock has been vindicated and the whole world knows Moriarty framed him.

Mycroft to the “Rescue”
It seems Sherlock has been letting his locks go a little as well — next we saw a shaggy Sherlock bounding through a Serbian forest before being captured and then strung up and tortured. Never fear, deductions of his torturer’s cheating wife motivated his captor to tend to his own household, leaving Sherlock alone with his torturer’s companion, who turns out to be none other than his dear brother Mycroft Holmes, come to take him back to Baker Street.

Sherlock has been busy dismantling Moriarty’s network and after two years his work is finally complete. So Anderson’s notes on Sherlock-like appearances throughout the world appear to be spot on. As is typical of the Holmes’ brothers’ dynamic, Sherlock was less enthused with Mycroft’s sudden appearance than Mycroft felt was deserving. When Mycroft expressed that he was desirous of some gratitude from Sherlock for his efforts, Sherlock waved the barber away, sat up (with effort since he was presumably still recovering from having been tortured), and replied incredulously: “You sat there and watched me being beaten to a pulp! No, I got me out. Why didn’t you intervene sooner? You were enjoying it. Definitely enjoying it.”

Once Sherlock had his shave and haircut and was properly attired, Mycroft and his associate, Anthea, filled Sherlock in on all they knew – which wasn’t much, about an imminent terrorist threat in London. Sherlock, with his customary confidence, wasn’t at all troubled by this news and instead inquired after John. It goes without saying that Sherlock will uncover this network and stop the terrorist attack. But how has his friend been doing?


Enter to Win All Three Seasons of Sherlock on DVD


If You Only Grow A Moustache
This episode has no shortage of overgrown hairs! John returned to Baker Street to pay a visit to an understandably cantankerous Mrs. Hudson for the first time since Sherlock’s fall. Not even one phone call, John?! For shame! Well, I suppose if Mrs. Hudson can forgive and forget, so can I.  Harrumph! I’m just glad she let him have it first and told the truth about that horrid mustache. At least John came bearing glad tidings – he intends to marry his girlfriend, Mary, — that is if he gets around to asking her and she’ll have him!

A face from ze past…

What life? I’ve been away.
Having been informed that John has left Baker Street, Sherlock’s jest about jumping out of a cake would never do. So he sauntered into The Paramount where John had dinner reservations and surreptitiously swiped, as only he can, the accoutrements of the Paramount’s waitstaff, approaching his best mate in the guise of a French waiter. John, ever oblivious and perhaps understandably consumed with thoughts of his impending marriage proposal to Miss Mary Morstan, noted nothing familiar in the countenance of the effusive Frenchman and his enthusiastic champagne descriptions.

Never one to be deterred, Sherlock returned with the champagne just in time to interrupt John’s heartfelt, albeit meandering, marriage proposal. Still, it took John more than a moment to realize exactly who was standing before him. Suffice it to say, Sherlock probably picked the wrong time to crack a joke about John’s facial hair (again!). Even Mary, who hated that creepy lip caterpillar, looked askance at Mr. Holmes just before John sent him flying.

Just the Two of Us
It’s certainly been a long two years for Sherlockians, but none can compare to the two years Dr. Watson has spent grieving his dead friend. As much as I wanted to hear all thirteen survival possibilities in speedy succinct Sherlockian detail (Who wouldn’t?! Perhaps they’ll make an appearance as Season 3 DVD extras?? Don’t keep teasing us, Mr. Gatiss!), John was having none of that and demanded an explanation for why he’d been kept in the dark for two long painful years. Sherlock shifted the blame to Mycroft. But John was far from pacified when he learned that a number of Sherlock’s homeless network were also in on the plans, and again he found his hands round Sherlock’s throat.

One can only presume that Sherlock, John and Mary were asked to leave multiple establishments that night, as we found our tumultuous threesome in a new venue following each violent outburst. By the time they were in their third and final location, John had quite accurately displayed why Sherlock kept his plans a secret from his best friend. As mysterious and inscrutable as Sherlock is, John’s face contained every passing emotion writ large. A billboard could not advertise more plainly than John’s expressions. Though I felt for his grief and rage, I don’t think there is a sole alive that could envision John Watson capably faking said grief had he known his companion was alive and well.

His last collision with Sherlock’s face represented a turning point for John – this is clearly not the same John Watson who shied away from punching his friend, carefully avoiding his eyes and nose in A Scandal in Belgravia. That final shot was a direct hit to the face! Can’t feel too bad for Sherlock; a person with his powers of  perception should have deduced by John’s ever reddening complexion that his tank was about to tip.  By the time Sherlock uttered the words just the two of us, I knew what was coming!

The Three Amigos?

So many deductions, so little time.

