Television: Sherlock and His Last Vow

"His Last Vow"

A case of stolen letters leads Sherlock Holmes into a long conflict with Charles Augustus Magnussen, the Napoleon of blackmail, and the one man he truly hates. But how do you tackle a foe who knows the personal weakness of every person of importance in the Western world?

And so ends another series of BBC’s Sherlock. And at the end of it all, a character posits the question, “did you miss me?” A tease, if there ever was one. A tease to the fans who have to endure another long hiatus to get the next fix, the next series.

So, to respond to the question: Yes, you bastard. Yes, we missed you. And now, we’re going to miss you again.

His Last Vow caps off another great series of Sherlock. Although, if we’re going to be perfectly honest with each other, this has to be my least favorite batch of three. Which is a compliment to the series to be perfectly honest. Their least good batch of episodes are still four and a half hours (or is it six hours?) of quality television.

But why do I say that this is the least good batch?

If you remember, I was very much a fan of the premiere. I loved how Sherlock was made more accessible to the viewers. And I think I’m starting to understand why: it’s because he’s more likable now. Not that he wasn’t before. But he’s actually making an effort to be liked now.

In The Empty Hearse, it was a breath of fresh air. In The Sign of Three, it felt weird. Now, in His Last Vow, the discord in Sherlock’s character is made more pronounced because he’s back to being who he was in the first two of series of the program. He’s back to not caring.

And it feels wrong.

I mean, it’s not wrong. This is actually the Sherlock we’ve waiting for since he took that jump in Reichenbach Fall. But after being teased with the more human Sherlock… Well, it’s classic Steven Moffat, isn’t it? He gives you what you think you want, and then he takes it away.

Thing is, I think it’s good that he actually takes away the human Sherlock this time ’round. One of the reasons why I like BBC’s Sherlock is because of his inability to process the basic need of human beings to be loved, to be understood. He has his own bubble world where what other people think don’t matter.

And then it started to.

I liked Series 3. Let me be clear about that. I liked it. It’s more visual, it’s more ambitious, it has more heart. But I don’t think it lives up to what the first two series were. Genius. They were genius. Series 3, having seen all the episodes now, was just below genius.

Again, not a bad thing. It’s just that we’ve gotten used to getting the best. Settling for second best isn’t as good.

And we are settling, aren’t we? After two years of no Sherlock, we lapped up the three episodes like the world was ending this month. We didn’t care that most of what we watched seemed to have come from the need to service the fans more than the story.

I get that the fans are important. Without the fervent clamor for new Sherlock episodes, there wouldn’t be more Sherlock episodes. But didn’t we come for the stories? Didn’t we come for the smarts? The last minute unraveling of a mystery?

I like that they tried to bring Sherlock a notch down. But a stumped Sherlock is not a fun Sherlock. I want his glee. I want his superiority. Because we watch Sherlock not because we want realism. We watch Sherlock because we want to see this fictional character be brilliant.

So Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson? Make Sherlock brilliant again. Make him shine.


Television: Sherlock and the Empty Hearse

"The Empty Hearse"

Two years after the devastating effects of The Reichenbach Fall, Dr John Watson has got on with his life. New horizons, romance and a comforting domestic future beckon. But, with London under threat of a huge terrorist attack, Sherlock Holmes is about to rise from the grave with all the theatricality that comes so naturally to him. It’s what his best friend wanted more than anything, but for John Watson it might well be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’! If Sherlock thinks everything will be just as he left it though, he’s in for a very big surprise…

It looks like Steven Moffat saved all his smarts for Sherlock and left none for Doctor Who. But this isn’t about Doctor Who. This is about Sherlock Holmes, and BBC’s brilliant adaptation that takes the detective to the present time. And currently, the only show under Steven Moffat that has any semblance of brilliance.

Last time on Sherlock, we saw our titular detective fall to his death–only to attend his own funeral. In the first episode off the new series, we quickly find out how Sherlock survived the fall. Or do we? The way Sherlock tells the story is open to interpretation. He really might be telling the truth, but he could also be trying to pull a fast one. It wouldn’t be out of character for him. I don’t plan on dwelling on the mystery. I’m just happy to have three new episodes of Sherlock.

The first order of business is to bring Sherlock back to everyone’s lives. It takes a third of the episode to integrate him back into people’s lives, but I’m not complaining. Benedict Cumberbatch, the bastard, is perfect in every aspect. The ways he breaks the news to the people he cares about are Standard Sherlock, but he gives them each a personal touch depending on the relationship his character shares with whoever he’s talking to in the scene.

