Although this last episode of Sherlock - Series III is the most successful of the three Series III episodes, it has far too many bizarre, even preposterous, contrived twists and far too many contrived glimpses into the supposedly character-revealing personal lives of Sherlock (and Mycroft) and Watson to make it any more than the best of a bad lot all of which played themselves out in lieu of whopping good contemporary Holmes-Watson adventures told in the best Sherlockian manner as were all the episodes of Series I and II.
Ah well. All things, even the best of them, must come to an end sometime, and so it seems has Sherlock. There is, however, one faint ray of hope left us and by no less a personage than the now presumed unambiguously dead and done for villain the deliciously demented Jim Moriarty who was killed off by his own hand in the last episode of Series II. Well, it appears Moriarty wasn't. Killed off and dead and done for, that is, as he now, seemingly out of nowhere, appears for a few brief seconds at the very close of the present episode asking us directly if slyly whether we miss him. To which we almost out loud replied, "Why, Yes!, my dear fellow. We do indeed miss you. Indeed we most certainly do."
Was that Moriarty's ghost taunting us maliciously?
We'll have to wait to see.
We've little to say about "The Sign of Three", the second episode of Series III of the PBS Masterpiece Mystery series Sherlock, beyond saying that the contemporary Sherlockian muse seems to have gone inexplicably AWOL and deserted writer Steve Thompson, the writer of "The Reichenbach Fall", the singularly brilliant closing episode of Sherlock, Series II. The present episode is a confused, intended-to-be-amusing concoction that fails almost every step of the way. Not even the always faithful-to-Conan-Doyle-in-spirit realizations by Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Watson could save it. We can only hope that Series III's upcoming concluding episode, “His Last Vow”, airing on PBS on 2 February 2014, will serve to redeem this so far hugely disappointing Series III and that Series II will not prove to have been Sherlock the series's very own Reichenbach Fall with no Return in sight.
The Empty Hearse" (what a dreadful Sherlockian pun!), the long-awaited (two years!) first episode of Season III of the PBS Masterpiece Mystery series Sherlock aired last night and we were both dismayed and angered by it. It was so bad, we thought, that it seemed as if it had been written by some fan-fiction moron. Turns out we weren't far wrong about that. We later learned that the episode's writer, Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, was in fact, and with a sly and slightly malicious twinkle in his eye, actually paying, um, tribute to the mostly preposterous speculations by the series's more vocally vociferous wanna-be-a-detective fans on how Holmes, although now "officially" declared dead, had actually survived unscathed after his leap from that stories-high rooftop at the end of the last episode of Series II ("The Reichenbach Fall").
We're embarrassed to confess we just didn't get that at all our first time through this episode and actually bought whole the very first preposterous speculation which opened "The Empty Hearse" as being offered by Gatiss in earnest as an explanation of how Holmes survived his death-certain leap unscathed and it so poisoned our perception of this episode that it blinded us to everything that followed. After we were made aware of what was really going on here we re-watched the episode and indeed found it to be truly great fun — as a one-off, that is. We fervently hope Sherlock's writers will not in future make a habit of this sort of episode. Once is quite sufficient, thank you.
He's back! Just as we all knew he'd be. Time & place: PBS, 19 January 2014, 22:00 Eastern (but check your local TV listings). Following, a modest but delicious Christmas present for all Sherlockians from Gatiss & Moffat.
We've just finished watching the third episode of the three-episode PBS Masterpiece Mystery series Sherlock, Series II, titled "The Reichenbach Fall" the episode written by Steve Thompson who also wrote "The Blind Banker" episode of Sherlock, Series I. (We call our readers' attention to the last graf of our above linked review of that episode even though what's suggested there doesn't quite play out fully in the present episode but will play out, we're all but certain, in the series's final dénouement, perhaps in Sherlock, Series III, scheduled to begin shooting in early 2013 according to RadioTimes.) We won't say anything more about this third and final episode of Series II (and no, we've no solid idea (as opposed to a guess or two) as to how Sherlock managed you-know-what) except to say that in our considered estimation "The Reichenbach Fall" is to the world of the reimagined 21st-century Sherlockian pastiche as is the Chaconne of Bach's Partita No. 2 to the world of the solo violin, or Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro to the world of opera, or Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 to the world of the symphony, all of which is to say "The Reichenbach Fall" is a singularly sterling achievement and, from top to bottom and beginning to end, as nearly perfect as perfect can be.
