If you haven't seen the new Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse" then assume everything here is basically spoilers.
I'll admit something: I actually forgot that the new episode of Sherlock was coming out today. I'm not sure how I forgot, but I did. I was reminded by seeing a Sherlockology Facebook post saying that the new episode was available on BBC iPlayer (thankfully before Facebook turned into a wall of spoilers, so I was able to avoid all of them). I immediately headed over to my favorite torrent site and downloaded the first copy of it that I could find (it was fairly decent quality, but not as great as some of the torrents I'm sure are out by now, so excuse the screen grabs being somewhat poor). Here's my immediate reactions:
When I sat down and started watching it, I was positively giddy with excitement, and that excitement certainly has not calmed down. I absolutely loved this episode. The entire thing was basically Mark Gatiss (who was the only person credited with writing, whether you loved it or hated it, Gatiss is squarely to blame) walking a very thin line between trolling the fans and paying homage to them. I think he did that remarkably well.
The first big take-away is that we still don't know how Sherlock died. During the first explanation scene, I'll admit it took me a minute to realize it was fake. It wasn't until the second watching that I noticed a few obvious problems, such as the fact that the rope is hooked on to Sherlock's coat in the back, and nothing else. Assuming that, for instance, the small part on the back (I'm not sure what it's called) is strong enough to not just tear off when he hit the end of the rope, there are several other issues. For instance, why didn't the coat just tear his arms out of the socket and send him plummeting to his death with a pair of broken shoulders? Or, if the coat did somehow hold him in, why the force of stopping so suddenly with only one small part of his body taking the force of the fall (as opposed to distributing it using a harness as is normally used in bungee jumping), not break his spine and his sternum, as Brett pointed out?
The next issue, however, is obvious enough that I noticed it the first time through. As soon as he bounces back in and jumps through the window (another thing that made me skeptical), he does this hero-esque shake of his head, brushes glass out of his hair and... kisses a waiting Molly Hooper squarely on the lips.
And it's not just a kiss either. It's... well, fuck, just watch it.
So yeah, there's that.
After the first fake explanation, I didn't fall for the other two quite as easily, especially since the second one involved Sherlock and Moriarty kissing. I did, however, laugh my ass off. By that point, it was obvious what was happening. They never actually knew what happened to Sherlock - they were pulling their explanations from fan theories. It was a subtle jab/nod at the fandom.
See, they knew that no explanation they ever gave would be good enough. After all, fans have spent two years coming up with theories. They even flat out gave away what they were doing during the third fake explanation, when Sherlock is telling Anderson about what happened. Anderson tells Sherlock he's disappointed, and Sherlock says, "Everyone's a critic," before smirking and leaving Anderson to rage about the fact that it couldn't be the real explanation. I think they realized that we'd never be happy with whatever they told us, and so they just gave us a taste of all the fan-favorite theories, without actually giving us a real answer. They also subtly poked fun of fans for our rabid obsession with the relationships between the characters, and theories of how Sherlock survived. I think it was quite good-natured though, and more of a joking gift. After all, they're well aware the only reason they could take a two year hiatus and come back so strong was because the fandom kept people engaged. I think that this episode was basically a "thank you" present.
That's not to say that the criticisms being made about the episode lacking a plot are incorrect. They're completely correct. The plot to this one was the least engaging (I mean, after all, Sherlock didn't really figure that much out, did he?). I do hope that this was just a one-time thing; a reintroduction of sorts. Relying on giving fans all their fantasies will work for one episode, but one of the things I love about Sherlock is the plots. At this point, though, I have faith in Moffat and Gatiss to know that they can't just cull material from the fandom for the rest of series three.
All-in-all, this is probably not my favorite Sherlock episode (and how could it be, after A Scandal in Belgravia?), but it was certainly a clever way of coming back. I expect a few fans will be put off by it, but by and large I bet the reaction will be positive.