Review: Sherlock – The Empty Hearse (Part One)

CORRECTION: In my haste to watch the episode and get a post up, I neglected to notice that the writer of this episode was Mark Gatiss and not Steven Moffat. All other claims made in this review stand. 

The Sherlock Season Three premiere episode, titled The Empty Hearse, aired in the UK this morning. I was hopeful that the episode would be good. That we would be given an explanation as to Sherlock’s survival, that the big reveals would be respectful, that John’s response would be realistic. And, as feared, I was disappointed.

Under the cut I talk about the aspects of the episode I found most problematic. If you’ve seen the episode, let me know what you thought.

Spoilers Ahead

The Reveal: 

As we saw in the Teaser, Sherlock bounces back into London and expects that nobody will have moved on in the two years since his “death”. He gets Mycroft to tell him where John will be, and decides to make his reveal that very night. Except, it’s the night John is planning to propose to girlfriend Mary. Sherlock, being utterly oblivious to human behaviour, thinks the perfect thing to do is dress up as a French waiter and then remove his disguise in the middle of his still-grieving best friend’s proposal.

I understand that Sherlock doesn’t really get acceptable behaviour and social cues, but that was a new low. A horrible, disrespectful, new low. And then, he made it worse. As John tried to come to terms with the fact his friend was actually alive, Sherlock stood there continuously making jokes about his moustache. Even after John physically attacked him, Sherlock still did not get the point that the acceptable thing to do was to stop making comments about the moustache, and to, I don’t know, apologise? We get that he is socially inept, BBC, but really?

We then get a montage of Sherlock revealing himself to other main characters. Lestrade hugs him, as if he hasn’t just spent two years convincing Anderson that Sherlock really is dead and not coming back at all. Molly, who knew all along, is a little shocked to find him in her locker-room, but is welcoming nonetheless. Mrs. Hudson screams and then lets him move back into 221B straight away. Let me stress this point: none of these are realistic reactions. I understand that this is television, they need to please the fans, they need to hurry the story along, etc. etc. But imagine for a second somebody close to you committed suicide. Imagine how torn up you would be. And then imagine you’re somewhere alone, late at night, and they step out of the darkness. What would your reaction be?

The Survival: 

From the first moment of the episode, we were given numerous versions of the way Sherlock survived. All of which seemed to be fan theories that have been floating around tumblr. Every time you thought it was the real version, the BBC would rip it out from under your feet with a “loljks”. Whether we are ever actually going to be told straight out, or whether we just need to make a deduction as to the truth ourselves, we will just have to wait and see.


The way Anderson was treated in this episode was appalling. Throughout the first two series, Anderson was on the receiving end of many cruel comments from Sherlock. I laughed, with everyone else, as they were relatively harmless (“you’re lowering the IQ of the entire street”, etc). But faced with the thought that he was responsible for Sherlock’s suicide, Anderson began a decent into insanity. He becomes consumed by theories surrounding Sherlock’s survival, long before Sherlock is revealed to have actually survived.

And then, Sherlock comes back. Everyone knows Sherlock comes back, and yet Sherlock does not even visit Anderson to apologise. Lestrade knows what Sherlock’s death did to Anderson, presumably he would have thought to tell Sherlock this. Surely he told Sherlock this. And yet, nada. We shouldn’t be surprised, seeing the way he thinks it’s acceptable to “apologise” to his best friend, but even if you hate someone, you should apologise for completely and utterly ruining their life. We get one scene in which we think Sherlock is explaining the truth to Anderson, but ha, jokes! It’s just Anderson completely losing his mind.

This storyline completely and utterly belittles people suffering from real survivors guilt. It makes a mockery of the only real reaction we were given to Sherlock’s suicide. It makes a joke of actual, real feelings.

The final scene we see of Anderson is him, alone in a room, tearing off theories from a wall and appearing to have a complete mental breakdown. I can only hope we are given some more closure to this storyline, because to leave it there is utterly frightening, to say the least.

