Sherlock S3E1 The Empty Hearse - Advance Spoiler-free Review Sherlockabilia Shop Now Open

Sherlock S3E1 The Empty Hearse - Advance Spoiler-free Review * 15 December 2013

Sherlock Cast

First things first.

We're not going to tell you how he survived The Fall.

Rest assured, you find out.

Will you be satisfied? Yes. We think you will.

With that, the most critical and anticipated element of the entire episode out of the way, we can begin properly. Making a triumphant return, this is an unusual episode of Sherlock, different from anything that has come before. The emphasis is focused not so much on an actual dedicated case - though that bubbles along nicely all the same and will also be described in zero detail here - but the emotional fallout that follows the return of a best friend from the dead. Indeed, the episode could be alternatively titled 'The Long Reunion', with the simple themes of the need for forgiveness and regaining someone's trust running tightly throughout the entire duration.

That may sound heavy duty material, but in truth it really isn't. The Empty Hearse is infused with uproarious comedy, wicked and knowing writing, huge surprises, lovely in-jokes and thrilling action, all while taking us to places in London we haven't been before onscreen in the series. But it is also hugely concerned with the instant that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson come face to face with each other again, and in that singular spine chilling moment, a scene that effortlessly shifts tone in seconds thanks to the sterling performances of the two leading actors, it certainly does not disappoint. It's the moment that drives everything afterwards in the episode, a push for emotional realism that was maybe lacking in Conan Doyle's original prose, and thus the focus is fixed purely on the characters and their reaction to the return of Sherlock Holmes into a world that has moved on without him.

Sherlock _series _3_0

It goes without saying the performances that back all this material up are brilliant. Benedict Cumberbatch begins much as you expect him to be, but ends up bringing a new degree of softness to his Sherlock once the severity of what he has done truly hits home. Martin Freeman infuses an expanded element of hurt to his John - though that in turn is ably countered by the warmth of the performance of Amanda Abbington as Mary Morstan, sliding quite effortlessly into the ensemble and the lives of the two main characters. Mary doesn't interfere or detract from the dynamic of Sherlock and John at all in this opening instalment, understanding instantly both how important the detective was/is to the damaged man she has fallen for, and gaining the respect of Holmes with little difficulty. If anything she adds a new wrinkle to the series, giving it an additional layer of forward momentum that will surely take us to some interesting places in the next two episodes. And avoiding explicit specifics, the supporting characters are given plenty to do here. A more proactive Mycroft from Mark Gatiss - displaying a great degree of verbal fencing with his younger brother in one stand out scene that harks back to a conversation from series past; a hugely expanded amount of screen time for Louise Brealey's Molly; some choice language for Rupert Graves' Lestrade; an initially flinty heart that cracks into radiant warmth from Una Stubbs' Mrs Hudson; and an altogether surprising role for Jonathan Aris' Anderson.   

This is also a visually resplendent and exciting episode to look at, Jeremy Lovering delivering direction that is simultaneously hugely cinematic and very intimate. The human moments shine clearly through next to astounding visual effect shots that would not look out of place in a major motion picture. David Arnold and Michael Price's score is blown to new proportions, the orchestrations lending the use of the main title theme in the episode an epic quality that we haven't heard before, alongside some exciting new material that will doubtless be developed as the series progresses. And as we've probably already made clear, Mark Gatiss' writing here is beyond clever, setting out to both fulfil and defy expectations in the way events unfold and how elements of canon are deployed. As always, never think you know how things will occur as you've read the original stories.

Sherlock was never a series that needed reinventing, but it is a series that is constantly pushing itself into new directions of its own accord. With The Empty Hearse, the dynamics are the same but different, a two faced coin that merrily keeps spinning throughout the duration without dropping either way. The chance for hand-over-mouth moments is high, the likelihood of huge laughs even moreso.  But the greatest thing that can be said is that Sherlock is back. How he has come to be so is perhaps unimportant come the close, but there are two words that were never truer come the conclusion of this brilliant, surprising first episode of Series Three.

Sherlock Lives.