Television Review: Sherlock (season 2, 2012)
Sherlock, season 2 (BBC, 2012)
Sherlock Holmes: Benedict Cumberbatch
John Watson: Martin Freeman
Note: a modern re-imagining of Canon
After the phenomenal showing of the first season, Sherlock is back with a second season, in which Cumberbatch and Freeman once again team up as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. They remain a strong duo, their roles nicely fleshed out and their chemistry still off the charts. While perhaps not as exciting as the first season (although I suspect this has more to do with the excitement of having first received a new, modern adaptation) the second season offers a very strong showing. It is still a delight to watch Sherlock Holmes as a present day sleuth, complete with numerous nods to Canon. The series has become a smash success since it first aired, and will no doubt continue on for as long as the producers/writers continue to make episodes. Bravo on a thrilling second season.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
It has been somewhat amazing watching Cumberbatch come so fully into the role of Sherlock Holmes. He has captured it and made it his own in a way few actors have (I daresay no one since Brett). Holmes of Canon was always aloof, always straining to be the machine he aspired to be, but beneath it all was a strange, subtle vulnerability; and here laid his heart. Cumberbatch depicts this perfectly, his “sociopathy” a perfect mask for the conflicted man beneath, longing for friendship and companionship, but unwilling to yield to the desires of his heart lest they compromise his science. This has always been what makes Holmes a compelling character. It is lovely to see this transpire onscreen from week to week, with an actor worthy of wearing Holmes’ cloak (or deerstalker, as the case may be).
I have gone on at length regarding Cumberbatch’s performance, and what makes him such a perfect Holmes, in my review of the first season, so I will not do so here, but rest assured he gives as transcendent a performance this time around as he did the first.
Martin Freeman as John Watson
Ever have I been, first and foremost, a Watson girl. He is the heart of the Sherlock Holmes stories; because for however much Holmes has a heart (and he certainly does) it is John’s warmth, John’s empathy, and John’s stalwart bravery that allows his readers to care for Sherlock at all. This is true in this series as well, for the people who interact with Sherlock must think him devoid of emotion. It is only through John–through Sherlock’s dealings with John–that he becomes human.
Freeman’s Watson, like the Watson of Canon, is a compelling character. He has found his calling (found his Sherlock and his purpose) and attends to it with everything he has, even at the expense of his personal life. This was a lovely nod to Canon, Watson and his women, none of whom ever measured to Holmes. I confess I was surprised to see Sarah written from the series (as I had expected her to take the part of Mary Morstan) but was quite pleased by their decision to have John remain a “confirmed” bachelor.
There is so much more that could be said about Freeman’s Watson, but it is nothing I haven’t said before. Truly, his is a gripping take on a beloved character.
Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes
I fully intend to skip over several characters, because I have touched on them in my first review, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss Gatiss as Mycroft. I do this because in the first series I was a little on the fence with his take on Mycroft, and while I am still intrigued by the direction they have taken the character, I have managed to fall in love with his Mycroft, if for no other reason than because they have given me Mycroft at the Diogenes Club. I suspect, in what I hope is a long line of adaptations, that Mark Gatiss will forever stand out as the most delightful Mycroft Holmes I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Andrew Scott as James “Jim” Moriarty
Of course, the real star of this season has been Andrew Scott as Moriarty. I wasn’t expecting to fall so thoroughly in love with this Moriarty. I said, in my last review:
…this Moriarty is not a criminal mastermind bent on his own selfish interests. This Moriarty is an escaped mental patient who is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.
And I had, at the time, hoped we would see more of Moriarty as a master criminal, and certainly these episodes have given us that, but by the time I had finished watching them, I no longer cared that he was a master criminal. I only cared that he was bat-shit insane because it was such an utterly delightful thing to watch.
There is, I suppose, a fine line between insanity and genius, and Scott’s portrayal of a man walking this line was utterly brilliant. I could watch entire series devoted to this character. Well played.
There were so many delightful things about this series (and this season) and while most of them I have touched on in my last review, and I will touch on delightful elements and quibbles in each episode, but here I will focus on two overall themes.
First, I shall start by commending the writers on their ability to name episodes. The twists on Canon tales, which also reflect the plot of the episodes, are exceedingly clever. I don’t remember being as impressed the first time around, but this time I laughed delightedly once I pieced together exactly how they had twisted the names. Nicely played.
Second, and probably why most people are here, is the subtext. Or should I say text? It’s certainly a fine line. After having seen Sherlock Holmes 2, I wasn’t entirely certain it was possible for anything to top that film in terms of subtext. I was, apparently, wrong.