"The Reichenbach Fall" can be seen in full here. If you missed this brilliant and moving episode we suggest you click on over and avail yourself of the online video before it becomes unavailable (19 June 2012).
The Hounds of Baskerville", the second episode of Sherlock, Series II, is just a bit, shall we say, too clever by half and lacks the frisson of the Doyle original upon which it's based. Writer and series co-creator Mark Gatiss certainly knows his Canon, but unlike his co-creator Steven Moffat (the author of the opening Series II episode, "A Scandal in Belgravia") his sense of the material is largely intellectual. He lacks Moffat's spot-on intuitive feel for things Canonic and as a result his Sherlock scripts don't "sing" whereas Moffat's always do. In addition, this episode contains a glaring lapse; a lapse of the very worst sort; namely, a necessary lapse; in this case, a lapse without which it would have been game over for the episode after a mere 45 minutes or so.
Holmes, sweating profusely and in clear physical and mental distress, goes flat-out loopy and starts behaving like a maniac, and Dr. Watson — Dr. Watson of all people! — shows no sign or hint of even so much as suspecting an external agent of being responsible.
Gatiss is, of course, depending on Holmes's manic behavior at episode's opening to act as explanation for Holmes's present loopy behavior for both Watson and the audience and so not rouse any suspicions about external agents at that point. But Holmes's present loopy behavior is clearly not of the same sort, a fact that should have been instantly manifest to any audience member paying proper attention, which is a good thing. That it wasn't instantly manifest to Watson, however, is, as we've already noted, simply impossible; ergo, the lapse.
This episode fell rather flat for us, and it was only the pleasure of watching Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (Holmes and Watson, respectively) do their thing that saved it for us.
"The Hounds of Baskerville" can be seen in full here.
As the time for airing neared, we earnestly attempted to dial-down our expectations for the first episode of the second series (of three new episodes) of PBS's Sherlock, "A Scandal in Belgravia", but by airtime we found all our earnest efforts to no avail: we were totally and helplessly pumped.
We needn't have been concerned. This brilliant, inventive, intricate, and twist-laden episode easily exceeded all our expectations. It is, in short, the very best of all the already-aired (in the U.S.) episodes (four now, including the present one), all of them first-rate; a veritable tour de force by writer and series co-creator Steven Moffat laced with myriad (we counted over a dozen) Canon-insider puns, allusions, and references by way of Canon tale titles, incidents, and verbatim snatches of dialogue. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were as Doyle-perfect a Holmes and Watson as one could wish for — as per usual. Almost as much could be said for all the portrayals of the characters in this episode, most particularly the Mycroft Holmes of Mark Gatiss (the series's other co-creator), and the Irene Adler of Lara Pulver.
There were, however, two glaring lapses in this episode:
1: Based on, um, certain criteria (you'll have to see the episode to discover what they were), Holmes misidentifies a corpse as being none other than Irene Adler; a misidentification it would have been absolutely impossible for Holmes to make in the context of this episode.
2: The final plot twist which marked the end of the episode was, shall we say, a bit over the top — of Mt. Everest!
But judge for yourselves. A Scandal in Belgravia can be seen in full here.
This episode of Sherlock is, in every way, not-to-be-missed television.
In Spring, 2012, the dynamic, if dysfunctional, duo of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson continues to battle the worst that 21st century London has to offer, including a computer-savvy arch-villain who wants to rule the world and a hound from the hinges of Hell. Masterpiece mystery! premieres Sherlock, Season 2, airing in three episodes: "A Scandal in Belgravia" (May 6, 2012), "The Hounds of Baskerville" (May 13, 2012), and "The Reichenbach Fall" (May 20, 2012) at 9pm on PBS.
