Retrospective Review #7: The Empty Hearse


Written by Prof. Jenn

As a reminder: I am writing these as RETROSPECTIVE reviews, so I will be discussing reveals, resolutions of cliffhangers, ends of plots, etc. If you are reading these reviews without having seen the eps, a) what is wrong with you?? Go watch them now! and b) these reviews are not for you till you’ve seen them.


It’s rare that the makers of a TV series have such intense interactions with their fanbase, and also unusual to find shows with the level of rabid fans that Sherlock boasts. From erotic fanfiction to conspiracy theories to #setlock on Twitter, the fans of this show have their own ways they want things to go, and will spare no word count (or technology) to express it. This can be positive, as is seen to an extent in this episode, because the fans feel a part of the creative process of making the thing (more than being mere passive spoon-fed consumers). It can also be negative, as invasive requests of fanfic readings and disruptive #setlock fans make for roadblocks in the very making of the thing they love. I mean, Moffat felt the need to quit Twitter because of it.

After the end of ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, the theories abounded as to how Sherlock managed to stage his death so convincingly. YouTube was rife with lectures accompanied by freeze frames, attempting to pinpoint the physical setup, and the screenplay was analysed minutely to attempt to find a vestige of a clue. Anderson, in ‘The Empty Hearse’, is a character who embodies the Crazed Sherlock Uber-Fan, and in the most meta of moves on the part of Gatiss (this ep’s writer), forms a fan club of others of his same ilk. What Gatiss does so brilliantly here, is begins the episode with a behind-the-scenes detailed look at The Fall, then pulls the rug out from under us, revealing it’s actually Anderson’s latest theory of how Sherlock did it.


We get a couple more scenes like this throughout: one by a club member which is abruptly interrupted before it turns into a piece of erotica, and one at the very end, by Sherlock himself. These conspiracy theories are both an homage to the fans and a gentle mocking of them, but what’s even better is that we never actually find out the details of the real story. We think that Sherlock has told Anderson the truth at the end, but then, like Anderson himself, we realize that there’s no way that could be the case. Which is perfect, because any “real” story Mofftiss could have concocted wouldn’t be nearly good enough, after all the incredible hype leading up to it. Which reminds me:

I mentioned in my ‘Reichenbach’ review that I felt Moriarty’s elaborate scheme didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. But after watching that one, and especially seeing the in-between short ‘Many Happy Returns’, I was excited to see, not so much the How Sherlock Lived bit, but the How Moriarty Is Defeated concept instead. Remember, not only has Sherlock’s reputation been indelibly ruined, but the echoes of IOU rebound in Moriarty’s suicide. I was ready to find out how the public would react to Sherlock’s return, how the whole Richard Brook conspiracy would be brought to light, and what on earth IOU was all about.

I was disappointed.

All we get is a brief montage of news stories, boiling down to: yep, Moriarty was real; nope, Sherlock wasn’t to blame; too bad we all figured this out now he’s dead, but anyways, now for the weather…

Where’s Kitty Riley? Where’s Donovan? What the heck was IOU all about? If the snipers were hired to kill Sherlock’s friends with or without Moriarty, whatever happened to them? Poof, into thin air? This deep, well-constructed takedown of Sherlock is just….whoopsied away?


It feels to me as though that explanation was rushed to make room for the fan theories and for the appearance of Sherlock to his old friends. And it’s a well-done return: unlike in the Doyle canon, when Watson just says, sure I’m back in the game, “When you like, and where you like,” this series’ John is understandably hurt, upset, and angry at his former friend. And also well done is the re-acclimation of Sherlock to life as it was, realizing it can never be “just like old times.”

FINAL THOUGHT: I like Abbington’s portrayal of Mary Morstan very much. She’s an effortlessly natural actor, and an intelligent one, so she fits right in with the established characters.

EASTER EGG(S): The lord in charge of the planned bombing is named Moran. Sebastian Moran is the big baddie in Doyle’s “The Empty House,” which is the canon story in which Holmes returns. The fact that the bombs are underground near Sumatra Street makes me convinced the Giant Rat of Sumatra unwritten story mention is being nodded to here as well.

RATING: 2 ridiculous fan theories out of 5

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