Monday, November 15, 2010

"Catch you..."


You knew I was going to get here sooner or later, right? Lets talk.

When I first heard about the "update" of Holmes -- "a detective for the 21st century," a tagline I devoutly hope Stephen Moffat didn't come up with or, if he did, that he regrets intensely -- I was dubious. Me? I'm a Brett girl. Always have been. Rathbone doesn't thrill me; Downey, Jr. amused me, but didn't shake my essential loyalty; King's (no, not that one) Mary Russell novels, ditto. As far as Holmes goes, it's all Brett all the way.

Despite my essential bias, I have to say: Moffat and his co-conspirator, Mark Gatiss, know their Holmes. There's really no better way to put it than that; better still, I suspect they know their Conan Doyle. I find C. Doyle interesting as a historical figure and I adore the Holmes canon, but he was a pretty hack-job writer, often comes across as being rather stupid, and was personally bigoted, Imperialistic, and jingoistic to a painful degree. Just try reading his "impartial" history of the Boer War -- but don't blame me when your eyeballs ache. Does all this affect his writing? Oh, hell yeah, honey. Get through Study in Scarlet -- and try not to wince. If Holmes himself doesn't come out with something winceable, just wait 'til we get to the "American scenes." Oh, baby, oh, baby.

And if that doesn't get you, try The Sign of Four. Argh. There's lots of awful -- yet, somehow, it didn't get swept away with a lot of the rest of the late Victoriana that The Strand and the Gentleman's Magazine and Blackhill (Cornhill? Blackhilll? Cornhillblack? Blackornhill? Oh, something like that. Someone else be the librarian and look it up!) and whatnot used to print up every month. There's just something about Holmes and Watson that works and continues to work and continues to work and just...well, it just goes on continuing to work.

And it works here. Gatiss and Moffat have got it jumping through old and new hoops and it still works.

So lets have a brief rundown. Spoilers ahead. Take this seriously. If you haven't seen it and want to, read no further.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock.
Note the coat.
Episode one, A Study in Pink. :) Great stuff. Really really awesome first episode. The characters and story spring straight into action and really don't stop to breathe for about an hour and half -- particularly Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes who speaks so quickly that I was surprised he didn't either a) pass out; or b) gasp at the end of every sentence like Mrs. Haddock in Gerald Durrell's story about his sister getting involved in spiritualism. Man must have breath control like a merman.

The basic plot is lifted straight from A Study in Scarlet (if you try to read the original, don't blame me for the pain of the second half. It hurts everyone.) A body is found; there are no clues/weird clues/anomalous clues; Lestrade calls in Holmes; and I could make a "the game's afoot" reference here and I will restrain myself. Holmes and Watson meet for the first time; Holmes shows off his observational skills all over the place; the rooming situation at 221b is arranged and we're off to the races.

I need to say right off the bat how excellent a pairing Holmes (Cumberbatch) and Watson (Freeman) are here. They are great. This is's like watching David Tennant and John Simm play against each other as Doctor and Master -- an inevitable comparison given who wrote the storylines in each case. They feel each other out for a few scenes -- both as characters and, rather visibly, as actors; get a sense of how this could work -- and then they basically just start having fun. And they have a lot of fun. And it is good fun. :) Martin Freeman is fantastic. He is a solid, believable, angry, damaged, unbelivably hurt -- and still functioning John Watson. He has discovered depth and humor and anger in that character that I wasn't quite sure were there and it works when he does it. This Watson is an Afghan veteran; his wound is giving him psychological symptoms; and he starts blogging about his "adventures" with Sherlock largely on advice from his therapist. The opening scenes of Pink show some real darkness behind this character; he's struggling with survivor guilt, PTSD, a wound that won't seem to quite heal, and having no money.

Enter Sherlock and the 221b flat.

The rest is history, more or less. Rupert Graves as Lestrade is great stuff; just thick enough to let Sherlock be continually impatient with him but still a solid, dependable copper -- who also knows that Sherlock is a show-offy, overly dramatic prat who needs to be stepped on firmly now and then before he starts riots just because he can.

Martin Freeman as John Watson.
Couldn't find a picture of him
in the good coat.
Second episode, The Blind Banker. Less successful -- tries to draw on things like The Sign of Four and whatnot that really were Conan Doyle playing with his Orientalist/Imperialist prejudices and letting them run riot: The British Empire Is Good. Anything East of France (And Much of France) Is Bad. Anything Coming From the East Is SUSPICIOUS. And Probably EVIL To Boot.