The BBC has announced filming has begun on the second season of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' critically acclaimed Sherlock — a modern day reworking of the classic Arthur Conan-Doyle sleuth. [...] [The] multi-award winning drama [series] starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman begins filming on location in Cardiff and London for a second series of three 90-minute films. [...]
The three stories will be called A Scandal In Belgravia, The Hounds Of Baskerville, and The Reichenbach Fall.
* Our reviews of the three episodes that constitute Series I can be read here, here, and here.
The Great Game", the third and final episode of Series I of the BBC series Sherlock aired last night on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery, and a most thoroughly delicious episode it was, too. Written by the series's co-creator Mark Gatiss, it's a fast-paced and intriguing suspense-thriller perfectly in keeping with the character of Conan Doyle's original Holmes-Watson tales to which there are manifold references throughout, mostly by way of verbatim or near verbatim quotes of lines of dialogue (we counted no less than a dozen), by way of direct reference to other original tales ("The Five Orange Pips"), reference by way of plot (the subplot of "The Great Game" is an almost verbatim borrowing from Doyle's "The Bruce-Partington Plans"), and reference also by way of an homage to a kind of secondary Holmes-Watson original source: the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s for which series of films both co-creators of Sherlock, Gatiss and Steven Moffat, confess their affection (which affection we share). The homage in this case was the borrowing of a grotesque contract killer with a grotesque signature method of killing from the 1944 Rathbone-Bruce Holmes film, The Pearl of Death. The grotesque contract killer in that film was called The Creeper (or simply, Creeper), and his signature method of killing was to break his victim's back. The grotesque contract killer in "The Great Game" is called The Golem (or simply, Golem), and his signature method of killing is to squeeze his victim to death.
As always, the high-strung Holmes of Benedict Cumberbatch, and the long-suffering Watson of Martin Freeman are perfect in their authenticity vis-à-vis Doyle's Holmes and Watson, and are a joy to watch in action. A joy as well is the work of director Paul McGuigan who also directed "A Study in Pink", and the camerawork of director of photography Steve Lawes who photographed all three episodes of Series I of Sherlock.
The major plot of "The Great Game" — a wholly original tale by Gatiss — involves a series of challenges put to Holmes by an unknown challenger who has a curious way of putting his challenges: he phones them in to Holmes over a pink cell phone which he leaves for Holmes at the crime scene of a bombing; a pink cell phone which is an exact replica of the pink cell phone that figured in "A Study in Pink", which immediately ties the two cases together as being engineered by the same person.
But the unknown challenger doesn't himself put the challenges. What he does is wire up (or rather, have wired up) a randomly chosen, innocent party with a body-bomb who then is forced from afar to deliver the challenge reading from a texted script (or in one case, who delivers the challenge as heard over an earpiece as she's quite old and blind), any deviation from the script punishable by instant death via the body-bomb or via a bullet delivered by an unseen sniper equipped, presumably, with a high-powered rifle (we see the telltale red dot from the laser sighting device). Each challenge has a time limit attached, and the threat is that if Holmes fails a challenge within the time limit specified, the hapless deliverer of the challenge will be unceremoniously blown to bits.
Devilishly clever, as Holmes, for some inexplicable reason, failed to say.
We know, of course, that Moriarty is the unknown challenger, and sure enough, he makes his first appearance in the series at episode's end, and he's a certifiable loony; a certifiable loony that puts Holmes's and Watson's lives in mortal peril in an episode and Series I cliffhanger conclusion; a cliffhanger we frankly thought quite tacky as we'd expected Gatiss to come up with something somewhat — OK, lots — more subtle.
