Sherlock Series 3 Episode 1 Review: The Empty Hearse


Sherlock lives.

It only took him a couple of years to get better.

Yes, after a long wait, the hugely popular BBC series is back on our screens, taking Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on three more modern adventures inspired by the iconic Sherlock Holmes. Of course the last series left one huge question on everyone’s lips: How did Sherlock (Cumberbatch) fake his own death?

It’s not exactly fighting Moriarty near a waterfall or anything, it was leaping off a building to the ground below.

And the premiere of this season addresses the mystery. 

But probably not in ways you’d expect. And that’s okay! Because Mark Gatiss has written a fantastic opener to what’s surely going to be a brilliant addition to the show.

The Empty Hearse is all about catchup. We have to be taken through Sherlock’s departure and return back into John Watson’s (Freeman) life, get up to speed on what’s happened in the time since, and then go on yet another adventure.

Those boxes all get ticked, but some areas might be a bit neglected than others.

It is a phenomenal piece of writing and direction, with Jeremy Lovering bringing out some brilliant performances from Cumberbatch and Freeman, generally piecing together a well shot and well edited piece of fiction.

But then again, that’s always the case for Sherlock. There’s not a show out there that looks like it, and that’s brilliant. It’s well worth the wait to watch the fast paced and constantly overlayed mis-en-scene you just don’t get with other shows.

So many wonderful moments are played out in this episode, many of which will not be mentioned for spoilers, but one scene in particular is a masterpiece of dialogue and character piece, even if it might be a bit of horn tooting from Gatiss writing for Gatiss: Sherlock and his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) having a battle of wits in a brilliant game of deduction.

It really is a great script from Gatiss. There’s a load of chemistry between all of the characters, it’s packed full of jokes and genius, and so many nods of the deerstalker to the Sherlock fandom and what’s been going on with fans and their Sherlock discussions in the interim between series.

It’s not a perfect script though. While it does well to explain a lot of things, and it introduces John Watson’s girlfriend/future wife Mary Morstan (played by real-life wife Amanda Abbington) in a not too intrusive way… there’s not actually that much mystery solving or plot progression, but instead more of a “Previously on…” recap.

A little too much weight could be put on catering to the fans. While there’s many a gleeful moment to be seen, many pieces could have been slashed entirely and replaced with more development to lead into the overarching arc of the series. 

There are only really small niggles to be seen with the episode as a whole, however. Some jumps in the narrative are too jarring and obvious, some character reactions and changes are a bit too sudden, and there’s no real hook of mystery throughout the episode by way of a “case”, but in all fairness, it’s a show that’s been off the air for two years, and it’s one that wanted to pay back the passionate love the fanbase has for it.

Even if it still leaves some things uncertain and hopefully not drawn out for too much longer.

The Empty Hearse is certainly a solid first episode. It proves once again why people should take notice in Sherlock, because it’s one of those shows that actually tries to do something with the format of television. Less multicamera back and forth, more superimposing, interesting camera movements, slick transitions, snappy editing, smart intertwining of scenes, shots and locations all done in such a way that’s funny and attention grabbing and basically an essay on why we missed Sherlock, because really:

What else is really worth watching on BBC One with Sherlock around?

The Empty Hearse aired 1st January 2014 on BBC One, and it’s also available on BBC iPlayer. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and Amanda Abbington; it’s written by Mark Gatiss; and it’s directed by Jeremy Lovering. 

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