So I watched “The Empty Hearse” Sunday night with a bunch of friends (who still came over even though PBS insisted on airing it at a ridiculously late hour). Expectations were high, to put it mildly, and the writers had a whole lot of explaining and loose-end-tying to do in 90 minutes.
My reaction? Short version: brilliant as ever.
One thing that impressed me right off the bat was how conscious the writers are of their fans. They left us with the mother of all unexplained plot twists, and then gave us nearly two years to guess and obsess about what the solution might be. So to avoid making the real solution anticlimactic, they created a character to stand in for us: Anderson, who has apparently gone a little loopy since Sherlock’s “death,” probably out of guilt. He’s left the police force, grown a beard, and formed a club dedicated to thinking up theories about how Sherlock might have survived–and I swear all their theories came straight from the Internet. John has had a rough two years, too, but he’s finally moving on: he’s about to propose to his girlfriend, Mary. But then Mycroft calls Sherlock back to London to deal with a major terrorist threat. So of course, the first thing Sherlock does is crash his best friend’s date.
John’s reaction to Sherlock’s return is completely appropriate, completely deserved, and completely hilarious. “The Empty Hearse” was by far the funnniest Sherlock episode ever. It was also the least plot-driven episode. There is a mystery, but it’s not based on a Conan Doyle story and it’s not nearly as clever or complicated as Sherlock’s cases usually are. That’s okay with me, because this episode isn’t about solving a crime–it’s about Sherlock and Watson repairing their friendship. It’s about explaining Sherlock’s survival and, more importantly, showing how he and the other characters have changed as a result of “The Reichenbach Fall.”
And, wonderfully, they have changed. The most remarkable change is in Sherlock’s character. He’s still a sociopath and an arrogant jerk, of course. When Mycroft tells him that John is “getting on with his life,” he immediately replies, “What life? I’ve been away.” But the episode also shows a more human side of Sherlock, a compassionate side we’ve never seen before, and which probably didn’t exist before Watson came along. He chides Mycroft for not having any friends, introduces us to his shockingly normal parents, and is actually kind to Molly Hooper. Then of course there are the scenes between him and Watson, in which John once again proves himself to be the most patient and longsuffering friend imaginable, and Sherlock shows that, in his own messed-up way, he really does care more about John’s approval than anyone else’s. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are incredible actors, and boy, do they know their characters. Watching them play off of each other is always pure joy.
When we finally do get the answer to the “final problem” of Season 2, it is quite satisfactory–especially since I was right about almost all of it. 🙂 But part of me doesn’t care how Sherlock got back, as long as he is back and ready to take on more adventures. As much as I loved the character-driven-ness of “The Empty Hearse,” I do hope Sunday’s episode, “The Sign of Three,” has a bit more plot to it. We already know there will be a wedding: let’s hope, along with Sherlock, for a murder or two as well.