But back to the loony Moriarty. Is he really loony, or is he acting — or, rather, overacting? And there's something else queer about him that makes us doubt him. One bomb-wired victim — the one who received her instructions via an earpiece rather than a texted script — reveals that his voice is distinctive. "It sounded so soft," she says over the cell phone, and is instantly blown to bits for her impertinence. But the Moriarty we meet at episode's conclusion has anything but a soft-sounding voice. And, we also wonder, why does Moriarty not himself call Holmes to deliver his challenges? Could it be that his voice would be recognized? We're inclined to think it would.
Ah. Tantalizing questions over which to ponder.
Stay tuned for Series II of Sherlock due this coming fall or thereabouts for perhaps a resolution of these and other questions, such as, How will Holmes and Watson manage to extricate themselves from the untenable position in which Gatiss has left them?
We can hardly wait.
(NOTE: A full-length video of "The Great Game" can be seen here.)
The Blind Banker", the second episode of the first series of the splendid new Masterpiece Mystery series, Sherlock, aired on PBS last night, and while it lacked the brilliance of the most impressive first episode of this first series, "A Study In Pink" (see this S&F post), it nevertheless was a not unworthy installment. Drawing its two central plot devices — a number cipher identifying specific words on specific pages of an unidentified book, and a sinister secret society behind a murder, both devices suitably transformed for this 21st-century updating — from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novella-length Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Valley Of Fear, this otherwise original tale written by Stephen Thompson follows Holmes and Watson on a manic search to discover who and what are behind two related murders. It's a beautifully filmed episode, and Holmes and Watson (played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, respectively) are as Conan-Doyle-authentic as they were in "A Study In Pink" which is really what's of paramount importance in these updated tales, the mysteries to be solved functioning for our 21st-century sensibilities merely as pretext and platform just as they largely do for us in the original Holmes-Watson tales, and we never take them too seriously. It's all great fun when the game's afoot (or, in the language of this series, when the game's on), and we wouldn't have it any other way.
And speaking of great fun, we read the following in two separate reviews of "The Blind Banker":
But what of Lastrade [sic]? Introduced last week but given little to do other than tut his way through the episode, he doesn't even appear on this occassion [sic], instead replaced by an equally wet constabulary lettuce.
The same goes for Moriarty, Holmes' nemesis cropping up in a brief coda when the episode is clearly screaming out for a genuinely terrifying villain to cast a shadow over proceedings.
There was no setting up of central characters and scenarios, instead an emphasis on telling one story, and telling it very well. Even Moriarty was left to, effectively, an epilogue at the end, taking up just a minute or two of "The Blind Banker"'s running time.
If you've seen both episodes, you'll remember that last week Moriarty was the name, gasped out by the killer with his dying breath, of the shadowy, sinister real force behind the killings — a name, remember, unknown to this 21st-century Holmes — and this week, the shadowy sinister real force behind the killings is identified (to us, but not to Holmes; at least not yet) only by his initial, "M", displayed in an online, real-time computer communication which initial the above two reviewers are taking for granted indicates Moriarty.
We suspect that everyone's in for a jolting surprise concerning Moriarty in this delightful 21st-century reimagining of the Holmes-Watson saga the second series of tales of which is due next year. The initial "M" is not unique to that name, y'know.
[NOTE: This entry has been edited as of 3:09 AM Eastern on 26 Oct to correct an incomplete credit, and to clarify certain language.]
Constant readers of S&F will be all too aware of our contempt for the "updated" grotesqueries today perpetrated regularly by Regietheater's Eurotrash contingent in the domain of opera, and our contempt for and disgust with the self-involved, self-serving Regies — hijackers and vandals all, intent on imposing on a work their own Konzept in place of that of the work's creator — responsible for them. The least perceptive of these constant S&F readers might, knee-jerk fashion, have imagined our contempt was born of old-fogey, reactionary or "traditionalist" tendencies despite ample evidence to the contrary, and expect such a response from us to anything that deviates from traditional norms, and so would have felt fairly confident in predicting that our response to the new BBC-PBS Masterpiece series, Sherlock — a 21st-century updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's deathless Holmes-Watson saga (known to us Sherlockians simply as The Canon) — would be equally as negative, especially considering our devotion to the Conan Doyle original.
