Sherlock: “The Empty Hearse” (Initial Thoughts)

For all my coverage of Series 2, click here. It’s a bit of a rabbit’s hole to fall down, but . . .

It’s a terrible thing when a good show becomes too aware of its fans. It’s a worse thing when the show makes fun of its fans.

Remember the good ol’ days when Anderson was kind of an asshole? He’s now been reduced to pseudo David Duchovny, running a fan club conspiracy group called “The Empty Hearse” that theorizes that Sherlock Holmes is not really dead. Members gather and come up with increasingly complicated ways that Sherlock might have survived the fall from St. Bart’s. Lestrade figures Anderson is motivated by guilt, that he doesn’t want Sherlock to be dead because it would mean Anderson (and the rest of the police) was part of the reason Sherlock jumped. And that’s a valid psychological argument, but here it has been reduced to a poke at the audience, many of whom have spent the show’s hiatus coming up with the same kinds of scenarios as Anderson’s club.

(And no, I’m not angry on my own behalf. It’s not difficult to figure out how it was done—and he knew John would go that way because John is left handed—and I have better ways to spend my time than on Tumblr and Reddit. But I am angry on the behalf of Anderson’s character, which has been butchered here on the altar of fan service.)

As for the question of whether Mycroft was working for or against Sherlock, the answer appears to be somewhere in the middle. The rivalry continues, and Mycroft goes to the trouble of saving Sherlock in Serbia, but there’s still a sinister undercurrent. It seems Sherlock is Mycroft’s pet sociology/psychology project, and Mycroft puts his brother to the test by abducting John and putting him in danger—namely a bonfire. Is Mary trustworthy, btw? She sure jumped on that skip code quickly enough.

We got a glimpse of the Holmes parents as well. “Ordinary,” they are called. I’d say ordinary is one thing and prosaic another, given the parents’ dialogue. It was an odd moment and didn’t seem to fit. Was it just more for the fans, to answer some lingering Internet speculation? What a waste of scripting. Unless it comes back later?

As for the paper thin plot, something to do with a terrorist threat in London (which is why Mycroft went to the trouble to fetch his brother back) . . . I realize they mean to set up something bigger, of course. And is it possible Moriarty’s syndicate is not yet completely exterminated? Or that Mycroft is testing Sherlock on ever grander levels? But the bulk of the episode really went to all these interactions—Mycroft and Sherlock playing Operation—and while I understand the the character development, such as it is (and Mycroft is the one who is not changing; he is the bulwark), some of it was muddled here. Anderson, as I’ve mentioned, and the bizarre relationship between Sherlock and Molly, and finally the joke on John in the bomb carriage. It didn’t work for me. I mean, I like to think Molly has moved on, but the Almost Sherlock (aka Tom) merely puts Molly right back at the bottom . . . And then cutting the legs out from under John’s heartfelt words by having Sherlock trick him . . . I know Sherlock can be a dick, but he still needs to be likable, at least a little. Toying with Molly’s affections (is she really the one who “matters most”?) and laughing at John doesn’t play. It seems like one step too far in every direction. And for once, you know, it would be nice to see Molly and/or John get an upper hand.

Then again, maybe they have the upper hand and don’t realize it. If emotions make Sherlock uncomfortable, he’s going to hide them in order to keep his vulnerabilities hidden. And the best defense is a great offense.

So then we’re back to Mycroft’s curiosity about how his little brother would react to John being in mortal peril. Hmm.

I don’t mean to be down on all of it. Some of it did work quite well. I enjoyed John repeatedly choking Sherlock. And even Sherlock’s attempt to be playful by masquerading as the waiter. That was cute. I liked that Sherlock has John’s voice in his head when he’s working. But it was so obvious those basement skeletons were fake; I knew the minute I saw them, how could Sherlock not have done? (Well, it was either that they were fake or the art department had done an abysmal job.)

This is all just off the top of my head having just watched the episode. Maybe I’ll have more to say once I’ve slept on it. Maybe not.

Oh, and I know you’re going to ask about the Moriarty moment on the rooftop. More fan service, yes. The rule is to give the audience what it wants—or thinks it wants—without ever actually giving it what it wants. Right? (It’s the reason my “Martlets” script begins with Sherlock and John lookalikes in bed together. See? I did the lookalike thing already, back before Series 2. Get with it, boys. You’re behind the times.)

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