Sherlock Explained: “The Empty Hearse”


“It is mind if I say, like a face from the past . . . it is familiar, but with a quality of surprise . . . ” – Sherlock the waiter trying to reveal himself to John through wine recommendation

Exactly two long years after its Second Season, Sherlock returns to the BBC with Sherlock Holmes himself returning to London two years after his apparent death in “The Reichenbach Fall”. What has Sherlock been up to all these years? What’s changed in London since then and what’s coming? Most importantly, how did he fake his own death with countless witnesses present?

For the sake of clarity and brevity, I’m going to break down each part of this episode according to story threads rather than a straight chronological blow by blow. This way you can watch the episode and then read this to make sense of everything.  So let’s begin:

How He Did It (The Theories):

Sherlock and Molly share a passionate kiss after he bursts through the window.

Sherlock and Molly share a passionate kiss after he bursts through the window.

 – Theory #1: The Bungee Mask – This first scenario given in the opening moments of the episode by Anderson revolves around the idea of Moriarty having had a Sherlock Holmes mask (which explains why the little girl would scream whenever Sherlock entered the room) and Mycroft’s men being super involved in a classic government conspiracy-style cover up.

The theory went that as Sherlock jumped, he was actually attached to a bungee chord, which allowed him to bounce back up and crash through a window where he passionately kissed Molly. Meanwhile Mycroft’s men would take Moriarty’s body and put the Sherlock mask on it while they dragged him outside and planted him on the ground with fake blood. All of this would be blocked from John’s view by the bicyclist hired by Mycroft to knock him over. Since they couldn’t risk John getting up before the scene was set, hypnotist Derren Brown was sent in to make him forget those several minutes while they pushed his watched back so that he wouldn’t realize how much time had elapse. By time he got to the scene there would already be paramedics and spectators – also all Mycroft hires.

The Team Up

– Theory #2: The Team Up – This theory certainly is the most outlandish and implausible of them all – considering we saw Moriarty put a gun in his mouth and fire – but it was great to see Andrew Scott back again as Moriarty. As this scenario plays out it appears that the suicide was nothing more than a trick on John played by Sherlock and Moriarty who drop a dummy off the roof so they can apparently … romantically run away together? WHAT?!?!

Operation Lazarus

– Theory #3: Operation Lazarus – From the beginning, Sherlock sat back and let Moriarty destroy his reputation so that he thought he had the upper hand. By time Sherlock made it to the roof he and Mycroft had worked 13 possibilities which each had code words – of which he chose Lazarus.

Lazarus entailed jumping off the roof into an inflatable airbag that would be obscured from John’s view by the dividing wall. By time he’d get up from the bike impact – which was also probably still staged –  the bag would be gone. Meanwhile, Molly and crew would dump a body double out of the window – the body double Moriarty had used to abduct that little girl and then killed when his usefulness ended. While John was getting up, Sherlock got bloodied up, stuck a squash ball under his arm to cut his pulse, and switched places with the cadaver.

This plan starts off as the strongest in my opinion, but the need for Sherlock to switch places with his cadaver doppelganger seemed far too repetitive. Also why throw the cadaver out the window in the first place if Sherlock had indeed already done the jumping? As for my theory on what happened, I might post it, but overall it was very similar to Sherlock’s explanation minus that last confusing part. I’m sure we’ll get the answer eventually since we know for certain that Molly played the most pivotal role in all of it.

What’s Changed In Sherlock’s Two Year Absence :

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 10.50.31 PM

  • Sherlock Holmes – While everyone thought he was dead, Sherlock was busy traveling the globe dismantling every sector of Moriarty’s vast network – the last of which ended him in a Serbian prison.
  •  John Watson – After Sherlock’s funeral, Watson almost immediately lost touch with Mrs. Hudson and went down a long road to basically block out anything and everything connected to his time with the great detective. Sometime along this two-year span he met Mary Morstan and fell in love with her.
  • Molly Hooper – The medical examiner that was once Goo-Goo over Sherlock has moved on and is now engaged. We find a Molly who instead of being the usual fawning accomplice actually proves to be a very strong character who isn’t afraid to stand with Sherlock as an equal while solving a string of cases.
  • The Moriarty Case – After Sherlock’s death, it was discover that Richard Brook really was the invention of Moriarty. After countless hours of police work – and some help from Mycroft – Sherlock’s name was restored and people are wondering how the police let it get so far. Anderson and Sergeant Donovan are being held primarily responsible for sewing doubt at least in Lestrade’s mind and their own conscious – considering Anderson’s obsession over the case and Donovan’s complete absence from the episode.

The Fateful (Re)Meeting:

While posing as a French waiter, Sherlock tries to surprise John

While posing as a French waiter, Sherlock tries to surprise John

In a quite funny exchange, we see Sherlock disguise himself by stealing various items from around the restaurant to make himself appear to be a waiter in an effort to surprise John. Despite his best efforts, John doesn’t pay Sherlock much attention as he is more concerned with how he will propose to Mary.

