- "But, please, there's just one more thing, one more thing, one more miracle, Sherlock, for me, don't be... dead."
- ―John Watson at Sherlock's grave
Two years after the devastating events of The Reichenbach Fall, John appears to have moved on with his life. New horizons and romance beckon but with London under threat of a devastating terrorist attack, Sherlock is about to take John at his word, staging his resurrection with all the theatricality that comes so naturally to him. If Sherlock thinks everything will be just as he left it, though, he is in for a very big surprise...
Roughly two years earlier, Sherlock is standing on the rooftop of St. Bart's Hospital, John on the pavement below. As Sherlock speaks to John over the phone, Moriarty's body is dragged away and his face is covered with a mask of Sherlock's face. Sherlock falls off the roof, and as John is looking up he is hit by a bicyclist. Molly Hooper is shown looking out the window when this happens and looks surprised when she sees Sherlock go past it. It is shown that there is a bungee rope attached to Sherlock's back, which bounces him upwards before he can hit the ground. Sherlock crashes through a window to meet Molly. He then kisses her and walks away. Meanwhile, on the ground, Moriarty's body is dragged onto the pavement and decorated with fake blood. As John stands up slowly, Derren Brown intervenes by hypnotising John, convincing him to sleep for a short time, and gives the people with Moriarty's corpse more time.
"Bollocks", says Lestrade, and it is revealed that this is just a theory of Anderson's. The two are loitering in front of a coffee stand, watching reporters who reveal that Sherlock's innocence has been proven, though it is too late for the detective. Lestrade is not convinced by Anderson's theories, however, saying that they are only based on guilt.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Serbia, a man with long, scraggly hair is being pursued. Night-vision cameras show that he is trapped by three other men.
Later, the long-haired man is chained with his arms outstretched and is being hit by another man, interrogating him. There is another man sitting quietly in the room as well, a member of the jailer's group. The interrogator asks why the man broke in to the area. The prisoner replies with a series of facts about the questioner's personal life, concluding with the fact that his wife is sleeping with the next-door neighbor. The interrogator storms out to go home, and the other man in the room is shown to be Mycroft Holmes, who walks up to the prisoner and tells him that a massive attack about to happen in London. The prisoner is then revealed to be Sherlock.
In Mycroft's office, Mycroft is reading a newspaper regarding something called the "Skeleton Mystery" while Sherlock is being shaved by an assistant. Sherlock and Mycroft quibble about Mycroft's getting involved in getting Sherlock out of Serbia.
John looks at 221B for the first time in a long time and John announces to Mrs Hudson that he is moving on with life now and is going to propose to his girlfriend. John has to insist that he is not gay after Mrs Hudson implies multiple times that Sherlock was his boyfriend.
Mycroft warns Sherlock that he might not be welcome if he tries to surprise John in returning, but Sherlock ignores him and leaves.
At The Landmark, a posh restaurant, Sherlock impulsively steals horn rimmed glasses and a bow tie from passerby, then takes an eyeliner pencil from a ladies purse to scribble on a false moustache, and uses a phony French accent as he attends to John's table while John is trying to propose to Mary Morstan, his girlfriend. Distracted, neither Mary nor John recognise Sherlock at first. Sherlock drops his fake accent, and John is astounded when he finally realises the true identity of the "waiter". Though she had never met Sherlock, Mary also figures out who it is and is as incredulous as John. Sherlock wipes his moustache off as John tries to keep calm, but when Sherlock asks John if he is going to keep his moustache, John tackles Sherlock to the floor in fury. They are apparently thrown out of the restaurant, as we immediately cut to them in a shabbier restaurant. Sherlock's flippant attitude angers John several more times, and each time, they land in a less reputable eating establishments to continue their conversation. After cutting Sherlock's lip and breaking his nose, with Sherlock characteristically being unable to understand John's hostility despite apologising, Mary and John leave Sherlock and go home in a cab, with John still very upset that Sherlock had faked his death without telling him and then failed to contact him over the previous two years.
