Like a dear friend resurrecting from the grave, Sherlock returned to BBC One on January 1st to the tune of 9.2 million UK viewers collectively weeping in delight. “The Empty Hearse” reintroduced the spectacular series and began its third season, after a long, long two-year absence.
Benedict Cumberbatch returns as the titular Holmes, while his hetero life mate Dr. John Watson is once again portrayed by Martin Freeman–this time accompanied by the character’s signature mustache–in a largely original thematic concoction from the pen of Mark Gatiss (who also returns as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and is co-creator of the series with Steven Moffat). Like all episodes of the Sherlock series up to this point, “The Empty Hearse” draws some inspiration from many Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes stories; the most of which comes from The Adventure of the Empty House, which also dealt with Sherlock‘s return from the grave. Also like all previous episodes, the story has been modernized with elements including international espionage and terrorism.
Frankly, I was so eager for this show to finally return that I was almost certain it would disappoint my expectations; I am extremely happy to say it did not. Within moments–literally–of the episode’s beginning, I was entirely submerged back into the love I have for this series: how it’s written, how it’s directed, how it’s performed, its music, the fact that each episode is essentially a film; I love everything about this show, and this episode not only returned precisely to the form I loved four years ago in season 1 and two years ago in season 2, but it surpassed it because of its recognition that the story must be progressed. This isn’t merely a rehashing of what we’ve seen in the previous six episodes. Don’t get me wrong; it clearly exists in the same world as those previous stories, but it has–don’t shoot me, here–moved on.
First, Sherlock Holmes. As we previously saw, the character made great strides in becoming a more three-dimensional person as a result of his relationship with John Watson. His human connection with Dr. Watson, in turn, opened him up to caring for Molly Hooper. After a two-year hiatus, it would have been very easy to regress Holmes to his isolated and introverted state, but they didn’t do that. He’s quicker to care and show emotion than he was before, and that shows in not only his interplay with Watson but also with Molly and Mycroft, with whom Sherlock seems to want to share his newfound humanity. He’s also just a bit more of a badass, which is cool.
Watson’s progression is less emotional and more corporeal; he’s in a relationship with Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington), who manages to survive John’s mustache. Molly has moved on in her own way, too, but that’s something that’s clearly still developing. Speaking of Molly, I felt like Louise Brealey stole every scene she was in for the first two seasons, so I was so glad she became integral to the plot of season two. In this episode, I feel the same way; there’s just something about Louise Brealey that steals your attention.
For the past two years, what everyone has been dying to know is how he did it; how Sherlock faked his death. There have been so many theories thrown around; I know I certainly had one. This episode does have fun with it, but the ultimate revelation you’ll have while watching it is that it doesn’t matter; what’s important is that #SherlockLives.
Sherlockians who are stateside will have to wait a little more than two weeks from now to see the episode premiere on PBS Masterpiece on January 19th.