This recaplet is more of a review/angry letter. Oh, fear not. The angry letter isn't to Moffat, et al. It's to the Beeb and PBS, but more on that later. We've waited long enough (some of us longer than others), Sherlock fans. Let's go on with our show.
As we all knew he would, Sherlock Holmes survives his jump off St. Bart's. He then spends two years infiltrating Moriarty's criminal network. We catch up with him (bearing some extra, welcomed muscle mass), shirtless (him, not us, or at least not me) in Serbia, where he's being tortured for information, while a disguised Mycroft watches. Raise your hand if you're not at all surprised that Mycroft likes to watch.
Once Sherlock is safely home in Old Blighty, he is desperate to catch up with his old mate, John Watson, who has had the temerity not only to move on with a woman, but to grow a mustache. If reuniting with Watson is Holmes' number one job, getting him to shave that mustache is job number two. When he succeeds, the angels sing. (Side note: someone should cast Benedict Cumberbatch as an angel, but in something meaty, not treacly.)
During the nearly two years since "The Reichenbach Fall," aired, a great deal of Sherlock internet chatter has been focused on how, exactly, Sherlock survived. Mark Gatiss, who penned "The Empty Hearse," deftly answers that question by tweaking the audience with fake reveals fueled by the imaginations of conspiracy theorist characters. How Sherlock survived was never the right question. John's reaction is all that matters, because John is us and we are John.
Given Sherlock's utter lack of social skills, he decides to reveal himself in about the worst manner, ever -- disguised as a waiter. John only recognizes him, just as he's about to propose to Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman's life partner). John is relieved, devastated, and mostly furious that his best friend let him mourn for two years. John's emotions provide accessible catharsis for an audience which has also been pining for Sherlock, for far too long.
Every best scene in "The Empty Hearse" hones in on the deep bond between Watson and Holmes, and how keenly they missed one another. John's pain, anger, and joy -- first at his apparent loss, then in response to Sherlock's betrayal, and finally at their reconciliation -- is exquisite and not to be missed.
John's life is at stake twice in "The Empty Hearse." The first incident affords Sherlock the opportunity to prove his worthiness to a Watson-empathetic audience. The second instance plays more controversially. Never fear, Holmes saves Watson (and, depending on your politics -- more or less importantly -- Parliament). The problem is, while Holmes is deeply regretful that he's again put his friend's life in jeopardy, once he figures out how to save them both, he doesn't let John in on it, and instead manipulates the situation (and said friend), until John makes a clean confession of his feelings. And then? Sherlock laughs. While some fans accept this, some find it off-putting, while others find it infuriating. I'll say no more until the proper recap, so if you're reading this recaplet for spoilers (that you could have gotten anywhere in the past weeks), get out of here and go watch the episode. I have scathing letter to write.
Dear BBC and PBS,
I want to acquaint you with the 21st Century. In the 21st Century, a person who lives near Boston, Massachusetts, is as likely to regularly talk to people in Bristol, England, as she is to talk to people in Bristol County, Massachusetts. In fact, this person who lives near Boston, MA remembers the last time she entertained company from Bristol, England in her Massachusetts home. She cannot say the same of anyone who lives in Bristol County.
Why do you two broadcasters co-produce a mystery show, and then insist upon broadcasting it two and a half weeks apart? By doing so, you are inviting your audience to seek other means of viewing your product. Do you know why? I'll tell you why. Your product is a bloody mystery show, and in this, the internet age, it is nearly impossible to go about one's business (much of which is conducted via the internet) for two and a half weeks without being spoiled for said mystery show. Mystery solved!
If I understand your respective business models correctly, here's how things work in UK. A household pays a specific TV tax, which entitles said household to watch the BBC and other UK public television outlets. In the U.S., it is a little more fuzzy. Public broadcast funding is a line item on the ofttimes theoretical federal budget, so yes, it is our tax dollars at work, but it feels less direct to the average tax payer. Since public broadcasting is a line item on the budget, it is often also a favorite chopping block for more conservative political candidates. Remember Mitt Romney and Big Bird? Now, federal funding isn't enough to run U.S. public broadcasting, so programming is also funded by donations from viewers (like
you me) and corporations which, regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court says, aren't people in any sensible definition of the word, but I digress.