Soon after, Sherlock reveals that he is back to Molly Hooper, Greg Lestrade, and Mrs Hudson.
In a Sherlock fan club, Anderson is arguing with another member who proposes an overly hilarious theory that involves Sherlock and Moriarty dangling a Sherlock-sized dummy off the roof (with the head being a horribly glued on photo of Sherlock), exchanging laughs at John's cries of anguish, then leaning in to kiss to the swell of romantic music....when the telly announces that Sherlock is indeed alive.
Sherlock sets up his information wall in 221B, has a conversation with Mycroft about the underground terrorist cell, and plays a game of Operation with him.
Later, John has an ordinary day in his doctor's office with several patients while Sherlock asks Molly to solve crimes with him. After several usual clients, Lestrade shows them the "Skeleton Mystery" that had been in the papers lately, which Sherlock quickly denounces as a fake.
They also talk to a client, Howard Shilcott, who works for the London Underground. His job is to clear security footage after each day but he had noticed someone get into a car on the Tube, but not get out. Sherlock recognises the man in the security footage as one Lord Moran, but is unable to deduce how he had disappeared.
After work, John decides to go to Baker Street to talk to Sherlock, but is drugged and kidnapped in front of the door. Back near the skeleton crime scene, it is shown that Molly is engaged and that she would not be able to do anything like this day again with Sherlock, who thanks her for having some part in the faking of his death.
Mary receives a text that tells her that John has been taken. She goes to Sherlock, who realises that the place John is being held at St. James the Less, a church. He and Mary commandeer a motorcycle to get to the church, where they rescue John from being burned in the bonfire for Guy Fawkes Night.
Later, in 221B, Sherlock is listening to his parents in his sitting room. When John comes in, Sherlock's parents leave and Sherlock and John discuss what had happened the night before. Sherlock tells John about the underground network in London and realised that the terrorist plot is related to Lord Moran's disappearance. He deduces that Moran had not disappeared, but the entire car had.
When he contacts Shilcott, he is told that between the stations that Moran had disappeared between is an Underground station that had never been opened, on Sumatra Road, near Parliament. Sherlock decides that there must be a bomb in the car, and he and John go to an Underground station where they break into the tunnels and try to find the bomb. John tries to call the police in order to warn the members of Parliament in an important meeting about an anti-terrorism bill, but Sherlock does not let him.
When they find the car, they realise that the car is not carrying a bomb, it is the bomb. The entire compartment is wired with explosives. While Sherlock and John are in the car, the timer, set for two minutes and thirty seconds, starts. Lord Moran has set the bomb remotely.
Knowing they have no time to get out before the bomb detonates, the two try to find out a way to disarm the bomb, but even Sherlock's mind palace does not hold 'how to defuse a bomb'. John tells Sherlock that he was the wisest man he has known, and then they brace for death.
Sometime later, Sherlock is being recorded by a camera. He explains how he had faked his death. He and Mycroft had allowed Moriarty to destroy Sherlock's reputation because they had needed to learn information about Moriarty's criminal network. Then, since Sherlock had set up the final meeting place on the roof, there had been thirteen different possible things that could have happened. He and Mycroft cased the roof and set up a solution for each scenario, with a code word for each one.
The only one that wasn't expected was Moriarty shooting himself. After that, Sherlock had texted the word 'LAZARUS' to Mycroft, and the homeless network bystanders moved into position. A group of men deployed a giant air cushion directly below Sherlock's position on the rooftop, and the street had been closed off to the public. Since John was behind the shorter ambulance station below, he could not see the air cushion. As Anderson had speculated, Molly Hooper was involved in the plan. Sherlock points out that Moriarty had found a way to traumatise one of the kidnapped children, from Sherlock's last case, into thinking that Sherlock was the kidnapper, which allowed Sherlock to realise that perhaps Moriarty had achieved this by using an accomplice who happened to bear a unique resemblance to Sherlock, and this accomplice was killed as soon as he had exceeded his usefulness. This meant that the morgue had a body on hand to pass for Sherlock, with the real Sherlock supplying the necessary coat.
