“Sometimes a deception is so audacious, so outrageous that you can’t see it even when it’s staring you in the face.” — Sherlock in The Empty Hearse- aka TJLC slogan (via bookaddled)
The Empty Hearse Metaphor: Sex, Lies, and Videotape
A Clusterfuck of Psycho, Part 1
In which Jim is still running the show, Mary’s secret past isn’t so secret, and Sherlock discovers his sexual orientation.
This started out as a fun little meta about dicks. I never intended it to be part of the Clusterfuck of Psycho series I’ve been working on. I just wanted to examine the train-tunnel imagery in TEH. And I ended up making a few more deductions than I was expecting. Namely, that The Empty Hearse mystery, much like The Sign of Three mystery, is a giant metaphor for something much deeper. Pun so very much intended.
With me? Here we go.
First: if you aren’t familiar with the train-tunnel trope, it’s one of the most oft-used metaphors for sex in tv/film. For a classic example, take half a minute and watch the ending of Hitchcock’s famous film North by Northwest.
On to TEH. The writers kick things off with a fun fake-out Anderson-fantasy scene (in which Sherlock makes out with a woman!), and Sherlock informing his torturer about his wife’s infidelity (with a coffin maker!), so we’ve all got sex on our minds. Cue the opening credits, and then…
Doors close, train speeds through the tunnel, John’s on board and looking haunted. Check.
Take note of the episode title, the way it’s slapped on the door as if labeling the train. Because that’s exactly what it’s doing. Yes, “The Empty Hearse” is the name of Anderson’s fan club. But just like the Skeleton Mystery they planted, it’s a bit of a fake-out to divert our attention from the real empty hearse – the vanishing train car.
Yes, we get it. Trains move through tunnels.
what the hell’s up with this porn soundtrack
so many trains in tunnels oh my god. There’s even a fast-slow pacing going on here (I didn’t adjust the speed on the gifs).
and here comes the first in a line of this season’s most epic transitions:
It’s even more epic with the music. It’s porn music, guys. Music for pornography. Seriously, go back and listen. Oh, and the whistle blows.
Anyway – extended trains-speeding-through-tunnels sequence with porny music and varying fast-slow speeds, a train comes at/by you, WHISTLE SCREAMING EVERYTHING’S FAST AND BLURRY fadingfadingfading and then John’s swaggering away from the tunnel exit (YUP), putting his key in to unlock 221B, walking inside, and the bow-chicka-bow-wow music comes to a close.
Hitchcock would be proud. And we’re not even ten minutes into the episode.
Oh, then John hears himself and Sherlock after their first
datecrime solving adventure, panting and laughing about “the most ridiculous thing he’s ever done” as they lean against the wall side-by-side in what totally does not look like the stock over-the-bed shot of a post-coital couple. (And let’s not overlook that lip pucker.)
We do get a break from trains for a little while. John visits with Hudders, Sherlock visits with Mycroft. Let’s examine their dialogue, because Mycroft has a secret.
MYCROFT: I need you to give this matter your full attention, Sherlock. Is that quite clear?
SHERLOCK: What do you think of this shirt?
SHERLOCK: I will find your underground terror cell, Mycroft.
Primping, preening, not focusing on the entire reason Mycroft brought him back. Here’s our first hint to the metaphorical mystery: what Sherlock’s mind should be on (Mycroft’s case) and what it is on (John).
"ANTHEA": One of our men died getting this information. All the chatter, all the traffic, concurs there’s going to be a terror strike on London – a big one.
SHERLOCK: And what about John Watson?
Parallel could not be more clear. And remember this little tidbit about one of Mycroft’s men dying to get this information – it’s repeated later, which means it’s important.
SHERLOCK: Mmm. Have you seen him?
MYCROFT: Oh, yes – we meet up every Friday for fish and chips.
Heyo, we’re gonna see more fish and chips later. (Also, Sherlock says “mmm” a lot in this episode when John is referenced or speaking.)
MYCROFT: I’ve kept a weather eye on him, of course. You haven’t been in touch at all, to prepare him?
Okay, this begs several questions. Clearly Mycroft “keeping a weather eye” on John means he knows pretty much everything going on in John’s life right now. Like his relationship with Mary.
Yet Mycroft doesn’t prepare either of them. He doesn’t prepare John for Sherlock’s return, or Sherlock for John having…well, as John puts it, moved on.
(Looks at picture of John with mustache.)
SHERLOCK: Well, we’ll have to get rid of that.
SHERLOCK: He looks ancient. I can’t be seen to be wandering around with an old man.
Not only has Sherlock come back expecting they’ll be best friends, he’s acting like they’ll be a couple. (Wonder why)
SHERLOCK: I think I’ll surprise John. He’ll be delighted!
MYCROFT: You think so?
SHERLOCK: Mmm. I’ll pop into Baker Street. Who knows – jump out of a cake.
MYCROFT: Baker Street? He isn’t there any more. Why would he be? It’s been two years. He’s got on with his life.
SHERLOCK: What life? I’ve been away.
Let’s look at Mycroft’s reaction to that.
