Guest post: Warning Spoilers!!!! - Review of The Empty Hearse

Right, I'm going to be as blunt as I can. The following guest post reviews The Empty Hearse and contains spoliers. If Sherlock series three is yet to screen in your country I suggest you step away from this post.

You have been warned - APD

Season Three, Episode One - Review by Silke Ketelsen

This episode opens with a view of Sherlock's headstone and in an instant all the old feelings are back. As I said to my best friend after TRF, "This is the saddest thing I've ever seen. It's even worse than Frodo leaving for Valinor."

But the camera does not linger and in rapid succession we're treated to a quick recap of the events at Bart's in TRF, which I think works well for the casual viewer who has not worn out three DVD sets during the hiatus.

Next we get the first of three suggested "solutions" set to a driving beat, fitting a Bond movie. Now by the latest you're on the edge of your seat, gaping open mouthed at your TV screen.

Sixty minutes later we find John and Sherlock underground in a tube car full of explosives and at this time I'm inclined to have them both blown to smithereens. Just get it over with.

What happened?

The trouble starts, for me, in the restaurant scene because here, for the first time in all seven episodes, I didn't see Sherlock, I saw Benedict Cumberbatch playing slapstick!Sherlock with a perfectly ludicrous painted moustache and a horrible French accent.

Martin Freeman deserves all the awards an actor can possibly get for his reaction scene here. It's a marvel to behold and Cumberbatch pales in comparison, and I don't say that lightly.

The problem is that they're practically playing in two different versions of the show. Freeman still does Sherlock, the crime drama, while Cumberbatch does Sherlock, the sitcom (and never the twain shall meet).

Then there's the thing with Sherlock's parents. What purpose did that scene serve? Mark Gatiss once said that he thought it'd be funny, if those two hothouse flowers (Mycroft and Sherlock) had totally ordinary parents. Well, maybe. But it doesn't make any sense in the context of the show. Yes, ordinary people have highly intelligent children sometimes. But, if they had a normal childhood in a loving home, why are both men so emotionally stunted?

After the script has robbed Sherlock of his gravitas by making him into a slapstick figure in that restaurant scene, it now has destroyed his enigma as well. Part and parcel of his persona is that – although you know it can't be so – he should have sprung into live fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' forehead. Everything else is best left to speculation.

Most crime plots in Sherlock make actually less than any sense. Just think of the Chinese smugglers killing exactly the two people who could have told them where the Empress hairpin was without questioning them first. Normally I just wave that away, but next to its other short comings this episode's plot and execution just beggar belief.

When they go after the tube bomb, John very sensibly suggests to call the police, because after all they have a bomb squad. But Sherlock says they would just get in the way as usual, although he must have known at this point that he has not the slightest idea of how to defuse a bomb himself.

Anyway, the car they find and it's full of explosives. Now Sherlock admits that he has no idea what to do about this stuff. John is understandably a bit miffed that he has to die just because Sherlock's so stupid. He doesn't even have a bomb defusal manual in his mind palace's library.

Meanwhile Lord Moran, the second most dangerous man in London(!) - what a waste of a good character - sets the bomb off. How he does that when we're explicitly shown that there's no signal underground on John's phone, I have no idea. Special air waves?
Aaarrrgghhhhhhh no signal!

Sherlock crawls around on the floor in the most undignified and ridiculous way and finally asks for John's forgiveness for all the hurt he has caused him. John quotes canon and tells Sherlock that of course he forgives him as he's the best and the wisest man that he has ever known. Under the circumstances they find themselves in I beg to differ.

The actors all enthuse about the clever writing, but on paper it must have been even more obvious that nothing makes any sense. Perhaps Paul McGuigan could have salvaged this in part with a genius stroke of direction, but Jeremy Lovering was just not up to the job. His style feels old fashioned, as if he has just discovered dark and gritty and thinks it's a new and original thing. Lens flares! I beg you. His style misses all the seemingly effortless grace and elegance we're used to from McGuigan.

Even where he tries to build upon the groundwork McGuigan did regarding the on-screen deductions it doesn't look clear and sharp the way you would expect a genius mind to work. For instance in the case of the skeleton mystery although the idea with the onscreen references turning into the things they represent ("moth balls" bobbles away as a lot of little balls while "fire damage" burns itself out) seems cute, it rather distracts than underlines. It's unnecessary frippery and a far cry from the clean execution of the McGuigan era.

Despite the urgent music and the whizzing up and down stairs by bike the chase scene lacks tension as it takes them forever to get to their destination. When a chase scene is actually boring, what does that say about the direction?
Lacking tension?

In the intercut scenes it seemed that often the right time for the cut was missed and scenes were either too long or too short, but never really balanced.

Also, if we're now going for light and fluffy, why choose a director who wants to do dark and gritty? It doesn't compute.

As for the solution to the jump, it never really interested me that much. We've probably all read a lot of theories – one was bound to be the right one, whatever Steven Moffat said. He bragged a lot about how everyone had missed a crucial point and how what they were doing was so terribly clever that no one would ever guess it. Forget it. A million people left alone to speculate for two years? It's like with the monkeys and the type writers – someone would finally write Goethe's Faust.

I did wonder what they were going to do that had not been speculated online, but trusted them to come up with something original as promised. Sadly, they copped out, but that is the least of my worries.

Far worse to waste an entire precious episode of only three(!) on fan w... erm, service. Other reviews describe the episode as a "love letter to fandom". Well, I guess, it's the idea that counts. I would have felt really loved if I had been given an epsiode that I could love back.

Yes, Sherlock has fans inside the Sherlock universe and as such it was not really a breaching of the fourth wall, but the references were too heavy handed for my taste and took up too much time that would have been spent better on more important issues. Some graffiti saying "#Sherlocklives" or 'I believe in Sherlock' casually shown as John or Lestrade move around London would have done the trick.

It's a shame because this episode has lots of lovely scenes and shots that would just shine in the right context. Sadly, nothing really gels. The story never commits to anything. The moment it comes close to anything feeling real and true, it dances away again, afraid of it's own shadow.

Apparently we're now done with Sherlock, the crime drama, and are headed towards Sherlock, the sitcom. I don't think I'm onboard with this.

Written by  Silke Ketelsen.


  1. It was a terrible episode. :( The modern BBC sherlock not return.... just died... RIP

  2. My theory is that he got hit on the head and can't remember who he is anymore and I'm sticking to it! ;-)