Once Sherlock jumped onto the air mattress, he and the rest of the group ran the opposite way around the ambulance station while John was walking toward Bart's. John saw the fake body, and then was knocked down by the bicyclist. Once John got back up, Sherlock had been covered in fake blood, then taken the place of the body on the pavement, and put a rubber ball under his armpit in order to stop his pulse shortly while the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance.
Anderson is the one recording the explanation. After the video is finished, Sherlock says that he had not come to explain, he'd come to talk to him about the "Skeleton Mystery", which he knew Anderson had organised. Sherlock berates Anderson for distracting him, almost causing the deaths of countless innocents and the destruction of Parliament. Anderson wonders about loopholes in Sherlock's solution, and then wonders if he'd even been told the true way Sherlock had faked his death.
Back in the Tube car, Sherlock and John prepare for their final moments. Sherlock begins to cry but suddenly starts laughing, and John looks down and sees that the timer has been stopped since one minute and twenty-nine seconds. Sherlock had stopped the bomb, and he says that there had been an off switch. Soon after, they see people with torches coming down the tunnel towards them, and John realises that Sherlock had called the police as well. This has all been a trick by Sherlock to get John to admit how much he'd missed Sherlock.
In a hotel, Lord Moran attempts to run away but is arrested.
Later, Sherlock, John, Mary, Mrs Hudson, and Lestrade sit in 221B, talking. Molly enters soon, with her boyfriend, Tom, who dresses quite a bit like Sherlock.
Sherlock prepares to go outside to talk to the press outside, and talks to John about his kidnapping. Sherlock does not tell John how he'd faked his death, and John tells him about the speech he'd made at his grave.
Sherlock and John go outside to talk to the press, but somewhere in a dark room elsewhere, someone is watching footage of Sherlock's rescue of John from the bonfire.
- "Short answer: not dead."
"Oh my god."
"You're.... do you have any idea what you've put him though?""
- ―Mary meets Sherlock, at the same time, he doesn't know John is angry and wants to hurt him for lying to him
- "SHUT UP JOHN! I DON'T WANT EVERYONE KNOWING I'M STILL ALIVE!"
"So it's still a secret?"
"Yes. Promise to keep it?"
"SWEAR TO GOD!"
- ―Sherlock finally snaps back at John's overraction
- "Want are you doing?"
"Having a wash."
"You're shaving it off, because he hates it."
"Apparently everyone does."
"Months of bristly kisses and then he turns up."
"I don't shave for Sherlock Holmes."
"You should put that on a T-shirt.""
- ―John discusses shaving his mustache with Mary
- The episode is loosely based on "The Adventure of the Empty House", the short story in which Sherlock Holmes comes back after his presumed death.
- The patient who comes to see John and offers him videos – whom John assumes is Sherlock in disguise – is a reference to this story. In The Adventure of the Empty House, Holmes returns as a book seller, selling books with the same titles as the videos. It is also a reference to a scene from The Spider Woman.
- Sherlock also mentions a sort of "Japanese wrestling" in passing in the episode, a reference to the fictional martial art of "baritsu" mentioned by Arthur Conan Doyle in the original story.
- The name of the abandoned tube station "Sumatra Road" is a subtle reference to "The Giant Rat of Sumatra", a case that is mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"
- The bomb is located near a London Underground station on Sumatra Road, having been planted by Lord Moran, a "rat" in the British Government.
- Colonel Sebastian Moran is a character in several of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. He first appears in "The Adventure of the Empty House" as a villain, out to kill Sherlock Holmes in order to avenge Moriarty's death.
- At one point, John asks the bearded man selling DVDs if his usual GP is named "Dr Verner", who, in "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder", is a cousin of Sherlock Holmes who buys Watson's practice so he can move back into his old rooms on Baker Street upon Holmes's return.
