Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sherlock 3.01: "The Empty Hearse"

“You have missed this. Admit it.”

After a two-year hiatus (which is referred to several times in this very meta episode), “Sherlock” is back. The show is back, as is the titular character, who when we last saw him, had the modern version of a “Reichenbach Falls” moment. The crime/mystery to solve is really an afterthought in the season opener. Instead, the episode focuses more on Sherlock’s return to London after having faked his own death and the effect his return had on numerous other characters, especially Watson. The whole thing was a touch self-indulgent for my taste. We don’t even get the true story of how Sherlock faked his own death. Instead, we get an onslaught of reenactments of various theories. Is it too much to expect a Stephen Moffat show to tie up one piece of plotting neatly? I think “Sherlock” overall is more successful when trying to update a specific Conan Doyle story. It gives the episode focus, which “The Empty Hearse” definitely lacked.

As I said, the main purpose of “The Empty Hearse,” which was written by Mark Gatiss (our least favorite “Doctor Who” writer here at MTVP), was to set up Sherlock’s return after two years of self-imposed exile. Arch-nemesis Moriarty had engineered a situation where Sherlock had to at least appear to be dead, otherwise people Sherlock cared about would be moved to the top of a hit list. So Sherlock appeared to jump off the roof of a hospital, and for two years, his faithful sidekick Watson thought he was dead. There were other people in Sherlock’s life who knew he was still alive, particularly his brother Mycroft and medical examiner Molly. Learning that other people knew the truth only puts some salt in the wound for Watson, really.

Somehow, amidst all the sadness, Watson managed to find love with a woman named Mary, played by Martin Freeman’s real life significant other, Amanda Abbington. Mary seems nice enough, and she’s certainly very supportive of Watson, but because this is a Steven Moffat show, there is probably a lot more going on under the surface. Watson and Mary are at a fancy dinner, where Watson is about to propose to Mary, when Sherlock makes his appearance. He dresses up as a waiter, thinking that the surprise would please Watson, but it has just the opposite effect. When Watson realizes that Sherlock is standing in front of him, he is furious. A few of the things Sherlock says makes Watson want to physically fight him. While Sherlock may not be interested in romantic relationships and Watson may be in a serious relationship with Mary, it’s pretty obvious that for Sherlock and Watson, the most important person in their lives is each other.

Sherlock’s reintroduction to the other people in his life is a little bit smoother. Mrs. Hudson just plain screams, which is kind of funny and sad at the same time. Mrs. Hudson was very attached to Sherlock and Watson. Early in the episode, Watson goes back to 221B for a quick visit, and Mrs. Hudson admonishes him for hardly ever calling her since Sherlock’s “death.” She’s convinced Sherlock and Watson were romantically involved, but she also accepts the fact that Watson is now engaged to a woman. Molly doesn’t seem especially shocked at Sherlock’s reappearance, but she is rather embarrassed to admit that she got engaged to somebody else while he was gone. He never reciprocated her feelings anyway, so good on Molly for getting hers (even if he does look kind of creepily like Sherlock). LeStrade has the best reaction. He basically just growls “you bastard!”

What brought Sherlock back from exile (where he claims he was working on completely dismantling Moriarty’s network) was Mycroft saying that a terrorist plot needed to be foiled. So that’s kind of running through the episode, and it culminates with Sherlock and Watson on an Underground car with a bomb about to go off. Sherlock pretended to not know how to disarm the bomb until the very last minute, which was another cruel joke to play on Watson. These cruel jokes aren’t funny, Moffat! Watson’s a decent guy who never fails to have Sherlock’s back, and he deserves better than that.

As I alluded to earlier, there isn’t really one central mystery to ground and focus this episode. There’s the terrorist plot, of course, but there’s also many other things going on. Sherlock has a day of solving random minor crimes (as he does), and since Watson is still mad at him, Sherlock asks Molly to be his assistant. I’ve always meant to do a post on the similarities between the 11th Doctor and Sherlock (since both were conceived and written by Moffat, and this episode would certainly add more fodder to that post. There’s a conversation about companions and assistants that feels almost like it was accidentally lifted from a “Doctor Who” script. And of course, Sherlock doesn’t really want Molly to be his companion. He only invited her to help solve crimes for a day because he wanted to thank her for helping him out of the Moriarty jam. It felt kind of patronizing overall.

In addition to the terrorist attack and the day of solving random crimes, Watson also gets kidnapped. Will Watson’s suffering never end?! Anyway, it’s Guy Fawkes Day (“Remember, remember the fifth of November”), so there are lots of bonfires happening. Watson is drugged and placed inside one of those bonfires. Sherlock and Mary then start receiving texts saying they have a very limited amount of time to save Watson. The bonfire is about to be lit. The fire is, actually, lit, but luckily for Watson, the lighting happens only a few seconds before Sherlock and Mary arrive on the scene. They rescue him just as the fire is really getting going. It becomes apparent that somebody is trying to get to Sherlock through Watson, and that person is likely to be the new Big Bad now that Moriarty is out of the picture. My money is on Mary being involved somehow, although that would be just one more burden on the long-suffering Watson.

So, bottom line, I didn’t love this episode. It was disjointed, and it focused more on the return of Sherlock and being clever and meta than actually telling a good mystery story. I think “Sherlock” is more successful when the focus is on updating a specific Conan Doyle story. We all know that Steven Moffat tends towards overplotting, and thinking about how to update a specific story for modern times sort of provides an outlet for his attempts at cleverness that result in a more focused, cohesive work. That being said, because the next two episodes of the season each seem to be based more upon a specific story, I have hope that I will enjoy them just as much as I typically enjoy “Sherlock.” I only regret that this episode took up an entire third of a very, very short season.

No comments:

Post a Comment