My point, and I do have one, is that by staggering the broadcast of a mystery show such as Sherlock, you are aiding and abetting shady providers of your fine programs -- the very providers you (and your for-profit counterparts) spend time, energy and money trying to shut down. Your nonsensical scheduling does more to increase the demand for shady services than all the viral marketing in the world could ever accomplish. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes' cognitive powers to realize that your scheduling costs you viewers.
In the next year or decade, or however long it takes Moffat and company to produce the next season (series to you Brits) of Sherlock, will you please get your collective acts together and agree to broadcast the show on the same schedule? Given the five hour time difference between UK and the U.S. East Coast, unlike Benedict Cumberbatch, I'm not asking for a simulcast (although I'd greedily accept one). I can avoid spoilers for an afternoon. I cannot avoid them for two and a half weeks.
People with internet access no longer have to illegally download a show to watch it. People with internet access do not even have to download computer programs which allow their computers to appear to be in the UK (to watch via BBC's iPlayer). There are websites which live-stream Sherlock to the world, while it is airing in UK. There are other websites (not YouTube) featuring YouTube-like players which allow fans to watch when they want, without downloading byte nor bit. By refusing to broadcast your shows on the same day, on both sides of the pond, you are driving your viewers to said sites -- in droves.
I'm all for public broadcasting. That said, this is exactly where capitalists are right to rely on the profit motive to get things done. I suspect if you both relied on advertising to produce your programs, your advertisers (or at least your share holders) would have already driven home the point that this ridiculous UK/US scheduling gap alienates US viewers. I, for one will watch (and re-watch) the U.S. PBS broadcast of Sherlock, and buy the Sherlock DVDs, because I'm obsessive like that, but most viewers do not watch TV the way TWoP recappers do. Please, please, get it together before season (series) four, and schedule the BBC1 and PBS broadcasts to premiere on the same day day.
Sincerely, Every U.S. Sherlock Fan
P.P.S. While it is not a mystery show, U.S. fans of Downton Abbey co-sign.
I'll be back ASAP with the recap. In the meantime, please grade the episode at the top of the page, and then come on over to our brand spanking new Sherlock forum where we don't shave for Sherlock Holmes; we wax.
Welcome to a very different episode of Sherlock. I suppose it's silly of me to welcome you to it since you, gentle reader, are already a character in "The Empty Hearse." Allow me to front-load some commentary, which I'll begin by delving into my one-trick bag of tricks.
In the "Ted" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while Buffy and Giles are out on patrol, Buffy vents about vampires but it soon becomes apparent something else has her in a snit. "I mean, people are perfectly happy getting along, and then vampires come, and they run around and they kill people, and they take over your whole house and start making these stupid little mini-pizzas. Now I like a mini-pizza, but I'm telling you..."
For those of you who never watched, the mini-pizza-making monster in question is Buffy's mom's new boyfriend (and in Buffy's defense, he does turn out to be an evil robot). None of that is my point, though. Once Buffy loses the thread of her metaphor, Giles tells her, "Buffy, I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming text." While watching "The Empty Hearse," I hear Anthony Stewart Head saying, "Gatiss, I believe the text here is rapidly becoming metatext." Hey, if you have to have voices in your head, Tony Head's is not the worst option. P.S. to Moffat et al, please cast Mr. Head as a Sherlock villain.
In Sherlock's season three premiere, "The Empty Hearse," the text immediately becomes metatextual criticism on Sherlock fan theories, fan fiction and fandom itself. Less obviously, it becomes metatextual criticism on the very making of Sherlock. That's right. Gatiss isn't just taking the piss out of fandom. He's taking it out of the writing and production of the show. My assertion and belief is that he is doing it more out of love than disdain (although I'll allow there's a healthy dose of fear in there, too).
Meta-laden works are polarizing and "The Empty Hearse" is no exception. Provided the meta works with the plot and doesn't overwhelm it, I enjoy it. Writer Mark Gatiss skates the line between text and commentary so well, I'm disappointed he won't be competing in Sochi. His triple Axel that is "The Empty Hearse" is nearly flawless. Even the Chinese judges agree.