‘Sherlock’ Season 3 Premiere: ‘The Empty Hearse’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated January 20th, 2014 at 6:35 pm,

Sherlock the empty hearse promo still Sherlock Season 3 Premiere: The Empty Hearse Review

A lot has happened in the two years since Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) seemingly leapt from a building to his untimely death in the Sherlock season two finale ‘The Reichenbach Fall.’ For John Watson (Martin Freeman), those two years have culminated in him finally settling down with his cozy GP job, his nice new home, his experimental facial hair and his lovely fiancée-to-be Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington).

For Sherlock, the years haven’t quite been so kind. The third season finds the consulting detective shaggy-haired and bloody, being tortured for information in a Serbian prison. To add insult to injury, a bird has pooped on his gravestone. After finally managing to dismantle the last of Jim Moriarty’s (Andrew Scott) criminal network, Sherlock is called by to London by his brother, Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), to prevent an imminent terrorist attack, conveniently helped by the fact that his name has recently been cleared of all the crimes that Moriarty attempted to pin on it.

There’s a lot of exposition to cover in this episode, though that’s helped by the 90 minute running time. ‘The Empty Hearse’ plays catch up with most of the key characters from the series, some of whom have moved on a great deal in two years while others… haven’t. Scotland Yard’s forensic expert Anderson has perhaps undergone the most radical change of heart, having started a Sherlock Holmes fan club and lost his job as a result of his insistence that the detective faked his own death. Jonathan Aris’ portrayal of Anderson’s somewhat unhinged obsessiveness is both funny and a little disturbing, and the audience is definitely left wondering what part Anderson might play in the rest of the season arc.

Sherlock dressed as French waiter Sherlock Season 3 Premiere: The Empty Hearse Review

Despite the title, ‘The Empty Hearse’ is a surprisingly light-hearted episode that avoids some of the dreary or melodramatic pitfalls that could have plagued scenes like, for example, Sherlock’s revelation to John that he is still alive. Definitely a highlight of the episode, this moment cheerfully straddles the border between heart-rending and hilarious as the detective handles the situation with his usual grasp of sensitivity and tact.

Some of the humor can be a bit hit and miss (the show’s running “no homo” gag really needs to die), but even the weaker jokes have their own kind of charm. Cumberbatch and Freeman’s strong screen chemistry is the cement that holds Sherlock together and it shines brightest when both actors are engaged in volleying matches of dialogue, but the supporting cast hold their own as well. Abbington in particular is a welcome addition as Mary, whose relationship with John comes across as very sincere and comfortable, and who acts as a mediating influence in the turmoil of Sherlock’s return.

When discussing the upcoming third season of Sherlock on a recent SR Underground podcast, one of the complaints that came up was that the witty dialogue and excellent performances are not quite matched in quality by the actual mysteries of the show, and that’s a criticism that certainly applies to ‘The Empty Hearse.’ There is a bit of a head-scratcher regarding a train passenger who mysteriously disappears from his carriage between stops, but the terrorist plot is somewhat dwarfed in an episode that is largely concerned with Sherlock’s return and the re-establishment of character relationships.

Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper in The Empty Hearse Sherlock Season 3 Premiere: The Empty Hearse Review

This may have something to do with the fact that ‘The Empty Hearse’ definitely feels like a ‘Part 1′ more than either of the other season openers. Rather than being a purely standalone episode, much of the running time is dedicated to setting up characters and clues that will presumably become more prominent in the next two episodes of this season. One unfortunate side effect of this is that the episode’s plot and structure feels rather loose and meandering – more like a collection of minisodes than a cohesive whole.

Nonetheless, any concerns that Sherlock might have lost its magic during the hiatus should be allayed by this generally strong season premiere. ‘The Empty Hearse’ might not rank as the best episode so far, but it makes one hell of a good entrance.


Sherlock returns to PBS with ‘The Sign of Three’ on Sunday, January 26. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below:

Follow H. Shaw-Williams on Twitter @HSW3K
TAGS: Sherlock
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  1. Sherlock is back in my life: that is all I need!

    • i also

  2. Loved almost everything about it… The writers do a brilliant job…. Cumberbatch is fantastic as usual, but this episode Martin does a phenominal job. That meeting scene was genius. Loved the fact that we still don’t really know what happened at the rooftop..