There is this underlying theme throughout the three episodes that suggests that John has fallen completely in love with Sherlock. It couldn’t have clearer if they’d stuck a neon sign over his head. Hell, in Belgravia, they go so far as to have Adler suggest as much, never mind the references to John’s bachelor status, and his inability to maintain a relationship (because of his devotion to Holmes). There is the slow, steady process of acceptance he goes through, at first violently objecting to the idea of him and Sherlock as a couple, becoming less and less bothered by it as time progresses until he finally accepts it outright. In fact, had Sherlock not faked his own death (and I expect–read hope–John will be a little miffed about that) I suspect John’s feelings would have come to such a head that he was forced into a confession. I am not entirely certain of Sherlock’s reaction, but it is quite obvious that he loves John. His conversation with Molly in Reichenbach Falls was proof of that. It’ll be interesting to see where they plan on taking this relationship. Certainly if the numerous nods and in jokes are taken into consideration then the writers are at least aware of the potential.
I am half tempted to leave quibbles for each episode, because most of the problems I had with this series were episode specific. There was however one thing that struck me across all three episodes and that was the rapid-fire time shifts. I don’t mind an episode that spans a few weeks, but most of these episodes spanned months, almost an entire year at one point. I think, unfortunately, it rather short-changed us on both character and relationship development.
A Scandal in Belgravia
A modern take on a Scandal in Bohemia, in which Sherlock meets and is bested by The Woman. This was not one of my favourite episodes (although, to be fair, SCAN is hardly my favourite story). In fact, I would say it almost ranks on the same level as The Blind Banker. Certainly it is not an episode I intend to watch a second time.
I’ll get into my quibbles in a minute, but let’s talk about what I did like.
I suppose after all the hype and speculation surrounding the pool scene, the only possibly way it could have ended was with an anticlimactically, and, I confess, I laughed. This was an exceedingly clever way of getting out of a very large hole. Also, Moriarty’s ring tone will forever amuse me.
There were numerous other elements about this episode which delighted. The numerous Canon references come to mind (I do so love fan service) as well as the myriad of implications that Sherlock and John are somewhat more than friends. Then, of course, there was Sherlock being stalked by paparazzi (that will never not be brilliant) and Sherlock being Internet famous.
Perhaps we could also touch on Sherlock in a sheet, or even better, Sherlock in a deerstalker (my God, how fantastic!), or perhaps Sherlock’s sock index. Or maybe Mycroft sending a helicopter to retrieve Watson from the scene of a crime. That was nice. And their camaraderie, light and giggling and showing so delightfully how utterly close they have become; what true friends they are.
There was an underlying humour to the episode that I quite enjoyed, and I often found myself smiling, or outright laughing. The not-so-staged fight between Sherlock and John was delightful. I was also quite thrilled by how often Sherlock was shown as an idiot in this episode. He does occasionally need something to keep his massive ego in check.
All in all, there were quite a few brilliant aspects to this episode. And were it not for the treatment of Irene Adler, I suspect I would have loved it.
Unfortunately Moffat has never been terribly good at writing women, and this episode is one of his more spectacular fails on the subject.
Dear, God, did he really equate independent, intelligent adventuress with dominatrix? How is that even possible? And did he really have her fall in love with Holmes? I do not have words for this.
I am to understand the media had been quite abuzz with Adler’s role in the episode, words like misogyny floating around, and we won’t wade into that, but I will say I am tremendously disappointed in this portrayal of Adler. I don’t think I have ever seen a worse one. This episode might have been saved, had Adler simply disappeared (having bested Holmes) but instead Moffat had Holmes save her, taking our independent adventuress turned sex-trade worker (because it was very much implied she slept with her clients) and turning her into a damsel in distress. This, in fact, is exactly why this series lost one of its pipes.
Unfortunately (I say this again) that is not where it ends, because in his infinite wisdom, Moffat decided he ought to have Sherlock at least entertain the notion of being attracted to/interested in Adler.
This after having spent the entire first season carefully crafting Sherlock’s asexuality.
I cannot imagine how insulting this must be to asexuals everywhere.
The queer/asexual/virgin jokes were also in very, very poor taste.
This episode was filled with Holmes/Adler subtext, and it made for an awkward, uncomfortable watching. Were it not for the strength of the episodes which followed, this episode alone would have earned the second season a mere 3 pipes.
I expected better, Mr. Moffat.
The Hounds of Baskerville
Fortunately, where Moffat fails, Gatiss succeeds. This modern take on The Hound of the Baskervilles is as refreshing as it is delightful. The fact that this episode starts with a Black Peter reference pretty much elevates it to instant favourite in my books.
But the thing that makes Gatiss’ episode(s) is his ability to mimic ACD’s leaps of logic, which, when put into Holmes’ mouth, always left the audience astounded and delighted. Holmes’ deduction sequences in this episode were brilliant, and very in keeping with Canon, even when not lifted directly from Canon. That is impressive.
