This post is nothing but one giant spoiler for Sherlock 3×01, “The Empty Hearse,” so if you haven’t seen it, mosey on over to some other blog. If, however, you have seen the episode and would like to read an obsessive analysis, you have come to the right place!

I have to admire the ability of Moffat and Gatiss to manipulate their viewers. Millions of Sherlock-starved fans watched the opening scenes of the episode in growing anxiety and a hefty amount of blind faith. Even as I was thinking how ridiculous the scene was, I was trying to justify it in my head because it’s SHERLOCK: this has to make sense somehow, right?

We all breathed a hearty sigh of relief as we realized that this was just one of Anderson’s crazy theories. I’m fairly certain Moffat and Gatiss didn’t actually bother to write how Sherlock survived until they saw all of the fan speculation online. Then they just drew the best (or funniest) ideas and threw them all together. I definitely ran across the idea somewhere online that the dead body was actually Moriarty with a Sherlock mask. (Not that it makes a lot of sense–dragging Moriarty’s body down from the roof would be completely unnecessary, for one thing. You’re in a hospital, for crying out loud, and if you’re putting a mask on it, any body will do.)

“The theories just keep on getting more stupid,” says Lestrade, which pretty much sums up the last year of the internet. The writers essentially made the fandom into characters on the show by having Anderson and his fan club ask all of the questions we’ve been asking for a year. I’m pretty sure I sprained something laughing at the romantic Sherlock/Moriarty theory put forward by one of the fan club members…and I’m also pretty sure that’s drawn straight from an array of existing fanfiction. The dummy of Sherlock had a printed-out promotional photo from the actual show stuck to it. #SherlockLives is the hashtag the fandom has been using all year, and “I believe in Sherlock Holmes” has been on t-shirts, graffiti, and everywhere else lately. The fandom should be a paid writer for the show at this point.  Right before I posted this, a friend sent me this article stating that this state of affairs might not be a good thing, but I disagree.  The writers known how to handle a rabid fanbase with aplomb, right down to filming fake scenes just to mess with our heads, and the ratings alone prove that catering to the initiated fan does pay off in the long run.

Not that such fanboying helps Anderson much.  I suspect Anderson lost his job in part because of his own guilty obsession with Sherlock, and in part because of media scrutiny of the police. The news voiceovers towards the beginning of the episode say that Richard Brook was indeed a creation of James Moriarty, vindicating Sherlock Holmes and clearing him of all suspicion, and the newscaster says questions are being asked as to why police let matters go so far. Sounds like, once the truth about Moriarty was known and Sherlock was cleared, the two officers who cast the most suspicion on Sherlock (Anderson and Donovan, who doesn’t even appear in the episode) were fired.

While everyone else is sniffling into their coffee, what is not-dead Sherlock up to? Getting beaten by Serbians, apparently. (I really liked the little touch of the Serbian guard listening to music. If I had a job that required me to be in earshot of people being tortured, you best believe I’d be blocking it out with some tunes.) Speaking of which, we got a better look at the Holmes sibling relationship in this episode, and it’s a bit vicious. Mycroft is content to watch his brother (whom he hasn’t seen in two years, remember) get beaten, and their sibling reminiscing later while playing Operation (!!) is disconcerting. Mycroft is pretty cold in general during this episode: something about his offhand dismissal when Sherlock asked about John was chilling. And yet there was the telling scene with the hat while they play the deduction game (drawn straight from Doyle’s stories, in which Holmes and Watson also play the game with a hat left behind by a client). “I’m not lonely, Sherlock.” “How would you know?” Their parents (played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s real-life parents, no less!) were hilariously ordinary—how did they end up with two such sons? Mycroft complaining about having to sit through Les Miserables with them was one of the funniest parts of the episode.

