Sherlock 3×01 Review: The Empty Hearse
For two years us Sherlock fans have been waiting for our beloved characters to return. We’ve absorbed all the bits of information from the set, clung to the creators’ every word, and grown extraordinarily excited over the few seconds of footage fed to us by the BBC. Two years is a long time for hype to build over a show and the showrunners added to that fanfare with their rather unique way of announcing the premiere date at the end of November. What we were rewarded with after the long and grueling hiatus was an episode filled with emotional character reunions, an alarming amount of nods to fandom, and plot points both predictable and unexpected alike.
The episode starts with a giant amount of trolling from the writers. We’re immediately given a theory about how Sherlock survived the fall, but the ridiculousness continues to build until it’s revealed that it’s just a theory by none other than Anderson. In the mini episode Many Happy Returns we learned that Anderson has spent the past two years obsessing over Sherlock and the continued outlandish theories only further drive that point home. Later on in the episode it’s even revealed that he’s the head of some sort of Sherlock conspiracy theory club. Of all the characters on the show, Anderson seems to be the one most like us during the hiatus. This is in stark contrast to how most of fandom felt over the first two seasons where he was almost universally hated. Two years is a long time, though, and he seems to have felt the same frustration as we did over the years and evolved as a result.
The true emotional punch to the gut came with all the introductory scenes involving John. We learn that he’s returned to Baker Street for the first time in two years, the flat clearly being too much of a reminder of what he lost when Sherlock fell. He informs Mrs. Hudson that he’s “moved on,” which she interprets as him having found a new boyfriend. The jokes about everyone mistaking John and Sherlock as a couple continue into season three, it seems. It’s been a running gag since the pilot. Some may view the gag as a playful nod towards shippers while others may see it as queerbaiting, but either way it’s a part of the narrative and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Alas, John does not have a new boyfriend, but rather a girlfriend named Mary played by Amanda Abbington. Mary is a character from the books so we once more have a tie in to the source material.
Abbington was truly a shining point of the entire episode. For those of you who don’t know who she is, Abbington is Martin Freeman’s real life partner and mother of his children. Abbington and Freeman make a beautiful real life couple and that chemistry bleeds over to John and Mary quite easily. They didn’t have too many scenes together in the episode, but I bought them as a couple almost immediately. They have an ease around each other that can easily be attributed to them being real life partners. John plans on proposing to her and fully moving on from his life with Sherlock very early in the episode, which immediately sets up just how much things have changed in John’s life. Before John can fully finish his romantic gesture, though, Sherlock appears as a waiter at the table with an incredibly thinly veiled disguise and mucks up his plans. The scene played out like one I’d read in fanfiction dozens of times. That’s not exactly a bad thing, but I was surprised that fanfiction seems to have gotten so many details of the encounter so right all the way down to John punching him in the face. It felt like a natural response, I suppose, so they couldn’t exactly leave such a visceral reaction out of the script.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington play off each other other remarkably well, too. Mary likes Sherlock right off the bat, but later in the episode when they team up together to rescue John we really get to see how they work as a team. They both care for John very much, which automatically gives them something in common. They make a surprisingly good duo as they race to the bonfire to rescue John from certain death. Another part of the scene that I very much enjoyed was that it was John who played our damsel in distress, not Mary, which is a nice way to go against conventional expectations. Whether Mary will be put in the line of fire in future episodes is unknown to me, but it’s great to set her up as a strong woman capable of doing the rescuing before they flip in and put her in place of needing to be rescued herself. While I have been paying attention to spoilers, I don’t know what’s in store for Mary beyond what is in the original ACD canon. Her set up was very satisfying, though, and I’m excited to see what comes next for her.
Molly also played a large part in the episode, which was a pleasant surprise. In Anderson’s first theory Sherlock kisses her, which caused a huge ripple through fandom, eliciting loud reactions both positive and negative all across social media. Outside of that fantasy, however, she becomes Sherlock’s partner for much of the episode essentially taking John’s place. Like Anderson, Molly becomes somewhat of an audience surrogate during these scenes. She’s very much infatuated with Sherlock and when he accidentally refers to her as “John” it cuts deeply. I have a lot of sympathy for Molly in regards to her feelings for Sherlock. Being infatuated with unobtainable people is sort of a fangirl’s signature state of being and it causes a bit of pain that the only romantic moment she is likely to have with him is in Anderson’s fake theory fantasy.
