Sherlock: The Empty Hearse spoiler-free review

Review Louisa Mellor 15 Dec 2013 - 21:14

Sherlock’s third series races out of the gates with a pacy, action-filled episode containing plenty for fans to love. No spoilers here...

3.1 The Empty Hearse

Acts of violence from fans, Steven Moffat’s ire, the “strangely luxurious and well-equipped torture chamber” of Mark Gatiss... All this and more faces anyone swinish and attention-seeking enough to reveal spoilers for The Empty Hearse. Not wanting to face the above or detract in the least part from what’s in store on New Year’s Day then, nothing you read below will ruin your fun. We promise.

Fun is a solid place to start with the episode, which brims with gags and outstrips even A Scandal in Belgravia for cheekiness. Mark Gatiss’ script offers up laugh after laugh, deftly arriving at punch lines via nods to canon and fandom both.

It’s enormously playful, but never flippant. More than once, the writing and performances shimmy from comedy to pathos and back again in a single scene. Memorably, a key exchange is played with silliness and solemnity at the same time and somehow, the whole thing doesn’t fall to pieces. It’s all a bit of a coup.

Unlike The Empty Hearse’s immediate predecessor, laughter outweighs tears in the episode, though it’s worth saying that watching an episode of Sherlock in a theatre of excited fans acts as an amplifier for comedy: every tip of the hat to canon is met with applause and every punch line with a roar of laughter that muffles nuance. In a less thigh-slapping environment perhaps, the story’s quieter moments may well rise to the surface.

At this stage, it’s easy to take for granted just how strong the casting and performances are in Sherlock, but it would be a disservice to do so. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are every inch Sherlock and John in The Empty Hearse, as if they’ve been kept in costume and in storage for the last two years instead of out and about headlining Hollywood’s biggest releases. Even in this, the week The Hobbit sequel is released, all Freeman has to do is stand in front of Sherlock’s gravestone, and it's Bilbo who? Cumberbatch has only to put on that coat, and his beefier Star Trek Into Darkness counterpart evaporates.

If the stars are clearly comfortable in their roles, then the writing is luxuriating. It’s also cheekier than ever. Rather than ignore the success of the series, The Empty Hearse absorbs its own celebrity and serves it back to the audience as winks and fan-pleasing references. Some will call that self-indulgent but it’s all so winningly handled that it provides the gentle warmth of being in on a joke instead of the lurid glare of an ego-trip. Besides, who can begrudge a little indulgence when it makes so many people so happy? Certainly not us.

Featuring bursts of comedy, action, romance, and suspense, the variety packed in to the ninety minutes is both a boon - the thing moves along at a fair whack, at no point dips in energy - and a potential weakness. With more catching up, regrouping and track-laying to do than most episodes of Sherlock, there’s a sense perhaps that The Empty Hearse is a succession of good bits rather than a complete story. Highly enjoyable, cleverly constructed good bits it must be said (when the cast were asked to name their favourite scenes in the post-screening Q&A, there were so many to choose between that each one mentioned nudges you to think ‘Oh yeah, wasn’t that good?’), but a compilation all the same.

A couple of elements may have contributed to that sense, the first being that The Empty Hearse sets up some mysteries to be solved in later episodes. A shadowy threat drives the action-thriller side of things, and it’s far too early for that villain to fully show their hand. The episode’s most important parts - its relationships and emotional stories - are affectingly realised, but there’s a to-be-continued when it comes to the action.

The Empty Hearse is also one of Sherlock’s most stylised episodes yet. Director Jeremy Lovering takes the visual flair established by Paul McGuigan in the first and second series, and ratchets it up a notch, visually chopping up an already scattered story. In addition to the now-characteristic floating text, there are sections here that have the standalone feel of a music video, or - appreciating the enormous differences in budget - a Bourne or Bond-style action movie. The stunts and special effects are bigger than anything we’ve seen before from Sherlock. Suffice to say that the episode felt entirely at home in a cinema.

As if there was any doubt then, Sherlock will return on New Year’s Day with every bit of the excitement and talent with which it went away. Welcome back to Baker Street, boys, you’ve been sorely missed.

Sherlock returns on Wednesday the 1st of January at 9pm on BBC One. Come back afterwards to read our spoiler-filled review.

