The Anatomy of a Red Herring: How Sherlock Didn’t Do It
In the wee hours of the band new 2014 BBC One changed its station identifier over from a holiday theme to the colorful “Love 2014” animation. You can see and hear the ident here in its various forms.
Here’s the purpose of the ident and how the tv station uses it:
A form of station identification clip is played between programmes, traditionally incorporating the channel’s logo, and accompanied by a continuity announcer that introduces the upcoming program (and promotes other programs). (x)
The Empty Hearse was broadcast on 1 January, 2014- the day the “Love 2014” ident debuted. TV viewers are accustomed to idents bridging the emotional gaps between episodes with different tones- between the credits of The Antiques Roadshow, for example, and the first thrilling minutes of an eagerly anticipated program like Sherlock. We curse the announcer, wish they’d shut up, but also, as viewers, we welcome the ident. The announcer speaks directly to us, knowingly and with a manufactured cheer. Idents tease us, commiserate with us, and signal the immense goodness to come. Idents serve to both release and build the viewer’s tension. Beware! They also troll.
The “Love 2014” ident appears (the first gif on the left) on its own. In the gif beside it is the ident as it appeared in the first brief seconds of The Empty Hearse. Here’s my point: before the ident fades entirely, it’s colored the cemetery grass in the first frames red. We’re in for a red herring from the start. The BBC’s cheery red all-knowing wink (the ident) sets us up for a massive gotcha.
Now. Go back and listen to the ident’s theme music. It’s cloying and tinkly. Compare that to Hearse's initial drum beats. Big contrast, right? But the Sherlock soundtrack’s also in on the ruse. You can listen to the opening theme that composers Michael Price and David Arnold titled ”How It Was Done.” Here’s Michael talking about the theme.
“How It Was Done,” the first thing you hear in season three, is a deliberate red herring. It’s deliberately trying to be as obnoxious as possible… It was deliberately so, because all the departments needed to sell that red herring as hard as possible with total straight face conviction. -Michael Price, Sherlock co-composer (x)
So we’ve got the BBC
trolling us transitioning us into Hearse with their self-conscious red wash. Then we hear John’s cry as a painful reminder of his tears shed two years previous, but— BUT the soundtrack music is intentionally and uncharacteristically over the top. So what do the visuals do?
After the camera runs up over the grass it rests on Sherlock’s headstone while we watch Sherlock’s shadow approach the black granite stone (black-on-black! cinematography squee!) But the transition does something kind of surprising. The screen fades to total white! Then BAM! We review Moriarty’s suicide in the quickest cuts. The retelling is the same but quite different visually in one important way: The white tint washes over Anderson’s version of the landing.
Compare the shots of Sherlock and John in Hearse (top) to the same shots in Reichenbach (bottom). In Hearse they’re desaturated and have a bluish cast. Same content, different lens (technically and narratively). The images are almost the same, but the tint is off enough to be quite noticeable to obsessive viewers— just like Anderson’s apartment tries too hard to mimic the essence of 221b but fails.
The idea was to make [Anderson’s flat] look like Anderson tried specifically to make it look like Baker street… but somehow not quite managing to make it into a home the way 221B is. (x)
The BBC and the Sherlock makers themselves told us this “solution” was wrong- wrong from the start with their knowing red tint and their comedic fade to white (which is literally the polar opposite of the profundity of this fade to black in Belgravia.) Sherlock has such an established visual style that, by S3, the makers chose to play with it and did they ever! The spoof is glorious!
You can love Hearse's red herring or hate it- but don't say they didn't warn you.