A few weeks ago I wrote about the BBC’s excellent modern-day reinvention of Sherlock Holmes in Season One of their show Sherlock. When the credits rolled on the last episode, I quickly ordered season two from Amazon.
Season Two is of even higher quality than Season One!
With their second series of three episodes (as in Season One, each episode is an hour-and-a-half-long movie), the makers of Sherlock set the bar very high for themselves. They decided to tackle what are probably the three most famous aspects of the Sherlock Holmes mythos: the professor, the woman, and the hound.
The first episode of Season Two, “A Scandal in Belgravia” (based on the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”) focuses on the woman: that is, Irene Adler, the one woman who was Holmes’ equal. I absolutely adore the series’ version of Irene. When we first meet her, we learn that she is a dominatrix who apparently is in possession of some photographs of a member of the Royal Family in, apparently, a compromising position. But we quickly learn that there is a lot more to Ms. Adler than just being a beautiful blackmailer, and as the episode goes on we (along with Sherlock) are subjected to reversal after reversal, never quite sure where Ms. Adler’s loyalties lie. In the episode, Irene Adler is played by Lara Pulver, and she is absolutely magnificent. Yes, it’s true that I, like Holmes, might have been a bit easily smitten seeing as how the lovely Ms. Pulver performs most of her initial scenes with Holmes in the nude, but I was quickly taken by the character’s ferocious intelligence and cunning. This woman is truly Holmes’ equal, and we’re never quite sure, as the episode progresses, whether Holmes is one step ahead of Adler or whether she is one step ahead of Holmes.
“A Scandal in Belgravia” is the best episode of Season Two, and the best episode of the series so far. More than any other episode, this one takes place over a lengthy period of time (almost a year, I believe), and as such, it is densely packed with circumstances. In the opening of the episode, there’s a brilliant montage in which we watch Sherlock and Watson solve a progression of cases. It’s a terrific, fast-paced series of mystery after mystery (many of them referring to various Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle) that not only serves to show that these two men have now been on many adventures together, but also to show their growing friendship (bizarre though it may be). If there’s one thing I thought might have been missing from Season One, it’s a development of the friendship between Holmes and Watson. But in just a few minutes, the show-runners brilliantly paint a picture of the strong, growing relationship between these two men. Then we meet Irene, and I thought, OK, this will be the story for the rest of the episode. But Holmes and Watson wrap up that initial investigation relatively quickly. It turns out there’s a much more complex story being told, and many more mysteries for the boys to solve. It’s thrilling, and the episode contains some of the best mysteries of the show’s run so far. I particularly enjoyed the side-bar mystery of the man mysteriously killed out in the countryside, and the wonderful mental back-and-forth between Holmes and Irene as they each work to solve the case, in their own minds. (That sequence could be my very favorite sequence of the show’s entire run, so far.) I do also love this episode for finally putting Benedict Cumberbatch in Holmes’ famous deerstalker cap.
The second episode of Season Two, “The Hounds of Baskerville,” is an adaptation of that most-famous of Sherlock Holmes stories, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” This is probably the weakest episode of Season Two — it’s all just a bit too far-out for my tastes, but it’s still an enjoyably weird reinterpretation of this classic story. In this episode, Watson and Holmes agree to investigate the claims of a wild-eyed, haunted young man who believes that his father was killed, years ago, by a giant hound outside the military research base called Baskerville. Is the army genetically engineering monstrous creatures, as the young man (and many of the locals) believe? What follows is sort of Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files, with our dynamic duo investigating a possible military conspiracy. It’s an entertaining enough adventure, albeit a bit slight compared to the other two episodes in Season Two.
The third and final installment brings us back to amazing, as the focus returns to Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty. In “The Reichenbach Fall” (a loose adaptation of “The Final Problem,” the story in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously killed Sherlock Holmes before bowing to public pressure and eventually bringing the character back several years later), Moriarty oversees three daring heists, then allows himself to be taken into custody. It turns out this is just the beginning of a much larger plot to discredit and then destroy Sherlock Holmes — something at which, as the episode races towards its conclusion, Moriarty proves to be almost entirely successful. Anyone familiar with the ending of “The Final Problem” knows the ending to which this episode must inevitably reach, and the show does not disappoint.
Once again, the show-runners cleverly reshaped and re-purposed aspects of the original stories for their adaptation. In “The Final Problem,” Holmes and Moriarty engage in a climactic duel atop the Reichenbach Falls (as in, waterfalls) in Switzerland. In this episode, Holmes and Moriarty also have their final confrontation atop a great height, but “Reichenbach” here refers to the case that has made Sherlock Holmes famous (recovering a famous Turner painting of Reichenbach Falls, thus earning the nickname in the newspapers as the Reichenbach Hero) and “Falls” refers to his fall-from-grace due to Moriarty’s machinations. It’s all wonderfully clever.
Sherlock Season Two is just as intelligent and fun as was Season One, maybe even a little more so! In particular, “A Scandal in Belgravia” now stands as one of my favorite interpretations of Sherlock Holmes that I have ever seen.
AARRRGH, I hope creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatniss get to work soon on Season Three!!! (Production will apparently begin in January.)