We freely confess that on our first getting wind of this new series, our instant response was a silent groan at the prospect of yet another bungled Holmes-Watson updating or "retelling". And when we saw the trailer for the series with its jarringly young, slightly-dangerous-pretty-boy titular character (played by the improbably named Benedict Cumberbatch) giving us a Sherlock Holmes who thinks it meet to wink coyly at Doctor Watson (played by Martin Freeman) on their first meeting as he delivers the line, "The name's Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B Baker Street," and then learned further that the series was the brainchild of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, writers for the long-running BBC sci-fi series, Dr. Who, we expected the very worst.
The premiere episode of Sherlock, "A Study In Pink", aired on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery last night (two more episodes follow in this first series: "The Blind Banker" on 31 October, and "The Great Game" on 7 November), and within the first ten minutes we knew that all our fears had been groundless, especially as concerns the two central characters. Writer Moffat's handling of Conan Doyle's original material is quite simply brilliant, and his updated Holmes and Watson — played superbly by Cumberbatch and Freeman, respectively — operating sans any strain at all within their 21st-century world complete with smartphones, computers, blogs, websites, and other endemic 21st-century appurtenances, are, at bottom and essentially, the authentic Holmes and Watson as created by Sir Arthur in "A Study In Scarlet" in 1887, and Moffat's "A Study In Pink" an inventive 21st-century reimagining of "A Study In Scarlet" in which opening tale of the saga, both the original tale and this updated reimagining, Holmes and Watson meet for the first time and take up residence together at 221B Baker Street. Transformations of events in the original tale abound, as do allusions to and the use of other events in the saga, including a deliciously sly bit of misdirection early on in the episode, set right only at episode's very end, which we confess took us in entirely although the misdirection will be appreciated completely only by those fluently familiar with the original saga while to the Holmes innocent it will appear and be taken as just a neat little sideline plot twist in this 21st-century reimagining (no, we refuse to spell it out here).
If you're a Holmes fan (or even if you're not) and missed seeing "A Study In Pink", it can be seen in full through 7 December 2010 on PBS's Masterpiece website here. We assure you you'll find it one of the quickest and most delightful ninety TV minutes you've ever spent.
It was only a matter of time. A Hollywood-budget-sized, in-all-earnestness, contemporary-sensibilities-pandering excrescence to the deathless Holmes-Watson saga; an adventure set as a Victorian-era action flick for hormonal adolescents and adults whose IQ barely exceeds their belt size, complete with a myriad of action-flick-requisite chases, fisticuffs, shootouts, and things blowing up, and for good measure, some sex, and a villain who's managed to rise from the dead to do his evil deeds.
Early in Sherlock Holmes — and also again, later on — the famous sleuth demonstrates his ratiocinative powers in a way undreamed of by his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. Observing a thug standing guard over a horrible crime in a dimly lighted church, Holmes calculates just how to surprise the man, disarm him and beat him senseless. The audience follows his thought process though slow-motion pre-enactment, observing how the laws of anatomy and physics will be used to snap bones, gouge organs and turn flesh into pulp. Then, having seen it diagramed once on screen, we see it all again, with more noise, in real time. Elementary!
It seems that an evil aristocrat ... executed for a series of murders, returns from the dead to mobilize an ancient secret society that he may have time-traveled into a Dan Brown novel to learn about. Doesn’t that sound fascinating? I thought not.
(Note: This post has been updated as of 27 Jul at 10:26 AM. See below)
Quite some years ago I was involved in a catastrophic motorcycle accident that left me bed-bound for almost a year. In an effort to ease my forced confinement, my then father-in-law brought a gift: the Doubleday edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Although I managed a smile of gratitude, it crossed my mind that in buying me that collection of stories the not-so-old man had suffered a premature Senior Moment. A copyeditor for The New York Times, he and I had discussed literature often, and he was well aware of my distaste for, and contemptuous dismissal of, genre fiction in all its forms, yet here he was presenting me with two volumes worth of the stuff. Perhaps, I thought, it was a joke of some sort I hadn't quite caught on to, or perhaps he'd had not merely a premature Senior Moment, but gone stone-cold barking mad.
