The BBC's "Sherlock," now blessedly airing on PBS, may be the most difficult series I have ever reviewed. Yes, more so than "Lost" or "Breaking Bad," because "Sherlock," with those infuriatingly short seasons, is concentrated London crack. Every line is a quote, every movement or gesture worth a mention, and all of it amid an intoxicating swirl of plots. Sherlock, Watson, Mycroft, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson are so fantastically crafted and updated in their roles, and I even stand behind the more controversial casting and development of Moriarty and Irene Adler, because their "vibe" (if you will) meshes perfectly with the modern Holmes world that show runner Stephen Moffat has created.
And speaking of that emphasis on modernity, has their ever been a show that better incorporates technology? I have often praised "The Good Wife" for illustrating how our increasing dependence on smart phones, laptops, tablets and portable music devices shapes our world and our understanding of communication. Yes it's something that will eventually date the show, but in the meantime it's an extremely honest portrayal of how we interact with each other. Watson's blog, Sherlock's deerstalker hat going viral (a neat trick to explain the prevalence of that particular bit of his look throughout the various Sherlock incarnations), Irene's dependence on her camera phone, everybody texting everyone else all the time - it feels very true, and, interestingly, a natural part of Sherlock's world. But how interested are we in watching someone text someone else? In real life, the patience is almost nil. But what if all of the text was blown up in front of us. Much more interesting. And so "Sherlock" is able to incorporate technology in way that is not only believable but interesting. No small feat.
But I am getting way ahead of myself. Let's back up to the end of Season One, where a breathless Mexican standoff with guns and explosives and a completely unhinged Moriarty left us unsure of what would happen with a Season Two (if there was to be a Season Two). "A Scandal in Belgravia" picked up exactly where things were left off, with the result being that Moriarty had received a phone call that distracted him enough to allow Sherlock and Watson to live. Because who is the Joker without Batman? Moriarty needs a playmate, someone he can tangle with, and there is no one in the world worthy of it more than Sherlock Holmes.
I briefly mentioned the controversial casting of Moriarty, both because of his age and the way he is played, but I think that it makes sense by not making sense. Sherlock is entirely rational and logical, so does it not seem naturally that the only villain who could really throw him off his game would be someone who is utterly irrational and illogical? The same goes for Irene Adler. Though I wasn't particularly thrilled with the dominatrix aspect to her character, it was her peculiar mix of intelligence and overt sexuality that made Sherlock interested. As was said many times, she was not just a woman, she was the woman. And though in the Arthur Conan Doyle series Irene does outsmart Sherlock (whereas here he is victorious as she is undone by her "unfortunate" female sentiment, of course), Irene does win in some way. She has kept Sherlock on her side, in that crazy final moment where we see that he does actually, well, care. And those feelings are reserved for a blessed few number of individuals.
What really holds the show together though is the interplay and relationship between Sherlock and Watson. The banter whips around at a fantastic pace, and both Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch play off of each other like an old married couple in a way that manages to be funny and sweet while full of well-honed barbs. Even better is when the two come together against a foe, however harmless, such as Mycroft. Their dynamic changed at the palace when they descended into a fit of giggles over Sherlock sitting there in a sheet, while Mycroft all but rolled his eyes constantly at their childishness and lack of reverence. But their individual interactions with Mycroft are always far more mature, and the changeable but honest nature of each of these various relationship pairings is refreshing (such as that off-handed mention by Watson that Lestrade had filmed a drugged Sherlock on his phone - it's a character-building moment that is so easy to imagine because of the strength of their other interactions).
But what of the "Scandal" in the title? Well how many were there last night, three? Four? Let's start with the simplest - the man in the field. The boomerang did it. Obviously. (I loved that moment when Mycroft mentions it dismissively to Sherlock who nods in agreement, and Watson's confused face mirroring the audience, "wait, I don't get it, how is it obvious what killed him??"). As for Irene and the scandalous pictures, well, it was less about that than about her tricking Sherlock into giving her, and by extension Moriarty, the coordinates for the airplane that the government knew would be bombed (with a side-dish of weird love, of course). Which brings us to our ultimate prize: the ghost plane. The ghost plane. First of all, it is the creepiest thing I may have ever seen, except I've seen it before. In "Lost," Charles Widmore creates a decoy ship filled with corpses that crashes into the ocean to foil people from believing that there were survivors somewhere on an island. Although I don't think we actually took a casual tour and had a chat in the corpse jet. A corpse jet, people!
The Coventry Conundrum was a very interesting one that wasn't perhaps given its full due, but the idea that the whole thing could be brought down because boastful men were sexually manipulated felt real enough for me. It was a neat trick to call back that some of the cases Sherlock dismissed at the start of the episode as "boring" were actually key clues in uncovering this ultimate mystery. And now that there is no need for the corpse jet, what now? How well are those bodies preserved? You never know when you might need to bring it out again!
In the end, it's not about the cases or the twists and turns getting to the conclusion, because there is never a conclusion. Moriarty is still at large, there will be more adventures for Sherlock and Watson. The best thing about "Sherlock" is the engrossing nature of its presentation. It's a love letter to London, carried out with fantastic acting and faultless banter. It's not without its flaws (addressed more below) and its logic is not always pure, but does it matter? For those of us with "common" minds (as Sherlock may say), it's a lovely ride.
Next Week: The Hound of the Baskervilles!
Musings and Miscellanea:
- Like "Downton Abbey," I watched "Sherlock" when it originally aired on the BBC, and after this episode came out there was a lot of fuss about naked Irene (which I didn't have a problem with, of course - do you have eyes??) as well as the question of her sexuality. She says plainly to Watson "I'm gay," and yet ... she's clearly more of a bisexual terminator (reminiscent of Kalinda Sharma in "The Good Wife"). Why even have that line? It's nit-picky I know, but female sexual politics on TV is something that always gets a lot of play in the forums, forgive us.
- Ooh la la Molly! The Christmas party disaster was such a fantastically horrible affair. From Sherlock's cruel behavior towards Molly (punctuated with humor by his Irene ringtone) to John's girlfriend not having a moment of it, to Lestrade's tongue hanging out at the sight of Molly and Sherlock's mention of his wife's affair ... it was probably as bad as any party Mary Tyler Moore ever put on.
- Watson: "You don't trust your secret service?" Mycroft: "Of course not, they spy on people for money!"
- Part of the beauty of "Sherlock" is in the filming - the slow-mo action shots, the nice parallel jump cuts between Irene and Sherlock stalking each other, getting dressed, etc.
- "I always hear 'punch me in the face' when you're speaking, but usually it's subtext" - Watson to Sherlock
- The decoding of Irene's password was, for me, the most interesting mystery of the episode. The result was so ridiculous I didn't know whether to laugh or roll my eyes ... or change my own password to that.
- "Hamish. If you're looking for baby names" - Watson.
- Don't we Americans just sound positively brutish compared to the London accents of our protagonists? Not only that, but the nod to American CIA brutality in their treatment of Mrs Hudson was like a little thumbing of the nose. I did love how Sherlock dealt with him, and Lestrade's comment "so how many times did he fall from the window?" "I don't know, I lost count."
- Besides just showing technology on screen, I love how Sherlock's thoughts are projected as well, from his analysis of people to his unlocking of the codes. Again, watching someone think is quite boring. Watching their thoughts roll by is not!
- Watson: "You forget I was in the military! I killed people!" Sherlock: "You were a Doctor!" Watson: "I had bad days!"
- Which Sherlock character are you? (I am Molly ... of course)
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