- In Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "The Lost Special" (not explicitly a Sherlock Holmes story, since his name is not mentioned), a train disappears under mysterious circumstances from between two stations that have no obvious side lines.
- Sherlock deduced that his client's step-father pretended to be her boyfriend (via the Internet). This is a reference to A Case of Identity. He also named him Windibank.
- Sherlock and Mycroft's game of deductions (though not the specific examples) comes from The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, whilst some of the deductions concerning the client's hat originate from Sherlock's solo work in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.
- Part of a conversation (MYCROFT: "Yes. You got yourself in deep there ... (he checks his report) ... with Baron Maupertuis. Quite a scheme." SHERLOCK: "Colossal.") echos The Adventure of the Reigate Puzzle ("The whole question of the Netherland-Sumatra Company and of the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis are too recent in the minds of the public, and are too intimately concerned with politics and finance to be fitting subjects for this series of sketches.").
- Sherlock mentions Professor Presbury and "monkey glands." Both are from the story "The Adventure of the Creeping Man".
- The mentioned text message is pointed out by Mary to Sherlock that it's a skip code, a type of code where each word of the secret message is given every third word of the apparent message, a reference to "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" where Holmes shows and explains to Watson a message with the same type of code.
- When Sherlock draws a moustache and Watson sports a real one, they appear similar to the characters Basil and Dawson when they went undercover in "The Great Mouse Detective" (and in both situations, Sherlock/Basil has fake moustache and Watson/Dawson has a real one).
- In the tube carriage, John said to Sherlock that he is "the best and wisest man I have ever known". This line is the ending line of The Adventure of the Final Problem. The line is also said by Mary Watson in the end of the episode "The Final Problem".
- A special mini episode "Many Happy Returns" was broadcast on 25 December, 2013, which bridges the gap between Series Two and Series Three.
- Mark Gatiss and Martin Freeman have commented that John's reaction to Sherlock's return will be different from "The Adventure of the Empty House", where Watson simply faints.
- The couple who played Sherlock's parents are in fact Benedict Cumberbatch's real life parents, Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham.
- Watson's fiancée, Mary Morstan, is played by Amanda Abbington, the real-life partner of Martin Freeman.
- Derren Brown portrays himself as the man hypnotising John in Anderson's theory.
- Steve Lawes, the Director of Photography, designed the torture scene on “An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump” by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768.
- Children asking for "Penny for the guy" is actually a tradition before 'Bonfire Night' all over England.
- The passage she reads aloud is an almost verbatim excerpt from The Sign of the Four ("[s]o swift, silent, and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained bloodhound picking out a scent...").
- The song playing when Watson first tackles Sherlock in the restaurant is the Spanish salsa tune "Dónde Estás, Yolanda?" The lyrics to the chorus translate as "where are you, where are you, Yolanda? What happened, what happened, Yolanda? I looked for you, I looked for you, Yolanda; and you were gone, and you were gone, Yolanda."
- The name of the plan that Sherlock set in motion to fake his death, "Lazarus," is the same name of the character played by Mark Gatiss in Doctor Who. Lazarus is also the name of a man whom Jesus, in the Gospel of John, is described as restoring to life four days after his death (John 11). Previously, Mark Gatiss, this episode's writer as well as portraying Sherlock's brother Mycroft, appeared in Doctor Who: The Lazarus Experiment (2007) playing the character of Professor Richard Lazarus.
- Sherlock and Mycroft play "Operation" in 221b.
- The six digit code that is used to detonate the explosives is 051113 - the date of the planned attack (5 November 2013).
- Sherlock's deduction of Mary were only child, linguist, clever, part time nurse, Shortsighted, guardian, bakes own bread, cat lover, romantic, appendix scar, disillusioned lib dem, secret tattoo, size 12, liar.
- Events of this episode was documented on John's blog on 7 October.
