Almost exactly one year ago, I had the flu/mono/Spanish plague. I was in bed for a whole week. I had all kinds of nasty things leaking out of my face. I was cross and hot and miserably uncomfortable. I was looking for a diversion, and my sister recommended Sherlock.
“Why not,” I said to myself. After all, it wasn’t like I was going anywhere, and it looked like there was about nine hours’ worth of episodes. That would keep me busy for a while. So I started with “A Study in Pink,” and that was pretty intriguing. Then I watched “The Blind Banker,” and even though it wasn’t a particularly great episode, I kept watching. Then came “The Great Game.” It was at that moment I realized I was hooked.
I burned through the rest of the series that night. And that meant that, at four in the morning, I watched Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock step off a roof into thin air. This character I had grown so attached to over such a short amount of time was dead, and he wasn’t coming ba— oh, good Lord.
The Empty Hearse
The episode started with the tombstone and flashed back to that day at St. Bart’s. The phone call on the roof. Men are moving Moriarty’s body in the background. A latex mask of Sherlock’s face is applied to Moriarty’s cold visage. Sherlock jumps. John is knocked to the ground, where he can’t see anything. A wire tied around Sherlock, anchored to the roof, yanks him back up. He smashes through a second-floor window, where Molly is waiting. He gives her a smoldering kiss and storms out of the room.
Meanwhile, the men with Moriarty’s body drop him in front of the hospital and slosh some fake blood around. John stirs and is approached by Derren Brown, who hypnotizes him into a deep sleep and sets his watch back a few moments. John awakens again and sees a crowd gathering around Sherlock as though it has just happened. And Sherlock turns back to us for a moment before sauntering out of the hospital and out of our lives for two years.
“Bollocks!” says Detective-Inspector Lestrade. My thoughts exactly, but for a different reason.
Although there’s a plot in this episode, centred on a politician trying to blow up a Parliament building full of other politicians for some reason that has to do with Guy Fawkes Day, the bulk of the episode deals with Sherlock’s return and his now-strained relationship with Watson. For the last two years, both in the show and the real world, everyone’s favourite doctor/part-time hobbit has been grieving the loss of his best friend.
So when Sherlock shows up at a fancy restaurant and announces he’s not dead, right at the moment when John’s trying to propose to a lovely blonde lady named Mary, it’s a pretty natural reaction for John to repeatedly punch him in the face.
Obviously Sherlock should’ve told John he was alive, even if he was tracking down the rest of Moriarty’s terrorist cell. Sherlock claims it’s because John can’t keep a secret, but he neglects to realize that John is only incapable of keeping secrets from him. Because that’s what friendship does (not to mention being friends with someone who’s hyper-observant of absolutely everything).
The only other real point of note in this episode builds on the false scene presented to us at the beginning. There’s another scene with Sherlock on the roof, except the figure on the edge is a dummy that Sherlock pushes off the edge. And for some reason Moriarty’s still alive, and for some other reason they both lean in, and right before they make every fangirl in the world simultaneously fangasm, we see that it’s… actually told by a fangirl. And she takes it very seriously, as fangirls generally do.
The last fake-out scene is one that some people actually believe to be true. Sherlock visits Anderson, the skeezy detective who helped contribute to his fall from public grace (and from the roof). Anderson has been overcome by guilt (and a fairly heinous beard) and has founded the group “The Empty Hearse” to share theories about Sherlock’s possible survival, because he can’t face the idea that Sherlock is dead because of him.
You’d think Anderson would be thrilled to see him, but when he finds out Sherlock’s side of the story—managed perspectives, a giant inflatable mat, and a squash ball—he goes completely mental, disbelieving that the great Sherlock Holmes would have such a pedestrian plan for the scenario that’s haunted him for two long years.
Now, I’ve talked to people, and they believe this to be the right version of the story because it came straight from Sherlock’s lips, but here’s my opinion: Sherlock lied. (Shocker. He does that.) He harbours some resentment for what Anderson did back in “The Reichenbach Fall,” and he knows what the disgraced detective has been through in the months since. So he gives him a solution so simple, so unbelievably, incomprehensibly simple, that his fragile little mind snaps.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how Sherlock got off the roof. Mark Gatiss, one of the show’s producers, said, “There are only so many ways you can fall off a roof and survive.” And it’s true. According to Sherlock, actually, there were 13. But does it matter which one he chose? No, it doesn’t; not to me, anyway. The how of it all is irrelevant. All that matters is that he is, in fact, alive, and back in fighting form, ready to face the mysterious figure at the end of the episode.
