Sherlock Review: “The Empty Hearse”–Short Version? Not Dead.

“You have missed this, admit it. The thrill of the chase, the blood pumping through your veins, just the two of us against the rest of the world.”

Yes, Sherlock, we missed this. We waited two years for this. “The Empty Hearse” was the story of our two years as much as it was the story of Sherlock’s, and it stands as a thank you note to the fans who spent this long hiatus reaching Anderson’s level of insanity. It’s gorgeously meta, and I do not mind one bit. Not on Sherlock. Lest we forget, Arthur Conan Doyle intended to kill Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls. He only brought him back because he was tired of fans accosting him in the street. So basically, everything about Sherlock’s return to John Watson’s life is and always has been fan service.

sherlock skyline london

The whole crime solving thing is really just an afterthought. Most of the episode is spent watching Sherlock and John run around London trying to bump into each other, and then when they eventually decide they might as well stop a terrorist from blowing up Parliament, they bicker their way through it. That sounds about right.

Even the bomb ends up being nothing more than a prop to force honesty from John, who has clearly spent these two years learning how to punch out his feelings rather than use his words. Does he go to the gym a lot? Does Mycroft follow John to the gym and hide on a corner treadmill to keep an eye on him? Poor traumatized John. Sherlock was the first one who really got him to open up. John called him amazing in the pilot without a second thought, and now here he is stuttering out his proposal to Mary and punching Sherlock square on the jaw. Martin Freeman absolutely nails his wordlessness when Sherlock shows up again—you can see in his face everything Watson doesn’t know how to express.

sherlock john watson the empty hearse

So of course, in the end, it takes a bomb to force the truth out of John Watson. “You were the best and the wisest man that I have ever known. Yes, of course I forgive you.” I love the past tense there; John still can’t quite process that Sherlock is alive, and he’s not sure what to make of him yet. He just knows that he forgives him.

Sherlock doesn’t own up to his mistakes easily (apart from that one honest, halting “I am sorry” at Baker Street, he spends most of his time offering explanations and excuses), but he sees that rigged up train car as the perfect place to admit how scared he is that he’s ruined John’s life and how badly he needs his friend’s forgiveness. It takes a bomb to force the truth out of Sherlock too, even though he knows they’re in no real danger. It’s rude and manipulative, but the sentiment is genuine, and we wouldn’t have our Sherlock any other way.

There’s a lot in “The Empty Hearse” about the gap between pretense and reality. Sherlock’s plea for forgiveness as they’re ‘about to die’ is cut against the story of how he faked his death, and even that story is probably a lie. If he’s going to tell the truth of his survival to anyone, it’s not going to be Anderson. I’d like to think that Sherlock finally, properly explained himself to John, but I appreciate the decision to keep the audience guessing. Everyone’s a critic, and after two years of theorizing, there isn’t an explanation that could satisfy everyone. Better to just pay homage to how much thought the fans put into their theories and let us pick the one we like the most. I choose this one.

sherlock molly kiss hair ruffle


Sherlock has grown up in the time he’s been away, and not just because he ruffles his hair and really fills out a suit. He’s learned what his relationships mean to him. He thanks Molly for saving his life, tells her that she matters the most (!), and invites her to help solve crimes—as herself, not as a substitute for John, because Molly Hooper has game. Note that one look from her can force an apology out of him. I’m officially on the “Molly and Sherlock are going to happen” train. Even the composers ship them.

sherlock molly smile

Sherlock actually seems concerned that Mycroft doesn’t have anyone like this in his life. The best conversation of the episode is the one they share over a game of Operation (not chess, because they’re not strategizing with each other—they’re trying to save each other. In related news, kill me now).

SHERLOCK: Well, anybody who wears a hat as stupid as this isn’t in the habit of hanging around other people, is he?
MYCROFT: Not at all. Maybe he just doesn’t mind being different. Doesn’t necessarily have to be isolated.
SHERLOCK: Exactly.
MYCROFT: I’m sorry?
SHERLOCK: He’s different, so what, why would he mind? You’re quite right. Why would anyone mind?
MYCROFT: I’m not lonely, Sherlock.
SHERLOCK: How would you know?

And there’s the show. Being different doesn’t mean being alone. Mary is the best thing that could have happened to John (because she’s amazing), and there’s no indication that he was anything other than his totally messed up self with her. Mary knows exactly how Sherlock’s death ruined John, but she loves him anyway, and she likes Sherlock right away despite how little he seems to understand John’s feelings. I’m still not clear on why he kept this from John for two years, but telling his parents was fine. (Hello, Benny’s parents!) Are we really so convinced that John can’t lie? If he can’t, he’s the only one on this show. Sherlock doesn’t bat an eye at Mary when he deduces that she’s a disillusioned liar with secrets. So what? She also bakes her own bread, and that’s much more uncommon.

mary morstan sherlock smile

On Sherlock, the lies don’t ultimately matter if you’d jump into a bonfire for someone.

Bits and Pieces:

The way Mark Gatiss says “milieu” is my division.

“You’ve been letting things slide, Graham.”

greg lestrade sherlock hug

“You’re dead.” “No I’m quite sure, I checked.”


“Oh, and after work, are you gonna see him again?”

sherlock moriarty kiss

Dummy Sherlock appears to be holding a real iPhone, which means in someone’s version of events, John wouldn’t notice that Sherlock’s face was on printer paper, but he would notice a fake iPhone.

“Both of us thought you were an idiot, Sherlock. We had nothing else to go on until we met other children.” “Oh yes, that was a mistake.”

Mrs. Hudson ships Sherlock with everything, including his brother, tea, and certain articles of clothing. This is why every “Which Sherlock Character Are You?” quiz tells me I am her.

“I’ve written a blog on the varying tensile strengths of different natural fibers.” “I’m sure there’s a crying need for that.”

Solve crimes/ have dinner?

“I’m going to need maps. Lots of maps. All the maps all the maps.”

“Oh please. Killing me–that’s so two years ago.”

Bless Martin Freeman’s face.

john watson squinty eyes

And we’re back! Sherlock and John, together again. Tonight, John and Mary get hitched (I’ve seen it, it’s grand), but someone’s still watching them, so we’re not out of danger yet. As if we ever could be, on this show. What did you think of Sherlock‘s return?

anderson frantic laughter


  1. I will always choose the hair ruffling one, too. BECAUSE IT’S GLORIOUS. I had planned to go to bed before midnight tonight like a grown up and watch episode two tomorrow, but I don’t know if I can make it! I’m pretty sure I’ll cave and at least watch the first half hour. And then the hour after that 😀

    1. Solid plan, solid plan. I approve of this life choice. I’d have watched if an impromptu Grammys viewing party hadn’t broken out in my living room (womp womp).

  2. “So basically, everything about Sherlock’s return to John Watson’s life is and always has been fan service.” THIS.

    Also, Mycroft surveilling John at the gym is now a permanent piece of my head canon. And that look Sherlock gives Molly toasts my bread.


    1. I’d like a web series about Treadmill!Mycroft and his little matchstick legs sneaking around the gym, taking notes on John’s mustache. I would also like it to be called “Toasts My Bread.”

  3. I love this episode and I love this post! I loved all versions, haha, and I died laughing at the fan club. I am a Mary fan, because she seems so great, and she really really is pro-John in the way a woman should be if she’s about to accept a proposal. 🙂

    1. Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman are just SO FUN TOGETHER 🙂 And yes, the fan club! I love how the entire episode was basically Gatiss and Moffat telling the fandom that they’ve been watching us.

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