Let me just sigh happily over the reunion scenes for a bit.  Sherlock is so confident that John will be happy to see him, and then you see him look just a little bit nervous when he walks into the restaurant.  I love the ridiculous music as he strolls in, showing off like a fiend, assembling a disguise from the patrons and clearly enjoying himself far too much.  The reveal is both hilarious and touching, as Sherlock is hideously insensitive but obviously still cares.  (And let’s be honest, we all felt the same way about the mustache.)  As I mentioned in my review last year, I was really hoping John would clock Sherlock instead of faint, and I got my wish, several times over.  They downgrade restaurants every time they fight, moving from posh to family style to shady diner.

Sherlock’s reunion with Lestrade was surprisingly touching.  In the first season, they had both quit smoking together and were on the patch.  Without Sherlock, Lestrade is back to smoking in parking garages.  Sherlock insists on getting his name wrong again, of course, but that hug was still darned adorable. Mrs. Hudson’s reunion was the only one that stuck exactly to the book: in both Sherlock “throws her into hysterics.”  Sherlock’s glee at being back in London was nice to see, but what does he do?  He gets back and promptly goes and stands on a roof somewhere. NO.  NO ROOFS.  NO MORE OF THAT.

The writers handled the character of Mary Morstan (played by Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s real-life partner of 13 years) very smartly.  They had the unenviable task of making the fans like a character whom they were already predisposed to dislike for breaking up the dynamic duo. In the episode they quickly make a point of her being an ally of Sherlock’s and imply that she won’t disrupt John and Sherlock’s relationship.  John darn well better marry her, because he’s unlikely ever to find another girlfriend who does like Sherlock.  And she’s absolutely right, she’s the best thing that could have happened to him.  When Mary and John nodded in unison with their arms crossed, I felt as though I’d gotten a glimpse of Freeman home life.  In the books, of course, Mary meets John through a case (“The Sign of Four,” in which Holmes saves her life), and they marry.  In the episode they’ve apparently met through work, but I have a feeling she may play a role in an upcoming case.  When Sherlock deduces her (ugh, can I even use that word that way?) we see the word “liar,” among others, used to describe her.

Molly is just the best.  I love her, and I hope we get to see more of her this season.  I thoroughly enjoyed her day with Sherlock, making faces and snide comments at each other behind clients’ backs.  She’s such a neat combination of adorable and tough; she does autopsies for a living and identifies the age of the body as quickly as Sherlock does, but she does it all while wearing a fluffy sweater and a giant scarf.  Sherlock, for a wonder, shows a lot of sensitivity and tells her, “Don’t be John, be yourself.”  Her little smile afterwards was perfect.  She asks him what today was about, and he says, “Saying thank you for what you did for me.”  He says that was Moriarty’s big mistake (which is completely true): “The one person he thought didn’t matter at all to me was the one person that mattered the most.”  He treated her with great tenderness (for him) in this episode, and it made me very happy.  He’s even smart enough not to comment on her Sherlock-lookalike fiance.  I’ll admit for some reason I thought he had deduced something else about the guy (her comment about sociopaths being her type made me suspicious of the fiance), but on second watching I think that really was all the episode was trying to imply: that she hasn’t moved on quite as far as she thinks she has.  By the by, Lestrade still gets her champagne in this episode, asks if it’s serious with Sherlookalike, and watches her all the time.  I’m convinced Molly and Lestrade could be a thing.  Shhh, don’t burst my bubble.

As always with Sherlock, the episode abounds with references to the original stories.  The title of this episode is “The Empty Hearse,” and the story in which Holmes makes his return is “The Adventure of the Empty House.”  In that story, Watson accidentally knocks down an elderly man with white whiskers carrying some books, and he helps the man pick them up. One of the books is The Origin of Tree Worship. Later the old man, who says he is a bookseller, comes around to apologize for his rude behavior, and he offers Watson some other books: British Birds, Catullus, and The Holy War. Then the old man whisks off his disguise, revealing himself to be Holmes, and Watson faints.  In the episode, John examines a white-haired old man…who inexplicably offers him porn, instead of books, bearing the titles “Tree Worshiper,” “British Birds,” and “The Holy War.”  No wonder John assumed he was Sherlock in disguise.

