Thursday, January 2, 2014

In Which I Review Sherlock (3x1)

"He's got on with his life."
"What life? I've been away!" 

2 years have passed since we watched Sherlock Holmes jump from the top of Bart's Medical School and land, head first, on the pavement in front of John Watson. Presumed dead by his loved ones, only the audience watching at home knew that Sherlock had somehow faked his death and was really alive, watching from a distance. Since its inception, the BBC's Sherlock (headed by Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat and writer Mark Gatiss) has become a sensation. Benedict Cumberbatch is the reigning king of Tumblr; JohnLock is one of the most popular non-canon ships in fandom and wool trench coats have made a very serious come back. In the intervening two years, fans have become their very own "Empty Hearse" club, trying to piece together how Sherlock faked his death and, perhaps more importantly, how John Watson would react when Sherlock inevitably came back. In the first episode of the third season, "The Empty Hearse," the next villain is teased, cases are rapidly solved, and John and Sherlock try to reconnect after Sherlock reveals himself to be very much alive. 

Who is Sherlock Holmes without John Watson? It's almost a nonsensical question; the two go together like peanut butter and jelly. They just make more sense combined. For two years, Sherlock has been traveling the globe dismantling Moriarty's criminal network, one by one. In that time only his brother Mycroft, his parents, and coroner Molly Hooper knew that Sherlock was alive. Poor John Watson has been living under a dark cloud of having lost his very best friend, his other half. It has been incredibly hard for John; he has been avoiding former landlady Mrs. Hudson, avoiding 221B Baker Street and has grown a rather sad looking mustache. However, Sherlock doesn't quite "get" this struggling. It never really occurs to him that he hurt John deeply when he jumped to his death two years ago. Sherlock assumes he can just show up at dinner and have John embrace him with open arms and the two can go back to their lives--solving crimes, blogging Sherlock's life, and living their life together. What Sherlock doesn't count on is John's outrage at being lied to.

The reunion between the two was perfect, really spot on. It combined everything I love about the show: it was intricate and fast paced, wonderfully acted, heartbreaking and funny at the same time. Watching Sherlock move through the restaurant, swindling people out of their ties, eyeliner, and menus was a classic Sherlock move. I had to shake my head in amusement that Sherlock thought the best way to reunite with John was with a fake mustache and funny French accent. As Sherlock admits later, he really knows nothing of human nature. And of course, John is in the middle of trying to propose to Mary Cooper, the woman who put him back together after Sherlock left. When the deception is finally lifted, the raw hurt on John's face was devastating. Last season, John stood at Sherlock's grave and begged his best friend for a miracle, to be alive again. And just when John thought he could move on, Sherlock is back in his life. I have to give props to Martin Freeman who has always done John Watson justice but in this episode he really brought the dichotomy of being joyful and hurt at Sherlock's reappearance. Of course the reunion does not go as planned and Sherlock and John proceed to get into a fist fight...three times.

Does it matter how Sherlock faked his death? It's one of the big questions of the episode. I have to wonder if even Moffat and Gatiss know. The episode ran through several scenarios before we got what is probably the answer but left ambiguous enough to make fans crazy. I have to admit, my favorite was that Moriarty and Sherlock were in it together, as lovers. What a nice nod to the internet culture fandom--the Sherlockians--from which several ships have emerged. The short version of "how Sherlock did it" is this: it was an intricate plan that involved a bouncy blue air bag, a corpse, the homeless network, and precision timing. I figured it was something along those lines, though I did not expect a giant blue air bag. However, as Anderson points out, even this story has it flaws and therefore we are left to question whether or not that is how it really happened. The main drive of this episode isn't the "how" or even the "why"--the first is complicated and the second is simple, Sherlock had a mission and couldn't trust John not to say anything. The main drive is how the "why" impacted John and by extension the friendship between the two men. And I think that is what hurts John the most. His best friend, his roommate, his--for wont of a better word--soulmate didn't trust him to tell him that he was not really dead. There are consequences to every action and perhaps Sherlock's consequence is that he looses John.

There is a main crime plot to this episode--a plan to blow up Parliament on Guy Fawkes day--but the drive of the episode is really how John and Sherlock manage to come back together, as we know they must. Apart they make no sense, but together they are extraordinary. It's amazing that the writers kept them apart for most of the episode. Sherlock reopens his business of solving the crimes no one else can, but he is obviously bored without John. He tries to bring Molly along but can't stop hearing John in his head. Molly, despite being adorable and totally in love with Sherlock, can't replace John. And John, watching the clock tick by, deals with patients who have easily solvable medical problems. There is no thrill, no chase. Both of them are bored stiff, especially now that they have been tenuously reunited. Sherlock gave John the rush he craves and John gave Sherlock a sense of belonging. John is more or less forced back into Sherlock's life when he is kidnapped and almost set ablaze. Always in danger are people forced to examine their relationships and forgive. So of course John and Sherlock end up in an underground tube station with a bomb.

The crime plot of this episode was fascinating and fast paced and complicated as all Sherlock plots are and while I have no desire to linger on it for too long, the real meat is in John and Sherlock's interactions, the basic of the plot involve a missing tube carriage, a lot of explosives, and a session of Parliament. John and Sherlock end up alone on the carriage with a ticking bomb and no way out. And there in the final moments before the explosion, Sherlock asks John for his forgiveness--he deeply repents all the pain he has caused John. John is suspicious, as he should be, that his is a trick of Sherlock's to get John to forgive him but the moment still feels real, even though I suspected it was a trick. It doesn't matter what Sherlock did, John loves him and forgives him in the end. Of course, it's a trick and Sherlock turned off the bomb but played it up to make John forgive him. It's a total Sherlock move the only way Sherlock knows how to ask for forgiveness because he is incapable of just coming out and asking, but at least the two are back on speaking terms. The end of the episode has one final touching moment between the two where Sherlock tells John he heard him at the gravestone. And now it's time to move forward; after all, someone out there tried to kill John and Sherlock doesn't like not knowing who.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Empty Hearse

--There was a lot going on this episode that I didn't talk about because the real focus was John and Sherlock. For example: there were several smaller cases that got solved, we met Sherlock and Mycroft's parents, Molly is engaged to an obvious Sherlock look alike.

--John is now engaged to Mary, but I'm not sure if it'll last. In the original books, Mary dies and I suspect that she may not be who she says here. She solved that text code awful fast for a receptionist/nurse. Could she be a spy?

--The villain is Magnussen, if case no one knew. Moriarty may be Sherlock's arch enemy, but Magnussen is the man he hates most. I look forward to see how this plays out

--Have to give a lot of credit to Mark Gatiss who was pulling double duty this episode (he does it a lot come to think of it). He crafted an almost perfect script and was busy playing Mycroft. The scenes between Mycroft and Sherlock, in which they "play" deductions and discuss loneliness, were pitch perfect. Mycroft doesn't know what it means to be lonely because he's never had a friend but Sherlock did and now he's lonely, missing John.

--Thank God John shaved that mustache; it was pretty horrible.

--Lestrade hugged Sherlock. Adorable. 

--I really wanted a JohnLock hug! Hopefully before the end of the season we get one.

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