Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sherlock - Episode 3 - "The Great Game"

The first series of Sherlock came to an explosive end with “The Great Game”.  And ‘great’ it was, too.  This short series has been fascinating on a number of levels – the depiction of Holmes as a nicotine patch covered, autistic genius was a brave move, and Benedict Cumberbatch delivered every line with obvious glee, as was the interpretation of the role of Dr John Watson as a war veteran with a penchant for danger, which Martin Freeman embraced with his usual pitch-perfect dead pan delivery.

The basic premise of this episode was quite brilliant – Moriarty is finally showing his face, but only if Sherlock is able to work out five separate crimes within set time limits, thereby proving his worth as an arch-nemesis for this bored sociopathic genius.  Starting with the murder of a young boy called Carl Powers 20 years earlier.  Through the locating of a pair of trainers in a disused room at 221B Baker Street, Holmes is able to deduce that Powers was poisoned through his eczema cream, which paralysed him, leading the boy to drown.

Each crime is related to Holmes over a phone – a perfect replica of the pink phone from “A Study in Pink” – which was found inside a safe in a building over the road from Holmes’ apartment, which was destroyed in a fake gas leak.  The clues are given to him by poor unwitting people all over London, who have been strapped with bombs, and must read exactly what is said to them over a pager.  Watching their every move is a sniper who will assassinate them if they give any additional information – as happens to the poor, sweet old blind lady – but more on that later.  The first victim is a middle-aged woman from Cornwall, who apparently was kidnapped and forced to sit in a car for hours and hours with a bomb jacket on.  Quite how no-one noticed her sat there, in the car park of a shopping centre, crying her eyes out, is one small discrepancy in an otherwise very strong and almost faultless storyline.  The same is true of the young man on a large and busy pedestrian crossing in the middle of London – in a city where everyone is suspicious of everyone else, it seemed strange that a man in a large, bulging parka coat didn’t make any of the locals bat an eyelid.

The next few crimes are a little more difficult than testing shoes laces for skin samples – and yet Holmes is given much less time to solve them.  Ranging from the ‘murder’ of a man who hired a car, to the murder of TV celebrity make-over specialist, and the discovery of a fake Vermeer painting, the cases get gradually more challenging, all coming together in one final, exciting finale by a swimming pool.

The opening sequences were excellent – with Holmes ‘educating’ a criminal in Belarus on the correct use of the English language.  The script was witty, and Cumberbatch took obvious delight in delivering his interruptions of the convict’s story to correct his grammar.  Following his return to England, we see how painfully bored he is by the lack of interesting crimes.  Laid in his armchair, firing his gun repeatedly into the wall, he portrays the quirks of the character with a great deal of flair, reminding us that Holmes isn’t ‘normal’ in any sense of the word.  His mind works differently to ours, and he craves mental stimulation in much the way that we crave cigarettes and caffeine.  The touches, like him not knowing basic primary school facts, were excellently delivered, as he pointed out that his mind is a hard-drive and he ‘deletes’ unnecessary information, like that the Earth rotates around the sun. 

My biggest bugbear of this latest episode is that Watson was given so little to do.  Up until now, Watson has been invaluable to Holmes, both as a patient ear and a second eye to the cases.  Here, though, he is simply following Holmes entirely, being given errands to run which come to no fruition.  His scenes in the home of the deceased TV star became redundant once Sherlock explained how she had been killed – and the script equally fed us red herrings.  I will admit that I was extremely pleased with myself the second that the cat walked in on screen, remembering the scratches and therefore deducing that she had somehow been poisoned by her feline companion.  To then be told that it was through her Botox injections, which there had been no way of guessing prior to this, should have been somewhat infuriating – and yet it didn’t irritate.  It intrigued me.  I wanted to know more.  It was just a shame that Watson hadn’t had the chance to prove his worth after his input in the last two episodes.

The one thing that Watson had to do was solve the crime given to them by Mycroft, Holmes’ brother.  The missing pen drive seemed at first to be another red herring, a pointless case to distract the detectives and the viewers alike.  That the crime then fed back into itself was something of a relief.  But again, as Watson pottered about, interviewing family and workmen, finally working it out, it was a tad disheartening that Holmes had already worked it out – this, despite the fact that he hadn’t even visited the crime scene!

