Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sherlock: The Empty Hearse

"What did he say?"



I'm so very late in writing up this season of Sherlock (and, yet, much else... I have sooooo many sets of notes to write up!) that it feels so much has been said in the blogosphere already about this first episode already, particularly about its interaction with online fandom, with which this episode often feels like a dialogue, that it's supposedly far too metatextual for its own good, and that this episode doesn't really function as a whodunit.

To all this I shall briefly point out that the episode simply had to address the huge cliffhanger at the end of the last series, indeed it had to devote a whole episode to Sherlock's return and it's consequences. This pretty much removes the possibility of structuring this episode around a traditional whodunit format, and what's wrong with a bit of format-stretching anyway? And while, contradictory to what has been said by many commenters, we do in fact get an "official" explanation of Sherlock's survival (with cheeky caveats!), this was never the real point; what people have really waited two years for is the reaction to Sherlock's resurrection, especially from John. And we are not disappointed.

Far more interesting are the characters, the story beats and the series' traditional wit. And the latter of these has always been somewhat metatextual.

With all that out of the way...

The episode needs a murder plot to chug away in the background while all the character stuff happens, but this time it it (rightly) kept in the background, albeit with the character of Lord Moran harking back nicely to The Empty House. The terrorist plot itself is little more than a superficial retread of V for Vendetta, but that isn't a bad thing; this is a nice little shorthand for the viewer so that this subplot doesn't take up too much time.

The thing that is lingered on, and rightly so, is Sherlock's return, and it's consequences. Because time has not stood still over the last two years: John has got engaged (and Mrs Hudson, hilariously, assumes that it's to a man!), although 221B Baker Street is fortunately untenanted. Molly has a boyfriend who looks suspiciously like Sherlock, and the blogosphere abounds with theories on how Sherlock may have survived.

Sherlock's reveal to John is hilarious, of course, coming as it does in the middle of John's proposal to Mary, who is quite wonderful. Hilariously, Sherlock's explanation is punctuated by various acts of violence on him by John, which lead them to be thrown out of various restaurants and have to continue their conversation in progressively shabbier eateries. Mary, of course, likes him.

Mycroft knew, of course. And he and Sherlock have an insightful chat, over games of chess and Operation, about Sherlock's feelings of isolation without John there to be with him during his cases. But John, adrenaline junkie that he is, is quickly bored without the fix that Sherlock's cases give him, and quickly gets himself kidnapped for reasons which will go unexplained for a couple of episodes. This gives Sherlock a good chance to bond with Mary as they set out to rescue him.

We end with all back to the original status quo, and with a glimpse of a mysterious baddie. This episode is a wild ride, but it is far from self-contained. Sherlock suddenly feels far more like a serial drama than it did. Onwards, then...

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