The Sign of Three
It’s John and Mary’s wedding day, and Sherlock is facing the problem that so many best men face: what to say in his speech. He finally settles on telling stories about his adventures with Watson, the many cases they tackled together, and all the wonderful things he learned about his friend during that time. Of course, it turns out all the cases he mentions were never solved, which is a bit of a thorn in his side.
But he carries on and delivers a magnificent speech that has everyone in the room, including a tipsy Mrs. Hudson, reaching for their handkerchiefs. And then, just as Sherlock is raising his glass for a toast, he has a stunning realization: there’s about to be a murder, right there at the wedding.
John’s commanding officer from his army days has attended the wedding, which is unusual, as he’s been in hiding since a training exercise with a squad of new recruits went horribly wrong and resulted in their deaths. Sherlock realizes he’s the target, and he sets out to stop the murder from happening.
Except it turns out it’s already happened. The cases he mentioned in his speech—The Mayfly Man, who assumes a new identity and dates women for just one night, and the guardsman who was stabbed by an invisible assailant—are part of the plot. Sherlock has his answers, the commanding officer is saved, and John and Mary have a lovely day.
Again, though, the case is merely the setting for a more important story. Sherlock is having tremendous difficulty coping with the fact that his friend is moving on without him. When he came back after his absence, he fully expected that Watson would have waited for him, that he couldn’t possibly live without him. But Watson met Mary, and he got his own medical practice, and he’s set up a life and a future. And Sherlock has to face the fact that, although he will be a part of it, it will be in a much less significant capacity.
This is especially poignant after John and Mary’s first dance, when Sherlock informs Mary that she’s pregnant. He’s been observing her behaviour all day; not even John has noticed, but it’s true. Their happiness couldn’t have been any greater, and yet somehow they found the room for unbelievable joy.
Sherlock turns to the Janine, the maid of honour he’s befriended, to ask for a dance. But she’s already dancing with another guy and looks perfectly happy. And Sherlock realizes that, in spite of his many redeeming qualities and how much people profess to like him, they’re all happy without him. And that’s the breaking point; he leaves the wedding early, unwilling or unable to face a future that he’s not a part of.
His Last Vow
Charles Augustus Magnussen: this season’s major villain, the figure at the end of “The Empty Hearse,” and apparently an even greater threat than Moriarty was. After seeing this episode twice, I’m inclined to agree. Magnussen is not a white-hot, wildly bipolar sociopath. He’s coldly calculating, and once he’s found a person’s weakness, he exercises complete freedom over the person, whether that means licking a person’s face or taking a whiz in their fireplace.
Even weirder than this guy is the fact that Sherlock has a girlfriend. Last episode’s Janine seems to have taken a shine to Sherlock after all, ’cause she’s wandering around his flat in her knickers and hops into the bath with him. (Lucky.) Of course it turns out he’s using her, because he’s Sherlock and he doesn’t have girlfriends, but that doesn’t stop him from proposing to her.
As a result of some complicated circumstances, not the least of which being some compromising Lolita-esque letters from a lord to an underage girl, Sherlock and Watson break into Magnussen’s office with ease, because Janine is Magnussen’s assistant (the reason Sherlock started dating her in the first place). But she’s unconscious, and while Watson tends to her, Sherlock wanders off and finds Magnussen on his knees with a gun to his head—a gun held by Mary Watson. A gun that is then fired by Mary Watson.
With a bullet inside him, Sherlock takes an intriguing trip into his mind palace, where he walks himself through the various stages of being shot and how to survive them. Fall backward to avoid too much blood loss. Don’t go into shock. Retreat to keep from succumbing to the pain. And surface again when the heart stops. This was actually one of the coolest parts of the episode for me, seeing inside Sherlock’s mind and understanding how it works in life-and-death situations.
