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 Sign of Three

"The Sign of Three"

Sherlock faces his biggest challenge of all – delivering a Best Man’s speech on John’s wedding day! But all isn’t quite as it seems. Mortal danger stalks the reception – and someone might not make it to the happy couple’s first dance. Sherlock must thank the bridesmaids, solve the case and stop a killer!

As is always the case with Sherlock, the second episode doesn’t match the intensity of the premiere. But that’s not to say that The Sign of Three was bad. It wasn’t. It was brilliant, funny, and poignant. It just wasn’t as good as the first off the series. Not for me. And I can attribute this to two things:

Number one is the storytelling. Whilst I completely enjoyed Sherlock’s discomfort at having to give a best man speech, the digression towards The Bloody Guardsman and the MayFly cases were what really hooked me in this episode. So much so that whenever we would go back to the wedding, I would feel a tinge of disappointment. The entire episode was brilliant, some parts were just more brilliant than the others. Which isn’t, I’m guessing, how you want viewers to remember the episode. The sum should be equal the parts.

But, spoiler alert, what really made this episode less enjoyable for me, was how neatly the puzzle pieces fit together in the end. How convenient was it for Sherlock to remember the two cases that would lead to the mystery in the wedding? I mean, really. Out of all the cases he can use to highlight John, he uses the two unsolved ones that would pinpoint a murderer in their midst? And the murderer was there. He was listening to the anecdotes. He should’ve realized that he had to start making an escape plan, and not just a hasty exit after the reception. I understand the need to keep cover, but his escape could’ve been smarter. After all, in the two unsolved cases Sherlock presented, he was ingenious with his means. Why suddenly be an ordinary-thinking criminal with something to hide?

And then there’s number two: Sherlock Holmes. Two people living together as long as Sherlock and Watson have are bound to become more acclimatized to one another. They show each other sides that they normally hide from the public. But there was something off about how Sherlock was written in this episode. I mean, for the most part it’s the Sherlock we know and love, but there would be lines of dialogue that were funny but doesn’t feel right coming from him.

Sherlock is socially awkward, we get it. But he is a high-functioning sociopath, as he likes to remind us. Getting a crowd to listen to him be smart should’ve have silenced him in the beginning. Wouldn’t getting a captive audience invigorated him? And then his admittance at not solving a case? Two cases? Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes might do that. Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes might do that. But the BBC version hasn’t shown us that he is capable of being humble, even for just the span of a second, that it feels off when he does do it.

But these are just nit-pickings. The Sign of Three is a solid episode. It… It’s just not for me.

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.

Television: Sherlock Holmes, Series 2

BBC's SherlockI was planning on having a reaction post to each episode of Sherlock that was going to come out–similar to what I do for Doctor Who. Except, well, life got a bit too busy. So instead, I’m making one reaction post for the whole of Series 2–and a week late at that.

So, Series 1 ended with a cliffhanger: Moriarty has Sherlock and Watson cornered–and Sherlock’s about to do something desperate, namely shooting a vest strapped with bombs that would blow them all up to kingdom come. And how does this get resolved? By the Bee Gees. Music really does have a way of saving souls. Cop out or not, the resulting pardon Moriarty gives our heroes does set up his character nicely. Our main villain is unpredictable–and this pretty much sums up the three episodes of Sherlock Series 2. Unpredictable.\

A Scandal in Belgravia. One of the most popular characters in the Sherlock stories is The Woman: Irene Adler. She’s almost always appeared as a love interest for our titular hero–except in the original (and only) story she appears in: A Scandal in Bohemia. Miss Adler is set up as the only woman to have ever outwitted Sherlock, and somehow this was translated into him having feelings for her. Though it is alluded to, it was never verbalized out right.

With that said, I applaud the team of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss for being able to flesh out the closest adaptation to the real Irene Adler with their version of The Woman. She’s smart, she’s wicked–and she’s in it for herself. That was the Irene Adler we meet in A Scandal in Bohemia–and it’s the same Adler we meet in A Scandal in Belgravia. Well, except the modern version is more independent off men.

The way Moffat wrote Sherlock’s admiration for The Woman was admirable in itself. There are allusions to how other adaptations have presented Adler, as a love interest; there’s a slight wink at the Sherlock fandom (at least that’s how I read it) while alluding to the relationship between Sherlock and Watson; and the story is tweaked in such a way that a short story transformed into a full-length feature with ties to the end game. Moffat’s inclusion of Moriarty in the story serves to give the character of Adler more backstory–while, at the same time, letting Moriarty grow more as a formidable foe.

