aruan: (Sherlock - all these things I've done)
[personal profile] aruan
I'm not the comedian in my social circle. As the enthusiastic magpie, my forte is effusive bursts of emotion on the esoteric subjects I know a ton about. To that end, I've spent many happy hours between Tumblr and the AO3 "preparing" for the third season of Sherlock. Meta, fic, art - my fannish life of the last two years consisted of little else.

Which was exactly the problem when it came time for The Empty Hearse.

Now, I didn't hate the episode on first watch. It was just, as Anderson said, not how I would've done it. The main problem was my expectation of what should've been covered:

  • John adjusting to life without Sherlock, as well as mourning him. An analogue, I guess, to the scene in the basement Anderson staged when Sherlock was replying to the comments John would make, were he there. We never got to see the hole left in John's life. (Though I hope the glimpse of what a month without Sherlock did to him in His Last Vow will be fodder for many fanfic authors: John meting out vigilante justice on the streets of London, Lestrade losing sleep over getting called in because John's been busted again for whatever, some desperate Scotland Yard rookie taking a case to Sherlock's former partner for help. [That last one is actually canon!])

  • Sherlock struggling with the effects of whatever hideous things he'd endured over his two years in exile chasing Moriarty's henchmen. Since we find him disheveled and running through the woods, then brutally interrogated, at the end of his adventure, it's reasonable to assume this isn't the first tough spot he'd gotten himself into. Mycroft probably wasn't needed before, but that doesn't mean things didn't get difficult. If not PTSD, then just the paranoia of life on the run, the loneliness of working without John's company (if not backup), missing London, missing the trappings of 221B, etc.

  • As much as his faked death was a practical and pragmatic decision for Sherlock, it rang patently false that he didn't think John's life would be less difficult knowing he was alive. He could've said to John at the diner, "I was afraid you'd try to contact me. Or worse, find me." Or, "I couldn't know if I'd be back, and wanted you to get on with your life." Some indication that he'd considered how John must've felt after watching his best friend commit suicide.

    Of course, all of the above would've been desperately depressing to watch, and that's not the emotional arc for either Sherlock or John this season. Just as well though, because the writers deciding to go with Sherlock realizing he's in love with John, and John realizing he had a chance with Sherlock just as he's about to promise himself to someone else was infinitely better, if equally painful. And, in fairness, we got a decent amount of pain: Sherlock being tortured in Serbia; John manhandling him as his explanations kept falling short; John growing disillusioned with his boring normal life; John getting kidnapped and put in a bonfire; Sherlock getting in a good handful of his thousand owed apologies; etc. It was enough.

    (The Tube car bomb scene and the improbability of Sherlock's ordinary parents - though not quite, but that information is two episodes away - also irked, but I've by and large reconciled those, too.)

    That's not to say the episode didn't go a bit too far in the other direction. A coworker complained about the influences of British comedy and James Bond, how the tone wasn't consistent with the first two seasons, and she isn't wrong. Sherlock isn't an international superspy, and this isn't a sitcom where a cross-dressing man is liable to interrupt the proceedings at any second. (Though, if Sherlock ever finds a reason to make Mycroft's fantasy come true, I hope John manages to get a photo, at the very least.)

    Back in September, as my newspaper's resident Sherlock expert, I agreed to write episode recaps, which we try to make amusing (nothing TWoP-caliber, but not everyone wants to read a few thousand words on a single episode of their favorite show, either.) The formula works: While I watch neither Homeland nor Scandal, our synopses are often so amusing that I almost forget people die with some frequency on both shows. So it was with that goal to find humor that I approached my recap of The Empty Hearse - and realized what I've been doing wrong from the first scene.

    Summarizing something forces you to focus on what's happening in the story, and only that, while being funny puts the drama in perspective. I learned to love the episode by setting aside two years' worth of emotional investment (which still needs a good catharsis - this is the closest I've come). Take things as they happen. Let the characters react in their own ways. Instead of allowing a scene totally jar me out of the story, take a deep breath to consider that the people who made it probably weren't intentionally setting out to fuck with their audience. Allow things to unravel as the writers intended instead of imposing limitations and requirements. I know you're all rolling your eyes, but as a journalist I'm trained to look ahead and anticipate what's next - but the effect is prejudicial in the real world, and joy-killing in entertainment. With that in mind, the episode actually turned out to be damn good, accomplishing everything it needed to without becoming maudlin. I'd give it a solid B+.

    tl;dr Sometimes the characters serve the plot, and sometimes the plot is determined by character development - and both are valid storytelling approaches.
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