Mary and Sherlock shared a touching moment standing on the street afterwards. While John marched off into the distance to hail a cab, Sherlock stood dabbing his very bloody nose and Mary told him she would talk John round. Sherlock seemed almost slightly stunned and made so many deductions as to render them a nebulous typographic mass. (*Almost* illegible unless you, ahem, pause and attempt to read them all. Here is what I caught: linguist, only child, short sighted, romantic, guardian, disillusioned, liar, cat lover, size 12,  nurse, clever,  appendix,  secret tattoo, part time nurse, bakes own bread, lib, dem.  Did you catch any additional ones?) Even though he was clearly still rolling deductions around in his head, I don’t think I imagined it when I saw some warmth and favor flow out of Sherlock as well. It is curious that he judged her a liar though – an all around liar or just a liar in this case? What did you make of his deductions?

I for one am excited to see a smart woman who can hold her own with the Baker Street Boys. Moreover, she has a kindly affection for Sherlock, which could continue to balance out his cold analytical demeanor. And I can’t wait to see how her character develops and how she may or may not differ from the Mary Morstan that Arthur Conan Doyle created. (Apparently Amanda Abbington received death threats from fans who worried the character of Mary Morstan would come between Sherlock and John. That is so mad I don’t even have a response!) As a pathologist, Molly Hooper is clearly no intellectual slouch, but her mooning over Sherlock for two seasons was more than a bit pitiful. Thankfully that seems to be over as well! Could 2014 be the year that we get a – gasp – feminist character on Sherlock?

Sherlock’s reappearance to Lestrade went much less dramatic, with the detective inspector harboring no ill will but only relief at seeing his friend again.  He embraced his favorite high functioning sociopath in a big bear hug two years in the making, even though Sherlock still can’t get his name straight. Though at this point the variations on Greg are pretty much a tradition. (I also wondered about Sherlock’s line – “Those things will kill you” – was that an intentional nod to Brandon Lee’s line from The Crow or just a happy accident?) And of course, he almost gave poor Mrs. Hudson a heart attack!

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Why, yes…

The Empty Hearse Meets for the Last Time – #SherlockLives
We were treated to yet another Reichenbach Fall hypothesis courtesy of Anderson’s club. Albeit this one with a much less sexy soundtrack – but an even more unsuspected kiss – this time between Sherlock and Moriarty! While Anderson might be incredulous and dismissive of his club mate’s particular scenario, I am with Laura and Laurie Penny(warning – linked article contains episode 2 spoilers) on this one  – a love affair between Sherlock and Moriarty is hardly more far-fetched than many other plotlines we eagerly lap up.

Oh, the Games We Play
Sans John as his co-conspirator, Sherlock attempted to entertain himself with Mycroft.  Mycroft testily pointed out that the terror alert had been raised to critical whilst Sherlock insisted he was on the case. The games were on, including Operation, and, naturally, deductions. In addition to board games, the brothers Holmes indulged in a deduce-off by examining a hat left behind by a client.

After Mycroft’s departure, Mrs. Hudson admonished Sherlock to talk to John. Thanks to some clever editing, wherein Sherlock’s exchange with Mrs. Hudson was spliced with John’s day at the office, we were able to get an unfiltered picture of John’s response, without triggering any FCC violations.

Molly gets her day (and her groove back!)
It’s not exactly dinner – but an invite to solve crimes has got to be the highest compliment Sherlock could pay another person. Too bad he was as distracted as John was, hearing John’s voice in his head and even responding to said voice. The day was not without some tenderness, as Sherlock delivered a sincere thank you to Molly for her help and a genuine congratulations on her engagement as he remarked, after all, not all the men you fall for can turn out to be sociopaths. Molly conceded sweetly, maybe that’s just my type. Later we met her fiancé Tom, an obvious Sherlock doppelganger, the primary difference being that Tom is actually wild for her. It’s about time!

Mind the Gap Indeed
It seems the hearse wasn’t the only thing that was hithertofore inexplicably empty. Sherlock’s latest client and owner of the unfortunate hat, Howard Shilcott, works on the tube on the district line and is responsible for wiping the security footage after its been cleared. While reviewing the tapes, he found something he thought would interest Sherlock. A week ago on a Friday night, a man got onto the last car on the last train at Westminster – the only passenger. And by the time the train arrived at the next stop, St James’s Park Station, the car (or carriage if you will) was empty. A safety mechanism prevents the doors from opening in transit. And the train’s driver has mysteriously gone on holiday after coming into some money. A train never stops and a man vanishes – but not just any man – the big rat, rat number one, Lord Moran, Minister of Overseas Development…

One Close Shave Deserves Another – Remember Remember the 5th of November
After seeing his resurrected best friend, John attempted to go back to life as usual at the office. He presented a shorn face he claimed has nothing to do with a certain person who’s initials are SH, but was so distracted by thoughts of Sherlock that he accosted a man and attempted to rip off his beard thinking it was Sherlock in disguise. Clearly unable to get Sherlock out of his mind, he returned to Baker Street and, as is befitting of his luck, got himself drugged and kidnapped. Mary and Sherlock deciphered the skip code on Mary’s phone and motored to Saint James the Less to save him. Once Mary received a text stating that John is quite a “guy” – it became immediately clear to Sherlock that John was about to be burnt up right alongside an effigy of Guy Fawkes. (Remember earlier when John went to see Mrs. Hudson, he declined to offer a “penny for the Guy” as two children wheeled the effigy down the street? I do love a well-placed harbinger!)

