16 Times Sherlock Drove Us All Crazy

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A screenshot of that very meta Sherlock and Moriarty moment on the roof in “The Empty Hearse”. (Photo: BBC)

When The Show Got Entirely Too Meta

Sherlock frequently engages with much of the commentary surrounding itself. While the series has yet to outright break the fourth wall, it has included wink-nudge references to fan theories and speculation. “The Empty Hearse” is probably the worst offender when it comes to Sherlock’s uber-meta tendencies. Or at least, it’s the episode in which these storytelling flourishes are the least successful. (The Kitty character provides similarly awkward moments in “The Reichenbach Fall”, but at least she’s an important figure in the narrative.)

Here, the episode introduces a group of hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans, obsessed with the conspiracy that the detective survived his fall from the hospital. They have regular meetings, wear deerstalkers and enthusiastically debate theories about how he might have lived. Given that this is actually what real life fans of the show did for two years online, this inclusion is an interesting one. On the one hand, you can read it as a nice head tilt toward Sherlock’s most loyal viewers. On the other, the in-show references to Sherlock’s “fans” can often feel both silly and cruel. The depiction of the fans is deeply unflattering, with their man “leader” being portrayed as overweight, ridiculous and primarily interested in the idea of two men making out.

Sherlock’s online fandom had a ton of in-depth theories about the way the detective survived the fall. There were pages of this stuff all over the internet during the two years of the show’s hiatus. There were thoughtful, deep debates about the homeless network, Molly’s likely involvement, Mycroft’s connections, body doubles, John’s position in the street, even the rubber ball that Sherlock threw around in one scene. Instead, this group of Holmes fans – who are almost entirely women – do not get to engage in that kind of speculation.

Instead, a stereotypical looking goth fangirl that reads as the show’s idea of a Tumblr user offers a paper-thin survival scenario. What she’s apparently really interested in is whether Sherlock and Moriarty might have kissed and run off together. Maybe this sequence intends to be gentle ribbing of some of online fandom’s more well-known tropes. But it felt like the show was laughing at them, instead of laughing with them. And that’s frustrating.

Number of eyerolls: 6