Sherlock returns after two year hiatus

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Sherlock episode “The Empty Hearse.”

Faking death for two years may seem crazy, but for self-proclaimed high-functioning sociopath and consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, it was absolutely necessary. At least, that’s what he thought. The famous detective came back in a big way yesterday with “The Empty Hearse,” the U.S. premiere of Sherlock’s third season on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery.

The episode, which is the first of the season’s three 90-minute episodes, marked the show’s return from a two-year hiatus. The hiatus was a result of the schedules of stars Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock, and Martin Freeman, who plays Sherlock’s sidekick John Watson, as they filmed roles in major blockbusters such as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Fans were left wondering how Sherlock survived his fall from the roof of St. Bart’s Hospital in the final moments of the season two finale. Theories ranged from the practical to the fantastical, and the show’s co-creators Mark Gatiss (who also appears in the series as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft) and Steven Moffat did not disappoint.

It is not until close to the end of the episode that Sherlock reveals how he really did it, although the truth of his confession is debatable. In the meantime, the episode features multiple scenarios depicting theories of how Sherlock could have survived the fall, including one where arch-villain Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) also fakes his death and aids Sherlock in a giggly prank call to John. That scenario ends with the pair of geniuses leaning in for what is presumably a kiss.

The fantasy scenarios proposed by members of Sherlock’s fan club in the show mirror the real-life scenarios proposed by fans of the show worldwide. In fact, the entire episode plays out like a love story to the show’s fandom — from the theories to the jokes about John’s new mustache, to the concise way Sherlock explains his sudden appearance at a restaurant: “Not dead.”

Even the guest stars and cast additions seem as if they could come from a fans’ dreams: Cumberbatch’s actual parents, actor Timothy Carlton and actress Wanda Ventham, make appearances as Sherlock’s parents; U.K.-based magician Derren Brown makes an appearance as himself aiding in one of the fantasy scenarios; and Freeman’s wife, Amanda Abbington, joins the show as Watson’s fiancée, Mary Morstan.

An episode full of so many Easter eggs and nods to the show’s fans easily could have turned into 90 minutes of empty dialogue, rather than an intelligent story about Sherlock. Instead, Moffat and Gatiss crafted an episode that is funny, heartfelt, and even suspenseful at times.

The co-creators managed to take Sherlock’s traditionally static character and give him an emotional depth, shown through Sherlock’s changed treatment of Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), the morgue worker whom he mistreated in previous seasons.

Hooper’s larger role in the episode, and presumably in the series, is the most prominent example of minor characters being pushed to the forefront to flesh out the main cast more.

Even the case that Sherlock pursues serves to further the character development. Sherlock returns to London to hunt down a terrorist threatening an attack on the city, and the conclusion of the case leads to a release of emotions and forgiveness that was inevitable given Sherlock’s return.

Sherlock’s latest episode is one of the best of the series. The 90 minutes seem to fly by, and it’s hard to believe that, with the end of the first episode, the season is already a third of the way over.

Filled with love and respect for not only the characters, but the fans as well, “The Empty Hearse” sets a high bar for a new year in television.