Monday, October 29, 2012

Sherlock (Season 2)


Sherlock is back, with more cleverly updated and well-executed mysteries. The writers pick up where they left off, with Holmes and Watson facing off against the maniacal Moriarty. Moriarty inexplicably quits the field (or seems to, anyway), and we are once again off and running with new (old) adventures.

The writers wisely selected three of the best-known (and -loved) Sherlock tales to be updated and adapted: 'The Scandal in Bohemia', 'The Hound of the Baskervilles', and 'The Final Problem', in which Holmes and Moriarty face off with disastrous consequences.

In episode one--'A Scandal in Belgravia' (referring to a district of London near Buckingham Palace)--Holmes is hired by unnamed royalty to retrieve compromising photos from one Irene Adler, who, in the version, is not merely an adventuress but a dominatrix/prostitute, albeit a very clever and powerful one with an extremely well-connected clientele. Adler, as it happens, has the goods on pretty much everybody, and with the introduction of a password-protected smartphone, Holmes has to figure out more than just the physical location of the stash--he has to find a way to unlock the device and retrieve the information. Before long, it becomes apparent that there's a lot more than dirty pictures at stake--dangerous people are looking for Miss Adler and her smartphone, and failure to unearth her secrets could have catastrophic consequences. Along the way, we get cute references to other Holmes' stories--Watson's blog (which is responsible for generating most of Holmes' business) lists cases like 'The Speckled Blonde', 'The Geek Interpreter', and 'The Naval Treatment.' The deerstalker also makes its first appearance, much to my amusement. All in all, it was a complex, fulfilling, and entertaining episode, though I admit it focused much more on Holmes than Watson (which, since this is the first Watson ever that's been even remotely interesting, is a bit of a shame), and I don't much care for their portrayal of Mycroft as a mewling, petulant, smug weenie.

The second episode--'The Hounds of Baskerville'--was, if anything, even more fascinating than the first episode. Henry Knight is plagued by nightmares of his father's grisly death on the moor ... on the edge of a military research facility known as Baskerville. The mystery is thus transformed from a haunted house story to a conspiracy thriller, and the resulting adventure is inspired and quite clever. There are some lovely touches here--my favorite being a passing reference to an escaped prisoner. The story is full of fun conspiracy theories, rumors of scientific advances that may or may not be the stuff of science fiction, and Holmes' first brush with self-doubt. The writers are particularly adept at tying the mundane cases (peremptorily rejected by Holmes as 'boring') into the main mystery, with no small amount of subtlety.

The final episode (it kills me that these seasons are only three episodes long)--'The Reichenbach Fall'--culminates in a showdown between Moriarty and Holmes. It turns out that modern-day Moriarty doesn't just want to kill Holmes--he wants to shame and discredit him. Before long, Holmes finds himself backed into a corner, wanted for murder, and being eviscerated by the very tabloids that lauded his exploits only days earlier. (Incidentally, the title--a twist on Holmes and Moriarty's 'final' showdown at Reichenbach Falls--here is the result of Holmes' tabloid nickname: the Reichenbach hero. Holmes apparently tracked down a stolen painting by, you guessed it, Riechenbach, and this is the case that catapulted him to fame.)

Freeman and Cumberbatch continue to impress as Watson and Holmes, respectively. Cumberbatch (who seems to have some extremely impassioned fans, for reasons I don't entirely understand) in particular seems to be coming into his own, crafting a Sherlock who is abrupt and rude, yet suddenly and genuinely curious when confronted by some aspect of human nature he does not understand. Also, he delivers his conclusions in a torrent of rushed and condescending speech, as if he views such obvious explanations for the benefit of the less intelligent as a tremendous waste of time (which you must admit is a very Holmesian attitude). I mentioned before that I don't much care for Mycroft (portrayed by show creator Mark Gatiss), but he's kind of an odd duck in the books, popping in and out as needed for plot purposes, so any effort to turn him into a recurring character is going to require some manipulation. Andrew Scott continues to play Moriarty as a brilliant but positively unhinged lunatic, with great success.

All in all, this is a fantastic show, and it's clear that the creators/writers/showrunners have a deep respect and affection for the original source material. If you are a fan of Holmes, you simply must check this show out. You will not regret it.

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