The Actual Storyline: 

The actual storyline of the episode centered around a terrorist attack that was being planned for London. It jumped about for a bit, but culminated in John and Sherlock in a train carriage with a bomb that was about to go off. Sherlock reveals he doesn’t know how to stop the bomb, and he and John have a heart to heart about how much they need each other and become BFFs again. And then Sherlock starts laughing because of course he knew how to stop the bomb and isn’t making your best friend think he’s about to die just hilarious.

I am more forgiving of this scene than I am of many others within the episode. Sherlock and John both had emotions they needed to get off their chests, and maybe doing so under the pressure of impending demise was the only way they could open up to each other in order to move on.

If I were John, however, I wouldn’t be very forgiving of the fact that my best friend – who I’m only just back on speaking terms with after he faked his death for two entire years and let a group of homeless people know but not me – made me think we were both about to die so we could have a heart to heart.

I’m forgiving as a viewer, but there are still many, many issues surrounding the scene.


I didn’t hate the entire episode. It was enjoyable, to a degree. I did laugh. I was happy Sherlock was back on my screen. But the episode was problematic in a major way, and I’m frustrated by the fact that the majority seems to be ignoring this.

I’m annoyed by the blind fans I’m seeing on social media (especially tumblr) who are waxing lyrical about how brilliant and perfect the episode was. Because it wasn’t. And until we, as a collective group of fans, admit that, and demand something change, we’re going to continue to get problematic television and it will only get worse.

We need to tell Steven Moffat that we will not accept his irresponsible and often offensive attempts at television. That we will not blindly worship a show just because we fell in love with Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones all those years ago. We need to make a stand and critically respond to television, because really, isn’t that what being a fan is all about?

frangipani princess xoxo

2 thoughts on “Review: Sherlock – The Empty Hearse (Part One)

  1. “We need to make a stand and critically respond to television, because really, isn’t that what being a fan is all about?”

    No, to be quite honest, I don’t think it is. If you don’t like Steven Moffat’s “attempts” at television, then you’re hardly a fan, are you? What makes you think that you, as the voice of one person, have the right to tell a television showrunner what is right or wrong? Don’t you think that there are plenty of other people he has to answer to first? Steven Moffat isn’t the only person who works on Doctor Who or Sherlock, and certainly doesn’t get to make all of the decisions without consulting anybody else. That’s not how television works. Also, it’s probably worth pointing out that this episode was written by Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, and therefore if you really insist on addressing your problems to one person, it’s him that you should be talking to.

    I’m not saying that I don’t agree with anything you’ve commented on here. Some of your points echo my own thoughts when finally watching the episode this morning. I respect you as a writer, and I don’t want to see you becoming a self-important “fan” who overlooks everything that’s good about a show, only to focus on what angered or disappointed them.

    I liked “The Empty Hearse”. It wasn’t a perfect episode – but then, no episodes of Sherlock have been perfect. If we’re expecting perfection from television, then maybe we’re asking a little too much. You can’t please everybody. And as far as I’m concerned, all of the people who worked on Sherlock – not just Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, everybody – had one particular goal in mind. They wanted to make an entertaining episode of a television series. And, they did just that.

    • I’m going to respectfully disagree with you. From what I’ve studied about fandom, and experienced myself, it’s extremely important to constructively respond to television. I can love a show and hate a show-runner, good lord, the last four years of being a Whovian have been a lie if I can’t.
      Also, it is to be noted that this review was only referring to the problematic aspects, as noted in the second paragraph. I am in the middle of writing a regular review. I just found the aspects outlined in this post too much of an issue to not address straight away.

      When I wrote this post, I had not paid attention to who had written the episode. Steven Moffat is usually behind most problematic episodes, so I incorrectly blamed him (although he is pretty much in charge of the whole thing). I have since corrected the article to acknowledge that it was written by Mark Gatiss.

      I, in no way, only look for things that anger me. My first comments in text messages with my friends were positive. But, I am not going to be a blind fan who only waxes lyrical about how perfect everything was when in fact, it’s not. I will continue to respond to texts as I have found them, not just in a blindly negative or positive way.

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