Amanda Abbington is a glorious addition to the cast. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like whoever they cast as Mary Morstan, since I’m already content with the existing cast from the first two series. I feared that introducing Watson’s wife might change the chemistry of the show. But I was wrong. Abbington’s first series of scenes doesn’t actually make much of an impact. I won’t share why. But once we do get to meet Mary and see how her relationship with Watson works, she immediately wins us over.

Well, she won me over at least.

Louise Brealey, our dear Molly Hooper, also steps up as she gets more screen time. Brealey gives life to Molly with such enthusiasm and seriousness, that I would actually like to see her help out more in Sherlock’s cases. She gives a new dynamic to the Holmes-Watson tandem, and I think the team behind BBC’s Sherlock would do well to explore it. If not in this new batch of episodes, then maybe the ones for Series 4.

But the best part of The Empty Hearse is this: it’s fun to watch. Series 2 of Sherlock reached too much into intellect. The writers sought to one up us every step of the way. The Empty Hearse brings something back that hasn’t been seen since the first series: fun. It’s not tiring to watch The Empty Hearse. Our minds do not get taxed. We get sharp wit and smart entertainment, without the show becoming overbearing… or too smug about its brilliance.

Book: A Study in Scarlet

"A Study in Scarlet"

A Study in Scarlet is a potent mix of murder, suspense, cryptic clues, red herrings and revenge. It introduces us to the world-famous characters of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and Inspector Lestrade as they join forces for the first time to track a mysterious killer that stalks London’s streets.

I finally got around to reading this.

I’ve always been intrigued with how Sherlock Holmes and John Watson met. For real. We’ve seen many iterations now of how this happened though, that it feels weird reading the original source for the first time.

I must say, it was a little underwhelming. John Watson is impressed by Sherlock way too quickly, and he is far too trusting for a soldier come home from war. With regards to the first meeting, I must say that I preferred Steven Moffat’s take on it.

That said, I did like the novel. The case was interesting even when I already knew where it was going, and who the murderer was. The digression into the murderer’s past was jarring at first; but it was just as engaging as the case, when the initial shock of switching point of view and timeline wore off.

And there are not buts.

Well, there’s one, but I got that out of the way already–with my less-than-thrilled reception at Sherlock’s and Watson’s actual first meeting.

A Study in Scarlet is a definite must read for any Sherlock fans–and a great first novel for those who want to start reading the detective stories. That said though, don’t expect for all of them to be like this.

I think this is the only Sherlock Holmes novel I’ve read so far though, that has a flashback just to explore the murderer’s motive. It’s very much an add-on and not important to the story. But, as I said, it’s just as engaging as the actual case, so I’m not complaining.

All I can say is, on to the next mystery!

Book: The Sign of Four

"The Sign of Four"

Sherlock Holmes is roused from drug-induced depression by a beautiful young woman. Her name is Mary Morstan and every year since the mysterious disappearance of her father, she has received a lustrous pearl. Now her anonymous benefactor has requested a meeting and she wants Holmes and Watson to accompany her. Together they uncover a story that began in far-off India with unimaginable treasures and terrible betrayal.

I’ve gone and read another Sherlock Holmes novel!

All right, confession time. I didn’t really pick this book up because I was intrigued with the story. All I know of this story was that Watson meets the woman he will eventually marry. The real reason I picked up this book was because it featured a nice cover–and an introduction by Martin Freeman.

The introduction is actually just the actor talking about being a fan of the fictional detective, of being asked to audition for the modern adaptation by BBC, and his initial hesitation at accepting the part of John Watson. That’s actually more interesting than The Sign of Four.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by the modern adaptation, with its mile-a-minute exposition that really dazzles, or maybe it’s just because The Sign of Four isn’t as engaging as any of the other Sherlock Holmes stories. This one bored me a little.

But, I must say, the synopsis is really well-written. It does lead you on into thinking that this book is about the mystery of the pearls that Mary Morstan receives. Well, it is–and yet, it also isn’t. How do I say this? The mystery Mary Morstan introduces is not the actual mystery that we need to solve. In fact, Miss Morstan’s mystery is no mystery at all.

I do wonder why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thought it was necessary to include the character of Miss Morstan. Was it really his plan to have Watson fall in love with the woman? If so, for what purpose? In most of the novels I’ve read where Watson is already married, Mary rarely ever plays a big part.

But how do you question an author long dead? I guess this will have to remain a mystery for me–unless someone out there knows the story behind the creation of Mary Morstan.

While me mull that over, let’s go around the ‘net and see what other people have written about The Sign of Four.
The Beauty of Eclecticism
Scott D Parker
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