Sherlock Sunday: The Empty Hearse by Mark Gatiss: The [Dickhead] Protagonist

enhanced-buzz-1226-1386180209-5 The topic for today is The Dickhead Protagonist. The Dickhead Protagonist is without charm or wit, so there’s nothing to alleviate the cruelty and selfishness of what he does. The Dickhead is so convinced of his own worth and so consumed by his own amusement that he fails to see the emotional damage he inflicts on those around him; his lack of empathy only handicaps him further. The Dickhead is usually committed by writers who have fallen in love with their protagonists and can’t see his flaws, just as a fawning mother will excuse any atrocity her little snowflake commits. Nothing can destroy a story faster than a Dickhead Protagonist (applies to both genders) although a fragmented, unfocused plot that exists merely to showcase how clever the Dickhead is runs a close second. And now, let us examine “The Empty Hearse.” In this episode, the writer has taken one of the most appealing protagonists of all time and emphasized his weaknesses while eliminating his strengths to create A Fathead of Epic Proportions, a man we cheer to see hit repeatedly by his best friend. But the worst of the failings here is the abysmal story structure. Of approximately eight-five minutes of story, about twenty are given to the underground bomber plot, the only mystery in the episode. Okay, fine, so maybe the bomb plot is a subplot. Then what’s the main plot? It’s evidently got to do something with Sherlock’s sadistic sense of humor because that’s what keeps cropping up. This is one of the most mean-spirited stories I’ve ever watched. The first three minutes is a Gotcha, fooling the reader into thinking that it’s the real explanation only to reveal at the end that it’s Anderson’s latest theory and not what really happened. I’m assuming this is supposed to be funny, the writer putting one over on us, but really? Just annoying. The next four minute are the capture and torture of Sherlock by the last of Moriarty’s people, at the end of which an equally sadistic Mycroft tells Sherlock he’s needed back home because an underground terrorist group is going to blow up London. Why we had to watch Sherlock be tortured is unclear; the information needed about the plot is elaborated on later in Mycroft’s office, so this is a complete waste of story real estate. Then eight minutes of back story info dump of Sherlock and Mycroft telling each things and John and Mrs. Hudson catching up, followed by eleven minutes of John hitting Sherlock, followed by thirty seconds of Sherlock telling Molly and Lestrade he’s back, followed by another Gotcha, this time a fan explanation that ends with the news that Sherlock is back made public. Then a bunch of vignettes of Sherlock muttering at maps and John and Mary working at his office, followed by Sherlock and Mycroft CHATTING while they play Operation. At this point, I was so confused and so bitter about being yanked around, that if this had been the pilot for the series, I’d have left. Thirty-seven minutes in, there’s a plot to blow up London, and Mycroft is saying, “I’m not lonely.” WTF? That’s followed by nine minutes of Sherlock and Molly doing miscellaneous detection, finishing up with the videos of the trains which is FINALLY the bomb plot, the ONLY plot in this episode so far. So forty-six minutes in, half way through the story, and we know there’s a terrorist group planning to bomb London, something we knew at the four-minute mark. Look, I know they had a lot to set up here, all of Sherlock’s homecoming stuff, but they could have cut about thirty-five minutes of the sadistic jokes, info dump, and miscellany and made his homecoming part of his attempts to solve the bomb plot. As it is, this was forty minute wasted on the writer being clever and Sherlock being a dick. This isn’t Sherlock reverting to who he was in the pilot episode, that Sherlock was detached, but he had dignity. He didn’t play sadistic jokes and he wasn’t this overtly arrogant. He was QUIETLY arrogant. This Sherlock is blowhard, a clown, unpleasant to watch, all of which is clearly demonstrated in the forty minutes of unnecessary garbage they front loaded this episode with. Then forty-six minutes in, John gets kidnapped. Why? Damned if I know. I can’t see any way that it interacted with the bomb plot. Was it supposed to distract Sherlock from defusing the bomb? Then why plan it early enough that he can do both? But Sherlock and Mary rush to the scene on a motorcycle and save John the Victim, who deserves better. Nine minutes later we meet Sherlock’s parents, who are very normal boring people, and I don’t believe it. Nice chatty people like that would not have raised two emotionally damaged sociopaths like Mycroft and Sherlock. It makes no sense. But, hey, it’s a JOKE!. Then John asks Sherlock why he was kidnapped, and Sherlock says, “I don’t know,” but then BAZINGA he suddenly understands that “underground terrorist attack” means that terrorists are going to attack the underground! And it’s only taken our genius detective ONE HOUR to figure that out. Two-thirds of the show. During the next sixteen minutes, they spring into action, running through a lot of subway tunnels (you can tell Gatiss wrote this), finding the bomb which Sherlock cannot defuse, so John, at the point of death, tells Sherlock that he was the best and finest man John’s ever known and then shuts his eyes waiting for death. At which point we switch to Sherlock explaining to Anderson how he faked his death. Because we’re really going to worry that the two leads in this show might possibly be blown up. Sherlock explains for two minutes and then spends another minute breaking Anderson down before he tells him that’s not how he did it and leaves. Back in the subway, Sherlock switches the bomb to “off” and laughs at John’s pain. Because he’s a dickhead. Also, now I hate him. Moran gets arrested. Back at the flat, everybody’s celebrating when Molly brings in her new man who looks a lot like Sherlock; significant looks are exchanged, snickers are smothered, general asshattery reigns as Molly says, “I’ve moved on,” clearly not having moved on. Because that’s a JOKE. Then we get thirty seconds of the Big Bad watching multiple screens which tells us nothing. The End. I outlined this whole episode and I still don’t know what the hell they were going after. It’s a complete mess, an indulgent morass of sadistic jokes, gotchas, scenes of people running, chat, and torture, glued to about twenty minutes of actual plot. This is why I don’t deliberately choose bad writing for us to watch. Everything you could learn from this you already know: establish your main plot clearly, anchor it with a strong antagonist, and don’t make your protagonist a dick. I think much of my outrage at what has been done to this character stems from the deep love I had for him after the second season. Irene had made him vulnerable, Moriarty had shown him capable of sacrifice for the people he loved, and now this episode shows that none of that stuck and that he has, in fact, become worse than he was in the first episode of season one, where he was at least not intentionally cruel to people. They murdered my Sherlock and brought back an imposter from the grave. Next week: The Dickhead Goes to a Wedding