- The Sumatra Road tube station does not exist and was fabricated for the story. Sumatra Road itself does exist and is approximately five miles away from the Palace of Westminster, near West Hampstead Thameslink station for the National Rail. There is, however, an underground station near Sumatra Road called North End (colloquially known as 'The Bull and Bush') which was built but never opened to the public due to planning issues above ground.
- On the TV in Anderson's club, bottom rolling headline says, “Magnussen summoned before parliamentary ...”.
- On realising the attack will be on 5 November, John says, “Remember, remember," at which Sherlock replies “Gunpowder, treason and plot.” They were reciting a rhyme about Guy Fawkes (Remember, remember, the 5th of November/The Gunpowder Treason and plot;/I see of no reason why Gunpowder Treason/Should ever be forgot.). Guy Fawkes was an English soldier and a member of a group of Roman Catholic conspirators who attempted to carry out the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) and the members of both houses of the Parliament of England with a huge explosion, which was prevented by his arrest on 5 November 1605. In Britain, 5 November is celebrated as "Guy Fawkes Night" or "Bonfire Night".
- Mary receives a text message on her mobile phone that starts with the phrase "John or James Watson". This is a reference to a continuity error in "The Man With the Twisted Lip", in which Mary calls her husband "James" rather than John.
- In the credits of Sherlock on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS, some of the letters were highlighted red. Letters from this episode spells out W-E-N-G-C-H-I-A-N-G. In the 1977 Doctor Who six-part serial Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang: Part One (1977), Tom Baker (the Doctor at the time) wore a Holmes-like deerstalker hat while investigating a series of supernatural murders in Victorian London.
- The plot of a bomb in an underground train intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5th shares elements with the plot of the film V for Vendetta.
- The train shown on security footage is 1996 Stock train for Jubilee line, which stops at Westminster station and St. James's Park station. The wagon found by Sherlock and John is 1972 Stock for Bakerloo line. And the interior for that wagon was borrowed from D78 Stock for District line.
- Sherlock's tombstone appears to have changed locations between this episode and the series two finale. In the latter, the tombstone stands somewhat isolated, in front of a huge tree, with no more tombs around. In "The Empty Hearse", however, the tombstone stands behind the tree, in the middle of an opening, with several other tombstones around.
- Towards the end, when Sherlock and Mary are driving to save John, a brief scene before they arrive at the police barricade clearly shows a shadow of the camera/crew on the ground.
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
- Martin Freeman as John Watson
- Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes
- Rupert Graves as Inspector Greg Lestrade
- Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson
- Amanda Abbington as Mary Morstan
- Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper
- Andrew Scott – Jim Moriarty
- Jonathan Aris – Anderson
- David Fynn – Howard Shilcott
- Sharon Rooney – Laura
- Tomi May – Torturer
- Rick Warden – Bonfire Dad
- Trixiebelle Harrowell – Zoe
- Lace Akpojaro – Reporter 1
- Jim Conway – Reporter 2
- Nicole Arumugam – Reporter 3
- David Gant – Mr Szikora
- Robin Sebastian – Mr Harcourt
- Ed Birch – Tom
- Lisa McAllister – Anthea
- Derren Brown – Himself
- Timothy Carlton – Mr Holmes
- Wanda Ventham – Mrs Holmes
- Lars Mikkelsen – Charles Augustus Magnussen
|Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) • John Watson (Martin Freeman) • Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) • Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) • Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves) • Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) • Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs)|
|Irene Adler • Mary Watson • Charles Augustus Magnussen • Eurus Holmes|
|"A Study in Pink" • "The Blind Banker" • "The Great Game"|
|"A Scandal in Belgravia" • "The Hounds of Baskerville" • "The Reichenbach Fall"|
|"The Empty Hearse" • "The Sign of Three" • "His Last Vow"|
|"The Six Thatchers" • "The Lying Detective" • "The Final Problem"|
|Unaired Pilot • "Many Happy Returns" • "The Abominable Bride"|
|"Sherlock: The Network" • Manga|