This second episode of Sherlock was a little disappointing, in comparison with the first episode. Not that is wasn’t excellent – it really was. I’d just become desensitised to it by watching it so soon after the first episode. I knew what to expect, how it was going to turn out, what was going to happen. Or at least, I thought I did. Moffatt’s new show still held a few tricks up its sleeve... and boy, am I pleased that it did!
This story opened with a beautiful scene in the National Antiquities Museum, with a young Chinese girl, played wonderfully by Gemma Chan, giving a demonstration on the correct care due to an ancient teapot. This scene was beautifully shot by Euros Lyn, most noted for his work on Torchwood and Doctor Who. The use of archetype horror techniques, such as the gentle wind, softly blowing curtains, cloths, papers and the like was utilised to excellent use, creating a semi-gothic-horror environ, in which people can seemingly walk through walls and locked doors.
The plot begins properly with the introduction of Sebastian, a typically slimy banker from a high-flying background. In his designer suit, with his flashy watch, he is dislikeable – which makes me even happier to see our heroes taking payment of £25,000 for a simple job like working out who got into the bank, and how.
This being a detective serial, rather than a sci-fi whodunit, meant that there had to be an entirely more human explanation, and in this serial, rather than working out how a suicide could be a murder (A Study in Pink) we see Holmes dealing with a mysterious cipher, a series of ancient numbers left in locations all over London, leading to people running for their lives, only to die within locked rooms.
My biggest bugbear with this episode is that Sherlock himself didn’t seem to work all that much out. Instead, a great deal of it came down to coincidence or divine intervention – the discovery of the shop was down to Watson’s work. The discovery that the cipher is a number was down to Watson turning the cup over and seeing the engraving. The realisation that this cipher was to do with page and word numbers in a book was due to Soo Lin. The discovery of the wall covered in a whole message was down to Watson (although they did think they were leaving it for Holmes, so I’ll let them off that one). In fact, the only thing that really jumped out at me as being his own handiwork was the discovery of Van Coon’s body, and realising that Soo Lin was still in the museum.
Again, Martin Freeman’s Watson was excellent – the opening sequence, in which he is fighting with a chip and pin machine in a supermarket, was brilliant – made even better by the juxtaposition of this sequence with Sherlock having a swordfight with some tribal man with a machete. When Watson returns, defeated by modern technology, and criticises the fact that Sherlock “haven’t moved since I went out”, produced a wry smile across my cynical face.
The humour throughout this episode is, again, spot on – Freeman’s delivery in particular helps the script sparkle, and the scenes in which Sherlock is pottering about the bank, popping up behind partitions whilst bemused staff look on was brilliant. Similarly, Cumberbatch’s clearly disgruntled and jealous expression when he discovers that Watson is going out on a date, rather than spend time with him, is great.
Cumberbatch is really getting to flex a few muscles here too – comedy, intelligence, and now even quite a lot of fighting, from his swordfight at the beginning, to his choking in Soo Lin’s flat – and the entire sequence in the Chinese circus was excellent.
A lovely side-story involved Watson’s relationship with Sarah, which was performed with awkwardness and shyness perfectly – the lines about the perfect date were brilliant, and of course, knowingly ironic for what was to follow.
It was similarly refreshing that, already, LeStrade had been sidelined in favour of introducing a new detective, DI Dimmock, this one seemingly a great deal keener to accept Sherlock’s advice after his provisional dressing down. That Sherlock continues to work with him with such disdain and disregard is great to see, but it does seem a little harsh – the man is practically bending over backwards to help! Similarly, I’m surely not the only one that doesn’t enjoy seeing him manipulate the pretty little morgue employee, right? Twisting her around his little finger, persuading her to help him despite it being against the rules, on the basic premise that he may, at some point, kiss her all seems a little dark to me!
The cipher business aside, this was a fairly run-of-the-mill detective show – the tattoos on the soles of the feet of the victims would surely have been picked up on by the morticians, so it was essentially redundant that Sherlock has wasted so much time pursuing the tattoos in the first place? His original task was to work out how the wall had been defaced in the banker’s office, within 60 seconds, without the door opening – and again, it seems a little twee that the answer was “through the window”. It struck me as a little bit of a cop-out that Ju-Jen, the Spider, should literally be a circus entertainer that can climb up walls and in through windows, as this left no mystery beyond the second killing about 5 minutes in, where Sherlock pointed out the skylight.
Again, the final ten minutes were predictable – it was obvious where the pin was, and how it got there. But the fact of Sherlock isn’t in trying to keep you guessing, but rather, simply entertaining you... Which it manages to do with great aplomb.
All in all, this was an entertaining second instalment, but not quite as up to scratch as the first episode had been. One more to go, though – fingers crossed it steps up to the plate.