58 thoughts on “Sherlock Sunday: The Empty Hearse by Mark Gatiss: The [Dickhead] Protagonist

  1. It was a tad annoying, but they got away with it as far as I was concerned because I laughed a lot. But yes, definite backtracking on Sherlock’s character arc.

  2. I agree with everything you pointed out. And the picture above is perfect for Protagonist as dick.

    I’ve read somewhere on the net that Gatiss (or Moffat) said that this is not a detective show—it’s a show about a detective. So my thinking is maybe this is Sherlock unplugged and unleashed in his world. Unrestrained. And he’s acting like a third grader playing pranks on his friend John. Very bad grown-up pranks, but to Sherlock’s underdeveloped Id he thinks it’s all funny and why isn’t John laughing. Maybe there’s a good reason he usually keeps himself quietly arrogant. Hey, I’m just trying to make sense of it all.

    1. That’s what Moffat did to the Doctor, too. It’s no longer a show about the wonders of the universe that the Doctor finds, it’s a show about the Doctor. HUGE MISTAKE for both series.

      And really, Sherlock Holmes is not a detective story? They must be drunk.

      1. I’m not sure Moffat is very good at writing genre consistently. This is how Doctor Who ends up with “timey wimey” in a sci-fi show. “Coupling” was Moffat’s consistently best work, because it didn’t require him to develop or maintain an intellectually or morally just universe for his characters to inhabit.

  3. I was so aggravated with this episode, that I downloaded and watched the interviews with Gattis and Moffat where they’re talking about the new season and why they did what they did. And the biggest takeaway I got from that interview was that they had heard so many fan postulations on how Sherlock had managed to fake his suicide that they thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny” if they could work several of those into the storyline. And that’s it. that’s their reason for going completely off point and turning their protagonist into a complete wanker.

    I think (and this is not clearly explained in the script) that they intended to show that Sherlock had spent two years chasing down Moriarty’s people and since they weren’t all captured, John, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson were continually in danger–hence the not telling them that he’s alive. They have to appear to be mourning or acting clearly as if they believe he’s dead (because, presumably, they’re the only ones Moriarty–and thus, his people–believed were important to Sherlock). All of which would have AT LEAST made the two year absence and the fact that he didn’t let them know be understandable and of use to the storyline. I think, if they’d been clearer about that, we wouldn’t have viewed everything else with such distaste. [It would still all be a hot mess, but at least there would have been some motivation on Sherlock’s part that would have made him less of a Dickhead.]

    Benedict Cumberbatch, in his interview, makes this sort of subtle statement about how Sherlock has regressed these past two years without John’s influence, which went to show how much he needed John. To which: DUH.

    I never did figure out why John was kidnapped, either, so I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. I re-watched it, thinking I’d just missed the clues, but nope. (And really, how did they get him INTO that stupid pile for the bonfire anyway? I thought, at first, that he was disguised (drugged, being very still) as the scarecrow thing on the top, and then quickly realized that no, that’s not him, he’s buried underneath. So… the bad guy kidnapped him and managed to squirrel him into that giant pile of debris… because everyone who built the debris took a water break at just the right moment, so that he could cart John’s body across a clearing, during daylight, shove him into the pile and then they all happened to come back and keep piling up more stuff around… careful to not pile it too much on the body lying there so that later, Sherlock could miraculously pull him out.

    I don’t know what drugs Gatiss was doing while writing this. I hope he at least got high before he completely effed over the entire fandom, and the characters’ intelligence and humanity.

    1. I hadn’t thought about that. How the hell did they get him into that bonfire?
      As for “We can’t tell you because people might catch on,” they told the parents who didn’t even come to the funeral. How was that not a giveaway?
      I watched it twice, the second time ONLY because I had to get this post up, and I was even more appalled the second time I watched it. Two great years and now they’re doing Sherlock’s Greatest Jokes? Jesus.
      I’m not watching The Sign of the Three again. I did a running notes the first time I watched it and then did a bitch session after that, so I’m done.
      “His Last Vow” had better be spectacular. Idiots.

      1. Oh, yeah, totally agree with you — why telling his parents (and really? them? seriously? I swear Gatiss and Moffatt smoked some crack)… and almost everyone else was “okay” made no sense. There were just small hints there of what could have been “A reason” — but they certainly didn’t think it through or capitalize on it.

      1. Yeah, you can’t put a non sequitur in the middle of one story as a huge plot point to set up another story. People will try to make it fit. You need to make it part of the story it’s actually IN. I have no problem with paying off details of one story in another, but not huge chunks of action that make no sense in the context of the story they’re actually in.

