jason stives reviews the return of the critically acclaimed BBC series …
NOTE: While it won’t air for another four months in the U.S., Pop-Break’s art of detection procured the season premiere of the BBC’s highly praised series Sherlock. If you don’t wish to be spoiled and aren’t willing to hunt this episode down online, don’t read on …
Mere weeks after the theatrical release of another modern adaptation of the famed Arthur Conan Doyle detective, the BBC premiered on New Year’s Day the second series of their highly acclaimed show Sherlock. The series, a modern-day telling of the famed detective of Baker Street, that stars Benedict Cumberbatch (War Horse, Atonement) as Holmes and Martin Freeman (The Office UK) as his constant associate John Watson.
The first series, which consisted of three 90-minute episodes, received critical acclaim in England and in the United States (when it aired on PBS), garnering several Emmy awards. This season will see the same format — adaptations of three of Doyle’s most celebrated stories. We begin with “A Scandal In Belgravia,” and low and behold the award winning writing team of Mark Gatiss (The League Of Gentlemen) and Doctor Who executive producer Steven Moffat doesn’t disappoint, delivering a thrilling tale that is both emotionally involved and cinematically impactful. For fans of the series, you should never expect any less.
Of course, this story begins where we left off last season — at the cliffhanger to “The Great Game,” by the swimming pool. Holmes and Watson are in the crosshairs of a series of sniper targets as Holmes lowers his gun to a vest of explosives that can send the building sky high. But then, the unthinkable happens, and they find themselves *ahem* staying alive. I won’t give away the outcome — suffice to say (shocker) Holmes and Watson live to see another day, but how it is executed is very much a reflection of the minds of the two head writers (although this one was specifically written by Moffat).
While he isn’t featured prominently in this episode outside of being menacing in the shadows, much has to be said about Andrew Scott’s Moriarty. Scott conveys a Moriarty that shows equality between he and Holmes but also shows him to be far more dangerous than an articulate and quick thinker. The scene at the pool shows in only a few lines his capability of being calm and mischievous and then brutally horrifying, something that most portrayals of the dear Professor don’t show (although Jared Harris’ performance in the recent Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows can give that notion a run for its money).
But this story isn’t about his evil genius equal but about a woman, the woman as Holmes puts it, Miss Irene Adler, seen here as a dominatrix for higher played by Lara Pulver. For contemporary audiences, Adler is played in the Guy Ritchie films as a foil of a love interest to match the bumbling Holmes of Robert Downey Jr. Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a far more hard case to crack, and Adler, with her ability to think as quickly as Sherlock and with the heavy art of seduction and masochism, can do it. After all the things she does to break him, you can’t help but wonder if under all that book smarts and snarky analyzing, Holmes isn’t a closet sexual deviant who gets his jollies off of impressing others and getting asked to be impressed. When Holmes cracks a code that Adler gives him, he does it so quickly and impressively that Irene flirts with the idea of taking him right there on his desk. Pulver blossoms as Adler and conveys a great deal of sexuality while not coming off as contemptuous or undesirable to even the viewer. Her first meeting with Holmes, naked as the day she was born, not only leaves Sherlock flabbergasted but the audience as well, and you love her for every bit of it.
The plot to the story which verges between a a dead hiker and a backfiring saab in the countryside and a doomed flight in dusseldorf is merely a McGuffin to move the real story, which is the generalization of Sherlock Holmes as a human being. There is much to ponder over in such a scenario regardless, and most of the episode revolves around Holmes trying to figure out the pass code to Irene’s phone, which holds important documents as well as some very racy photos that can take the royal family. In the technobabble of the 21st century, the significance of Irene’s phone could be a metaphor for the slave to technology like world we live in, that or just a showcase of how something as simple as a phone can bring down the government, let alone a monarchy. That being said, the episode spends copious amounts of time watching Sherlock ponder over, of which he gives many attempts at only to learn that Irene is far too clever to make it come down to the art of detection, even if that is finally how it is resolved. The end result almost feels like a groaner of an answer, but it turns out to be one of the cheekiest and thrill-seeking moments in the show.
But like I said, it’s about Holmes more than the case this time, and we are treated to learning much more about Holmes by not resulting in a back story but studying him like he does all his clients. It’s here that we see Holmes’ first sign of showing compassion, a subject that Watson argued to his partner he was incapable of doing after seeing victims in his cases murdered. Enter once again, the Money Penny of Sherlock, lab expert Molly Hooper, here dolled up and clearly infatuated as usual with Holmes at a Christmas Eve party at Baker Street. When he presumes her decision to look fancy and have a gift with her is for some poor sap she has lured into liking her, he suddenly feels regret this when he realizes her gift is to him. As you get ready to feel sorry once more for Molly, Holmes apologizes for his comments, showing that Holmes isn’t as much of an emotionless intellect as one would assume. All of this resulting from the sudden deterioration of his cold exterior at the hands of an equal that challenges his notion of love and lust.
As usual, we see another layer peeled away in Holmes and Watsons’ ever-growing relationship. John clearly understands Holmes a lot more but also rests well with the fact that he will never truly understand him other than he is stubborn and believes he is always right. As he quips to Irene at one point, he would gladly out live God’s existence in order to prove he was right. John once again suffers from relationship issues showing his devoted time to his partner and seemingly forgetting what woman he is dating now. Outside of both Molly and Irene, this episode showcases once again the poor use of women as prominent characters mainly serving as background noise to ground in reality Holmes and Watson’s hetero relationship.
Relationships are everything here, ranging from Holmes and Watson’s relationship to how Sherlock interacts with his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss). Mycroft in particular is given much room to show his relationship with his brother this time. Instead of being a snooty glue sniffing aristocrat, he shows his cunning ability to match what his younger brother is thinking even throwing in some snappy remarks here and there. But at the heart of all of this is how he reacts to Irene and their final meeting, which is part Greek tragedy part top-notch detective work and only one side can be completely satisfied in Sherlock Holmes’ existence … or can it?
While I won’t spoil the outcome, as I think this is an instance where you are left guessing up until the very end, I don’t think this is the last time we will see Irene Adler just as we are not done with Moriarty. Next week brings a modern adaptation of probably the most well known of the Conan Doyle’s adventures, “The Hound Of The Baskervilles,” a task that no doubt Moffat will tackle very well. With that in mind, “A Scandal In Belgravia” quenched an insatiable appetite that had been hungry for months and was a tremendous start to what will probably be a tremendous season.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Outstanding)