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'Sherlock' 'The Empty Hearse' review: Not dead, but how?

'Sherlock' season 3
'Sherlock' season 3
Courtesy of (C)Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films 2013 for MASTERPIECE

'Sherlock' season 3 premiere 'The Empty Hearse'


"Sherlock" has become one of those shows you really miss when it's gone, and when it comes back, you realize you missed it even more than you thought you did. That was exactly what the season 3 premiere, "The Empty Hearse," Sunday, Jan. 19 on PBS, did.

"Sherlock" returned with yet another strong episode, though it did feel a bit fragmented at times, with each storyline feeling very much like it could have been its own episode with very thin strings connecting them together. That's not to say that we didn't absolutely love the premiere, because we did, but at the same time, it seemed very much about showing Sherlock still had it and setting up what is to come in the next two episodes.

Going into the premiere, the big question was, "How did Sherlock survive the fall?" "The Empty Hearse" gave a look at a few possible explanations, from a mask put on Moriarty to a puppet Sherlock thrown over the ledge as Sherlock and Moriarty watched, giggled, and moved in for a kiss to an elaborate set-up that included an air bag, a look-alike from the morgue, and a squash ball under the armpit, but were any of those true?

Sherlock did tell a story on camera, but was it just another lie? Why would he tell Philip Anderson of all people the truth? Even Philip knew how unlikely that was, and it seemed like the mystery would remain unsolved. However, did that mean we weren't satisfied with how the premiere addressed that question? No, it didn't. In fact, in a way, the not knowing made it even more satisfying because it was more "Sherlock" than if he had come out and told the truth. And after all this time waiting for the truth, wouldn't the truth, whatever it was, have been just a "bit [disappointing]"?

It was, after all, two years later when Sherlock finally returned to London after spending his time away hunting down Moriarty's network, and while Mycroft did not enjoy having to go out into the field, undercover, to bring him home, he did enjoy watching him get beaten to a pulp by the final man on his list. Yes, Sherlock worked with his brother to take down Moriarty and his network, and if at least that part of his story was to be believed, it began with Moriarty needing to believe he had beaten Sherlock.

The scenes with the Holmes' family were among the best, and that included the visit from his parents, who were "so…ordinary," as Watson put it. They were ordinary, especially to be the parents of children like Sherlock and Mycroft, whose competitive natures extended even to a game of Operation and a round of deductions, and Sherlock's interactions with his parents might be the only time anything is ever "normal" about him.

With Sherlock's return to London to thwart a terrorist plot (more about that later), it was time to reveal to everyone that he was, indeed, alive, and with that also came a surprise for Sherlock: Watson had moved on and out. "What life? I've been away," Sherlock commented in surprise upon finding out he was no longer at Baker Street. And so Sherlock decided to surprise Watson at a restaurant, and it just happened to be the same night Watson was planning to propose to Mary, so he was a bit distracted when Sherlock played waiter and took his champagne order.

Of course it was when Watson was mid-proposal that Sherlock completely revealed himself, and Watson visibly reacted in a way that may have gotten them thrown out of the restaurant. All Watson wanted to know was how he could let him grieve like he did, and the more he found out about how many people knew he wasn't dead, the more injured Sherlock became. Watson did not appreciate being told he would have said something to reveal Sherlock was alive or Sherlock's "You have missed this, admit it," and in the end, Mary was left to play mediator.

After that, Sherlock paid visits to Molly, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, and while Molly's was a bit lacking, since whatever else was and wasn't true, she knew he wasn't dead, Lestrade's featured a hug that said more than words could and Mrs. Hudson screamed. And with that, the news hit and the world learned Sherlock Holmes was alive.

"The Empty Hearse" also answered the question of "How do you make a love interest for one of two men people (including Mrs. Hudson) think are doing more than just solving crimes together likeable?" By making her Mary and having her work with Sherlock to find Watson before he was burned alive. The morning after he was rescued, he was feeling "a bit smoked," but the question still remained: Who took him and why him? As the episode ended, a man watched Sherlock rescue Watson on repeat, and with that, the new "Sherlock" villain was introduced.

Like we said, there were several storylines that felt a bit too disjointed, and the terrorist plot seemed like a way to show how absolutely boring Watson's job was and have Sherlock trick Watson into forgiving him more so than anything else. There didn't seem to be any real threat or concern, despite the presence of a bomb, and having Molly (who should maybe have looked outside of London altogether for a new man) fill in as Sherlock's new partner only served as a reminder that Sherlock couldn't work with anyone but Watson for an extended period of time – or notice that he wasn't working with Watson, as his "Why indeed, John," comment showed.

It wasn't until Watson joined Sherlock for the investigation that the pieces began to come together and Sherlock realized that when Mycroft told him about an underground terrorist network, he meant underground and noticed that while the man seemed to disappear from the train car between the Westminster and St. James's Park stations. It was just in time because an important vote on a terrorism bill was scheduled for that night, and the terrorist's plan was to blow up Parliament. So Sherlock and Watson went underground, found a station that had been built but never opened, and tracked down the missing train car in the tunnel – and it was completely wired.

"Use your mind powers," Watson commanded Sherlock, but Sherlock didn't have anything useful stored there. Watson thought it was just a trick to make him forgive him, and when Sherlock told him it wasn't, he admitted, "I wanted you not to be dead." "You were the best and wisest man that I have ever known. Of course I forgive you," he said before bracing for the explosion that…never came. Sherlock had found the off switch. "Killing me, that's so two years ago," Sherlock said, when Watson threatened him, and with that, things seemed to be back to normal for the pair. It was then time for Sherlock to be Sherlock Holmes again, and with the hat on, he, followed by Watson, stepped out of 221B to face the press.

"Satisfying" may be the best way to describe the episode as a whole, despite its flaws, and everything didn't have to be wrapped up in a nice bow for that to be true. Yes, there were still questions remaining at the end regarding Sherlock's "death," Watson's kidnapping and the new villain, but we have faith in those behind "Sherlock" to fulfill our needs by season's end. As always, it was so entertaining to watch Sherlock's mind work, and despite the two years and "death" separating them, Sherlock and Watson's dynamic continued to be the best part of the series, with both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman delivering memorable performances over the course of the episode, especially Watson's reaction to Sherlock being alive.

"Sherlock" season 3 airs Sundays at 9:58 p.m. on PBS. What did you think of the premiere "The Empty Hearse"?

© Meredith Jacobs 2014

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