  4. Thank you! My husband and I watch Sherlock together and I was eagerly anticipating the return. I felt like they had written the episode by relying on the fans to do so. I feel that Martin Freeman was amazing as he portrayed the emotional earthquake John was feeling. The image that sticks in my mind is the shot of him shaking his head like a maddened bull trying to cope with the fact that Sherlock had lied to him. For two years. While everyone else and their dog knew Sherlock was alive. I’d have choked him myself. The best thing about this stupid episode was Mary. I do love her.

    I wonder if this new director is trying to approximate how Sherlock experiences with the multiple camera cuts and jerky editing. All I’m getting is vertigo. The next episode is a deal breaker for me. I’m not sure I’ll watch the third one. I’m in mourning.

  5. And as long as I’m ranting, WTF are they doing with Molly Hooper? First she’s the most important person in the plan, then they do the spoof where Sherlock comes through the window and kisses her; then they treat her realistically as Sherlock drags her through his day, ending when she says good-bye on her own and leave him; then she shows up at the end with a Sherlock lookalike and everybody snickers. WTF? She deserves better.

    And speaking of women, why the hell does Mary like him? I love Mary, but she’s entirely too forgiving. “Oh, you’ve tormented the man I love for two years and then you humiliated him by pretending you can’t switch off a bomb? I LOVE THIS GUY!” Jesus.

    I hate this episode.

    1. I felt Mary is supposed to be an echo of Sherlock, kind of like Molly’s boyfriend. When John is stumbling through his proposal he tells her meeting her is the best thing that’s happened to him and she says “I agree. I’m the best thing that could have happened to you” and he gives a startled laugh but it’s a very Sherlock thing for her to say. She knows immediately why Sherlock needed Mycroft to know he was still alive and blurts “Well he would have needed a confidant” as if it should be obvious. In the last place they are kicked out of John includes her when he asks “Why am I the only one who thinks that this is wrong? The only one reacting like a human being?” When Mary gets the weird texts it only takes a second for her to head for Baker street where she tells Sherlock at first she thought it was religious spam before realizing it was a code. If that’s the case she makes the connection with Sherlock like speed because it only takes seconds for her to react. In all the main scenes with Mary she’s like a reflection of Sherlock.

      1. Well, hell, I liked her until you said that.
        No, she doesn’t hurt people. She doesn’t flaunt her brains. And she manipulates people which Sherlock doesn’t have the patience to do.

        1. Keep liking Mary. She has some of the good qualities John admired in Sherlock – clever, keen observer – but she is also good humored, independent and capable. I like John all the more because he loves Mary and she so clearly is her own woman.

          There were some interesting words that popped up in the word montage during Sherlock’s assessment of her: clever, romantic, guardian, disillusioned, liar (and cat lover, secret tattoo and bakes own bread). I’d like to see Gatniss/Moffatt fulfill the promise in those words, but I’m not holding my breath.

        2. My husband loathed her. He thought she was terrible, nasty, laughing whole John was having a breakdown. I saw her on John not moving on, too, or at least moving on to someone who has some of Sherlock’s qualities.

          1. I think it’s in keeping with John’s character that he falls in love with Mary and she has this edginess to her. I’m sure his lifestyle scared off the doctor he dated in the first season and he couldn’t even keep his last girlfriend’s name straight. Come to think of it, she told him he was a great boyfriend – for Sherlock.

  6. I think that spoof thing with the kiss was a nod to shippers everywhere, a “it’s not going to really happen, but here ya go.” That wasn’t explicitly said in the interviews (including the newest one up titled, “The Women”), but it was heavily implied.

    It feels like they’ve read too much of their own press about how brilliant they are and that they can do no wrong. That, or a concussion, or drugs–only explanations that make sense.

    I like the character of Mary–I like the actress. But yeah, there was absolutely no story basis for her to champion Sherlock at that point. Not. One. Redeeming. Reason. That G&M thought being manipulative (of the fandom) would work is insulting.

    1. I didn’t even know there were Sherlock/Molly shippers. What have they got against Molly? If I had to pick, I’d put her with Lestrade. His wife is cheating on him anyway. And she deserves a good guy. They both deserve better than Sherlock. At least John has Mary, now. I love it that they’re a long time couple in real life.

  7. Great essay. Dickhead protagonist indeed. Convoluted plot, too many nods to the fanfic theorists, and too much “aren’t we clever?” from the writers. Gatiss and Moffat would not go amiss were they to read your critiques and pay attention.

    I’m thinking there may be more to Mary liking Sherlock. I’ve noticed two things that indicate that she is not what she seems. First, after John’s abduction, she goes running to Sherlock and says the message on her phone is a “skip code”. I get what a skip code it, but certainly never knew the name of it. How would a nurse or whatever she is recognise and name a skip code? Then, during the wedding, when Sherlock is reading the congratulatory messages, the one he reads from “Cam” makes her visibly upset. So I think something is up… so maybe she knows that she will need Sherlock in the future? Because her eagerness to keep him in her and John’s lives seems a bit odd.

    As for all of the horrors Sherlock has inflicted on John, it’s mystifying that John is willing to continue the friendship. Sherlock drugged and terrorized John in the Baskerville lab. He not only faked his suicide and vanished for two years, HE MADE JOHN WATCH his leap from the building, inflicting extreme trauma. And he led John to believe that they were about to get blown up in order to obtain his forgiveness.

    I know John loves Sherlock, and the relationship between these two men has always been the strong foundation of the series. But now it really isn’t making much sense. John needs to walk away from this guy. Trust is gone. Or it should be.

    There are still elements of this show that I love, but I have been disappointed by this season. Sherlock needs to redeem himself in a big way in the final episode, because so many viewers no longer care about him. That is a sure way to lose your audience. And the quality of the writing/plot needs to be perfect. More cohesion, less tricks. Hope they can do it.