I decided to defer immediate judgment on the matter. As I was a virtual prisoner with nowhere to go and nothing but time on my hands, what could it hurt to at least give the things a read, or a try at a read, as the case might be. Time enough later for a final decision on the question of my father-in-law's mental competency.
So, beginning at the beginning, I turned to the opening novella-length story, A Study in Scarlet, and began to read.
In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army.
What odd but curiously pleasant syntax was the thought that immediately crossed my mind. The thought passed, I continued to read.
Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as assistant surgeon. The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out. On landing at Bombay, I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy's country. I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties.
In context, just the names seemed to bristle with an exotic energy. Encouraged, I read on for the next two days straight with almost no sleep, during which time I read all sixty stories all 1300 pages of them and then went back to start reading them all over again.
I wasn't sure at just what point I'd become hooked, and even less sure of what it was that hooked me, but hooked I was, and the mystery of how that came about is for me today still a greater mystery than any Holmes and Watson ever undertook to unravel; one that, even after all these years, remains elusive of fully satisfactory solution.
Of one thing, however, I was certain: these stories were not litraschur. Heart of Darkness is litraschur. The Dead is litraschur. The Half-skinned Steer is litraschur. But The Adventure of the Speckled Band, or even the almost-novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles? No way. Not, at any rate, outside the halls of academe with its postmodern lit courses in which novels such as Stephen King's Pet Sematary and Spiderman comic books are considered litraschur.
But there I was and here I am. Hooked on works of detective fiction. Genre fiction. Prole-pandering-barely-worth-the-paper-they're-printed-on pulp fiction!
So, how to explain it. I mean, it really does require some sort of explanation. But as I've said, I can't explain it in any fully satisfactory way. Yes, it's true Conan Doyle makes astonishingly real his two central characters and the milieu in which they lived and worked; so real that one finds oneself needing to ferret out, when they're not explicitly given (and just to be certain, even when they are), the exact dates and physical locations of the stories' action. One somehow feels a compelling need to know that. And, yes, the stories chronicle a friendship rare today, and perhaps rare at any time. And, yes, the era of Holmes and Watson is wonderfully intimate, warmly romantic, and altogether appealing, especially to a 21st-century American. And, yes, the totally self-reliant character of Holmes is individualistic and nobly aristocratic, and his consummate skill in, and dedication to his profession superhuman even if somewhat unbelievable, all of which is laudable, inspiring, and exciting of admiration. The Holmes-Watson canon is all these things. But that's still not explanation enough, although it's surely an essential part of it.
The best I can muster as explanation and I'm fully cognizant my best is thoroughly inadequate is that the Holmes-Watson stories, even though technically detective fiction, each have the quality of being a chapter of a great and heroic if urbane saga; tales told orally around a pre-literate communal campfire; tales that tell of a time when a man's individual actions had comprehensible, direct, and immediate effect on his environment and those populating it without mediation, mitigation or intensification by technologies the workings of which are comprehensible only to experts; tales that tell of a time when one could "learn at a glance to distinguish the history of [a] man, and the trade or profession to which he belongs"; a time when "by a man's fingernails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuffs ... [his] calling is plainly revealed."
Such a time is now long past, and we know we'll never again see its like. We feel a quick pang of sorrow at that, and silently mourn its passing knowing there's nothing for it. We find, however, that we can be granted a meaningful measure of solace and pleasure by a well-told saga of its days of glory which saga is the Holmes-Watson canon. And that, I think, is the secret of the power of these stories, and an at least partial explanation for why a literary elitist such as myself senses something magic about them, and can find himself hooked helpless by that magic.
Too facile an explanation? Well, perhaps. But as I've said, the best I can muster.
Update (27 Jul at 10:26 AM): Weblogger Rick Coencas of Futurballacomments.