In the story, Holmes mentions travelling in Tibet and amusing himself by visiting Lhassa and spending some days with the head lama, all of which was included in the Sherlock mini-episode.  Sumatra Road is a nod to The Giant Rat of Sumatra, an adventure referenced (though not specifically told) in Doyle’s stories.  At one point Sherlock explains that one of his 13 scenarios involved “a system of Japanese wrestling,” a reference to the fictional martial art of baritsu, which Holmes used to throw Moriarty off the cliff.  Sherlock also adapts a quote from Doyle’s “A Secret in Scarlet”: “London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.”  I’m hoping that this blog will do a review of the episode, because I’m sure there were more references I missed.

This isn’t really mentioned in the episode, but it was a neat little fact I ran across recently: In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes mentions that there are 17 steps leading up to their quarters in 221B. In the show there are also 17 steps leading up to their rooms (and, apparently, 17 leading to the first floor of the Sherlock Holmes Museum, which is a nice touch).

I love all of the other details on this show; it’s always worth watching the episodes twice to catch them.  When John finally comes back to visit Mrs. Hudson, he still has his key to 221B, even after two years.  He’s wearing a Sherlock-esque long dark coat and scarf, which was interesting—he wore short coats all throughout the first two series.  On his way in, some kids ask him for a penny for the Guy, which was a neat bit of foreshadowing that I completely missed the first time.  He still doesn’t take sugar in his tea, a plot point all of the fans remembered even if Mrs. Hudson didn’t because of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” last season.  Upon second viewing, I realized how many glamour shots of the London Underground they included throughout the episode, including the shot of John riding the train at the beginning, all foreshadowing the conclusion.

The train/bomb scene evoked similar feelings to the opening scene: “okay, this feels off, but I’ll work with it because it’s Sherlock.”  I was glad Sherlock was ultimately joking, because otherwise his overacting immediately beforehand would have been very out of character.  Still, Sherlock Holmes is a JERK.  I’d have wanted to kill him too.  Sherlock: “Killing me?  That was so two years ago.”  So rude.  Still, it gave him an excuse to finally apologize to John and ask him to forgive him, and of course John does.

Major plot points are annoyingly unresolved, though I’m sure they’ll all tie together neatly in the end.  We still don’t know who kidnapped John (other than that it’s likely the dude with glasses at the end) or why, and it seems to be unconnected to the bomb plot.  Interestingly, they texted Mary, not Sherlock, with the skip code.  Why?  How did they know she would understand it?  Is she connected in some way? They obviously know she went to Sherlock for help, since one of the texts to her phone says, “getting warmer, Mr. Holmes,” and they kidnapped John outside of 221B.  We still don’t know the significance of that stupid line about one of the spies dying to get the information (which reminded me of Star Wars every time: “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”)  Moran’s takedown was surprisingly anticlimactic (I had hoped he would be the next big villain), but apparently this season’s baddie will be Charles Magnussen.  In the stories, he’s just a blackmailer.  They’ve already upped that ante by making him (I suspect) John’s kidnapper, so I’m not sure what will happen.

And of course, the biggest question for fans (though ultimately unimportant, in my opinion) is…how did he do it??  Sherlock lives and breathes and we still don’t quite know how—and I think that is very, very smart of the writers.  The version of the story he tells to Anderson makes sense (though I may be biased, since it was the one I suggested last year).  The fans all wondered why Mycroft would be stupid enough to let Moriarty go.  Sherlock admits (in this version) that he didn’t foresee Moriarty killing himself, which tallies with his reactions on the roof last season.  This is the only explanation shown in the episode that doesn’t actually contradict scenes from the season 2 finale (it even accounts for the shot of the shoulder of the body hitting the ground).  Still, Anderson isn’t satisfied, and that’s kind of the point: no explanation would satisfy all of the fans.  “Everyone’s a critic,” says Sherlock.  In the end, John also asks him how he did it: “I asked you for one more miracle.  I asked you to stop being dead.”  “I heard you,” is all that Sherlock will say.