One of the best parts of this show for genre fans is going to be seeing Paul Chequer, aka Eugene from Torchwood's "Random Shoes" episode as DI Dimmock trying to wrestle (not literally) Sherlock into being useful and coherent and polite, all at once. There's also a location from a Doctor Who episode -- look really carefully at the museum where the Asian teapots are being kept and see if it rings any bells. Personally, I think there are two locations: does anyone want to scrutinize the round, tall room where the curators sit -- there's a long scene with Soo Lin Yao there although it's mostly in the dark -- and then watch the Doctor Who "Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead" duo and see if anything looks familiar?

There are some great character moments here between Watson and Holmes -- e.g., a scene where Sherlock breaks into a flat to examine it -- and forgets to let Watson in, leaving the honest John storming in the street outside, occasionally stopping to shout through the letterbox to Sherlock in a mood that passes from curious to exasperated to angry and back to exasperation again. (Sherlock is being distracted by a strangulation attempt, by the way; so it isn't all rudeness on his part that he forgets good ol' John.)

And the show does introduce Sarah -- fan question: is she meant to replace Mary? if so...why? is there some reason we don't like the name Mary? -- who is a staffer at the medical clinic where Watson finds part-time work. They go out on a date -- Sherlock tags along -- disastrous consequences. There are people tied up; weapons aimed at them -- it isn't the greatest start to a relationship, lets just put it that way.

The worst part of this episode is, really, the story. It's Orientalist. It's not well thought out. It plays to a lot of stereotypes and cliches that...really, Moffat and Gatiss could have come up with better than this. I don't know why they didn't. It plays as good Holmes but -- it plays as good old-school Holmes and if this is new-school -- then they can't really hope to get away with stuff like this. At least not very often.

The whole function of the episode is really to lead up to the reveal of the existence of Moriarty. Not much of a reveal, I grant you, but given events in episode three, it needed revealing. And it's a nice introduction which also serves to get rid of the villain from this episode who was clearly a "single use" villain.

Sherlock and Watson having a pleasant night out.
So, Episode three, The Great Game. My friends and I counted at least four original Holmes stories being referenced in the first ten minutes of the show: "The Five Pips," "The Bruce Partington Plans," "A Scandal in Bohemia," and "The Empty House." There are others.

I have to say, I struggled with this episode a little bit for oh, say...the first thirty fucking seconds because after that it. did. not. stop. Which was great. Lets face it, Sherlockian logic works at its best when it moves so fast you can't see the joins. The Great Game moves fast enough and it was dark enough to make me a very, very happy new little fangirl.

"Bored. Bored -- bored!"
Sherlock is bored. He is very, very bored. (See? look at him being bored over there.)

Much to his delight -- something interesting happens. Someone blows up the building across the street. And then sends him a cell phone. A cell phone made up to look identical to a phone that was critical to the Pink case, in fact. And the phone has a single message: five beeps and a photograph. The photograph takes them to a location where there are items. Evidence from an old case. One of Sherlock's first cases, in fact. And one which he failed to solve.

Not wildly interesting in and of itself -- except he also gets a phone call on the cell. Someone needs his help -- someone has been tied up with explosives all over them and needs him to solve the mystery of the shoes before the explosives are detonated.

Neat, yes?

And guaranteed to get the attention of someone like Sherlock who thrives on this sort of situation: two puzzles, both comfortably removed from real people, and a deadline to work against. His favorite things!

Of course, the problems multiply: he solves the first mystery -- an old murder which he failed to solve years before; saves the woman with explosives strapped to her...and lookie here: the cell phone rings again. Another photo (introduced by four beeps this time); another plea for help; another old case. Another solution; another salvation -- and we repeat. But -- we kind of don't because Sherlock loses this one. It isn't his fault, it must be said: he solves the mystery and gets the solution back to the Mysterious Evil Genius (are we really taken in by this? No, no, we are not -- but it's fun to pretend for awhile even though we know who it is) under time -- but the woman at the other end of the phone starts to describe said Mysterious Evil Genius -- and that's all she wrote. Big boom. But still -- the phone calls (with ever-dropping numbers of beeps) and the old puzzles keep coming.

The old mysteries don't get a lot harder, in all fairness, but Watson is starting to get frustrated: Mycroft (who we met in the first episode) has a case he wants Sherlock to work on that Sherlock's ignoring; and Watson doesn't feel that Sherlock is taking the threat to the people seriously. Since the last phone call is from a child -- Watson nearly loses his bottle entirely. But, it has to be said, doesn't.

So we solve the final mystery -- to do with a forged painting -- and we finally get a name for our Mysterious Evil Genius, in case we had any damned doubt. But there aren't any more phone calls: perhaps the terror is over? Of course, we know it isn't.

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