Mary makes Sherlock promise not to tell John that it was her, and he keeps his promise. But he brings her to the empty houses in Leneister Gardens, a metaphor for the persona she put on and the emptiness that lay behind it, and he tricks her into telling John the truth.
John is understandably furious, in large part because Sherlock informs him that it’s his own fault for being attracted to danger. It seems more than a little unfair to me; Mary may have been a professional assassin in another life, but she’s a clever, wonderful woman now, and it’s awful to see her relegated to the client chair and forced to tell the boys that she’s under Magnussen’s thumb.
The Watsons’ marriage is horribly strained until Christmas, at which point John says, “Your past is your business. The problems of your future are my privilege.” At which point I died of emotions while Mary and John have a tearful reconciliation. And suddenly everyone is unconscious because Sherlock’s drugged them all, and now it’s off to Magnussen’s to trade a laptop full of national secrets (and Mycroft’s likely and probably quite intriguing porn collection) for the questionable letters I mentioned earlier.
Only problem is, it turns out Magnussen keeps all his dirt on everyone inside his very own mind palace. (Which makes me wonder how everyone knows about this alleged archive of illicit information if it’s inside his freaking skull.) Sherlock sees only one end to this, especially with British agents closing in for the laptop: he shoots Magnussen in the head.
This results in exile, which will certainly end in Sherlock’s death within six months. Up till now, this season has been about Sherlock coping with the new order of things, with the strange world he’s returned to, a world that no longer seems to have any place for him. Now he’s grimly resigned to his fate, knowing that, at the very least, John will be happy, even if he himself won’t, if he has no place in London, if nobody needs him anymore.
Five minutes into his flight, Sherlock is recalled. It turns out he does have a place after all: a familiar face has appeared on TV screens around the country, a face we last saw two years before when a gun went off in his mouth, spattering his brains across a rooftop.
So there you have it. Those are my thoughts on this fantastic new season. I have only one complaint about it, and it’s that the Guy Fawkes scheme from “The Empty Hearse” was ripped straight from V for Vendetta. (Not that I minded, because V was a great movie, but it was hardly an original story for such a highly anticipated episode.)
To me, this season was perfect. It fulfilled every expectation I had while answering none of my questions. It was frustrating and mind-bending and compelling, and excuse me because I need to watch it again right this second.
Final Grade: A+
- What does Sherlock mean by, “Moriarty slipped up. The one person he thought didn’t matter to me was the person who mattered the most.” DOES HE LIKE MOLLY. WHY CAN’T I FIGURE OUT WHAT HE MEANS.
- Amanda Abbington, the actress playing Mary, is Martin Freeman’s partner in real life. And they are one of the cutest couples I’ve ever seen.
- Mycroft having to sit through Les Miserables! Serves him right.
- Sherlock and Mycroft playing chess while discussing political matters. What a strong symbol of their constant rivalr— oh, nope, they’re playing Operation. And now they’re playing Deductions, which is a far better game.
- It’s incredibly weird seeing actors from Harry Potter doing other things. That being said, Dean Thomas never took off his shirt on-screen, so I’m not going to complain about Alfred Enoch here.
- “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.” How… how did someone get an elephant in the room? WAS THAT THE CASE.
- Drunk Sherlock is HILARIOUS.
- When Molly’s fiancee was introduced, my mom asked, “Why does that guy look so familiar?” I didn’t know people actually facepalmed in real life until that moment.
- “A sociopath with your contact information.” *cheeky grin*
- If Magnusson had the questionable letters in his mind palace, what would he possibly need the papers in his coat for when he visited Sherlock’s flat? Or did he just print out a copy of some Sherlock/Moriarty slashfic for a little light reading on the train?
- Sherlock’s loquacious explanation of how he accepted John’s request to be his best man, intercut with his real stone-faced reaction.
- Seeing Watson take on a druggie is hilarious. “I’m a doctor. I know how to sprain people.”
- MYCROFT IN A TRACK SUIT. AHAHAHAHAHA.
- The Holmes boys are grown men—one of them a famous detective, and the other the power behind Great Britain—and they’re still afraid of their mother seeing them smoking. That is all.