One point of contention that I have is the difference between the way that Molly and Sherlock’s fantasy kissing sequence was handled versus the way that Sherlock’s fantasy kissing scene with Moriarty was displayed. Both are essentially set up the same. They are part of two rather outlandish theory sequences that are clearly rooted in fantasy, but the heterosexual kiss stays while the homosexual scene cuts out moments before it has a chance to escalate. This seems to state that homosexuality is still taboo, which is something I had truly hoped we’d moved past by now. The BBC has been incredibly progressive with it’s representation for the queer community, and yet here they seemed to have taken a step backwards. What’s even more strange is that this episode was written by Mark Gatiss, a gay man, so I’m not entirely sure why the scene was cut short like it was. This isn’t even something that I personally ship, but the difference in treatment between the two fantasies definitely stood out.
Near the end we get yet another explanation for how he “did it.” Once again fandom got many things right with their theorizing. The rubber ball came into play, which many suspected it would, but so did a bouncy castle which sort of came out of left field. Sherlock reveals all of it to Anderson in a taped confession, but soon Anderson begins to question the little details of the whole ordeal and we are left questioning if we’ve actually been told the truth about his fall or not. The fact that John asks him at the end to tell him how he did it and we’re left hanging makes me doubt that we got the truth this time. As Anderson so aptly pointed out, he wouldn’t exactly be telling Anderson such a large secret before anyone else. The long stream of fake theories throughout the entire episode is truly master trolling and I want to both tip my hat for a gag well played and threaten the writers with bodily harm for stringing us along.
The episode was mostly satisfying, though the trolling about how he did it was a constant source of frustration. I feel like with the amount of hype that has been building over the years regarding this episode it’s very hard to live up to everyone’s expectations, but the episode comes close enough to perfection that it ultimately left me pleased. The series has a lot to live up to and a very short time to meet those extraordinarily high expectations. We’re already a third of the way through the season and only have 11 more days until another (most likely) extremely long hiatus begins. I truly hope they keep the momentum going and deliver what the fandom has been craving since 2011.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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12 thoughts on “Sherlock 3×01 Review: The Empty Hearse”
I found Mary interesting. She didn’t really do that much. Yet there was A LOT pointing that she’s not as perfect and lovely as we all want to believe. I did appreciate that she wasn’t an interference like they have been painting her for the past 2 months. But I’m still wary. She may be a canon character but she is carrying a very old trope with her as well. the “oh no, male leads are two close, quick bring in a woman to reestablish heterosexual intentions”. and that has me a bit peeved.
YESSS the queephobia was clear between the kissing scenes. Very disappointing.
Also the more gay jokes, was also upsetting. As its still heavily implied that our lovely John is not exactly straight either. However they also gave Sherlock a metaphorical “i’m not straight moment”. When he thought the train guy was talking about his “girlfriend”, Sherlock was quite appalled with the idea and was very quick to correct the man. And I’ll be honest, I cheered at that moment and it did feel like a small queer victory.
I’m still very wary of Mary though. I don’t trust her for numerous reason, but we’ll have to see. I can’t lie, I do hope its just an arc. As I don’t want to see the true core of the show veer off course for too long.
but other than that…I liked the episode. I think it was a little too heavy on the comedy. but thats forgivable.
I agree about being wary of Mary. On Tumblr it’s been pointed out that when Sherlock “reads” her the words “liar” show up on the screen multiple times. So does “disillusioned.” I don’t want to see her become a villain. I don’t want to see her become a damsel in distress either, but at least they didn’t introduce her as such. I see lots of potential to get her character right, still respect the (forgive me for borrowing the term from another fandom) profound bond between John and Sherlock, and having another strong female character that is more central to plot elements than Molly has been in the past. Of course putting Molly more front in center is also nice. It’s great to have a female energy central to the plot.