  8. My pet theory about Mary is that Mycroft planted her in John’s life to keep track of John for Mycroft. (He tells Sherlock, when S is first back, that he’s had John under constant surveillance. I can’t remember the wording, but his specific wording and then the intro to Mary soon after made me think, “ah, she’s a spy.”) I caught the skip code thing and the Cam/wish your family could have been here thing. (She mentions she’s an orphan in that back-and-forth with S over the table seating arrangement.)

    Okay, I clearly need to get to work and quit mulling over this show and answering every comment!

      1. I probably should have put [SPOILER] above for the second episode with the Cam thing. So [SPOILER] for those who haven’t seen the second ep…… In the next ep, when Sherlock is supposed to read those telegrams and he reads a couple, gets appalled at the mushiness and everyone’s snickering, there’s one that he rattles off, something like, “Congratulations, wish your family could have been here,” — Cam, and he tosses it down. There’s a reaction shot sort of under his arm where Mary looks surprised, gut-punched and she covers fast, and John takes her hand and squeezes it. Since she said something earlier about being an orphan, thats stuck out to me as foreshadowing.

        Then again, with how incredibly sloppy these first two episodes are (and I know we’re not yes dissecting the wedding one), I wouldn’t be a bit surprised now if those were throwaway lines that were never intended to be used later.

        1. I do remember that. But as you said, that episode was another word salad, so after awhile I gave up thinking there was any plan involved. j
          Maybe they’re going to play that in the third episode. Which I will be watching tomorrow; I think it plays here today on PBS and then I get my download tomorrow.

          I also have to figure out if we want to keep doing TV Sundays and if so, what we do next. I’d love to do the UK Life on Mars, but the DVDs are $50 and the only place I know it’s streaming is Hulu Plus and they hacked up the episodes. Or somebody hacked up the episodes.

    1. I like your pet theory about Mary! But I’m going to raise you: if Mycroft did plant her, she may very well not know that he did so. He may have manoeuvred her into taking the job where John could meet her (he never does anything in a straightforward way).

  9. I can forgive a lot, except for the treatment of Molly. Isn’t she Doctor Molly Somebody? That her character is used as comic relief by two male writers hits too much as misogynistic, imo.

  10. Unfortunately – IMO – it doesn’t get better as the season goes on. REALLY disappointed in them after the wonderfulness of season 2 (skipping over the Hounds of Baskerville, of course). Was waiting all S3E1 for a reason, ANY reason, why Sherlock couldn’t tell John he was alive for 2 years, but nope. One of the strengths of the show, for me, is how they had managed in the first 6 episodes of the show to focus on a mystery over an entire episode and make all the pieces connect in the end. But, they seem to have abandoned that structure this season. Having seen all three episodes, I’m tempted to say they’ve expanded that structure to span an entire season rather than just an episode. While I do think there is an argument to be made to that effect, there is still soooo much filler to these episodes, especially in this first episode. I do love Mary though. If only all the success of the previous seasons hadn’t gone to the writer’s heads….

  11. I agree with pretty much everything said here, in Jenny’s post and the comments. What an insulting, illogical, idiotic, pointless mess this episode was.

    All I can think to add is: And, oh, the British government desperately needs -Sherlock- to take down a terrorist bombing plot? Really? In a country where government security forces have been dealing with bombing plots non-stop for 40 years, ONLY SHERLOCK can handle such a threat??? I found this plot premise (though only visited occasionally by this script) as untenable as everything else in the episode.

    I think the actors did very well–but they were doing very well with a putrid, non-sensical, childishly silly script. The producers weret lucky that their actors are all strong enough to deliver good performances with such swill–but no actor can prevent us from noticing what swill it is.

    Overall, the episode reminded me of a discussion I often have on panels I’ve participated in a number of times at sf/f conventions about writing comedy, since I write an urban fantasy comedy series (the Esther Diamond novels) and am currently working on book #7. The crucial, central thing to remember about writing comedy over time (whether “time” means the length of one story or a series of 25 books) is that as soon as you descend into playing jokes for the sake of playing jokes, the material is no longer comedy; now it’s just schtick, and few things are more tedious than schtick. The Empty Hearse was just schtick.

    1. It wasn’t even good schtick. Good point about needing Sherlock on a bombing plot; that was dumb. You call in Holmes for unbreakable puzzles.
      And really, nobody caught on to the Underground clue.
      This was just self-indulgent, lazy writing.
      I’m a little bitter. Just ignore me.

  12. RE: the details of faking Sherlock’s death… OH GOOD GRIEF.

    There was a charming British mystery series in the 1990s called JONATHAN CREEK about a guy who designs illusions for a famous stage magician. In his copious spare time, Creek helps an investigative journalist solve weird locked-room mysteries, via his lateral thinking and his illusionist’s ability to think outside the box. And in one of those episode, very much as in Sherlock’s “The Reichenbach Fall,” there’s a man who’s witnessed, by people who know him, to commit suicide by jumping off a tall building, and they see the blood-drenched body lying on the pavement until an ambulance takes him away; and, again as in “TRF,” it subsequently turns out to have been a hoax and the guy is alive, but not letting anyone know. The story’s explanation for how it was done worked. And although that’s the only instance I can think of, there are presumably many other instances where a faked death was later explained convincingly in the story.

    So there was no earthly reason for the SHERLOCK faked death to be explained by a vast and absurdly complex conspiracy involving dozens of people who miraculously never blabbed, while also (for no discernible reason) letting his best friend grieve deeply for him.

