While investigating Charles Augustus Magnussen’s apartment for clues, Sherlock is stunned to see John’s wife Mary holding the criminal at gunpoint. While the revelation that there’s more to Mrs. Watson than meets the eye would be substantial enough, this scene throws in one of the show’s trademark shocking developments by having Mary shoot Sherlock as her own unique way of asking to be a client.
We later learn that Mary intentionally shot Sherlock in a nonlethal area, but at the time, the detective and the many viewers had reason to be concerned for Holmes’ life. As our hero struggled to stay alive, we were treated to an in-depth look at Sherlock’s famous “mind palace.” Viewers had caught a glimpse of this memory technique in action during “The Hounds of Baskerville,” but this time we got to see the inner workings of Sherlock’s mind – and it was a spectacle to behold.
The stylish sequence has a distinct cinematic feel. As Sherlock’s fall to the floor is shown in slow motion, his brain races to find a solution to his predicament. With the guidance of allies including Mycroft and Molly, the detective is able to determine whether or not there was an exit wound, remain calm amidst the surprise of being shot, and even retain consciousness thanks to a brief cameo from Moriarty (in a bit seemingly pulled out of a horror film). Masterfully constructed, this sequence allowed fans to see how Sherlock is able to make his deductions as quickly as he does and show that despite his superior intellect, Mr. Holmes is nevertheless dependent on those closest to him to overcome the odds.
Sherlock Reveals Himself – “The Empty Hearse”
After the jaw-dropping season 2 finale saw Sherlock fake his own death (unbeknownst to John), the biggest mystery the show produced was how the detective survived his apparently fatal fall. But that (smartly) took a back seat to the psychological effect Sherlock’s reveal would have on John, who is still coping with his loss when we first meet him in the third season.
The scene in question is mainly about Sherlock Holmes making his return to London, but it’s also noteworthy for the traces of character development for John. A soldier suffering from PTSD in the pilot, John is prepared to propose to his girlfriend Mary. This shows that he has perhaps overcome his addiction to a dangerous lifestyle (something detailed greater in “His Last Vow”) by making the choice to settle down with a wife, raise a family, and work a normal job. It’s a long way from his “Oh, God yes,” when Sherlock asked if he wanted to see more dead bodies.
Sherlock is by and large a drama, but the show also has a comedic gene, which is used to great effect here. Creating an impromptu disguise as a French waiter, Sherlock’s meeting with John is first played for laughs before Dr. Watson realizes what is actually happening. The sequence manages to balance the two tones without being jarring – giving viewers an opportunity to feel sympathy for the emotional John while laughing at Sherlock’s ineptitude at grasping basic human feelings (despite the personal growth he had in season two).