Tuesday, January 21, 2014

'Sherlock' season three - a review of 'The Empty Hearse'

I sat down over the last couple of days and watched  the beginnings of season three, twice. I wanted to make sure I was able to give it a fair, in my opinion, assessment.

I think it is fair to say that both 'Elementary' and 'Sherlock' are now falling prey to the same problems. The lack of good deductive cases and a presentation of a modern Holmes that in all ways possible measures up to Doyle's creation.
While I believe 'Elementary' is coming by those problems honestly and is making a strong case for it's methods, I feel 'Sherlock' in some ways is enjoying the mockery it's methods are thriving on.

I feel at this point 'Elementay', of the two, if either indeed can claim the distinction, is being more faithful to Sherlockians than is 'Sherlock'.

Sunday's episode, 'The Empty Hearse', had, as we have come to expect from 'Sherlock', some moments of brilliance. But each one of those moments of brilliance has at least one matching moment of camp, slapstick or disappointment.

Arguably the Canonical references far out number ones placed in  'Elementary' (and if you want to see the best reviewed list of references check out Buddy2blogger's site.), and to be honest are probably played better.
But 'Sherlock', just as 'Elementary' is accused of, is now injecting those references seemly more to meet a quota than move the story along. (What is the required quota of references per episode?)

I thought Martin Freeman as John Watson did some of his best work yet in the show. I just loved his portrayal of the injured Watson when he first encountered Holmes again in the restaurant. He plays the 'everyman' very well.

But then the moment was spoiled with the almost comic way they had Holmes handling the situation and with the way they filmed the fisticuffs between the two.

Martin Freeman had several other wonderful scenes through out the episode, and although the writers let down his character a bit, Freeman was spot on.

However. . .  the relationship between Holmes and Watson has almost become comical in it's co-dependency.
While Holmes chastised Mycroft for allowing him to suffer under the Serbs hands for so long, Holmes as played in 'Sherlock', has no problem putting Watson through emotionally the same treatment over and over.
And Watson has no problem each time with going back for more.

It almost became sickening to watch how many times 'Sherlock's' Holmes required gratification from Watson while being only minimally sincere with his own feelings towards Watson.

Bill Cochran in his wonderful book about the 'Great Hiatus' suggested that Holmes returned to Baker Street after his big fall more a complete man; more in control, kinder, less critical and more introspective.
The Holmes of 'Sherlock', if anything, came back with a bigger ego, less compassionate, less understanding and perhaps even relishing more in his sociopathic tendencies.

He requires help from Molly and Lestrade but it is clear, they also are very co-dependant on the relationships. We expect it from Lestrade because his career depends on it, but Molly is definitely co-dependent. (And at least they are not shying away from that.)

The case, as is the case sometimes in 'Elementary', was unimportant to what he episode was really about. And I think we expected that. But unfortunately the resolution of the 'Great Hiatus' was more of let down the the solution of the case. (I still am not clear on it was done, or why Watson didn't need to know.)

More so in this episode than all the others for me, the Holmes that Benedict Cumberbatch is suppose to portray seems to be almost a mockery of the treats and habits Sherlockians are so fond of.

The episode with his parents was appalling.

The conversation over the 'Operation' game board was an intended mockery and childish.

'Elementary' has become a show about Sherlock's and Watson's back story, at least for the time being.
"Sherlock' was expected to be a show about a brilliant detective in the modern era, and while the promise is still there, 'The Empty Hearse' came no where near meeting that promise.

I have to admit I am probably a little denser than many reviewers of the show, and probably miss a lot of the hidden meanings. And not being a Dr Who fan, I am not familiar with the style of Moffet and Catiss. And although I once praised them for their seeming sincerity towards the show they are also very much missing the mark in the sincerity department with 'The Empty Hearse'.

'Elementary' was criticized for the relationship between Holmes and Mycroft, but the relationship between the brothers in 'Sherlock' to me is even more dysfunctional. While we are always being told Mycroft is the smarter of the two it is not being shown in actual deductive work. Yes he is more controlling, but smarter. . .?

Most of the time watching this episode, especially when Sherlock was interacting with others, and definitely when interacting with Mycroft, I felt I was watching a 'Mad' magazine version of Sherlock Holmes.

I was hoping Watson would deck Holmes again in the subway car. That scene, setting up Watson, knowing the bomb could be shut down, having called the police, all played to Sherlock's ego and not to his return from the brink.

It was very disappointing when Holmes would go into his Volcan mind melt routine. I think these were suppose to infer that he was deep in thought while deducing a clue of some kind. Way over done this time.

I am sure, or at least hope, many of the things I found missing in the episode will be explained in upcoming shows. We will see.

There were however many things I liked about the episode.

As stated earlier, Martin Freeman's performance as Watson.

So far I very much like Amanda Abbington as Mary Morstan.

