Previously on Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall.
“Short version… not dead.”
Sherlock Holmes has returned — not quite in a blaze of glory, perhaps, but definitely to assault and battery.
This episode — its title loaned from the original return story, The Empty House — had to be several things at once. The reconciliation, the introduction of a new threat, a plausibly exciting new case that would draw Sherlock out of hiding. It had to be the resolution of the cliffhanger — the big one, the answer to the question that’s been driving the entire fandom insane for the past two years. Mark Gatiss has managed to devise a narrative that fit all of these things comfortably, giving even the many supporting characters that make the audience love this show so much time to shine. At the same time as being heartwrenching and emotional, the script is also absolutely funny and banking on both dialogue and situational comedy. John repeatedly attacking Sherlock is the best possible reaction ever (rather than, you know, just fainting), and the sequence where Mrs Hudson talks to Sherlock about talking to John… now, that’s clever editing. Cough. Piss pot.
Holmes is back in business
As it is, we get to see some of the possible theories played out — including some, shall we say, romanticism courtesy of Sherlock’s ‘fans’… practically everyone gets paired off with Sherlock in this episode, especially John, of course. This is possibly a comment by the producers on the fandom’s various takes on pairings and shipping, and I’m not entirely sure it’s not a dig — then again, Mark Gatiss has stated so many times how fond he is of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, I don’t believe he meant to put one over on us, merely tease.
But I digress. Sherlock’s name has been cleared, and even two years later — they did keep that time line intact and concurrent with ours, then — those involved with the Reichenbach Fall can’t quite let go. It’s Anderson who’s been the most active, though. Driven by guilt and grief, he’s lost his job, even, trying to track Sherlock’s progress across the world. It’s a pity that they are not explaining Sally Donovan’s absence (Vinette Robinson had conflicting filming schedules and was hence not involved), though I’d wager that she took Sherlock’s “suicide” similarly hard. That’s what always irked me about The Reichenbach Fall — the fact that Sally and Phillip were so close to being painted as the villains of the piece, when they were merely pawns. They did the right thing: they saw inconsistencies, and they followed the trail. They did their jobs — that the clues were just breadcrumbs laid out by Moriarty, well. Their professional concerns were legitimate. That Anderson’s life went pear-shaped in the wake of all this shows that neither of them wanted Sherlock to get hurt, that what happened to him drove at least one of them nearly mad.
“I believe in Sherlock Holmes!”
Now that’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d hear from Anderson… anyway, doing this serves to paint a supporting character who used to be a bit hard on luck when it comes to fandom love in a more forgiving light and to flesh out a character as more than a sideline antagonist.
And so, as Sherlock makes the rounds and reveals himself to the world — to John, to Mrs Hudson, to Molly, to Lestrade — the meat of the story lies with the consulting detective and his best friend (and his future wife).
The Empty Hearse requires as much emotion as it did stunt work
The acting is tremendous in this episode, from everyone involved, but the brunt of the work lies with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and they do it brilliantly. Watching John go from grief to trying to get better, to actual happiness with Mary, and then to the blinding rage and fending off the tears when Sherlock reveals himself… ow, that hurts. Over the course of the story, Sherlock, too, goes through so many emotions — probably more than in the two previous series put together. It’s tremendous to watch, and there are some real tearjerkers in there.
“You utter… you cock!”
With Sherlock, you can’t really be sure which emotions are real, him being as good at manipulation as he is — in the end, it’s about half-truths that can’t be denied and looking behind the veneer. When lying, always stick close to the truth. So what’s “more” real, the near-tears at the restaurant, or the scene in the subway car? At least the former are definitely real, because this is the first time that he’s seen John, in the flesh, in two years, and you saw how giddy he was at the prospect of seeing him again. That’s why he hates the moustache — it’s a reminder of how much time has passed, without John. Sherlock hides behind humour and being an arse, but it’s obvious how nervous he is. He puts on a brave, aloof face with Mycroft, but I think he already knows before his older brother says it: John might not welcome him with open arms, and that thought scares the living daylights out of Sherlock Holmes. He makes a complete arse of himself in the restaurant, and that’s not just because he’s not good with expressing his emotions — it’s because he’s frightened, and overwhelmed, and elated all at once. He needs John to be his buffer, to be the one to read his intention correctly, because John has always been the only one who could do that, the one who made it all alright by saying it was all fine. And when John puts up a wall and pushes him away, Sherlock’s adrift at sea, with no clue how to get through to him, trying as many tactics as he can — arrogance, reasoning, rational justification rather than the emotional.
