Last Sunday brought the long awaited and highly anticipated return of the PBS Mystery series Sherlock to the US. Lucky UK fans feasted their eyes on Series Two several months ago. Sherlock is a highly entertaining modernization of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, where Victorian era ideals and technology make way for the 21st century. It can be enjoyed by both fans of the books, previous shows set in the Victorian era, and viewers who have no prior experience with Sherlock Holmes. As someone who grew up watching Jeremy Brett and has recently made a project out of reading the mysteries but is far from actually accomplishing it, I feel I have a mixed perspective on the subject.
WARNING: If you are familiar with the Sherlock Holmes mystery ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’, this review will not entirely spoil the plot for you, nor will it give away the ending, but it will reveal the modern twists that were added in Sherlock. Reader beware!
Sherlock picked up precisely where the first series left off in its long drawn-out cliffhanger ending. Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) have come face to face with their arch nemesis, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), at a swimming pool of all places. Things are not looking good. John isn’t wearing a bomb vest anymore, but that is about the only upside. Both John and Sherlock have an alarming number of red laser lights from sniper rifles trained on them. Sherlock aims his gun at the recently discarded bomb vest on the floor between him and Moriarty. That is where we left off. I’m not quite sure what I expected to happen next. Well, actually I know what I expected. I fully expected Sherlock to shoot the vest, and as it exploded in Moriarty’s face, he and John would jump in the pool and be protected from the blast. Moriarty would of course escape simply because you can’t kill the nemesis that easily. But instead of this scenario, the heroes are saved by the cell – or rather a Beejee’s ringtone – and whoever is on the line convinces Moriarty to just walk away . . . . I’ve got to hand it to the writers, I did not see that coming!
From there things seem to go back to same-old-same-old. Sherlock wades through a stream of completely uninteresting cases, waiting for something to peak his interest. . . . or maybe until he picks up on something that might lead him to Moriarty. Finally he picks a case that has seemingly no connection to anything else the episode has to offer. Almost at the same time random guys in suits show up to take Sherlock for a ride. Never mind that he isn’t dressed. (Unless you can call a bed sheet clothing.) While this suits Sherlock’s determination not to be bossed around by anyone, let along his older brother Mycroft, seeing him sitting wrapped in the bed sheet in Buckingham Palace is . . . well, extremely awkward. The laugh Sherlock shares with John nearly makes up for it, but then to have Mycroft stomp on the tail of the sheet when Sherlock tries to storm out . . . I’m sure you can imagine the result. It was completely unnecessary and I personally didn’t appreciate it. This was only the beginning of a very good but often awkward episode. I quickly became a bit worried about the fact that I just introduced my 16 year old cousin to this series. Yes, he’s 16, but that still doesn’t mean I want to be responsible for exposing him to this!
The title of the episode, ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’, doesn’t have much meaning until the point where Mycroft starts to explain the job to Sherlock and John. As with Series One, the plots of Sherlock come straight from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, only with modern tweaks and twists. ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ is a very well-known story in the collection, so notable because Holmes is outfoxed by a woman. In the original mystery, Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and King of Bohemia, was involved with a young woman, Irene Adler. Later, he went to Holmes incognito to retrieve photos that were taken of him and Irene together because he feared they would threaten his upcoming marriage. A master of disguise, Holmes tailed Adler and learned that she too would be getting married. He pretended he had been attacked outside her home. She let him in to help him and was very kind to him. He then created another diversion in order to learn where she kept the pictures. Holmes later returned to steal the pictures only to find that Adler had left the country with her new husband and the pictures, but she left a note explaining to Holmes that she had recognized him, and promised not to use them against the king so long as he left her alone. The outcome was that Holmes’ perpetrator escaped, but for this he seemed to admire her. He claims a photo of her from the king as payment, and never sees her again. If Holmes ever mentioned her, he would only call her “the woman”.
In Sherlock, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ becomes a lot more sordid. Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) is written as a well-known dominatrix with a large collection of blackmail material at her disposal. Sherlock and John are told that a young woman’s reputation is at stake. In reality, that is not true. A large scale counter terrorism plan is at stake because of a coded email that went astray and wound up in Adler’s possession. Even though Sherlock gets the phone from Adler, it is password protected and Sherlock’s usual ability to read people is absolutely useless against her. Plus she seems to enjoy flirting with him even to the point of programming a provocative female sigh into his phone to alert him to her text messages.
I have to hand it to Lara Pulver. I highly doubt many actresses can pull of a largely expository scene with two men while being stark naked. If it was even the slightest bit awkward for her, there’s no way to tell from how well she acted. Even when Irene finally put clothes on you could see why Sherlock was so confused by her. Between walking into the room to meet him without a stitch on and seeing right though his attempt to disguise himself as a victimized priest (Really? A master of disguise this Holmes is NOT!), she literally took away all the tools of his trade. The guys did an equally good job of acting completely stupefied, though I’m sure that wasn’t nearly as difficult!
These awkward scenes were tastefully shot and well acted. As for the writing? Nothing has been lost as far as quality since Series One. The writing is as clever, fast paced, and witty as ever. As for Irene? I wouldn’t say she was one dimensional, but I do wish the dominatrix aspect of her character hadn’t been quite so prevalent. She could have easily been just as strong and ambitious of a woman without all the sultry sexual comments she would throw Sherlock’s way. At times you almost want to sympathize with her but then you are reminded that she really is quite evil!
It wasn’t until I was thinking through the events of the episode later that night that I realized that Mycroft had little right to be angry with Sherlock. Yes their deception was discovered. But whose fault was that really? Sherlock said right from the start that an anonymous client left mysteries at both ends. While the client was still definitely the British Government, the reasons were entirely different from what he’d been told. There probably were some nasty pictures on Irene Adler’s phone, but the real problem was the coded email. If Sherlock had been told just that much of the truth, he would have recognized the significance of the email Irene showed him long before he compromised the government’s plan. The fact that Sherlock didn’t point that out as Mycroft was railing at him has me thoroughly puzzled.
The seemingly unconnected case also has me confused. A driver broke down on the road. His car backfired, and after that he noticed a hiker lying on the ground some distance away, dead from a blow to the head, with no murder weapon to be found. Sherlock was curious enough about the case to pick it up, but then the situation with Irene Adler prevents him from concentrating on it. Irene is fascinated by Sherlock’s work and convinces him to tell her about the case. Eventually she seems to solve it, but we never see the outcome. Irene theorizes that the hiker turned his head when the car backfired and was struck in the back of the head with his own boomerang! The boomerang then fell into a nearby slow stream so the weapon was not easily found. First, I’m not sure I buy that a boomerang could hit someone hard enough on the back of the head to kill them instantly, but lightly enough that they fall dead on their back instead of falling forward from the impact. Second, we never see the police find the boomerang and close the case, so we don’t know whether or not that actually happened. We are just left to assume that Irene is right. It’s another feather in her cap as far as her intelligence is concerned, making her an even better foil to Sherlock, but I am having a hard time buying it.
Over all, I am thrilled Sherlock has finally returned, and I do recommend this episode for mature audiences. Hopefully younger fans will catch a break with next week’s episode, ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’!
I give Sherlock, ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ three SpaceGypsy Wagons!