It is hard to pinpoint everything I enjoyed about this episode, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. The genderswaps for Mortimer and Stapleton were a pleasant surprise, and I think helped to very much modernize/revitalize the story. The numerous Canon references thrilled: The bet from the Blue Carbuncle, Holmes standing on the moor, framed by moonlight (although in this case it was sun), the Diogenes Club (oh, the Diogenes Club!), the however improbable speech, and the conductor of light speech! Fantastic.
I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. BAMF!John pulling rank, and everyone and their brother thinking they were together (John’s resignation followed by his reluctant acceptance), the double room, Sherlock meeting a fanboy! This entire episode was fan service at its finest, and for that we thank you Gatiss.
That is not to say the episode was without its foibles, but they were few and far between. I liked the overall premise of the plot, but at times found it a bit unbelievable (glow in the dark rabbits indeed–although certainly this ties in with Canon). Holmes’ breakdown, however much he might have been drugged, was still quite over the top and more than a little embarrassing to watch.
I’m also a little iffy on Sherlock drugging John in order to run a controlled experiment. I confess; it fits with this take on Holmes (Holmes in Canon was not a sociopath, however self-confessed), but it is hard for me to see Holmes running an experiment on John without John’s knowledge. This was not something that would have happened in Canon. Even in Devil’s Foot, when Holmes did have Watson in the room for his experiment, it was with Watson’s full knowledge and permission (and then he apologized profusely afterwards). I’m also not sure I believe that Watson would ever forgive something like that.
There is also the entire “mind palace” scene, which was, frankly, embarrassing. In fact, let us never speak of it again.
Overall, however, this was a well thought out, well put together, at times terrifying episode with more fan service than I knew what to do with. It was delightful, and the final reveal was exceedingly clever; very much in keeping with a Sherlock Holmes story.
The Reichenbach Fall
I officially take back everything I said about Stephen Thompson in my review of The Blind Banker. His modern re-telling of The Final Problem was utterly delightful. It kept me on the edge of my seat, knowing what was coming but utterly curious to see how we would get there. I was not disappointed.
Moriarty is fleshed out as a fascinating character, part evil genius, part madman, obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. He has spun an incredibly clever web in which to ensnare our Sherlock, and while it may appear he has succeeded, I expect we will see that it is Sherlock who, as always, gets the upper hand. Truly, this was a lovely take on what has always been Canon’s weaker, though most important, tale.
What I think I loved most about this episode was the modern translation of Holmes’ fame. Holmes was quite well known in his day, making all the papers, with a loyal base who read Watson’s stories, but nothing compares to the modern media frenzy of today. The paparazzi, the fans, the groupies, the press; it is exactly what would happen were a man like Sherlock Holmes to exist in today’s society. I found this aspect of all the episodes, but this one in particular, compelling.
Beyond that, however, there is a lovely plot running throughout, one that’s so clever, so well put together that, like Holmes, we spend a good portion of the episode trying to figure it out. And when the pieces do come together, it feels quite obvious, like we should have seen it right from the beginning. How else could Moriarty burn Sherlock’s heart out, save to take away everything that he is–not just his fame and fortune and reputation, but his capacity for further cases. If he is discredited, he can no longer work, and Holmes has always lived for his cases. To add the potential of losing John to that mix; well, Holmes is indeed left with little choice.
Of course, there were dozens of little points that added to the delight of the episode. The Diogenes Club made a reappearance (oh, John, don’t you know the rules?) and of course the numerous references to their relationship status. The homeless network always delights, as does John punching someone in the face for calling Holmes weird. That is not to mention the whole “take my hand” nod to Canon (not to mention the delightful subtext it adds to the series).
Of course, no episode is ever perfect, and this is hardly without its quibbles. I will never, for example, believe that Mycroft sold his own brother out for information. Not because Mycroft isn’t capable of throwing anyone who suits his fancy under a bus (he is) but because he’s not that stupid. There was also a question of how fast everyone (everyone) was to turn on Sherlock. I understand it was necessary for the plot, but it was unbelievable. I also do not understand why John would rush off to Mrs. Hudson when he knows the police are looking for him (also, why would he go to Baker Street and not the hospital?–where he was, incidentally. For that matter, why were there no police there waiting to arrest him?)
I also thought the show-down with Moriarty dragged on for a bit too long. I got twitchy watching it, and one should never get twitchy watching a scene. Granted, I was so stunned by Moriarty’s suicide that I instantly forgot the long wait in favour of flailing over the denouement.
It is, of course, obvious what has happened (how they intend to resurrect Holmes) though I will refrain from open speculation here for those who haven’t pieced it together. Instead, I will simply say that having Holmes watch Watson standing over his grave, saying the things he has never found the courage to say, was quite possibly one of the most touching things I have ever seen. Bravo.
So, while perhaps not as thrilling as the first season (again, largely because by this point it had lost the excitement of a new adaptation) Sherlock’s second season is still well worth seeing. It is a fitting tribute to its source material. It may no longer warrant its six pipes, but it still manages a very firm five, the first episode notwithstanding.