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Ok, but the answer, does it make sense or is it a cop out? I should point out I don't want to know the answer, I just want to know if it's worth it

when does this air in the US?

I started reading this review mildly enthusiastic. I really like Sherlock but it's late and I'm a bit tired. However with every line I read I got more excited and when I read the final line a rock and roll tune started playing in my head and I was like YEAH!!!!

I was disappointed. Getting the TARDIS to catch him in the swimming pool was already done before with River.

What Mr Morley said please, DoG! No spoilers just a rating of acceptability as an explanation!

Not until you've eaten all your vegetables.

"... and that was the last time the Americans visited Den of Geek."

Sherlock doesn't return on New Years Day. First we have the red button 'Many Happy Returns' minisode on Christmas Day.

...including the Sprouts.

Dogs aren't just for Christmas but sprouts are!

Aw, I wouldn't want to be responsible for that.
So flippancy aside, I imagine the real answer is that the deal hasn't yet been done and that nobody knows. Least of all our good hosts here at DoG, who are so good at reporting stuff like that as soon as they do know.

On the 19th of January.

You'll have to pry DoG out of my cold, dead American hands...well, browser, anyway.

(shakes fist at the heavens and growls) Barrowman!

I was there. This is a cracking review. I also wondered about whether the drama of some scenes will be more keenly felt when I'm not surrounded by 400 other people making the requisite sound effects to underline Mark Gatiss' 'Sherlock is filmed in front of a live studio audience' comment. Absolutely loved it and cannot wait to see the rest of the series. I hope the other 2 episodes live up to the first one's reputation!

I was worried too. I have a tendency to pick story lines to pieces and currently 5 days later cannot come up with a hole in the plot. It works. It's not a cop out.

Regarding this, I was the last one in pretty much - it had juuust started when I got in there - presumably they didn't show this first? Although, having watched the episode I think I have a reasonable idea of who it will mainly feature. Wondering if it will change the context of the show for those who saw the Empty Hearse first. Will keep you posted with a simple yes or a no.

Thank god I won't waste the hour and half it would take to watch this ruination of a literary classic. In the beginning, I was duped by the so called brilliance of Moffat. I watched and even purchased Jekyll on dvd, why? Because Moffat's name was attached to the RTD era of Dr Who. I was new to the internet, at that time, and I wasn't sure which episodes of Who, Moff was involved in, but it was before I learned the show was helmed by RTD. So I watched Jekyll, and because of the great James Nesbitt performance, I was won over. So opted to buy it. After watching it a few times, I felt that I must have been drunk when watching it, to find it good, or perhaps that was just Nesbitt's acting. Anyway, I stuck the dvd in the attic. Later I learned that Moff was the guy responsible for the most boring episodes of NuWhu, namely The Dr Dances, and the god awful Blink, which everyone assures me is the best episode of Who ever, even though the Dr is hardly in the episode. Then the awesome End of Time came and DT and RTD bowed out, and Moff took the helm, round about the same time the first episode of Sherlock went out, I think. With the decline in quality of Dr Who, thanks to Moff, I never watched Sherlock, but my OH seemed to like it, so I bought her S1 and 2 on dvd, last year. We have tried to watch it together a number of times but tbh, I can't even get past the first episodes on either. The Hound of the Baskervilles episode, I really, really tried to watch that, but damn, it's a mockery of Doyle's awesome tale. My OH used to swear by this show, but oddly enough, she too can now not bring herself to watch the new series. She has outgrown her Moff fangirl-ism, as I outgrew my "RTD turns everything to gold, torchwood is the best, after Dr Who-ism". Seriously, the beeb cancelled Ripper St, which seemed to be shaping up to be some well thought, well written, adult drama, yet keep this ADHD addled Holmes rip off, on air? What is wrong with the execs at the beeb? In fact, what is wrong with the people who think this is a good show? Sure, it's a modern take on it, but America did one of those, too, and it got torn apart, despite being a far superior version to this dreadful, convoluted show. Cumberbatch is a poor actor. Sorry, but that is how I feel. The main thing that let down the new Trek movie, was Cumberbatch. Just putting on a deep, menacing voice does not make a good performance. So in this case, I doubly hate the Moff/Batch, because not only has Moff ruined Who, but the "Batch" as ruined Khan.

You're adorable. Can I keep you??

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any Sherlock!
How can you have any Sherlock if you don't eat your meat?

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