THE SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: Sherlock is back and The Empty Hearse grips you from first frame
"INTERESTING thing, a tuxedo. Lends distinction to friends and anonymity to waiters". - 'The Empty Hearse', Sherlock (Season three, episode one). And just like that, the great detective returned. To his 'old' friend (s), old haunts and good old Baker Street.
Right from the first frame, 'The Empty Hearse' has you in its grip. Because we learn the answer to the big question – how Sherlock Holmes staged his death – within the first two minutes. But hang on... for an hour and 24 minutes more. And watch closely. Because this is Sherlock. Seeing is deceiving. And it isn't over till you get it from the horse's, rather Holmes's, mouth.
The mini-episode 'Many Happy Returns' had set the scene for Holmes's return to London. Avid Holmesians have long speculated that he spent some time in India during his self-imposed exile. And a mention of India is almost always a smart idea, isn't it? We were briefly introduced to Inspector Prakash of the Delhi Police, who came across as a bumbling, fawning detective who asked Holmes, "My friend... Will you not take any of the credit?" And please note: "The second most dangerous man in London," Moriarty's trusted lieutenant, was once a soldier in India during the Raj. If you don't know who I'm talking about, I'll assume you haven't read 'The Adventure of the Empty House'. There are several subtle nods to Arthur Conan Doyle's genius, peppered with smart, contemporary updates. To say more would spoil the fun.
After the tremendous build-up and long wait, 'The Empty Hearse' is something of a lightweight, even underwhelming, episode. What made 'The Reichenbach Fall' (Season two finale) so brilliant was the delightfully dark vein of danger that ran through it. Wicked.
But then again, one of the best things about the series is that it doesn't take itself too seriously, never forgetting to wink at itself. Though there isn't much in terms of a plot, it's great to watch the ease with which Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Dr John Watson) become their characters again... and it does feel as if they had been away. Watson is trying out a moustache and has a fiancee, Mary Morstan (played by Freeman's real-life partner Amanda Abbington). To say that we see 'Jim' Moriarty (Andrew Scott) again (alas, only in flashback) would not be revealing too much. We also see two characters that Doyle had mentioned rarely and ever so fleetingly, stoking readers' curiosity more each time. Yes, we get a glimpse of Sherlock's parents – Portrayed, interestingly, by Cumberbatch's real-life parents. Sherlock says they, his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), pathologist Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) and "only about 25" in his "homeless network" knew of his plan to stay 'dead' until he had dismantled Moriarty's criminal network.