The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably one of the most well-known of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series, and the update (dropping the second "the") "The Hound of Baskerville" bears very little resemblance to the original story in terms of details. Although, some of the original elements have been replaced elsewhere (such as the glowing phosphorus now being a gene splice in rabbits rather than in a hound). I mention this now only because I didn't have room last week, but the adaptation and updates to the original Holmes stories have all been incredibly engaging and twisty without losing the charm and ominous feelings of the original works. Instead of a posh family estate called
Downton Baskerville, we get a chemical and biological research facility called Baskerville, which turns "Sherlock" from being another "Poirot" and makes into something altogether weirder.
Of the five total "Sherlock" episodes to have aired, "Baskerville" may be the weakest offering (still better than 99% of all other television, but still). Maybe it's the longer focus on fewer plots rather than the symphony we are used to, though there are still never any throwaway moments (such as how the Bluebell story, seeming to not matter in the first moments of the show, came full circle). Because "Baskerville" moved our detectives out of London and into the West Country, there was a lamentable lack of favorite supporting characters (Lestrade, Mycroft, Mrs Hudson, Molly, Moriarty), some of whom made brief appearances but didn't have much interaction with our protagonists. Even our protagonists didn't spend as much time together as one might have hoped. The magic between Sherlock and Watson is the sparkling glue that holds the whole show together, and when they are separated for too long or the focus shifts from them too far, the show starts to drag.
A particular disappointment for me personally was Russell Tovey, who played the beleaguered Henry Knight. Tovey is an exceptional actor, and seeing him utterly steal the show in the UK's "Being Human" as well as the film The History Boys had me extremely excited for him to be featured in "Sherlock." But Tovey is best and most affecting as a comic actor, and the character of Henry felt very one dimensional (which may have been more of a symptom of the writing than the acting). Still, his scenes dragged, especially on a second viewing, knowing the outcome and identity of the hound.
As I mentioned last week, I watched these episodes a few months ago when they aired in England, and much like my feelings towards the first season of the series, I love watching them over and over again because of the layers of dialogue and plot that make repeated viewings even more rewarding. The same was not exactly true for "Baskerville," though, because the focus on the singular plot of "what is this thing" is not as interesting once you actually know what the thing is (or isn't). In last week's "Scandal in Belgravia," it took repeated viewings for me to even understand what was going on, and when I at last I did I relished in being able to then spot what character knew what when. But "Baskerville" plays out less like a detective story and more like a horror story. The first time I viewed it I was impatient to find out just what the damn things was - seeing Sherlock in tears and visibly shaken threw me off (as it did him, and Watson!). There really aren't many ways to guess what the hound may be, and though we, like Sherlock are probably repeating in our heads over and over "but there can't be an actual hellhound! ... right?" the evidence is rather overwhelming to it being true. On a rewatch, that evidence can all be thrown out and ignored because the truth is known, and it leaves very little interest for most of the mid-part of the show.
Though this reaction to "Baskerville" skews negative, I will repeat that there's really never a bad episode of "Sherlock." But it's also unfair to give a show a pass on everything just because it is generally so fantastic. It's not without flaws, and my criticism of it comes both from an initial feeling that the episode lacked a lot of its best elements as well as the sometimes stagnant rewatch. For "Downton Abbey," PBS edited the ITV version for time, cutting out some scenes from most weeks that many viewers of both versions felt was a travesty. I couldn't help but almost hope last night that PBS had cut down "Baskerville" to an hour instead of 90 minutes, because so much of the wandering in the darkness could have been shortened and still felt just as suspenseful.
On the positive side, the episode features some of the most utterly fantastic bits of acting and dialogue in the whole series. Sherlock's continual misunderstanding of tact and timing is always joyful, particularly when he says to Lestrade, "is that why you have disguised yourself here, calling yourself Greg?!" "That's his name," Watson tells him with a sigh. A few moments later, Watson actually says the words "aspergers" to Lestrade, which I thought was interesting. It seems to be in vogue to feature leads in detective shows, or shows that include detective elements, whose personalities may lead some to diagnose aspergers from their couches (Dr House on "House," Dr Bones on "Bones," Sherlock on ... well you get the idea). The issue is never mentioned or explored again, in Sherlock's case. Much like Irene Adler's confession of "I'm gay" from last week's episode, it seems unnecessary. If you aren't going to follow through with it, why even bother bringing it up?
Regardless, every interaction between Sherlock and Watson remains flawless in every way. It's one element of the series that is completely beyond reproach (in fact, I will extend that to all of the principle cast). Sherlock going on his breathtaking one-sided observational diatribe to Watson where he ended snarling at him saying "I have no friends" was a heartbreaking moment for their friendship. It was one of the times where you wonder why Watson wouldn't just leave him, before you realize Sherlock is all Watson has. And vice versa. In a redemptive moment, Sherlock comes back later and, though he doesn't really seem to understand apologies, he knows he needs to give one. Though he may not know exactly how to convey it, he wants Watson to know how much he means to him. It was a lovely, genuine moment that wasn't sappy or trite. It fit the both of them perfectly.
Though "Baskerville" was not the highlight of the "Sherlock" canon, there was still plenty in the episode to continue making it incredibly worthy television. Next week is the season two finale (damn you, short British seasons!!) that is, I can reveal, completely amazing, as you might have guessed from the creepy ending to this week's show ...
Musings and Miscellanea:
— "Can you please not be all mysterious with your cheekbones and turning up your coat collar to look cool?" - Watson to Sherlock in a lovely meta moment.
— My favorite parts, aside from Sherlock/Watson banter, are the visuals of Sherlock's observations, as well as when he is mentally decoding or in his "mind palace." Also when he's guessing passwords. Basically Sherlock doing anything is fantastic.
— Even though there wasn't a ton of technology this week, it was still mentioned (Dr Franklin reads John's blog, the picture of the deerstalker is mentioned in the papers as going viral, Twitter is name dropped).
— "I don't have friends ... I've just got one" - Sherlock to Watson. All of my feeeeeeeeels!
— I loved seeing Lestrade show up in casual wear, and not just because I love Rupert Graves. I do love Rupert Graves, though. A lot.
— No matter where they go, every episode has multiple references to the misunderstood relationship between Sherlock and Watson. From the innkeepers who assumed they wanted to share a room to Henry's therapist who sighed and repeated "live-in ..." in regards to Sherlock after Dr Franklin said that in front of her her Watson. It's funny and also feels true to how people would react to them!
— Sherlock stealing Mycroft's pass reminds of Jim Rockford in "The Rockford Files" and his multiple business cards (and how it never quite works out).
— Mycroft's face when he realizes what Sherlock did is also priceless. A well-honed eye roll, to be sure.
— Your viewing of this episode is not complete without Distressed Chipmunk Watson.
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