    • Yeah I thought that was a brilliant move by the writers. It was so meta because no matter what the explanation is fanboys and girls will either hate it or love it but with what they did the thought process is now believe it or not believe it? Leaving it open- ended just worked.

      • Yep.. It was pretty meta when anderson isn’t really happy with the explanation.. That was essentially true. No matter what the explanation that was given, “everyone’s a critic…”
        The cool bit was that a cple of them were extremely plausible.. But after this episode, I don’t care. I’m just glad Sherlock is back..
        Hoping the next mysteries are cooler..

  3. Great episode ,great humor,liked how he’s been humanized by his two year absence

  4. focus on characters! No thanks not for me, sounds terrible. I think i will stick with elementary. It’s a much better show, never have to worry about character development or any of that rubbish, just repetetive siplistic plots, handely spoon fed to me by excessive character exposition. Infact now i think of it, all shows should be moved
    to New York, (downton abbey NY).

      • I agree that sometimes the plots seem lame, but then they are trying to fill twenty-four episodes compared to the three from Sherlock. I have to wonder if Sherlock would be just as good as it is now if they had to fill the twenty-four episodes that Elementary does, or if Elementary would be that much better, if they only had to do the three like Sherlock?
        To me you simply cannot compare these two shows because they are two totally different animals and they show two different views on Sherlock Holmes.

      • sar·casm (särkzm)
        1. A cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound.
        2. A form of wit that is marked by the use of sarcastic language and is intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule.
        3. The use of sarcasm. See Synonyms at wit1.

        • well played… well played

        • Thanks for proving that the people who enjoyed this episode of Sherlock(which completely destroyed everything the series had built up to that point), can’t even tell when someone makes a sarcastic remark.

      • i agree completely, i was talking with a friend today, and he started comparing the two. It just can not be done, other than the differences and similarities with characters. The shows fall into different categories for me, with Sherlock being its own genre because (I certainly) have never seen ANYTHING like it, elementary however reminds me of an NCIS type thing. The two shows are great but in their own respect.

    • Have you ever actually watched Elementary?

    • HA HA HA HA HA HA HA !!!!!

  5. Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched the other two series in a while, but this was the funniest episode I’ve seen. Shows you that humor is always welcome, when done right.

  6. The genius was the Anderson scene. It was the most popular theory on many a blog and Anderson rejecting it then proceeding to rip down all the Sherlock like notes and details from the wall (again, genius) was essentially the bloggers themselves furiously typing seconds after the episode ended.

    The way John came back into his world (willingly, I mean) was contrived 101 of course, it did have a minor feel of a greatest hits album and I do fear a repetition every season of a new villain and cliffhanger. But it had real heart in the way John reacted at the dinner table with Martin Freeman displaying hurt, relief and fury at the same time.

    It was, as many have stated, also very, VERY funny. Many a small chuckle and many a big laugh. There was no showboating, no playing to the camera and no mugging. Just three very fine actors performing a well rehearsed stage play that just happened to be filmed and located specifically.

    Nicely directed as well. The momentum was very solid and the visual tics matching perfectly the random, speed analysis to slow resolution train of thought in Sherlock himself.

    So, yeah, basically impressed.

  7. Yes. Lotsa humor in this one. Sherlock becomes Jack Black funny. But it was just aimed at his return and his dynamics with London and the other characters especially Watson. And they did that well in the episode. Rest is all just to pass the time. The end showed the new villain whom we shall see soon. Decent start. Not very good but i am also happy that sherlock is back on telly. Waiting for a better episode this sunday.

    • Yeah, but I don’t want Sherlock Holmes to be funny…. not in an obviously comedic way like everyone is saying. I’ll reserve judgment until the 19th but, yeah, these comments have got me worried. And don’t worry about spoiling if you want to answer. I love spoilers.

  8. One epic episode.
    second only to season 2:1.
    In TV history its just pure gold writing from Gatiss

    • I completely agree with this statement

  9. Mary and sherlock had sparks and they destroyed it with the script her going off with someone else. Need a kiss from them.