    1. I agree.
      And I loved Jonathan Creek. Except for the murder house. That one makes me scream in horror to this day, it was just evil. But the rest are wonderful.

      1. I loved the first three years, when Creek’s crime-solving partner was Maddie, played by Caroline Quentin. But I thought the writing totally fell apart after her departure from the show. Creek’s subsequent female leads were tediously silly and annoying, and the crimes became dark and nasty, so that the locked-room quirkiness of the show seemed distastefully dissonant with those crimes.

        1. It got REALLY dark, horror film dark.
          I liked Maddie but I was always annoyed by how lousy she was to Jonathan, who was such a hapless schlub. I’d have been okay if they hadn’t played with a romance, but since they went there, did she have to be such a bitch? As was the second one, although I liked her more, possibly because Jonathan fought back.
          Mostly, I loved the mysteries. They were convoluted, but they were supposed to be. And I loved the idea of a hero who lived in a windmill and designed huge magic illusions. But yes, the last episodes were just so horrific they were depressing. I’m a little hazy on the details, but weren’t most of the victims in the first three seasons people who kind of deserved to go? I’m thinking of the comedian and the actress. I’ll have to go look up the plots. I think part of the reason that I had such revulsion for some of the later ones (part, not all) was that innocents died horribly.
          It was a brilliant concept though and really wonderful in the beginning.

          ETA They made a new one last year and there’s supposed to be another filming this year. How did I miss that?

  13. I wasn’t thrilled with this episode either. Especially the OFF SWITCH. ON A BOMB. Forget the dickhead protagonist issue. Sherlock’s had lots of dickhead moments throughout the series. But an OFF SWITCH. ON A BOMB. If I wrote that… Grrr.

    But I do have to say, I think the follow-up episode was delightful. Fun & funny and also with a clever little mystery buried in all the wedding froth. And I do really love Mary. I’ll be sad when she dies, which I assume is inevitable, considering the character’s very brief existence in the original series.

  14. Worst Sherlock Episode Ever. I wanted to throw something at my TV, but I can’t afford to replace it.

    I liked the wedding episode better, although not as well as the episodes from the 1st 2 seasons. They’d better wow me in #3. F-ers.

  15. While I admit the episode had it’s flaws, I enjoyed it. Sherlock’s regression made sense to me, since he’d been away from the positive influence of John for the two year period. I loved John’s reaction to Sherlock in the restaurant and during the episode. It felt like a good echo of what I was thinking as a viewer. I also liked the interaction Sherlock had with Mycroft relatively early on in the apartment. I’m curious how Mary’s role will playout in the series – doesn’t Watson’s wife die in the Doyle stories?

  16. I could not agree more. Loved this show. It has been betrayed. Happily the 3rd/final ep of series is better, but the first two were absolute bollocks for all the reasons you describe.

  17. I don’t remember “Hounds” clearly, but I’m pretty sure I liked it better than this. I kept waiting for the mystery to go somewhere, which was bad enough, but having to watch Sherlock be such an ass without a decent plot to distract me was So. Painful. That last scene with him and John and the bomb was one of the most awful things I’ve ever seen on TV.

    The thing about John being kidnapped, clumsy and ill-executed as it was, is that it was intended as set-up for episode three. I don’t have a problem with them trying to set up a long-running story, but they just tacked it on here with no attempt to weave it into the excuse for a plot they had in this episode (probably because it was barely an excuse for a plot). Another annoying thing about it is that when we get to episode three, it becomes clear we didn’t even need it to set up that antagonist. They apparently just thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to put him in episode one, too?” I’m going to pretend this episode doesn’t exist. May need to watch “Idiot’s Lantern” again soon as a step toward reconciling with Gatiss.

  18. I don’t have too much to add except I found Sherlock masquerading as a waiter so unbelievable in a show full of unbelievable. Okay, he’s a sociopath, but a highly intelligent one. He would know that know one is going to think he’s funny. He may not feel empathy with John, but he has to know what grief does to people. He’s constantly deducing things, proving himself, why would he play the fool here?

    I would have found it much more Sherlock like for him to be at Baker Street waiting for John in the empty apartment. It was just so all damned unbelievable. Oh and Sherlock was a dickweed. Very disappointing.

  19. In the stories/book, Mrs. Mary Watson dies in childbirth and it is supposed the child as well. It’s handled all “off stage” as it were, with few details.

    Watson moves back in with Sherlock.

    He later remarries, but wife #2 is of so little importance I guess that she isn’t even given a name….

    Even for the Victorian/Edwardian era, Conan Doyle has a lot to answer to in regards to how he treated women.

    And apparently Mrs. Hudson was immortal, as she was always there…..?

  20. I really enjoyed season 2 of Sherlock. I was really looking forward to season 3 but having watched all 3 parts now, it feels weird to say but: it’s best enjoyed if you don’t engage your brain. Isn’t that weird? I like to think (and think hard) about the shows I watch and enjoy the most (nitpicking everything and pulling things apart to find out why I liked things, why I didn’t, etc) but with Sherlock it feels a lot like Doctor Who’s fate. You’re just supposed to roll with it and not look deep and laugh and snicker and just enjoy the ride. I do like the dialogue and the characters have great chemistry but yeah, this season started to feel very We’ll Do Whatever We Want and You’ll Just Like It. sigh. I did pick up a few things so I wasn’t surprised but that’s another discussion for another episode.

    1. I think that’s what I must have done, too, Julie. I enjoyed much of the three episodes as I was watching them, but was left feeling confused.