I was surprised I found the references to 'fandom' a nice nod to the loyal 'fan-atics' while not really taking their input all that seriously. Although Anderson was a little over done. I really liked the scene where all the 'fan-atics' learn Holmes is alive. A good nod to all the societies that play the game. Even to the one who wear the hats. ( I loved the gals line about thinking they shouldn't wear the hats!)

I loved some of the lines Mrs. Hudson got to deliver.

I also loved most of the tit-for-tat over the hat.

Many bloggers have often stated that it is unfair to compare 'Sherlock' and 'Elementary' to each other.
I have never thought that the case, and with 'The Empty Hearse' I find those comparisons very relevant.

Some of the Canonical references I came up with, (and go look at Buddy2blogges list while you are at it.)

- Mycroft hating field work
- Suggested Holmes would have made a good criminal
- London as a cesspool of crime
- BLUE with the deduction on the hat
- monographs (and I loved Mrs. Hudson's comments about that)
- monkey glands
- step dad keeping step daughter for her money
- returning to Watson in disguise

and of course all the other regular nods to his behavior.

This would have been a great April Fools episode.

I can, based on my expectations of 'Sherlock' only fairly give this episode;

Oh, yea, I also found it a statement on this episode that a certain blogger who rails on 'Elementary' has as of yet commented on this episode more than just saying he is glad to have it back. ?????


  1. Thanks John for the shout outs. Much appreciated.

    I agree with you about the episode being a bit of a letdown from the previous seasons. Let us hope the rest of the season picks up steam.


  2. Let me start out by saying I like Sherlock but have found the first two series consist of one excellent episode (S1 "A Study in Pink"; S2 "A Scandal in Belgravia"), one average episode (S1 "The Great Game"; S2 "The Hound of Baskerville") and one bad episode (S1 "The Blind Banker"; S2 "The Reichenbach Fall"). This opening episode of Series 3 was disappointing. As I've only seen "The Empty Hearse" once and neither of the remaining episodes, I can't say yet where this one ranks, but frankly it was rank. It seems that while Moffat and Gatiss were trying to be "meta" in commenting on real-life fan reaction to the show with Anderson and his "Empty Hearse" club, they ended up with a script that catered to those fans and lost sight of the fact that they were crafting a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

    In trying to recreate the fun scene of John's venting his anger at Sherlock in "Scandal", Freeman assaults Sherlock not once but three times. Sherlock's lack of regard for John's feelings and the taking for granted his friendship was shown not only at the beginning of the show with Sherlock's discussion with Mycroft but at the end where Sherlock lets John believe he can't deactivate the bomb and begs for his forgiveness before they die. (By the way, a convenient off switch on the side of the bomb? I am amazed at how low "Sherlock" can sometimes go with a cheat to get the heroes out of a jam.) It was a cruel scene that was in marked contrast to the understanding and tenderness Sherlock showed Molly. The fact that John shaved his mustache because Sherlock didn't like it (Mary's feelings on it are irrelevant) make John Sherlock's "bitch", in common parlance. This episode gives a D & S partnership that is far removed from the Doyle original.

    The mystery element was definitely the b-story to the return of Sherlock and the resumption of the Sherlock/John partnership and tacked on. Despite the glimpse of Charles Augustus Magnussen at the end, John's kidnapping and near-death in a Guy Fawkes bonfire and taunting texts to Sherlock seem to be the work of a jealous Jim Moriarty. My long held theory is that Moffat will have the Moriarty triplets to bring back Andrew Scott--a wonderful actor whose ADHD, crazy as a loon consulting criminal was, I feel, the wrong way to go with the character of Moriarty.

    For all of Moffat's post-Series Two talk of his working out how Sherlock faked his death and the clue the fans all missed, to end up not telling the viewer how it was done is an incredible cheat. Perhaps we'll find out the answer in the upcoming episodes, but to have John say he did care how Sherlock did it, but why, doesn't excuse Moffat and Gatiss from telling us. Sherlock's explanation to Anderson was just as ridiculous as Anderson's theory. We may get the real explanation later, no doubt in episode three when Moriarty reappears. While I appreciate the call outs to the Canon put into the show, it is getting to be done in an "Look how clever we are" way that increasingly is becoming pointless. MP Moran is Sherlock's number one "rat" who placed the bomb-laden subway car at the Sumatra Street station--the giant rat of Sumatra? Really?

    I agree with you about Amanda Abbington. I don't see her staying on the show past Series Three--too much of a downer to the Johnlocks out there. The theory I've had for quite a while now is that she will die in "His Last Vow" saving John's life.

    I'm hoping that "The Sign of Three" and "His Last Vow" are much better.

    1. You said it much better than I could or did.
      Thanks for stopping by.

    2. Your review reminded me of the (few) thing I liked in the episode that I overlooked in the heat of my disappointment. I hope there is less catering to "fan service" in "The Sign of Three".