In the subway car, however… Sherlock saw his chance to get John to forgive him, and he took it. The utter bastard. He knew that, in what John would believe to be their last moments, he would grab the olive branch with both hands, and so he forced the catharsis by letting John believe that they had two minutes left to live. John’s threats of murder are entirely understandable, I find.
“I can’t, I cant do it, John. I don’t know how. Forgive me.”
“Please, John, forgive me for all the hurt that I caused you.”
“No, no, no, no, this is a trick.”
“Another one of your bloody tricks. You’re just trying to make me say something nice.”
“Not this time.”
“Yeah, just to make you look good, even though you’ve behaved like… I wanted you not to be dead.”
“Yeah, well, be careful what you wish for. If I hadn’t come back, you wouldn’t be standing there, you’d still have a future, with Mary.”
“I know. Look, I find it difficult–I find it difficult, this sort of stuff.”
“You were the best, and the wisest man I have ever known. And, yes, of course I forgive you.”
But that doesn’t mean that John’s words don’t mean the world to Sherlock — he wanted to hear them, he just… expedited the situation a little. He couldn’t be 100% sure that John would take the bait, and to hear John say the words… the shock on Sherlock’s face is real. Because, the thing is, for John, it’s real. For John, the threat of death and incineration is real, and he chooses to spend his last moments with Sherlock, right there, in the car, not trying to run. He’s accepted death at his best friend’s side. And he’d have been at peace, if that bomb had blown. For John, it was the last stepping stone of a very long path, because he finally got to say it. That one line, remember, from his speech at Sherlock’s grave? He says it again now, and that’s perhaps his greatest comfort in that moment. He gets to say it to Sherlock’s face, he gets to say goodbye this time.
And then Sherlock starts laughing, the utter prick.
Sherlock wants to be forgiven
But that’s not all. There’s several scenes that tell you how much Sherlock does want to be forgiven more than any sappy declarations:
One, he could have told John that he faked his death to save John, Lestrade, and Mrs Hudson’s lives. However, if the snipers were intercepted by Mycroft, then that danger wasn’t really there anymore. If there was one thing that would have got John to soften his rage, it was that. But Sherlock didn’t offer that as an excuse, because it would have been a lie — he could have left that out, John never would have been the wiser, but Sherlock opts to tell the truth.
Two, the way Sherlock literally drops his food when Mary comes to Baker Street after John’s been taken.
Three, the scene just at the end. In between all the noise, it’s these quiet moments that tell the story the clearest.
“You’d have to be an idiot, not to see it. You love it!”
“Being Sherlock Holmes.”
“I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.”
“Sherlock, you aren’t going to tell me how you did it, how you jumped off that building and survived?”
“You know my methods, John. I’m known to be indestructible.”
“No, but seriously. You know, when you were dead, I went to your grave.”
“I should hope so.”
“I made a little speech. I actually spoke to you.”
“I know. I was there.”
“I asked you for one more miracle. I asked you to stop being dead.”
“I heard you.”
There’s the last bit of that reply left hanging in the air. I heard you… and I listened. Sherlock could only come back because the last of Moriarty’s network was cleared up, and he was only tracked down by Mycroft because of the terrorist attack. But for Sherlock Holmes, coming home was always about coming back to John H. Watson.
Four, Sherlock’s desperation and unfiltered fear showing for everyone to see while getting John out from underneath the bonfire. That’s no man who doesn’t care.
The marvelous return of Molly Hooper
Also, oh dear. Lestrade has a crush on Molly. Molly, who, in the meantime, has got engaged — to a Sherlock look-alike. Oh, I wish they hadn’t. Couldn’t they have let Molly get on with, I don’t know… a healthy relationship? Not one that still makes fun of her crush on Sherlock? Although — Sherlock didn’t say anything, which is the clincher. He noticed, but contrary to what he did in The Great Game, he will be “not saying a word.” He’ll never be that cruel to Molly Hooper again.