    1. I tried twice, and it was fine but it didn’t make me want to keep watching. I know it must seem like all I do is watch TV and movies from the blog posts here, but I’m actually pretty frugal about watching. I don’t have cable, I subscribe to the shows I like on Amazon, so I miss 95% of what’s out there. I think I sampled Elementary on Hulu; that where I usually try out shows. This season, I’m watching Arrow, Person of Interest, Sherlock, and The Blacklist as the things I’m fascinated by, with side orders of Sleepy Hollow and Grimm. I’m also going back to Life, Buffy, Angel, Life on Mars, and Leverage to see why I loved them so much. And eventually I’ll go back to Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, too. It’s really writing wonk stuff–how did they do that?–but it’s great because I get to revisit stories I loved.

      1. Elementary has hit and miss episodes for sure (don’t even get me started on the blizzard episode Zzzzzz) but I do like the characterization of Holmes. I think things get really interesting in that regard the last 2 episodes of the season (when Moriarty is revealed). I think I like the character aspects of that show, and the relationship dynamics between Holmes/Watson the most. The cases are often on the more boring side but for some reason I keep coming back for that partnership. It’s funny comparing Elementary to Sherlock because Entertainment Weekly recently had a blurb about that in their mag and noted that the UK audience prefers the American Elementary while Americans seem to like Sherlock better.

        1. This last season annoyed me so much, I unsubscribed. I used to love it.
          I’m thinking Leverage. For one thing, it’s finished. For another, it really illustrates things I want to talk about, like community. Plus so much fun. Ten episodes. would get us to May.

  21. “I think much of my outrage at what has been done to this character stems from the deep love I had for him after the second season.” I agree wholeheartedly. At the end of the episode I was still saying: but why *didn’t* he tell John he was still alive? No good reason is even put forward, let alone sustained. Even if he doubted John’s ability to act well enough to fool the people who needed to be fooled immediately after his “death”, surely he could have told him not long afterwards? I did not find John’s forgiveness of him convincing. I felt betrayed because Sherlock appeared to be positively mean and nasty rather than just not able to empathise.

    Plus it annoys me that a series which had its own internal logic – it might be difficult to understand and follow immediately, but if you thought about it did work out and make sense – suddenly has what appear to be plot holes.

  22. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been wrong with all of these (I just watched the last vow last night, and was still left wanting… until the last two minutes), and it was the lack of a mystery! There was no urgency or tension in any of the episodes for season 3, until the last 10 minutes of the show when all of a sudden the mystery appeared and BOOM, Sherlock solves it. None of the clever deductions, none of the puzzles to solve. No bad guy to take down.

    I love watching Sherlock films/shows, because I love a good mystery and I love the way the character of Sherlock solves them. So I keep comparing the new Sherlock episodes to those adaptations of the stories from years back (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, anyone?). In one of those episodes, Sherlock fakes his own death and ends up scaring the hell out of Watson because he shows up in disguise, they do a little dialogue, and surprise, Sherlock’s alive. “A cruel trick, I grant you, but necessary…” and suddenly the game is afoot and they’re on a case. The faked death was part of a case and the mystery was the focus – not the cruel trick or Sherlock’s laughter (however brief), when he reveals to Watson that he was, in fact, alive.

    But my point is that this whole season of Sherlock seems to be just an info-dump, holding place until they can find a villain and refocus on the mystery. Because let’s face it – there isn’t a major enemy in any of these episodes. There’s the bad guys with the bomb on the train or the photographer and the death by belt trick, but there isn’t a villain. There isn’t someone challenging Sherlock. They needed to create a villain to replace Moriarty and they haven’t done it. (Truth be told, I’ve seen the Empty Hearse three times… and I still don’t know the name of the man who put the bomb on the train…)

  23. Oh, good, Jenny: then it wasn’t just me.

    Ditto on all of what you already wrote, plus, I was also annoyed that they wrote themselves into a corner with the roof-jump scenario, and then couldn’t be bothered to pick it up properly in the new season. Not only did they handwave it away, by writing all the fake explanations they were laughing at the Viewer for even caring (which luckily, I did not, so right back atcha Moffatt/Gatiss!). Rude and disrespectful.

  24. I didn’t hate it so entirely. Watson emotional story was good. I loved Molly throughout, even if there were smirks about her fiance. I was put off by Sherlock’s childishness in the waiter scene. I rolled with most of the rest of it, even thinking when John was kidnapped and Sherlock literally dropped everything to go help him that it demonstrated how much Sherlock really did care. I didn’t mind that Mary liked Sherlock. I thought maybe she saw through his idiocy to the decent guy underneath, much like John does. The skip code thing struck me as odd in passing, but it’s gone so quick you don’t pay much attention to it. A well-used trick by those writers, but it still works. What pulled me entirely out of the episode and had me analyzing the writers was the bomb scene. Sherlock’s joke and laughter at that point was so–I can’t even say out of character, it was beyond that–outside of any human behavior I could imagine for a decent human being that I was flabbergasted. Even John’s words before the joke reveal that Sherlock better not be having him on seemed out of place. Why was this written? Is this some boy’s boarding school relic behavior? Is this a demonstration of the British reserve? Am I bumping up against a cultural difference here? Trying to analyze why anyone would think this is okay totally pulled me out of the story. I was left with the hope they were setting Sherlock up for a comeuppance. Otherwise I don’t know what the writers were thinking.

    Tidbit–Sherlock’s parents were played by Cumberbatch’s parents.