He knows exactly what Sherlock’s in for when he reunites with John. And despite their arguments and childhood issues, Mycroft does care about Sherlock. He doesn’t look amused at the thought of the hurt his brother is going to experience. He looks worried. And exasperated. But mostly worried.
Yet he doesn’t take the opportunity to warn Sherlock. In fact, he does the opposite…
SHERLOCK: Where’s he going to be tonight?
MYCROFT: How would I know?
Childish response. His immature reaction indicates there’s something deeper, more emotional going on here – that’s consistent with all Holmes brothers interactions.
SHERLOCK: You always know.
MYCROFT: He has a dinner reservation in the Marylebone Road. Nice little spot. They have a few bottles of the 2000 Saint-Emilion … though I prefer the 2001.
So he knows precisely where John will be, he knows Mary will be with him. And there’s no way Mycroft doesn’t know John bought an engagement ring. He knows what’s going to happen tonight.
SHERLOCK: I think maybe I’ll just drop by.
MYCROFT: You know, it is just possible that you won’t be welcome.
He turns after dropping this one tiny little hint to gauge Sherlock’s reaction.
SHERLOCK: No it isn’t.
Again, Mycroft doesn’t look amused. Well, maybe a little bit, just at how confident Sherlock is that nothing’s changed. But his eyebrows pull down a little. Worried again.
"Sherlock, John’s dating someone and he’s proposing to her tonight. Perhaps not the best time for you to come back from the dead." Why doesn’t Mycroft just say it?
Because he can’t.
Think through all of season three. Do we ever see Mycroft and Mary together? Once – at the very end of HLV when Sherlock is leaving and Moriarty returns. Do we ever hear one of them mention the other by name? No. Even when Sherlock calls Mycroft from the wedding, Mycroft only says “the happy couple.” The closest we get is Christmas, but they remain in separate rooms. Sherlock has been shot, damned if Mycroft doesn’t know exactly who shot him, and yet Mary’s name never passes his lips.
This scene marks the beginning of a trend: Mary is implied, but never outright mentioned, in nearly every scene with Mycroft this season…until Moriarty returns.
There’s a connection there, absolutely. So if Mycroft wants to warn Sherlock about tonight but doesn’t, that should worry us. Because someone is forcing Mycroft to stay silent. And seeing as Mycroft “is the British government,” I’m pretty sure there’s only one person powerful enough to keep him quiet. Miss me?
So Sherlock’s reunion with John goes as poorly as Mycroft probably suspected. I’m saving most of my analysis of that scene for Part 2 of this series, but I do want to point one moment out. It’s when John says he doesn’t care how Sherlock did it, he wants to know why – no, not why Moriarty needed to be stopped. But why wasn’t John included.
"Actually, um, that was mostly Mycroft’s idea."
And as Mycroft’s name is mentioned, we move over to…Mary.
"Oh, so it’s your brother’s plan."
"Oh, he would have needed a confidante…sorry."
This is a great little piece of foreshadowing, because it doesn’t just hint that Mary knows a thing or two about pulling off big identity schemes, it also immediately connects her to Mycroft (and Moriarty – he had to be stopped). And she’s subtly throwing a little bit of support behind the idea of keeping John in the dark.
Anyway. Back to trains and dicks.
Can I kiss you?
This sums up my relationship with most people I know.
(Mummy): Blooming things. I said, “Why don’t you get a chain – wear ’em round your neck?” And he says, “What – like Larry Grayson?”
(Daddy) (almost simultaneously): Larry Grayson.
i cant fucking breathe
Sometimes I despair when people don’t get that the way films/TV shows are put together is completely intentional. Like these people in these costumes and these props just happened to fall in front of a camera and then it was edited any old how with no attention being paid to unspoken but subtextual meaning you get from cultural tropes, stereotypes, lingo, joke formation, repeating literary motifs, word choice, subcultural codes, the way dialogue is combined with pictures, it’s all just an AMAZING coincidence that there are like 352 hints in a row about a character’s sexuality and it all could be explained another way. That the BAFTA and Emmy award winning writers and editors have no idea what they’re doing and they’re just accidentally giving everyone the completely wrong idea. No, you’re right. Everything I have to say is clearly silly and deluded. *finds hair coat and self-flagellates*
john while i’m flattered by you interest i’m not looking.. no, i’m not asking i’m just saying it’s all fine; good.. thank you
# he might as well have said thank you i am a fine gay man my work keeps me busy right now but i am def flattered you wanna do me in the butt
Larry Grayson is often cited as one of the first openly gay entertainers to have enjoyed mass appeal, although he never made direct reference to his sexuality. (x)
Sherlock’s father is directly compared to two people in this scene when we meet him. The first is Larry Grayson. And the second, of course…
M-theory: A Study in Pink
This is the M-theory entry on A Study in Pink. This will make zero sense to you if you have not read the introduction.
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LSiT this is… wow. I shall sit here for the rest of the evening
consumed by lust devouring these delicious metas.
9 years ago today, the Doctor took Rose’s hand and said “run”