In the meantime, however, her interlude as Sherlock’s sidekick was fun, although it did only serve to show him what he was missing. John and Sherlock both kept having audio flashbacks to their time together, John at the beginning and Sherlock during his day with Molly. It was a thank-you to her, above all else, but it also served as notice to Sherlock. He kept hearing John, the little comments that he’d make, the admonishments — and he can’t do without him, he can’t.
Lestrade: “No, please, insult away!”
And neither can John. Despite his anger, despite the colossal breach of trust, he can’t for the life of him not get sucked in. It’s what happens, he goes to see Sherlock — narrowly missing Sherlock’s PARENTS, for goodness sakes! — and they start talking about the case, and before he quite knows what he’s doing, he’s helping Sherlock research and solve the case, in the span of, what, half an hour? It’s what they do. John can’t help it, he loves it. And they’ll spend this series renegotiating what that means for their friendship — because it’s not just the way it used to be, it’s better.
(Hang on. Weren’t those Ben’s actual parents..? Yes, they were.)
Introducing: Mary Morstan
Now, Mary. Mary! God, I love her. She gets it, she understands. She met John when he was at his worst, and she gets it. She comes with him to Sherlock’s grave, understands that he’s still grieving, understands that it’s hard for him. She was there for him through all of that, and then she meets Sherlock… and she likes him. Sherlock’s a presence in their lives that’s always been there, regardless of his death. And now, well, now he’s alive, and it doesn’t make a difference to her — except that she probably knows that John has another, second shot at happiness now. Not just with her — and he was content, we know that, he’s said so on his blog, having decided to move on. But now, he’s got the other most important person in his life back, and Mary loves it. There’s no rivalry — they agree about the bloody moustache, after all. Mary gets it, and I love her, and her teasing John about shaving as soon as Sherlock shows up — or, as she calls him, ‘his nibs.’ Sherlock’s surprised by her certainty that she’ll talk John round — he’d have probably expected her to see him as a threat, but it’s quite the opposite. I’m sure there’ll be the odd squabble, but that’s what happens. It’s all fine. The introduction of Mikkelsen as Sherlock’s new adversary at the very end is tied to John’s abduction in the middle. It seems a little out of place, plot-wise, I admit, tacked into the middle of the plot as it is, but it serves as a way of framing Sherlock and Mary as a team who both deeply care about John Watson — she’s not only John’s new and permanent love interest, not just a wife sitting by, she’s an asset. Sherlock likes what he sees about her, apparently — someone please freeze frame all of those deductions! — and together they can get John out of any old scrape, it seems.
The chemistry between the three is delightful. The production team couldn’t have picked a better actress to play Mary than Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s real-life partner. The three evidently know each other very well, and they spark off each other so, so well. They’re having so much fun together, and it shows, and it’s so brilliant.
Trivia: the song playing at the restaurant is called, Donde Estas, Yolanda? as performed by one of my favourite bands, Pink Martini.
Next: The Sign of Three.
I don’t dare, oh but how I want to read your review right now. January 19th cannot come soon enough, but getting to read this after I watch the episode will feel like Christmas come late. Happy New Year Andrea.
Oh gosh, I hope the days will pass quickly! It’s a great episode, and well worth the wait!
A Happy New Year to you as well!
Loved this. Personally I can’t help but feel that those people who complained that the episode spent too long on the reunion and not enough on the ‘crime’ have completely missed the point.
Sherlock has been gone for two years. John struggled to deal with it. He met Mary and fell in love. And now, just when he has finally got his life in order, Sherlock reappears and it’s almost as if he was the only one who didn’t know. I imagine I’d be quite mad at my best friend too. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of John’s shock and barely contained rage is beautiful.
Contrast that to The Empty House, where Watson faints and then it’s as if Holmes never disappeared. Conan Doyle wrote his two leads very well, but he did them a disservice there, stiff upper lip or not.
And there’s no doubt Sherlock really cares for John, more than he will ever say (at least until Sunday, although I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here). His reaction to Mary’s text and the panic in his voice as they race across London to save John says everything you need to know. Sherlock drops the aloof pretence and is desperate not to lose his friend again.
Anyhow, this season is clearly all about how John and Sherlock repair and deepen their friendship, and also about the impact Mary has on both of them. But that’s not soap, as some have claimed – it’s proper character development.
All of this, Tim, ALL OF THIS.