  25. Well, my mileage totally varied. 😉 I enjoyed this episode including all the fandom nods, multiple scenarios, Mary, Molly, the in jokes, etc. My main “WTF” was the mystery – or rather, complete lack thereof. And that’s an issue with this entire third series. If you didn’t like the first or second episodes, it’s unlikely the third will flip up your skirts. I agree that there are SERIOUS problems, plot- and characterwise, but I personally did not find them egregious enough to turn me off the series as a whole.

  26. Ok. I haven’t really found any reason to chip in on the other Sherlock episodes, because Jenny is so masterful at breaking them down and making me go – “Yeah, that’s it! That thing I couldn’t put my finger on” and I just couldn’t say it any better. I went back and watched it again to ask myself – then why do I like it soooo much? And I came back from an 8-ladies article on how overanalyzing things can be a real killjoy. I may screw this up – it’s in my head ok, but getting it down may not come out right. I’m going to go against most everyone here and play the Devil’s advocate – or Sherlock’s possibly. I have seen all three episodes (I’m bad – right when they came out – but I figured it was fair use because I’d already pre-ordered the dvds. :D)

    Do I think he had some dickhead moments? Of course – but I expect some of that with Sherlock just being himself. John calls him on it.

    I think we need to go back and evaluate this a bit like Jenny did at the start of this Sherlock odyssey. Originally our in was John Watson, the everyday man – our window and mostly us. This season I think things have shifted. Our in is actually Sherlock – not John. This season we are viewing the world (mostly) through Sherlock’s eyes and mind (there were some lapses in this that get weird, but) – I think that’s why things seem more frenetic and somewhat discombobulated (especially in The Sign of Three). I don’t know if they (Moffet & Gatiss) did it just right or that it maybe couldn’t have been done better, but they have tried to give us what we really want. We like John, we’re more likely to be like John, or Lestrade, or Molly, but deep inside we all really want to be Sherlock.

    An aside #1-
    There are some things you can do, get away with and pull off because it’s a visual story medium (which I think they’ve come up with some truly interesting and unique ways to use) that would never fly in printed medium… The upcoming Sign of Three – I don’t think that could possibly make it as a written medium story – but as a visual – through Sherlock’s mind and eyes – absolutely! Also – a lot of things that make these stories, characters, and season work are do to the nuances the actors give – lesser actors or even other actors would give us an entirely different story from the same materials.

    An aside #2
    We are all mostly here to talk about story craft – and based on pure story building and development methods – I agree with Jenny – there is a lot of story building incompleteness here in this season. But sometimes incomplete, mis-stepped story can still work – when it fails in favor of character. And I think a lot of the story this season is character and more character driven, vs story & plot driven. (although Jenny has already mentioned how she perceives his character this season). I personally – found a lot more to love about the character of Sherlock this season and saw the effects of the long-term changes John has made to him and vice versa – together they complete each other.
    Aside #3
    I believe, as a storyteller, like most of you, that each story in a series should be independent and technically these are, but I think you’ll see the whole season as a 3-act play with each episode playing it’s part. The Empty Hearse – opening incident: underground terrorist plot, reuniting of characters, intro of new characters, getting everyone to an even keel and focused together, then Turning Point 2 – Acceptance of Trouble – Sherlock & John re-accept their rolls, then there was John’s near burning alive a bigger mystery needing solving. The Sign of Three- Things progress – the wedding – and a pile of successes and growth growing forward – Mary fitting in – new dynamics being established, flipped on its ear at the end (no spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet). His Last Vow- Point of No Return – When they decided to go after Magnussen. Dark Moment-Magnussen’s valuts. Climax – Sherlock acts to complete the vow given to John & Mary at their wedding, Resolution-problem solved for John & Mary, Sherlock heading out into the sunset (I say this tongue in cheek – no spoilers – if you haven’t seen it) – then a killer kicker to keep you wanting to come back for more.
    Ok- The beginning and the “How he survived” vignettes….
    I think these were purely fan fun. I know as a tried and true storyteller – it wasn’t telling story so much as catering to the audience, but I’m the audience and I enjoyed it – even if I think they cheated. It was like breaching that 2nd person wall and talking to us as the audience – it was a direct feed, but I think it fed a need they knew the audience had and had built up over 2-yrs. And part of their job is to know and feed their audience. The various theories and playouts were for us, they didn’t honestly tell any story or move the plot forward – so by a strict storytelling definition – they shouldn’t have been there, however from a know your audience/business standpoint – A+. The cheat? They never really did tell us how it was done, we are left to our own devices. Sherlock told John (when he asked) “You know my methods.” As a storyteller – I said in my mind to Moffet & Gatiss – “you big cheaters”, but then in the context of what they’ve built and the universe we inhabit with them my heart said “how very Sherlocky”. (And it’s ok to admit it fellow fans – even if you want to be Sherlock – for just 1 minute in the opening vignette – you wanted to be Molly Hooper – soooo bad.) Again – fan fulfillment and knowing your audience – A+ – brilliant.
    The bondage scene – worthy of the Woman.
    Was there back slipping (in their personality & development) from the absence of each other – absolutely! And they show us that in what I thought was a cleaver slipping back and forth between what Sherlock was doing and what John was doing as they are apart. John had some help over the last 2-years – because he met Mary, she completed a lot of his picture and helped him to maintain his balance better. Sherlock was off by himself – deep undercover, so deep I would say it was amazing for him to make it. His old shell helped some, but things he learned from John probably made him able to be successful and tolerate it so well. The scene with Sherlock in chains – was to show us how far off the grid, how dangerous, how dark, and how far out Sherlock had been for two years. John, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade being the ones that didn’t know he was still alive – yeah – he was protecting them. Moreover – he was so deep & dark it would have been both dangerous and mostly impossible for him to contact John (& dangerous for John – he couldn’t really help Sherlock and he would have wanted to). He really missed John though- he mentioned how much he wanted to contact him, he also talks about friendship and loneliness with Mycroft – and it is part of the same thing. For Sherlock to have those words with either of them speaks to how much he’s changed with John’s companionship and friendship.