Once Watson recognizes him though what at first is utter speechlessness turns into a fit of rage where John tries to choke the life out of Sherlock. This continues several more times as they “catch up”.

John chokes Sherlock

Who is Mary Morstan:

I have to hand it to Amanda Abbington, who also happens to be Martin Freeman’s (John Watson’s) partner in real life. Whereas the character of Mary sometimes can be seen as superfluous or as a hindrance to Sherlock – as seen in the Sherlock Holmes movies – here we find a strong women who sides with Sherlock on most things. But is there more to Mary?

Sherlock reads Mary

When Sherlock first analyzes her, a lot of words flash on screen but specifically the word ‘liar’. Whether he knows she’s lying about turning John to trust Sherlock again or about something else we don’t know yet. Considering she does seem to like Sherlock quite a bit and talks highly of him, it’s probably not that.

We also find her quick to spot an alternate word code when John is kidnapped. Sherlock did also analyze her as being “clever”, so I have a feeling Mary’s importance is just beginning.

How I Did It By Jack The Ripper:

This scene was actually all staged by Anderson and does nothing more than stand as a complete tangent, but in actuality that’s exactly why its there – once you consider the other random scene in this episode. When we see Sherlock giving his version of how he survived to Anderson, that is actually referencing this prior scene. The ‘Jack The Ripper’ scene was a waste of time to the audience as it was to Sherlock trying to solve this important terrorist case.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 1.24.07 AM

Why there’s so much emphasis this episode into the madness of Anderson, its most likely just to show how the guilt in believing he was partly responsible for law enforcement turning on Sherlock and him killing himself. His desire to believe Sherlock was alive so that he could regain some peace of mind, but that peace is long gone. Whether what Sherlock told him was the truth or not, he can’t let it go and continues to point out inconsistencies. Either way, Anderson was a great way to bring in all the fan theories out there that developed over the obsession of ‘how did Sherlock do it’.

The New Threat:

Mycroft: “All very interesting Sherlock but the terror alert has been raised to critical . . . we have solid information. An attack is coming.”
Sherlock: “Solid information that a secret terror organization is planning an attack? That’s what secret terrorist organizations do isn’t it? It’s their version of golf.”

With the warning of an imminent attack on London by an underground terrorist organization, Mycroft decided to intervene to get Sherlock back to London after he dismantled the last of Moriarty’s organization. After accepting the case, Sherlock went on to monitor a bunch of random people who might find themselves getting arrested or having their diplomatic immunity rescinded. If one of them started acting strangely, then he would know something was up.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 10.15.56 AM

A man disappears between Westminster and St James plaza, but how?

While investigating an unrelated case, Sherlock got word from a train enthusiast – the same man whose hat Sherlock and Mycroft will have a debate about – noticed something strange on surveillance cameras where a man got on the last car and seemingly vanished when it arrived at the next stop. This man was Lord Moran, a peer of the realm who has been working secretly for North Korea since 1996. Sherlock later is reminded by his parents that Parliament is closed for an all night sessions where they will be voting on an anti-terrorism bill.

In speaking with John, Sherlock finally realizes that it is literally an ‘underground’ organization and that the man didn’t go missing, but rather the entire car did. When putting the pieces together, Sherlock realizes that today is November 5 – “remember remember the 5th of November”. For those of you who don’t know English history or haven’t seen V for Vendetta, November 5th is Guy Fawkes Night which shows thanksgiving for the kings safety after a plan to blow up the Palace of Westminster in 1605 failed. This is usually celebrated by lighting fireworks much like the pyre John was almost burned under in this episode hours earlier.

Remember November

Nestled in a subway tunnel underneath Palace of Westminster, a subway car lined with explosives is a terrorists organization’s attempt to finish the what the Gunpowder Plot attempted to do over 400 years ago.

Once rechecking with the subway worker who first brought the disappearing man to Sherlock’s attention, they discovered an abandoned station at Sumatra Road, which falls right underneath the Palace of Westminster. Sherlock and John make their way to the station to discover the missing subway car lined with explosives. After a brief practical joke from Sherlock who pretended not to know how to disarm the bomb just so John could say something heartfelt, it is revealed that the bomb had an off switch and the day is saved while Lord Moran is taken into custody.

Molly’s Fiancé:

Sherlock meets Molly's 'familiar' fiancé while John tries to hold back laughs at how similar the two are.

Sherlock meets Molly’s ‘familiar’ fiancé while John tries to hold back laughs at how similar the two are.

When we finally meet Molly’s fiancé at the end, some speculated that Sherlock flashes on something, but don’t read into it. Look at John’s face as well. Now look at the fiancé and do some deducing of your own. His build, even the way he dresses, is strikingly similar to Sherlock’s. You can see the double take John does when he meets him. So he’s not the new Moriarty, just a Sherlock doppelganger – although Molly did joke earlier that maybe sociopaths are her type, so let’s wait and see. Regardless, the look-alike factor was what the pause was about.