I haven’t taken a stance on whether to apply the term “queer baiting” to Sherlock yet. I feel like they are giving so many nods to a relationship between them and have been since the pilot, but that’s not a term I use lightly. It took me along time to finally apply it to Supernatural. I was a bit behind on the curve there. But I do feel like there was a lot more non-heterosexual nods in this episode than there usually are in a per episode basis and half of me was happy about it and the other half is worried they are going to offend people who do view it as queer baiting. It’s a tricky issue to navigate.
Well who exactly get to decide its queer baiting? Straight people? or queer fans? Might not be as tricky as you think. If queer fans feel baited…then they probably are being so.
I wouldn’t mind Mary being a villain. That would be an awesome plot twist and would allow her to still be a very strong character. Especially if she’s bringing men to their knees. Damsel in distress, less likable. But…her fate could serve very good for plot, story, and character development. So It wouldn’t be that bad in those terms.
Molly. I loved the new friendship developing between her and Sherlock. And I’m glad they cut of that romantic tension. But yeah…if they can keep the new female energy interesting and not just for balancing out the sexuality of the series, then i am all for it.
I mean. I have to disagree with you. I am a queer fan, and I feel terribly baited by this series. And to have people tell me I’m not…only proves the queerphobia that sort of surrounds the show and the fandom. People tend to just ignore it. But its definitely there.
Oh yeah. The “bond” between John and Sherlock surpasses friendship. And thats not even from a shipping point of view. That is me as a viewer going, “Okay…there is more there than what they tell us.” And that is clear enough in this episode. But then they use gay jokes to sort of refute that…and thats where the baiting comes into play. They give the nods, plenty of them. Then use “I’m not gay” to snatch it away and mock the people who taken in by that bait.
it is a very tricky issues, but mainly because the wrong people are the ones addressing it, instead of the people actually being affected by it. They are dismissed by the unaffected.
I consider myself part of the queer community (pansexual) so I’m on the same page with you. I just like to let episodes sit with me for a bit before using “queer baiting” as it’s such an explosive word in fandom. My Tumblr dash has been arguing about it all day, though, and I’m essentially reading what others have to say, absorbing it, and considering it carefully. I definitely will not tell you that you can’t apply the term to it, though. Plenty of people are. It’s absolutely valid to do so. I think writing reviews that get seen by so many people has made me more cautious about the language I use. Perhaps by the second or third episode I may have arrived at a decision on using the term.
You have a point about Mary being a villain. They did that with Irene Adler on Elementary and, dare I say, I loved her even MORE when she became a villain. I think the main reason I worry about it is because John has been through so much already losing Sherlock, then having him come back in the way that he did. I’m getting kind of mama bear about his poor feelings right now.
Nope, I agree. I saw signs of queer baiting in this episode. But its too soon to toss the label on the whole series yet. The Sign of Three will be VERY telling in this area. So we’ll have to wait and see.
As long as your caution isn’t equalling out to censorship of the truth, then i see no issues there. ITs just matter of priority. Do we validate the people who need to be, or appease the masses and ignore a legitimate issue within the show?
I totally get what you say about John. He’s definitely the victim a lot. But I would like to see how his character would develop if Mary were to die or betray him. Its such an untapped reservoir of development. Not to mention (non-shipping) the development that could grown between Sherlock and John after being rifted.
As much as I love John. He is my baby. I don’t mind him being hurt for the sake of his character growing and getting where we know our canon Watson. We grown from pain. But I understand. I just hope whatever they do with Mary, that its good and emotional. If she is going to depart, which is likely…at least make it really really good. Make it worth it.
Agreed on all points 🙂
I have extremely mixed feelings about this episode and if anything, it just strengthened my belief that this should be the last season of Sherlock. The hiatus is way too long for a show to withstand and with the recent overexposure of it’s stars, I can’t help but feel that the show is going to (if it hasn’t already) buckle under its own weight.
In terms of the episode itself, the mystery was blah. It wasn’t strong or compelling enough and to be honest, I like my Sherlock Holmes like he is in the stories: solving crimes and curiosities and then returning to his study in front of the fire. This episode felt rather all over the place and as if it was trying to accomplish so much more than necessary.
