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

First there's a nice tease that we think the Holmes brothers are playing chess when they're actually playing Operation, a game we presume they played as kids. We learn a lot about their upbringing and make a surprising discovery -- Mycroft is considered smarter than Sherlock. That's true in the original stories, but hasn't been so clearly demonstrated in the series until now. We're told Mycroft considered his younger brother dumb by comparison and they used to play another far more educational game as kids -- "deductions."

I love this because it explains a lot about Sherlock's abilities and the Holmes brothers' personalities. That Sherlock's crime-solving genius is an extension of a game he played versus his smarter older brother really helps sell the idea of why and how he's such a deductive genius. It also explains his propensity for showing off -- he's the younger child who was starved for attention and praise. Mycroft can do deductions too, he just doesn't feel the need to impress others as much, thus he works in the shadows putting his brain to use for queen and country.

The other layer of this scene is Sherlock chiding his brother on his social isolation. Mycroft actually brings up the topic inadvertently by noting, in a terrific line, "If you seem slow to me, Sherlock, can you imagine what real people are like? I’m living in a world of goldfish."

S0 Sherlock proposes they play a game of deductions. The entire point of the deductive game wasn't to see who could figure out more about the owner of the hat (Sherlock already knows the owner), but to reveal that Mycroft is blind to his own social isolation -- he can guess everything about the owner correctly, but misses that the person lives an isolated life. At the end of the exchange when Mycroft realizes what Sherlock is implying, he says, "I'm not lonely, Sherlock." When Sherlock pointedly says, "How would you know?" he's referring to Mycroft's deductive blind spot that he just revealed -- if he can't recognize the loneliness in others, he cannot recognize it in himself.

It's a superb scene. One that deftly gives you a deeper sense of both men. Sherlock has grown to recognize that -- "high-functioning sociopath" or not -- he craves companionship, Watson in particular. Whereas Mycroft is convinced such relationships are unnecessary. The scene even drops the word "elementary," though Mycroft says it instead of his brother. Let's give a hand to Mark Gatiss, who not only wrote this episode but plays a perfect Mycroft (and has a voice that I want as my GPS navigation).

And that's it! So next week's episode...

What's that? There's more? Oh, so there is. Never going to get used to this 90-minute format compared to U.S. dramas with their 44 minutes. That's right, they have to solve a case and stuff. We get some filler -- albeit very entertaining filler -- as our story works to reunite Sherlock and Watson.

First there's a sequence where Holmes asks Molly to fill in as his substitute partner and she does her best, but Sherlock literally can't get John's voice out of his head. They have a nice break-up scene where she reveals her engagement and he tenderly tells her she's the person he cares the most about. I couldn't help but think: But isn't Watson the person he cares most about? Because we haven't gotten the sense he cares that deeply about Molly. Realized after reading comments Sher meant that she was the one who mattered most to his plan, which makes more sense.

Then we have a harrowing diversion where Watson is kidnapped, drugged and stuffed into a bonfire pyre, Wicker Man-style, by persons unknown. Thankfully, Mary is a nurse and everybody knows that all nurses are trained to immediately spot skip codes.  This is the start of the terrorist plot-line. Best I can gather: This was a depiction of Bonfire Night / Guy Fawkes Night in Britain where bonfires are burned with effigies of Fawkes. For those who haven't caught V for Vendetta lately, Fawkes was a member of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament in 1605. The plot's failure is celebrated on Nov. 5 (which is a bit confusing in this episode, because the Bonfire Night gathering is shown a night or two before Nov. 5 occurs in the episode).

NEXT: The fall solution revealed? Tease for next week

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