I’ve also seen people get upset at Sherlock being out of character — to which I can only say: John changed him. It’s two years later, Sherlock most likely spent two years of bringing down Moriarty’s network with John’s voice ringing in his ear! It wasn’t just hard for John, it must have been hell for Sherlock as well. We saw him change in Series 2 already, and then he was on the run for so long and could only now return — to the fact that, at face value, the one person he wanted to come back to didn’t want him in his life anymore. It’s enormous pressure and emotional turmoil, and this new Sherlock can’t go without that messing with his head. He knows he’s got some making up to do with all the people he’s hurt, and he does. He’s not the same Sherlock he was in the first two series, and if people want him to just remain the same, why watch?
It’s as you say, it’s character development, and the kind that’s catalysed by plot and narrative, and in turn drives the storyline, not just drama for its own sake.
[…] “Of Course I Forgive You” – Sherlock: The Empty Hearse. […]
It appears that it is not only Sherlock who takes his time (two years between series…REALLY) in getting around to resolving what is truly important. For instance, my response to your fabulous analysis of series three, what has it been, two months, since I last responded? However I can truly say my response will not be as riveting as your review. You Andrea, have given a brilliant interpretation of the long awaited resolution from series two. I believe Moffat and Gatiss crafted, not only a well devised piece of entertainment with (The Empty Hearse), but also delivered the goods on how Sherlock survived (The Reichenbach Fall). Although not definitive as some may have hoped for, it was magical none the less. Magicians (Sherlock, as well as Steven and Mark excluded) always leave it to the observer to work out how it was done. I will concede, that the episode darted about at a rapid pace, but as you pointed out early on in your review, there was one hell of a lot to squeeze into a paltry ninety minutes. I for my part was delighted by not only the great infusion of humor (Sherlock creatively morphing into a waiter—”surprise me”, “trying to” bit), but also all the hugs (Greg), thoughtfulness (I wanted to say thank you Molly), and acceptance (Mary hand-in-hand with John at the grave of Sherlock), what compassion. An episode filled with so much we barely had time to absorb it all. Well worth the wait. My wait went on a little longer though, as I didn’t get to see the episodes in real time here, because I was too busy at the time of showing, and it was on a little later here than I expected (10:00 PBS?), but then “Downtown Abbey” is popular. I always look forward to your take on these shows, and you delivered. Thank you Andrea for another great read.
Thank you so much!
I agree, The Empty Hearse was magical. (And same as there was a lot crammed into the episode, I could barely keep up with all the things I wanted to write about…) The hugs! I’ve been wanting to write a follow-up piece on the characterisation of Lestrade and Molly, actually… maybe I’ll get around to that sometime. (And before Series 4 descends!)
Do you think they’ll actually give in to the BBC’s reported haste to produce more before Christmas?
I truly hope so, two years is a long time to wait. But if that is what it takes for the kind of quality we have been receiving from this series, then so be it. However I think the wait will be shorter simply because the popularity of the series has become the crown jewel of the BBC. The powers that be will find a way to make it happen, plus Benedict, Martin, and all concerned are having so much fun together. Hey Andrea, have you ever reviewed “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”? I would love to see your take on that gem.
Yes, the enduring quality is what I’m a little worried about — not that I don’t believe that everyone involved can’t deliver top-notch work at short notice. But, if anything, the differences between the unaired pilot and the “definitive” Study in Pink have shown what benefits can be reaped from having that extra go at the material before commencing production. Then again, perhaps now that everyone’s found their groove, that added time isn’t quite so vital anymore. As long as Martin and Benedict are comfortable with making another series so soon after the third, I’ll happily sit down to watch.
I’ve seen The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but I haven’t reviewed it yet. I should have to get my hands on an English original copy of the work, and see if I can find some documentation of the edited stages, as I’ve read that Billy Wilder had to take the scissors to it to get it released at all… But I’d gladly make that a project for the next summer break!
Awesome writeup! One question though – where did you find the picture of John and Sherlock in the subway tunnel for the banner? I’d love to make it my desktop photo.
I had to dig a bit, but I remembered that I got it off the BBC One Facebook account! Here’s a link to the image (had to shorten the URL because it cut off at some point: http://bit.ly/1tHkFsA
(let me know if the link expires or anything)