Sherlock’s Childhood:

"Can't handle a broken heart? How very telling." - Sherlock to Mycroft Holmes

“Can’t handle a broken heart? How very telling.” – Sherlock to Mycroft Holmes

What originally seems to be an intense game of chess between the two brothers is actually a rousing game of Operation that goes on to reveal much more than we ever expected. While discussing the current case, Sherlock and Mycroft start talking about their childhood and how Mycroft used to belittle Sherlock:

Sherlock: “That takes me back, ‘Don’t be smart Sherlock! I’m the smart one’… I used to think I was an idiot.”
Mycroft: “Both of us thought you were an idiot Sherlock. We had nothing else to go on till we met other children.”
Sherlock: “Oh yes, that was a mistake.”
Mycroft: “Ghastly, what were they thinking of?”
Sherlock: “Probably something about trying to make friends.”

Later on in the episode we get a glimpse at a husband and wife seemingly boring Sherlock with details of their case, but in actuality they are actually his parents. That’s right. Sherlock has parents that seem – as John put it – “ordinary”. Although I do have to commend the casting for these parts because it actually looks as though they could be Sherlock’s parents.

Sherlocks Parents

A Game of Deduction:

While Sherlock and Mycroft are having their game time, we get an interesting insight into how Sherlock has grown. Mycroft doesn’t understand how Sherlock can make friends and almost insults his brother for hanging around with these “goldfish” referring to Mrs. Hudson and every other boring person in the world. When Sherlock presses back with curiosity as to why in his two-year absence Mycroft hasn’t found a “goldfish” of his own, Mycroft becomes increasingly uncomfortable and wants a subject change back to the terrorist case.

Sherlock follows Mycroft’s lead, but changes the subject yet again into a game of deduction like they used to play – and knows his brother can’t resist. What follows so much fast talking that you could go cross eyed if you tried to follow it in one sitting – for a full transcript of the dialogue see here. This is all just an elaborate trap set by Sherlock to make his brother realize the errors of his ways. Sherlock attacks the hat they are deducing and calls its owner isolated because it’s a stupid hat. Mycroft then reminds his brother: “Maybe he just doesn’t mind being different. Doesn’t necessarily have to be isolated.”

"How would you know" - Sherlock asks in response to Mycroft's insistence that he isn't lonely.

“How would you know” – Sherlock asks in response to Mycroft’s insistence that he isn’t lonely.

Without even knowing it, Mycroft has just proved the point Sherlock was making a few minutes prior. Even Mrs. Hudson, whom Mycroft had just insulted moments ago sees what Sherlock has done. When Mycroft finally realizes this has been one elaborate trap, he tells his brother that he isn’t lonely. To which his brother coldly replies, “how would you know.” In one scene, Sherlock got the upper hand on Mycroft twice. Guess Mycroft isn’t “the smart one” after all.

A More Human Sherlock:

Despite at first seeming distraught and defeated at not knowing how to diffuse a bomb, it was all just a joke by Sherlock.

Despite at first seeming distraught and defeated at not knowing how to diffuse a bomb, it was all just a joke by Sherlock.

Some have expressed that this episode had a very different feel than the past two seasons – a more humanized Sherlock being the most prominent. Honestly I think this is not only fine, but is to be expected – it’s actually called character development. From the first episode of the first season, we knew Sherlock had a dry sense of humor with his constant insults to Anderson, the forensic scientist who ‘lowers the IQ of the whole street when he talks out loud’.

In the first episode of Season 2, we saw Sherlock develop somewhat romantic feelings for Irene Adler. So as the first episode of season 3, seeing a Sherlock that can make comedic asides while also defending his choices of friendship to Mycroft is a perfect maturation of the character. He has gone from the brilliant asocial detective to the brilliant detective who is getting better at understanding human interactions.

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Overall I think this was an amazing episode and I’m very excited for the new season – all next 2 episodes of it. Historically the second episodes of the season have been the weakest of the three; however, I have high hopes from the next episode which will see Sherlock face his biggest trial yet – giving the Best Man speech for John and Mary’s wedding. Between this new villain trying to kill John once before and Sherlock deducing Mary to be a “liar” with a “secret”, I’m sure trouble won’t be far behind at the wedding.

A mysterious man watches as Sherlock and Mary rescue John over and over again.

A mysterious man watches as Sherlock and Mary rescue John over and over again.

Meanwhile, vote on which explanation for Sherlock’s death you liked best in this episode. And don’t forget to Like This Blog on Facebook.

One thought on “Sherlock Explained: “The Empty Hearse”

  1. I think the “Lazarus” is the most plausible. But Anderson believes that Sherlock wouldn’t ever tell him how he faked his death… So then can we believe this scene? I mean isn’t that just Anderson’s fantasy – again?
    (One more thing I cannot decide: either Sherlock lies, or what we saw in the Reichenbach Fall wasn’t true. We didn’t see anybody convincing the assassin aiming on John not to kill him…)

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