Thursday, January 23, 2014

"You Have Missed This." Some Disjointed Thoughts on Sherlock's "The Empty Hearse"

What follows is less a review of the series three debut of Sherlock than a snapshot of my reactions upon watching the episode.  First off, I have to ask: Am I the only one who liked Watson's moustache?  Honestly, I think he should have kept it, no matter what Sherlock said.
"The Empty Hearse" is my favorite episode of the series yet.  In terms of characterization, it represents the show's high water mark.  We get to see new sides to both of the Holmes brothers and are introduced to a delightful new addition to the cast in the person of John's fiancee Mary.  I hope that the writers of Sherlock do better with the character than Conan Doyle did.  He just didn't seem to know what to do with her, and very quickly shunted her into the background, ultimately revealing that she had died during the time between "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House," when everyone thought Holmes was dead.  
It seems that being "dead" for a couple of years has made our Sherlock more human.  He still doesn't understand human nature and has problems empathasizing with others, but he at last seems to at least realize the importance of making the attempt.  The original stories didn't have a lot in the way of character development.  While Holmes is a  wonderfully realized character, he never grows or changes.  Throughout the stories of the Holmes canon he remains basically the same as when we and Watson first meet him in "A Study In Scarlet."  Sherlock's Sherlock, on the other hand, is evolving and I like him a lot more after seeing this episode.
I loved the interaction between the Holmes brothers, especially the scene where they attempt to one up each other at a game of "deductions."  I suspect that the somewhat more sympathetic portrayal of Mycroft this time out had quite a bit to do with the fact that Mark Gatiss, who plays the elder, smarter Holmes sibling, wrote the episode. 
I'm not sure what exactly the Empty Hearse, the group of Holmes fans and conspiracy theorists contributed to the episode, other than an attempt to justify a title that had nothing to do with the content of the episode, kind of like a Bob Dylan song.  The title is, of course, a play on "The Adventure of the Empty House," the story in which Holmes came back from self imposed exile.  This episode bore little resemblance to that story, other than having Holmes returning to London after a couple of years mopping up the remnants of Moriarty's criminal empire.  
I always have thought that Watson, in "The Empty House," accepted Holmes' resurrection perhaps a little too calmly.  John's reaction in "The Empty Hearse" rings a bit truer, if much more violent.
We shall most likely, I suspect, never be told the real story of just how Sherlock faked his suicide in "The Reichenbach Falls."  Even Sherlock's own account at the end of the episode is suspect.  That's fine, for as John says when Sherlock reappears, its not the how that's important, but the why and that is more than sufficiently explained.  Besides, I get the feeling that not even co-creators Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss have a clue how such a convincing suicide could have been faked and decided to just sort of gloss over it.  Honestly, I don't mind since the rest of the episode was so well done. 
You know, I never thought that a Sherlock Holmes story would remind me of Grant Morrison's Animal Man, but the resolution of the terrorist bomb threat evoked comparisons in my mind to end of Morrison's Invasion crossover in Animal Man #6.  I won't say much more in order to avoid spoilers, except that both "The Empty Hearse" and Animal Man #6's "Birds of Prey" place their characters in similar jeopardy and resolve the danger in pretty much exactly the same manner.  
On the other hand, the scene where Sherlock meets Molly's new boyfriend evoked a more personal memory for me.  Molly's new man, as her friends quickly notice, closely resembles Sherlock, right down to the clothes.  Well,  during my final semester of college, several months after my relationship with my first girlfriend ended, I ran into her and her new boyfriend.  The encounter, though friendly, was awkward on several levels.  After all, she was with another man and I was exiting one of the school's two all female dormitories on a Sunday morning after having spent the night in the room of one of the residents.  Like Molly's friends, I was tactful enough not to mention it, but I could not help but notice how much this new man resembled me, right down to the way he was dressed.  In a strange way, that made me feel a little better about the break up.  Well, that and the fact that, as I said, I, too, was seeing someone else by that time.
It was a nice touch that the couple briefly appearing as Sherlock's parents were, in fact, the real life parents of Benedict Cumberbatch.  As far as I know, we never met any member of Holmes' family other than Mycroft in the original tales, and I don't think their parents were ever even mentioned.
Finally, the one moment in the episode that actually had me cheering was right at the end when Sherlock grabs the deerstalker cap, puts it on and goes out to meet the press and "be Sherlock Holmes."  
After this episode, I am looking forward more than ever to the remaining two episode of this series of Sherlock.  Moreover, I hope that this time we aren't kept waiting for another two years for the next batch.

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