    Ah – so we meet again.
    Ok, even Mycroft realized that John probably wouldn’t be as receptive as Sherlock thought he would be to his return. Is this a bit of “cock”-iness on Sherlock’s part? Yes, but it wasn’t meant as sadistic or mean. For John – it was going to be a huge shock, but for Sherlock? He had just returned from two years of hell, alone, abroad and he was just really excited and anxious to see his friend (some of his selfishness – back sliding) and didn’t think it through too well.
    I saw an article from a psychologist about Sherlock NOT being a sociopath or psychopath (he said sociopath is the older term for psychopath and explained what someone like that was and how Sherlock was not). Moffet also had a chat recently and said that Sherlock is NOT a psychopath or sociopath – he is deeply feeling and emotional, but due to Mycroft and his own beliefs about having his mind free to work – he represses and buries his emotions. I also think you could say that Sherlock is emotionally immature and underdeveloped – but he’s getting better. He catches and corrects himself now, notices, and makes fewer socially stupid and mean-seeming moments – you can see it all throughout this episode and the entire season – he can even see how he was and how things are better now and you can really see a lot of character development in it – most of it is pulled off skillfully by Benedict Cumberbatch. One of my favorites that’s easy to miss is the end of this episode when John says – “You’re coming to the wedding.” And Sherlock says _ “I don’t do weddings.” And then he gives a meaningful wink to Mary. He is also developing a sense of humor – again still a bit immature & sometimes inappropriate, but he it is new and nifty – he has a humor. He is starting to see some of the fun in himself and in others – again – real growth.
    Ok – I carry on – the meeting – every normal person would punch Sherlock in the face & again, we are not disappointed – John gets to do it several times. I loved it and laughed my butt off. We also have a new dynamic to deal with- Mary. After all of the face punching – she tells Sherlock she’ll get John to “come around” – so he instantly evaluates her and puts a point in her corner. Then she hops in the car and tells John, “I like him.” And you think, maybe this can work.

    Molly’s day.
    Molly is actually a logical choice if he needed an assistant replacement. It also speaks so highly of how Sherlock really views Molly – as a friend, as someone with a brain and valuable opinion, etc. He even told her to be her, no try to be John (even though he kind of messes that up on accident later). He views Molly as worthy. Molly, despite her protests, obviously still hasn’t gotten past him. When he asks if she would like to solve crimes with him and she comes up with go out on a date – you knew she still thought of him one way, where he was giving her the higher compliment (in his opinion) by treating her more as an equal and a friend. And they tell us why this day existed also when Molly asks – and Sherlock replies that it was a “thank-you” and the highest compliment he could think of. Also again – knowing their audience….fan bit, there are a lot of unrequited Molly’s out there.
    Also – for the most part the case in here with Jack the Ripper – is mostly a throw-away, it does keep him thinking about underground – so they tied it in and it does get him back to Anderson. Still not sure what to think of the whole Anderson thing – other than Sherlock still loves to torture him and for being a forensics investigator – Anderson still couldn’t set up a crime scene better than Sherlock could quickly solve.

    John’s kidnapping and near fatal burning.
    This might seem like a throw-away or a cheat for a future pay off and it is a seed setting up multiple things as a payoff, but it does serve a very valuable purpose – Mary. It shows a bit about who Mary is, why John would like her, why Sherlock was instantly fond (for him) of her, and it gives Sherlock and Mary a chance to bond. If this marriage and John & Sherlock’s partnership are both going to work, Mary would have to understand what they do, what they are like as a companionship, and she would have to fit in to it. She is smart (she figured out a code), calm in the face of crisis, a woman of action not dramatics, and this is starting to show just why John would choose her, and how brilliantly she fits in with both John and Sherlock. She’s no shrinking violet, nor could she be and be believable and workable. We get the first glimpse that this marriage isn’t a horrible mistake and that this could work – John being married, and John still working with Sherlock.

    I know I’ve missed stuff – but these are the biggies. Next up, the wedding: “The Sign of Three”. You are really in Sherlock’s head for this one – so be prepared for a wild ride and I’ll be ready to be the Devil’s/Sherlock’s advocate on the other side as well. 😀

    1. I agree with you that a great story well told can commit huge craft violations and still work. The end of a “A Scandal in Belgravia” is one of them, and I just don’t care, I love that episode. So obviously this episode and the next one worked for a lot of people, and you’ve explained why it worked for you.

      Neither of them worked for me because there was nothing for me to grab onto. There were a lot of fun scenes, particularly in the second one, but there was no story there. I’ll watch that cast do damn near anything because they’re superb, but they can’t give me catharsis on their own, there has to be a clear story line with a clear pay-off. It doesn’t have to be linear structure, I love patterned structures like Out of Sight, but there has to be a story there or there’s no real ending, no sense of closure. So it’s not that I analyzed them and then decided I didn’t like them, I really hated them and then analyzed them to find out why. I’m much more forgiving of the third one even though it had issues, too, because the story was strong enough that I got the ride I’d missed in the first two.

  27. I am glad to read that I am not the only one who found “The Empty Hearse” not only empty but totally devoid.


Comments are closed.