The humor was fun and it is nice to see that the writers have seemingly woken up to the fact that audiences are exhausted by the token white genius whose rudeness is excused by his cleverness. This Sherlock seems to have finally grown up.
Mary seems fun but we’ll see how long it lasts. Molly was cute but still problematic and depressing. Donovan was nowhere to be seen. Like I stated earlier, I was so excited to see the return of Anthea who I always felt should’ve been a more central character. We literally haven’t seen her since 2010. I don’t think she deserved that.
Other than that, the highlight of the episode was FINALLY meeting Sherlock’s parents and discovering that all the fan casting was terribly inaccurate: they’re a boring old ordinary couple. I love that idea. Since we know nothing about Sherlock’s parents from the Arthur Conan Doyle canon except that he has French lineage and several artists in his family, I found this terribly amusing and sweet.
I’ve always found Sherlock to have an extremely problematic relationship with queerness. Aside from the queerbaiting, it always felt that this show has absolutely no idea how to deal with queer characters. Irene was a lesbian BUT NOT REALLY BECAUSE SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH SHERLOCK. Sherlock is seemingly asexual BUT WHO KNOWS HE’S JUST AUTISTIC (this show’s relationship with autism and other disorders is ANOTHER issue entirely) etc. The Moriarty/Sherlock kiss was funny in the sense that it threw the potential fetishizing of queer relationships back into the face of fandom but like you mentioned, it cut away. That was so odd and troubling.
Anyway, I’m talking a great deal about a show that I don’t even really love anymore. To be frank, I’m more excited to watch Elementary tomorrow.
Talking a great deal about shows you have issues with is always welcome here, though I understand if it doesn’t feel like it’s worth the time anymore.
The line from Irene Adler always rubbed me the wrong way. I rationalize it and make it ok in my head by saying that she’s a lesbian, John is heterosexual, but they are both romantically attracted to Sherlock who I view as an asexual being. It separates sexuality from romance and that’s the only way I can take a lesbian being infatuated with a man as even remotely ok. It also validates my John/Sherlock within canon at the same time.
This is a spoiler free bit of speculation, but I have a strong suspicion that Mary is going to die. I hope that ACD canon isn’t considered a spoiler, but if it is look away now…. ***ACD SPOILER*** Mary dies in the books. The fact that the last episode is called “His Last Vow” and the last vow in a wedding speech is “til death do us part” just makes me feel uneasy. If she does follow the path of ACD Canon Mary I hope she goes out fighting and doesn’t end up as a woman in a refrigerator. That would be a disgrace to do that to a character that they’ve introduced as extremely capable already.
I agree that the long hiatuses are going to kill the show. The expectations are so high and I feel like it fell a little under the bar set for it. I didn’t even mention the mystery at all in my review because I wasn’t very engaged by it. I was far more engaged by the characters interactions than the “mystery.” I don’t know if the fandom can keep sane for another two years. We’ve picked apart the first 6 episodes so much already and now spending 2 years picking apart the next 3 is just going to lead to madness. I think the show may be contracted for a 4th season already (I have no source for this, so please take it as rumor and not fact) so I don’t believe this is the last season just yet though. I hope they shorten the hiatus. We really can’t continue like this. Too little material with too much gap in between.
Hahaha…i knew they wouldn’t give away the ‘how he survived’ right in the 1st ep, without having some fun with us, which they did, more than once
Okay so Mary was introduced…which we knew would happen…really liked her, and nope don’t want her to die or something…would be great if she becomes a villain, like the Moriarty in Elementary or something similar if the writers want to end John getting married, etc….and then she can die, as a villain….Would really like to have a female character in there. Molly is there but she’s just not ‘there’.
