Monday, January 16, 2012

The Adventure of the Dying Detective

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
"The Hound of the Baskervilles"

The question that dominated my mind while watching Sherlock: why was Sherlock broadcast at a later time every week?

The Sherlockian winter, consisting of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the second season of Sherlock was a bit short, but certainly entertaining. While A Game of Shadows turned out to be a pleasant surprise because of low expectations, I had been expecting much of Sherlock's continuation. Partly because the final episode of the first season ended with a cliffhanger, but mostly because the show was just insanely fun. It was simply wonderful as a contemporary remake of the classic Holmes canon. The episodes were a fantastic mix between the original stories by Conan Doyle and the scriptwriters, there was witty writing and expert editing and certainly had its own face despite being a Sherlock Holmes remake. There were some minor gripes I had with the show, but it was in general a really great show and I was happy to see that the second season managed to build on the foundation laid in the first season.

Little secret: the only thing I like about A Scandal in Bohemia is the very first line of the story. 'To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman'. It is a simple, yet powerful sentence that manages to describe Holmes' impression of Irene Adler perfectly. I however never thought Adler to have acted so impressively in the original story  though. Anyway, so I don't really like Bohemia, but I quite liked A Scandal in Belgravia. The first half is indeed mostly based on the original story, but the second half expands on that and makes more plausible for someone like Holmes to consider her THE woman. The episode also features some seed planting for later episodes, most prominently the growing popularity of Sherlock Holmes and the deerstalker hat, which in hindsight is pretty interesting. I do have to say that the way the cliffhanger of the previous episode was 'resolved' was very cheap. This really felt like 'OK, we made an awesome cliffhanger the last time so we could sell another season.... but we have no idea how to get us out of this mess'.

The Hounds of Baskerville featured a very welcome change of scenery for the show. The cramped, urban setting is fun, but you really need Dartmoor if you're gonna to remake the creepiest Sherlock Holmes story, right? This was actually a fairly faithful modern update of the original story, with a rather predictable explanation for the gigantic hound, but it was also very entertaining. Like the original book, this episode was leaning very, very hard to the horror-side of things and that was a good thing. What was fun though, was how the scriptwriter intregrated the villain and modus operandi of the original novel into a small subplot that was hilarious if you had read the original. Of course, that is pretty much what they have been doing all the time, from little references like a sack of thumbs in the refrigerator and cases like 'The Geek Interpreter' (in A Scandal in Belgravia), but this was more fun because it was a clear poke at the original novel.

The Reichenbach Fall has a fairly farfetched title (yes, I know they explain it at the end. But it is farfetched) that is naturally sorta based on The Final Problem. Which makes it tempting to compare it to A Game of Shadows, but the two have a very different take on the original story. A Game of Shadows, like The Final Problem, is about Moriarty taking rather conventional means to stop Holmes (attempts at his life), while Sherlock's Moriarty seems to take a very different approach. It plays with a lot of theories and interpretations Holmesians have come up with in all these years, so it is not particularly original, but fun all the same. The show also takes a 'Batman - Joker' dualistic approach to the two characters, which felt a bit strange. The ending... well, it is based on The Final Problem and there is the Fall in the title of the episode, so you can expecting some falling... but because of the original approach of this Moriarty, there is still a surprise to be found in the confrontation between Sherlock and Moriarty even for veteran Homesians.

The season was overall quite good, with actually the last episode being the... dullest(?) of them all. Belgravia was a pleasant surprise because I didn't like the original story. Baskerville was fun as a modern take on the original story and because of the change in tone of the show. For some reason Reichenbach just felt a lot more predictable than the other episodes (even though it actually differs the most from the original story).

And I still love the game-like presentation to the show! I already mentioned it in my post on the very first episode and Kotaku also ran an article on a bit ago, but the show is full of videogame-language, from text that hovers above the screen to mini-maps that show in Sherlock's head and other HUD-like information. Or for example the simulation of the impossible death in Belgravia during Irene and Sherlock's discussion about the case! The 'memory palace' of Sherlock in Baskerville (which was really like Heavy Rain)! I don't know how these things feel to a non-gamer, but for me, this all felt very natural. I like having information on my screen. I like context-sensitive information. Videogame literacy is something I have and take for granted, but I do sometimes wonder how non-gamers view these things. Anyway, I thought that the HUDs were a pretty cool way to convey information (most importantly, Sherlock's observations) to the viewer without feeling to obtrusive as when done through dialogue or close ups. Yes, I think that gigantic floating text is more natural than close ups or dialogue.

Oh, and Freeman (Watson) is certainly the one who stole the show! It also seems that the actors themselves are interested in a third season, so....


  1. ***SPOILERS***

    Just watched the final episode last night, Watson was amazing. I was in tears despite knowing that Sherlock would very much turn up alive. The trick to his fall was a topic of discussion for me and friends for a while after. But I think we got it!

    I'm looking forward to more. I agree, I think the Belgavia episode was the best of the season.

    I don't like the portrayal of Moriarty too much. He seems like, for lack of a better word, such a goober! But despite that the Final Problem did surprise me.


  2. ***SPOILERS***

    I was quite glad they actually showed hints to the trick behind the fall; it would not be very satisfying if a following season would start with semi ret-conning explanation like Doyle did with The Empty House.

    Moriarty was like Simm's the Master (Doctor Who), both happily insane characters, but I agree Jim felt a bit too silly at times. Which is kinda what I meant with the stoic Sherlock-Batman and unpredictable Moriarty-Joker portrayal in this series. Jim's a Moriarty who's quite different from the original and while this series did pretty well reimagining the original characters, I feel the least satisfied about Jim. Well, that and the fact that Mycroft, despite being the smarter Holmes brother, at times seems like the most clueless of them all.

  3. Nice review of BBC Sherlock.

    For a different look at 'A Scandal in Belgravia', check out my review .