  10. Not good writing. Poor effort. But it was watchable because of chemistry of sherlock when he returns with everyone else. Its purpose was just to establish him back in his old environment. Nothing else. The money shot was the villain in the end. Nothing more to the episode. The bomb case was useless.

    • this is Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat, on Sherlock, do you seriously think that it was they would do this without having forward planning, i mean i’ve seen the rest of the series, and i loved it. Just because you dont think highly of one episode you shouldnt slander them or think less of everything else because believe me it gets SO much better!

  11. More like the empty episode. What were the writers thinking. wasting a precious episode of sherlock on just his return and nothing else! Nothing! No case…the underground bomb thing was just laughable at best.

  12. Will the Sherlock-Mary arch end here? No story between them? They showed such chemistry in this episode along with humor i thought Holmes turned romantic. Mary should romance holmes please. 5 minutes should be given for it.

  13. i love all seasons

    • Everyone is a critic. 😉

      • I always go back to “Did I have fun?”… and yes… yes I did.

    • It isn’t a rip-off of “V for Vendetta” both the film, the original Sherlock story and this episode draw inspiration from the Gunpower Plot.

  14. c’mon!!!! the episode was about the return, not about de bomb and the terrorist cell!!! it was f***** brilliant…



      • not spoilers, he is doing exactly what i did when i watched the episode because none of them account for the body, other than Sherlocks theory for Anderson, which showed moriarty’s death sequence again. This then leads to think that the story told to Anderson was once again a web of lies. “This guy” as you put it, is the reason the show has survived a 2 year hiatus, because the show is so in depth and so keen to have an audience involved, that in the two year break the fans and the fans alone studdied the series’ thus far and unravelled so much more to the story, he hasnt spoiled anything, so just enjoy the rest of the series :)

  15. of the reviews I have read so far, this was the only one who interpreted my “feelings” about the first episode. So far I have had mixed feelings because although I am very glad that Sherlock is back I was quite taken aback by how light hearted this episode was. I got confused by what the episode was doing as it wasn’t quite the Sherlock that I know. Then reading your review it made sense. Yes, it is a part 1 of a larger story, an arc rather than the usual case per episode that we were all used to. I get the feeling that they are slowly easing away from the stories of ACD and really establishing this show as stories from this century “inspired” only by ACD’s books. It’s a risk that they eventually need to take and they are slowly getting the audience be used to it. It’s wonderful to see another side of this story.

    thank you for this. now my heart is lightened once more

  16. Ha! You guys are so far behind! Sherlock season 3 is amazing. The sign of 3 is a real character driven episode with a few great puzzles and a seriously weird and funny best man speech…

      • i agree, it’s so hard to hold my tounge lol, but i suppose we don’t have to wait too long for series 4 lol cristmas this year :’)

  17. Instead of dropping the “no homo” running joke how about doing the opposite and just leaving that entire thing out of the show? Seems it’s impossible these days for two guys to be friends without the assumption that they’re probably really hot for each other. Ugh.

    Didn’t like the overuse of humor. Sherlock was WAY over the top sociopathic/insensitive with his treatment of John. It was like after such a long hiatus they tried too hard.


  18. Cumberbatch is Sherlock…So much so that I can’t really see him in other parts without thinking of him as Sherlock. Not something that generally happens with other actors. Usually a part is a part, but Cumberbatch wears Sherlock much the way Basil Rathborn did. In my opinion the two greatest Sherlocks of all time.

  19. The episode concentrated on the characters, but the plot was the weakest of the series. I hope the rest of the season is better. For those of us who watched the Jeremy Brett series and read the Conan Doyle stories, there was a cute “nudge-wink” moment when the seller of used DVDs saw John Watson in his practice, and John thought it was Sherlock in disguise… exactly as in the original stories. The big climax was rather lame. I like the way they introduced Charles Augustus Magnusson (Milverton, in the original stories) as the new arch-villain at the end. I hope they recover their stride in the following episodes.

  20. What the heck was that bonfire scene all about? Just an excuse for yet another Hollywood style motorcycle chase?

  21. A perfect gem of a property turned into costume jewelry. Silly and full of itself – nearly a cartoon. Perhaps I’m just to old to enjoy this herky-jerky, frenetic paced style… But it would be boring if we all liked the same things.

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