So however you felt about the resolution to the Series 1 cliffhanger, the main story of A Scandal in Belgravia will surely turn you into a believer again.

And then we come to: The Hounds of Baskerville.

I read the novel that spawned the adaptation–and I’ve given my two cents worth on what I thought about the story and how it was told. I’m happy to say that the modernized version lives up to the original story–and exceeds expectations. Unfortunately, coming from the astounding first episode, it does fall a little bit flat.

Mark Gatiss, who wrote the episode, really knows how to do horror. Creeping the hell out of you, and yet keeping you glued to your seats. But it’s the science of things that killed the thrill of this episode, I think. Which is a shame, because guest star Russel Tovey was amazing as the troubled Henry, the guy who hires Sherlock to investigate the death of his dad–that happened more than a decade ago.

Unlike the novel, where Sherlock was absent from the picture for the better half, the television adaptation has Sherlock very active in the case. A bit too active though, in my opinion. Just like the novel, there was certain disjoint in how Sherlock was in the first episode, and the last episode, compared to how he was shown here. Or maybe I just can’t get over the oddness of how the post-production staff (and the director) thought Sherlock’s “mind palace” worked. It just seemed very awkward and unnatural, in my opinion. And I still can’t enjoy the episode fully because that scene, with Benedict Cumberbatch twitching and shrugging and playing with thin air, continues to bother me.

The Reichenbach Fall. Of the three episodes, this is the only Sherlock story that I wasn’t familiar with. Based on The Final Problem, in which author Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill Sherlock, I came in knowing that I would be crying buckets of tears–or, at the least, I’d be very close to crying by the end of the peisode. After all, if there’s one thing I learned from Steven Moffat’s time in Doctor Who, it’s this: Moffat is amazing as a horror writer–but he is ruthless when it comes to tear-jerking scenes. Then again, he wasn’t the one who wrote the episode. But this was supposed to be the end. And in a way, even though the series has already been picked up for Series 3, the episode was the end.

This episode served as a culmination of everything that happened from A Study in Pink onwards–especially with regards to Moriarty as a villain. Because, like Irene Adler, Moriarty only appeared once in the original Sherlock stories–and his only purpose was to be the cause of Sherlock’s death. The team behind the drama series managed to fully flesh him out, and turn him into one truly frightening villain whom you can see actually defeating Sherlock. And with that, they’ve truly made BBC’s Sherlock as the adaptation to end all adaptations.

You can’t get any better than this.

book: the adventures of sherlock holmes

"the adventures of sherlock holmes" by sir athur conan doylemystery books had a big impact on me while i was growing up. because i didn’t have that many chances to buy a book for myself, i ended up raiding my mother’s and my older sister’s shelves for books to read. i’ve gone through encyclopedias, scientific books, math books–but nothing really captured my fancy as NANCY DREW and THE HARDY BOYS did.

my mom loved her mystery novels, and so i found myself with a treasure trove of them.

my interest in mystery never really disappeared. but it did get a sibling of sorts when i found myself able to buy my own books. i delved into the fantastical, thanks to the television programs i followed. so my interest was halved between mystery and fantasy.

fast forward to 2010 and my interest in mystery was renewed through the wonderful film adaptation of SHERLOCK HOLMES, and through the bbc production of the more modern SHERLOCK.

when i saw amongst celina’s books and magazines a collection of THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, i found myself making an impulse buy. and though it has taken me some months before i could get round to reading the book, i have finally done it.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, despite the book saying that it is complete and unabridged, it is by no means complete. i’m not sure about the unabridged part though. the book does give us twelve short stories that delve into the more intriguing cases of sherlock holmes.

reading sir arthur conan doyle’s work, i realize now that bbc’s television program, the modern SHERLOCK, has the more accurate portrayal of the iconic detective. the films, not just the one shown last year, always portray sherlock holmes as an educated man with a bit of a pompous side. only bbc’s SHERLOCK, from what i have read of sir doyle’s work, has managed to capture the manic personality of the sleuth.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is a quick read, yes. but it does give you a very wide look into the psyche of the character. through the stories “told” by dr. john watson, you get an idea of who sherlock holmes really is. and i find myself becoming an actual fan of the character after having read the book.

does that mean i think less of the film versions now? no. i still see them as a separate entity. but i do have a deeper appreciation now of what steven moffat and mark gatiss had done for the character in bbc’s SHERLOCK.