jason stives ‘hounds’ us with a review of Sherlock‘s second episode …
In the first series of Sherlock, we were treated, much like this season, to a dramatic premiere that amazed viewers and kept a general interest in its tale of intrigue. The story that followed “A Study In Pink” that year was “The Blind Banker,” a good story but a bit long in the tooth and in a way a bit forgettable for not being as exciting and noteworthy. With the second story of this season being an adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles, there was hope that that same rut wouldn’t happen here. It doesn’t for the most part, but sadly the modern-day result of the most famous Arthur Conan Doyle adventure suffers from pacing issues that leaves the viewer a bit uninterested for most of the story but is rebounded with some excellent performances and a story of intrigue that while predictable is executed with gusto.
In this story penned by co-creator Mark Gatiss, Holmes enters this episode in traditional fashion, kind of, covered in pig’s blood and holding a harpoon. What exactly has happened, who knows, but it’s part of a result of Holmes suffering from a nicotine withdrawal and is overall antsy nature to move onto the next case. Enter Henry Knight, a man clearly deprived of physical and mental rest who comes baring the tale of the hound of the Baskervilles, a supposedly dangerous dog that lurks the countryside of Dart moor. Without batting an eyelash, Holmes and Watson are off on another exciting case, the ultimate case, as Holmes will state by episodes’ end.
The transformation of Baskerville from being a hall to a notorious chemical testing plant was a smart idea, and it invokes strong fears in every day issues. The notions of animal testing, biological warfare, and people in creepy gas masks sounds like something straight out of Doctor Who, but it is a part of our culture that most don’t confront anymore in modern fiction on television. Dart moor and the area surrounding Baskerville is a no man’s land, a mine field of failed tests and hush-hush secret government projects. The final resolution of what the hound is is well-executed, even if it was a bit rushed, and truthfully what saves this episode is the last 30 minutes, when the story starts to unravel and the pacing picks up.
Therein lays the issue with this episode: the pacing and how everything unfolds. For 90 minutes, there seems to be more existentialism than there is a mystery being unsheathed. Considering how quickly we are pushed into the world of Baskerville, it suddenly hits a grinding halt as Holmes lingers continuously about the hollow in Dart moor and Watson canoodles and fails to entice a local scientist at a bar. The one thing that this season has sometimes failed to do is keep an interest in the investigation, instead opting to explore other facets of the main characters and the people around them. This is all well and good, and last week’s episode clearly showed strong characters with a lot to offer to the narration and the episode. The trouble in “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” is most of the supporting roles are given a quick-handed backstory so the plot can move forward, except for the character of Henry Knight, who is integral to the outcome.
A lot of this has to do with Mark Gatiss, as well as Steven Moffat’s desire to explore Sherlock a lot more, and just like last week, that is what we get. The one thing that this show has done so well is delve deep into the psyche of Holmes and show that he is an unsure individual as much as he is a clever one. The notion of Holmes supposedly seeing the hound and denying it doesn’t rely on the idea that he was wrong more that he is unsure of the unknown — a scary thought for a man who believes there is a truth to everything. This allows for some great tension between Holmes and Watson, and once again Watson is allowed to investigate on his own and shown as more than just Sherlock’s trusty sidekick. We have a better picture of Holmes as to how he thinks in this episode, although the montage of him thinking through a series of numbers, words, and pictures in his head made him seem more deranged than it did a constant thinker, which is what the intent seemed to be.
Martin Freeman shows that Watson doesn’t just mope about under Holmes waiting for the next move, he gets involved. His infiltration of the Baskerville chemical plant mid-episode shows a keen eye for investigation but also adds a strong air of mystery surrounding the plants contents. Watson, much like his partner, sees fear but doesn’t want to confront it, and his confrontation with the supposed hound of Baskerville is menacing and startling at best. Being Human star Russell Tovey is a welcome addition to this episode as Henry Knight, a man plagued by memories of the ravenous hound with red eyes that killed his father 20 years ago. What saves Tovey from being another lunatic who has hallucinated seeing something is the honesty and fear in his eyes. The last 10 minutes of the episode show Knight frightened and delusional over whether the infamous hound is real or not. It invokes an element of suspense that this episode was clearly trying to convey but at a leisurely pace.
Overall, it was another solid episode even if it did suffer the same fate of “The Blind Banker” from the first series. What probably makes this particular episode more disappointing for befalling that fate is the well-known nature of the story, but nevertheless we aren’t done yet. Next week is the series finale (already, I know!) and no doubt we are in for a treat. The Moriarty storyline is beginning its climatic wrap-up, and with the title “The Reichenbach Fall” (an allusion to the infamous story “The Final Problem”), Sherlock‘s second series should end with a huge amount of shock and awe, and err, a lot of water.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)