All entries for Friday 06 August 2010

August 06, 2010

On Sherlock

I’ve been trying to pick apart why that first episode of the new BBC drama Sherlock was a lot better than the second. The obvious answer of course: the writer of the first episode was better. The more sophisticated answer… well let’s see.

The truth is I found the first hour of the second episode of Sherlock rather enjoyable. But then it all went a bit wrong. Let’s start at the end. The big finale to the first episode was a battle of wits between Holmes and the villain of the piece. Holmes has been introduced to us as this master observer, and so he gets tested a psychological game of bluff and double bluff with the killer. It’s all nonsense of course. If he was that desperate to know if he’d chosen correctly he could have just taken the pill to the lab after. More to the point, you’d think with all that knowledge in his head he’d have seen The Princess Bride too. Still, it’s tense while it lasts and while it’s easy to take it for granted on first viewing, it’s not until you see that second episode that you realise how rare that sort of thing is: a high budget crime drama where the finale is two people matching wits, rather than some big action scene. It’s Pemberton getting a confession from someone in the box, rather than the killer being shot dead in a raid. In fact, in that first episode, the one action scene stood out like a sore thumb: the chase through London was a bit silly and utterly at odds with the tone of the rest of the episode. But even then, it managed to incorporate something new (Holmes’ head-GPS) and serve the development of the characters (Watson dumping the stick) if not the plot.

The second episode is back to more familiar territory. It ends with Holmes saving the day by winning a gunfight and rescuing the girl at the last second. Really? Oh sure, they try to dress it up with a bit of talking to show that Holmes is using his brains “the bullet’s will ricochet” but when it comes down to it he may as well have said “let the girl go, you’re surrounded by armed bastards”.
It’s a shame as that first hour was great. Okay, the killer being a gymnast was a bit far fetched but still, the mystery was interesting. But then out of nowhere “oh it’s an evil circus troop what done it”. Of course it is. I don’t know how closely this episode was based on the original Conan Doyle story, but “evil Chinese circus group” is one of those elements that really needed updating. Assuming of course, that we want to keep the series grounded in reality, and not veer off in to the slightly dodgy latter-day Holmes stories and the very dodgy spin offs that throw in supernatural stuff. Who knows, maybe this week’s episode will see Watson hit a zombie with an urn. As he faded in to old age, Conan Doyle believed in faeries.:

They could have gone a lot more gritty. Make them drug dealers, make the lost heirloom some blood diamonds, get Naomi Campbell to guest star… okay maybe not… but still the episode really needed updating. And the possibilities could have been really interesting. Say they were human traffickers. And the one smuggler let a girl escape on purpose. The treasure is the girl. The cover is that they’re a Facebook game development group doing market research. Okay maybe not that last bit. Although.

Instead we got that interminably long scene where we just watch a circus trick. Except it’s not even impressive as it’s in a piece of fiction so it’s not real. I thought she was going to ask for a volunteer from the audience so there was at least a mild bit of peril for a character we’ve met before but no, the scene just ends. They may as well have flashed up a big sign saying “did you get that? we’re going to be using that weight-based harpoon thing later!” Because what we really needed was to basically seen that scene twice. Everything from that point onwards is just a bit silly. Remember at the point last week where Holmes considers risking suicide just to prove himself right? Well at that point this week he’s in a gunfight with an evil Chinese circus. Oh dear.

Let’s hope the final episode gets it right.

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