'Sherlock' Season 3 premiere: Holmes' impossible return in 'The Empty Hearse'

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The "Sherlock" Season 3 does the near-impossible: Sherlock Holmes comes back from the dead. He and Watson even manage to get passed that little death issue as well, even if it does take **another brush or two with doom to inspire it.

Also, Sherlock likes Mary Morstan, Watson's fiancee. "The Empty Hearse" really is the most impossible episode of a crazy show. But somehow it all works.

How to fake a death ... three different ways

When the producers of "Sherlock" said that they had worked out exactly how Holmes had faked his death, they weren't kidding. There isn't just one explanation for how the detective fooled the world: There are three.

The first explanation comes right at the beginning of the episode, from the mouth of Lestrade's odd, ex-detective friend. According to this guy, Sherlock strapped on a bungee cord and bounced through Molly Hooper's window instead of dying. Mycroft's people, meanwhile, substituted the masked body of Moriarty for Sherlock.

Celebrity hypnotist Derren Brown managed to work his way into the story as well.

Although this was the only valid explanation given for the first hour of "The Empty Hearse" -- if we ignore the "Sherlock and Moriarty drop a dummy and then kiss passionately" theory -- it isn't exactly correct.

Late in the episode, there is a somewhat random insertion of Sherlock offering that same ex-police detective a "real" explanation. This version has Sherlock falling onto an airbag and using the diversion of John getting hit by a bicycle to get a dead body-double thrown to the ground. When Watson did show up to inspect the body, it was Sherlock again -- he just wore fake blood and briefly cut off his own pulse.

Is this the truth? It probably is, but it wouldn't be impossible for "Sherlock" to offer yet another answer later in the season.

There's a fine line between gratitude and fury

However Sherlock faked his death, John Watson isn't as pleased as you (or Sherlock) might expect at seeing his old friend alive. This is partially because Sherlock chooses to surprise John at a restaurant right as Watson is going to propose to Mary. The fury also comes from John's basic attack-a-problem-with-force mentality.

Mostly, however, Watson is mad because Sherlock didn't ever bother to let his supposed best friend know the death was fake. That's fair. After all, Molly and Mycroft knew. Even Sherlock's (disturbingly normal) parents knew about it. Only John got left in the dark.

Even though this was for Watson's own good and continued life -- Moriarty would have had him killed otherwise -- John isn't thrilled. He is so upset, in fact, that he doesn't even feel better after trying to kill Sherlock three times.

Back on the jobs

The main reason why Sherlock has returned to London at this exact time is a terrorist plot. Mycroft has intelligence that something is coming and needs his brother to sniff out what that might be. The problem is, Sherlock can't find anything.

It doesn't help that Watson is choosing to keep to his dull medical practice instead of helping solve crimes. So Sherlock turns to Molly, who is a reasonably effective (if totally awkward) replacement. Sherlock isn't happy about it though.

He doesn't much like the cases either. At least one of them, involving a hat-wearing train enthusiast who notices a man going missing during a ride, shows some promise.

Celebrating Guy Fawkes Day in a move guaranteed to confuse Americans

"Sherlock" is one of the more popular British exports in recent years, and Americans love it. Unfortunately, many of those fans in the US are going to be very, very confused by a major plot point in "The Empty Hearse" -- Watson gets kidnapped and nearly killed for Guy Fawkes Day.

This is a November holiday in England that (fittingly) celebrates a historical figure's failed attempt to blow up Parliament. The holiday is celebrated traditionally with bonfires and fireworks, thus explaining why a bunch of good people were happily about to burn Watson to a crisp.

Whatever confusion may reign overseas, John's near-death experience is necessary for what comes next in the case.

Attention TV heroes: There's an off-switch

Sherlock and John finally piece together some clues to realize that the terrorist plot is aimed at destroying Parliament during an important vote. Clues to this include:

1. The man missing from the London Underground wasn't the only thing that went missing -- a whole subway car disappeared too.

2. The missing car had to have been diverted to a location not on the Underground map.

3. That location is a mostly unknown, unfinished station -- one that just happens to lie right beneath Parliament.

The great detective and his Watson therefore descend beneath the earth and quickly find the appropriate subway car. There's just one problem: The whole carriage is wired to explode. And when the bad guy triggers his detonator (remotely, from a hotel room), the men have less than 3 minutes to defuse a bomb.

That's a problem. Despite his vast knowledge, it turns out that Sherlock doesn't actually know how to defuse a bomb. Neither does Watson, seeing as he was an army doctor and not an explosives expert.

All seems lost. This prompts apparent despair from Sherlock and forgiveness from John. Then they don't blow up. This is because Holmes finds the bomb's off-switch. As he puts it: "There's an off-switch. There's always an off-switch."

The return of Sherlock Holmes

A couple of brushes with death prove to be all Watson needs to renew his friendship with Sherlock. All signs indicate that they'll be partners from now on, even if John still intends to marry Mary. The episode thus ends cheerfully with a gathering of tea-drinking friends and a bevy of Holmes-loving reporters.

Sherlock is back.

Photo/Video credit: PBS
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