Sherlock season premiere recap: Legends of the Fall

'The Empty Hearse': Sherlock's brilliant premiere trolls Watson and fans alike
Ep. 01 | Aired Jan 19, 2014

A mysteriously not-dead Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) returns to prank Watson (Martin Freeman): "Sir, may I recommend the deus ex machina?" 

PBS

Watson returns to 221B for the first time in a couple years. Mrs. Hudson is quite peeved at him and understandably so -- he hasn't called or written. It's pretty heartless of our warm humane Watson. "It just got harder and harder to pick up the phone, somehow." She reveals she couldn't bring herself to rent out the flat, which is probably the toughest thing in this episode to buy given the going cost of a two bedroom in Central London.

Watson reveals he's getting married, and there's an exchange where Mrs. Hudson thinks he and Sherlock were gay. It's amusing, but this is one running gag on the show that should probably be retired. It's one thing for strangers to mistake them their relationship, but it's odd to have Hudson not knowing better.

And now ... as much as we've wanted to know how Sherlock survived his fall, this is the real scene we've wanted to see -- the reunion. It's written and played brilliantly. Like Doyle's original short story upon which this episode is very loosely based, Sherlock opts to appear in a disguise, here cleverly snatching items as he strolls through a fancy restaurant to look like a snooty waiter. We're treated to some playful banter between a clueless Watson searching the wine list and Sherlock making recommendations. "Well, surprise me," Watson says. "I'm certainly endeavoring to, sir," Sherlock replies.

Enter Watson's significant other Mary, played by Martin's real-life partner and Mr. Selfridge star Amanda Abbington. The casting smacked of such nepotism that I had a tough time being excited by it, but she's perfectly charming in the role.

Watson is going to propose, which makes this scene all the better. She knows what's coming. He fumbles, Watson-like, through the question. Disguised-Sherlock returns with the wine, hinting, hinting...

Watson finally sees him. Really sees him. His expression is ... hard ... and difficult, at first, to read. It's complex, and not easy to peg one emotion on it. As Sherlock continues going through his prank, Mary gives voice to the moment. "You died! You jumped off the roof!" Sherlock says, "The short version: not dead."

Then Watson's synaptic storm appears to congeal into one clear one emotion: rage. Sherlock rubs off his mustache and teases Watson, "Does yours rub off too?"

And Watson rightfully attack him! Cut to another, cheaper, diner. "How could you do that?" Watson asks -- which is perfect. Not everybody's question, of how DID you do that, but how COULD you do that.

Frustratingly, Sherlock doesn't explain the obvious reason for his ruse that we all know about and that would make Watson feel better -- that he was protecting his loved ones from Moriarty's network. Screenwriters often have characters omit such information to add more drama, but it's annoying. When Sherlock reveals that both Molly and some of his homeless network were in on the gag, Watson attacks again.

Outside, Sherlock once again mocks the mustache. It's really bugging Sherlock because as he pointed out, it makes him (Sherlock) look bad by association. "Mary likes it," Watson says, which Sherlock points out isn't true. Watson: "Oh brilliant! This is charming. I've really missed this." And so have we. With that line, we feel like the duo are really back together, at least for the moment.

Mary tells Sherlock she'll talk Watson around to forgiving him, which surprises Sherlock (and us). He sizes her up and discovers she's a Size 12 cat lover, among other things.

With that reunion done, we see Sherlock reunite with a few other old friends. Saying hello to Molly, scaring the bejesus out of Hudson. And Lestrade recognizes him at merely the sound of his voice and gives him a big hug -- awww.

Finally, we get what happened on the roof. The real story -- we think? A dummy with a Sherlock mask goes over the edge. Sherlock and a very much alive Moriarty sit on the roof and snicker to each other, then turn sober. They lean in to kiss--- whaaa?

Another feint! Drat. More Sherlock fan-fic inspired tales from conspiracy theorists. Anderson has a Sherlock club dubbed "The Empty Hearse" debating various ways he could have survived. They see a great headline on the telly: "Hat Detective Alive."

Next, another stand-out scene. The Sherlock and Watson reunion is clearly the emotional high-point of the episode. But the most interesting and perhaps best-written scene is this one: Sherlock and Mycroft.

NEXT: Deep dive on perhaps the most revelatory scene in Sherlock history

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