It seems the apple fell far from this tree…

Not an Underground Network, an Underground Network
Perhaps the most shocking scene of this episode, more so than Sherlock’s elaborate “death” plan, was the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s actual parents!). Perfectly kind and ordinary (as John put it) they were, but Sherlock couldn’t bear to be torn away from his deductions with such trivialities. And once John arrived, Sherlock shoved them out the door with all the mortification of a teen caught shopping at the mall with his parents. Ew, parents! Who has those?! The horror. Well, at least he got out of taking them to Les Mis. Poor Mycroft was not so lucky!

Sherlock recovered from his embarrassment and had a much-needed epiphany after reviewing the tube footage again with John. (Welcome, back, John! Nothing like another near death experience to remind a person of how much they miss solving crimes! ) He realized Mycroft’s intelligence was incredibly specific:

“Sometimes a deception is so audacious, so outrageous that you can’t see it even when it’s staring you in the face. Look, seven carriages leave Westminster but only six carriages arrive at St. James’s Park. Moran didn’t disappear; the entire tube compartment did.”

In the four extra minutes (it took the driver ten minutes to get from one station to the next when it usually takes only six), the driver must have diverted the train and then detached the last carriage. And it couldn’t be a coincidence that was Guy Fawkes Day and that same night there was an all night sitting to vote on a new anti-terrorism bill.

Certain that the carriage must be somewhere underground, Sherlock contacted Shilcott to have him double check all the maps.  Shilcott’s memory was jogged when Sherlock referred to Sumatra Road.  There is a station between Westminster and St. James’s Park – a station at Sumatra Road that was never opened, conveniently located underneath the palace at Westminster. (Fun fact: There is no abandoned tube station at Sumatra Road outside of the world of Sherlock, but this plotline is not without an interesting backstory. Check out this and 20 other Sherlock facts you didn’t know. )

If it’s the bomb, no need to defuse it
Sherlock, with John in tow, ventured down to the abandoned Sumatra Road tube station to find that the carriage isn’t holding a bomb; it is the bomb.  Naturally, Sherlock  took this high-octane dilemma as an opportunity to trick John one last time (maybe) by making him believe he couldn’t defuse the bomb. So they get to have their heartfelt goodbye/apology/sorry/I love you moment that they weren’t able to before. And this time, when they were both still alive after Sherlock flipped the switch, it didn’t end in a straight shot to the nose – just laughter, a few tears and whole a lot of gratitude.

Lazarus Rising – How He Did It
Sherlock sat down and gave Empty Hearse founder, Anderson, the full story of how and why he did it. Moriarty’s network was vast. Mycroft fed Moriarty information on Sherlock while they had him in custody and Moriarty gave only hints as to the extent of his web, as Sherlock calls it. They let Moriarty go so he’d believe he had won. They had to make sure Moriarty believed that he had succeeded in totally destroying Sherlock, which would naturally end in forcing Sherlock to kill himself to complete Moriarty’s story. Thirteen scenarios were rigorously worked out and each given a code name. Sherlock texted Mycroft the codename “LAZURUS” to set the plan in motion.

The ambulance station blocked John’s view so that Sherlock could jump off the hospital roof and hit the airbag. While he got up and the actors gathered the airbag, the body of Sherlock’s other doppelganger, the man Moriarty hired to kidnap the children, was thrown onto the pavement. The well-timed cyclist knocked out John long enough so that Sherlock could take the place of the corpse and be covered in blood. For the final touch, Sherlock put a ball under his armpit to cut off his pulse so that John wouldn’t feel one when he went to make sure his friend was really dead.

How did this differ (or not) from what you had in mind? I have to admit, I assumed the corpse would only be used for the records Molly Hooper would have to fake.  I did not forsee the sidewalk switcheroo.

And introducing Charles Augustus Magnussen
By his obsessive viewing of Sherlock and Mary’s last minute rescue, it seems we may deduce that our new super villain is the one behind the attempt to BBQ John. Co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have been discussing how Magnussen is the one person on earth that Sherlock actually hates. Even after all that Moriarty did, Sherlock had respect for him. And no one will ever forget how The Woman made him feel (or didn’t). Who the devil could inspire the ire of our perpetually imperturbable Sherlock? Guess we’ll have to wait ‘til episode three to find out…

Sherlockian Sequiturs:

“What life? I’ve been away.”

“Madam, can I suggest you look at this menu? It’s completely identical.”

“Solid information?  A secret terrorist organization’s planning an attack. That’s what secret terrorist organizations do, isn’t it?  It’s their version of golf.”

“Can’t handle a broken heart? How very telling.”

“Oh please, killing me? That’s so two years ago.”

Watch Sherlock on Masterpiece on THIRTEEN Sundays at 10pm through February 2nd.  Or watch online at Thirteen.org/Sherlock – past episodes will be posted online after they air.

Get a roundup of broadcast and digital premieres, special offers, and events with our weekly newsletter.