I was expecting Moriaty and Sherlock to kiss…but oh well…it’s TV….wouldn’t be considered a ‘joke’ if a kiss really happened…as far as i know…and enough with the gay jokes already, not that i didn’t like them, but come on, it’s 2014 now, in London….yes people might think of them as a couple because they are accepting…but i don’t think all accepting people immediately think two guys are a couple if they care way too much for each other….(i really don’t know how to convey this right…oh well ^^
Was it just me or Sherlock bro came off as gay more than he did in the past episodes…i don’t know, i just thought he might be….as for queerbaiting…haven’t the writers said that nothing will happen between those two…as far as i know, when two characters are said to not be in such a relationship, but such scenes still happen (for jokes or whatever reason), i don’t take it as queer baiting…it could be something else, but not queerbaiting for me….queerbaiting for me, would be two characters having such ‘shippy’ scenes (joke/nods to fandom, or whatever) but the writers joke around, deflect, etc questions about the characters ever getting together and say ‘maybe’ or something similar…*cough* Sterek *cough*
as for the mystery in the episode….nope, not that compelling…however, i have hopes for future episodes as they showed a man watching Sherlock and Mary saving John on many screens
The actor who plays Mycroft (who is also the showrunner and writer, by the way) is gay so if you pick up a gay “vibe” from him that could be why. If you’re talking textual content, though, that could be a whole different story. I’ve always read Mycroft as either homosexual or asexual like his brother. But I tend to apply queer readings to characters left and right anyway, ha.
The “queerbaiting” term is something I still haven’t confidently put my foot down on. They’ve been teasing John and Sherlock since even the unaired pilot (which was even more gay than the pilot that aired, honestly) and I really don’t think they’d ever actually put their relationship on screen. To many that is the very definition of queer baiting. For others it’s just a nod towards shippers. I don’t know. Need to do more thinking. Hopefully the second episode will provide more textual content to help me make a decision one way or the other. I’m leaning queer baiting at the moment.
The problem is that many creatives who use queerbaiting tactics claim that they’re doing “fan service” as an excuse and cover up. Then of course, the gay or slash fans who complain are told that they should “appreciate” that the writers thought of them.
If it’s straight characters, there’s no follow through and a large portion of queer fans and straight fans aren’t enjoying the constant “no homo” reminders confusingly mixed with winks and nods, then it’s definitely not for the fans… it’s queerbaiting.
An example of nodding to gay and slash fans in a positive way, and not mocking them, would be if Sherlock’s creatives had never used ANY queerbaiting tactics through the show’s entire run and then offered up the Moriarty and Sherlock moment.
An example of a characterization that isn’t necessarily queerbaiting: A character in the show keeps thinking Sherlock and John are gay, BUT no one else thinks it and there are no moments or scenes that the audience can misinterpret as will “they/won’t they?”.
It took me eight seasons to see and accept Supernatural’s creatives were definitely queerbaiting fans, but it was evident to me after the very first series of Sherlock. What disturbs me most about Sherlock is the sheer amount of backlash fans got from Sherlock’s creatives and the actors as a result of their questioning the winks and nods. I’m also very disturbed by the recent cutaway.
I don’t believe that because a writer is gay, he/she should be allowed to use queerbaiting as humor. It’s not funny. Worse yet, it undermines legitimate moments portrayed by gay characters in stories. Whether a writer is gay or straight, he/she should never use queerbaiting tactics.
Excellent points. After the large amount of discussion on this I’m definitely leaning heavily towards the “they are queerbaiting” side of things. It took me until about the beginning of season 9 to accept that Supernatural was queerbaiting. I even wrote an article mid season 8 claiming that they weren’t. I’ve since gone back and edited a note into the article stating that my opinion has changed, but I left the article up in it’s entirety.
Unfortunately I feel like we as fans are going to have far less impact on this particular show. Firstly, Supernatural tends to have 22-23 episode seasons and when they screw up the first part of the season fans can launch campaigns to alert the writers that we’re upset about things. That’s how Castiel most likely came back at the end of season 7 (I’m very proud to have been on the ground floor of the #SaveCastiel campaign). With this there are only 3 episodes and they are already written and shot. There’s nothing we can do for this season. For future seasons? Who knows. But considering the giant 2 year gaps between seasons I feel like putting any sort of pressure on them could make them walk away in frustration. But for some fans that might be a good thing. Personally, I DO want a season 4. I just want them to stop upsetting queer fans and disrespecting shippers like this.
Thanks so much for you input on this. I’m enjoying the discussion.
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