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?" 


Anyway: We know Watson isn't going to die, but it's it's a disturbing nightmarish sequence nonetheless as he struggles to regain his voice and Sherlock and Mary race to save him. Sherlock navigates by his own handy mental GPS ... presumably without Mycroft as the voice. He probably could have gone a tad faster had he left Watson's girlfriend back at the flat.

Watson pays Sherlock a visit as the detective ushers out a rather nice older couple that we learn are his parents (!). The duo are played by Benedict Cumberbatch's actual parents, too. Watson remarks how ordinary they are and Sherlock retorts that's it's a cross he has to bear. It's a fun scene, though feels like it contradicts what we heard earlier, about Sherlock and Mycroft growing up isolated from other kids -- their parents don't seem like the type of people who would treat them like flowers in the attic.

Sherlock dives into trying figuring out the "underground network" terrorist cell. Watson does what he's good at -- inadvertently tipping off Sherlock with an innocuous question or comment (in this case echoing back to him: "Any idea who they are – this underground network?"). Sherlock realizes it's an Underground network -- meaning the London tube system, and it's the 5th of November, so somebody is going to use a detected subway car to blow up the Palace of Westminster.

Sherlock and Watson break into an abandoned railway station where there's no cell service and Sherlock has refused, seemingly, to call the police. They find an abandoned car and its stuffed with explosions and a ticking clock. Sherlock says he has no idea how to dismantle the bomb -- he even checks his mind palace, nada. You would think somebody who's written a blog post on the bearing strength of natural fibers would have at some time looked up how to dismantle a bomb, but no. They're both seconds from death.

We get a very vulnerable Sherlock like we haven't seen before: "I'm sorry. I can't do it John. I don't know how. Please John, forgive me."

John thinks Sherlock is playing a trick, and rightly so, but caves anyway: "You are the best and wisest man I have ever known. Of course i forgive you."

Then we get a flash to--

Another rooftop solution! This is the most plausible yet, though still a ways from believable. In short: Sherlock knew Moriarty was going to want him dead. He worked out 13 possible scenarios and with his brother devised a counter-move for each. Once Moriarty killed himself, Sherlock texted his brother the code for this exact situation. Operatives hustled out an airbag behind the ambulance station out of view from Watson. Sherlock jumped into the airbag, the bicycle-guy stalled Watson, the airbag was hustled away and Sherlock played dead, with a ball under his armpit to slow his pulse.

We see Sherlock telling all this to Anderson, but then this solution, too, seems to melt away. Is Anderson is having a deranged fantasy and not really talking to Sherlock?

We're back in the subway car and Sherlock is snickering. He found an off-switch to the bomb and was pranking John -- and us -- yet again -- about not knowing how to turn it off. Watson is mad enough to kill him and Sherlock replies, "Oh killing me. That's so two years ago."

Later they have a tender moment as Sherlock reveals he heard Watson's grave-side wish. We meet Molly's boyfriend, who looks and dresses suspiciously like Sherlock (so maybe she's not over him after all). Sherlock puts on his deerstalker cap -- embracing his iconography -- and strolls out to meet the world. "Time to go and be Sherlock Holmes."

And that's where this dense, funny, and thrilling episode ends. Unusual, too. The crime mystery felt like an afterthought (concluded by a literal "Off" switch) as the show focused on Sherlock and Watson's relationship. It revealed nothing about who was behind the attempt on Watson's life, so that monitor-watching Big Bad has yet to be revealed. It also played a bit more like a comedy than an average episode. And while Sherlock has always been a fan-savvy show, the fandom-service was laid on pretty thick -- there were so many nudges the episode practically leaves you with bruised ribs.

And is that the real solution to how Sherlock survived, or is that still to come later this season? Anderson himself poked holes in it and says he's a "bit disappointed." To some extent, disappointment is inevitable, but one would hope for something more plausible, or at least told with more firmness. It would have been cool for Sherlock to have said something right before they walked out in their last scene, a casual shrugging and brief throw-away of how he did it, either confirming the airbag version or something else, just tossed off like it's no big deal. I've been tentatively told from a PBS source that the airbag version is ... yes, IT. I'm double-checking this right now, waiting for firm confirmation that this last solution is indeed meant to be the real one. The 'ol ball-under-the-armpit gag was a good simple element, at least. But I do feel that, especially after two years, it's a bit of an elegantly constructed cop-out to not clearly/definitively reveal a solution.

Next week: The oddest, sweetest, most surreal episode of Sherlock ever! Until then, here's a transcript of the Sherlock vs. Mycroft scene. And remember: "Weight loss, hair dye, Botox, affair."

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