Review: Sherlock, Season 2

I finally got around to seeing the three episodes in the second season of the highly acclaimed series of the famous detective and his Boswell. I wrote about the three episodes of the first season earlier (here and here). The series is based loosely on the Conan Doyle stories, and the word ‘loosely’ is used advisedly since events are placed in contemporary London and contain only the basic plot elements of the original stories on which they are based.

In the second series, the first episode A Scandal in Belgravia features the character Irene Adler, a woman who can match wits with Holmes and earns his grudging admiration and even perhaps his secret affection, who has incriminating photographs that will embarrass a royal family. Another bit of the original plot that survives is Holmes faking a fight in the street in order to gain admittance to Adler’s home and then having Watson set off a fire in order to make her reveal where the photos are hidden.

Like the three stories in the first season, the pace again is fast and the dialogue witty. Where I fault this one is that the plot is far too complicated and simply preposterous at times, containing far too many unlikely twists. It seems as if the writers have gone overboard in their desire to surprise the viewer. Also some of the inferences that Holmes makes seem more like guesswork than deductions, although they are layered with a veneer of reasoning that I found unconvincing.

This is not to say that the film was not fun to watch. The time went by quickly because you had to pay close attention.

In the next episode The Hounds of Baskerville the writers have tried to stick a little more closely to the story, presumably because it is the most famous of the entire Holmes canon. The plot still deals with a mysterious and vicious large dog roaming over the English countryside but now involves secret research done at a remote military facility rather than being based in a country house. One thing that those who are deeply familiar with the original stories will find distracting is that the names of the main characters have been retained but their roles are quite different. I kept wondering if the villain would have the same name as in the original.

The final episode The Reichenbach Fall is based on the short story The Final Problem which featured the climactic struggle between Holmes and Moriarty. It is interesting that in the original stories Moriarty appeared in only two stories, though he is referred to in a few others. He was clearly a plot device for Arthur Conan Doyle to kill off Sherlock Holmes, since he had got tired of writing the character and wanted to move on. He presumably felt that a person of Holmes’s intellect and stature needed a fitting send off and not be killed by a common criminal or by something so prosaic as being run over by a hansom cab or getting a heart attack. So he created a criminal genius and had them both die in an epic struggle. I never liked that story, finding Moriarty implausible and uninteresting and the plot highly contrived.

In the new series, Moriarty’s role has been elevated into a recurring character whose presence is felt throughout both seasons. Interestingly, the first season ended with a cliffhanger in which Holmes and Moriarty were in a standoff at an indoor swimming pool. The second season began with the resolution of that scene and I was interested to learn that it had not been filmed as part of the first season’s shooting, presumably because all three episodes had been shot before any one of them was shown and hence there was no guarantee that the series would be a hit and renewed for a second season. So when the first season turned out so well and shooting began for the second season eighteen months later, they had to carefully recreate the setting. The creators worried that audiences might notice that the actors had aged by about eighteen months while hanging out by the pool. The second season also ends with an unresolved mystery but I read that this time the resolution has been filmed already since a third series had already been guaranteed, although shooting will not begin until 2013.

As I said before, I am not enamored of the prominence given to the Moriarty character. He was uninteresting and implausible in the original stories and although more interesting in the current version, seems to be to be over the top. But the shows are fun to watch nonetheless and I look forward to the next season.

Part of the fun for Holmes aficionados in this series is in picking up the oblique references to other Holmes cases, which here are modernized versions of the original, such as The Geek Interpreter (for The Greek Interpreter), The Speckled Blonde (for The Speckled Band), and The Navel Treatment (for The Naval Treaty).

In the DVD there was a trailer for the latest episode of the Robert Downey, Jr/Jude Law Sherlock Holmes franchise, A Game of Shadows. Like the first in that series, it looks like it is going to be a non-stop action-fest and give a large role to the tedious Moriarty. The appeal of the Holmes stories was always cerebral and never the action. I will likely give this film a miss.

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