The further characterisation of Lastrade was another pleasing element of this wonderful episode.  Whilst he had featured in the first episode, begrudgingly calling on Holmes’ expertise, he wasn’t present in episode two at all, only name-checked once.  Rupert Graves is brilliant as the Detective, desperate to solve the crimes, but without the first clue of how to go about them.  He clearly has a disdain for the excitement Holmes derives from hunting murderers and serial killers, and in particular the respect he shows them for their ingenuity, but there is also a great deal of appreciation for the work Holmes does, displayed through nuanced facial expressions and the occasional sigh.

Gatiss’ script shone for this episode – despite the fact that, in one 90 minute instalment, he had five times as many crimes to solve, he managed to keep the pace as tight as ever, with equal chance for character development.  The tone is darker, but in a welcome way.  I would have liked perhaps a little more depth to each of the cases, but time was of the essence, both for Holmes and Gatiss himself, and it’s a small miracle that he was able to provide so much exposition and information in such a short space of time!

Similarly, Paul McGuigan’s direction was superb – as it was in “A Study in Pink”, he keeps action focussed intently, and manages to capture the excitement of the case in every frame.  The use of on-screen graphics was back in full force, adding a great deal of tension to the proceedings – as numbers flicker onto the screen, reminding us of Holmes’ fierce schedule, the tension ramps up further.  The use of the scrolling search bar on Holmes’ phone allows the audience to work out some of the information, but we’re always at least one step behind Sherlock, as the most pertinent information is withheld until Holmes shares it.  Episode two took a slight dip, as both the writing and the direction were slightly less focussed than here and in the first episode.  Dealing with so much in such a strict timeframe can be no mean feat, and as such both Gatiss and McGuigan must be applauded for keeping everything so tense throughout - even the side plots like Watson’s blossoming romance with Sarah, and the fight sequence with the Golem in the Observatory kept everything moving.

Watson’s distaste at Holmes’ lack of respect for human life ensured that there was a depth to the performances.  As Holmes claimed that feeling anything for the victims could jeopardise his case, we are reminded again of the almost Aspergers nature of Holmes character – his tunnel vision is particularly troubling, and so Watson remains the voice of reason throughout.

The scenes with the bombing victims were particularly touching, as they shuddered with tears whilst following the orders to the letter.  The only victim to be murdered for sharing too much information was the little old lady, who, due to her blindness, had to be spoken to in Moriarty’s soft, soothing tones.  By sharing this information, it jeopardised Moriarty’s cover, and so she was swiftly dispatched in a huge explosion in a block of flats, killing 12 people.  Interestingly, as Holmes put the phone down, he looked truly distraught – although whether this was over the lost lives, or the fact that he’d ‘lost’ the game, was unclear.  Indeed, he later threw a petulant strop, claiming that he’d beaten Moriarty, that he’d solved the case.

The final fifteen minutes were exhilarating, and nail biting, as the showdown came to a head with the big reveal of Moriarty.  Andrew Scott’s performance was perfectly honed, and outstanding.  That he was so similar to Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Holmes was telling of the similarities between the two characters – both bored by the mundane world in which they are forced to live.  It shows us that Holmes could easily have followed the ‘wrong’ path, and become another Moriarty, had he not kept himself under tight control and followed the right route, stopping criminals rather than being one himself.  I personally loved the suggestion that Moriarty has become a master criminal, a king pin in the underworld, just to stave off his boredom – the ‘Consulting Criminal’ to Holmes’ ‘Consulting Detective’. 

Scott’s balance of calm and controlled, through to his explosive rant that dying is “what people do!” was brilliant.  I must confess that I never saw it coming.  When Dr Watson stepped out of the cubicle, I cringed, thinking that it was going down such a ‘predictable twist’ route.  However, within seconds I noticed the coat, hiding the bomb, and my heart jumped – again, there was a further twist.  And I was also extremely pleased that it didn’t go down the predictable route of it being Mycroft, too – Gatiss is brilliant at bad characters, but it would have all been too simple, especially for him scripting, to have provided himself with a character with that darker streak. 

The new series has been confirmed for 2012, rather than the end of 2011, as had been originally hoped, but to be frank, I hope they leave it as long as possible.  The cliff-hanger was such that it left me desperately craving more, and yet wanting to keep that moment eternally – how will they get out of this situation?  What will happen with Moriarty now that Sherlock knows his identity?  Who was aiming all of those sniper rifles at them?  Sherlock has clearly spotted a get-out clause in the situation, and all that we can do now is wait and see how it all turns out.

And I, for one, can’t wait.

1 comment:

  1. You pretty much took the words right out of my mouth. I LOVE this show! (2012!? I hadn't heard that...)