Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Big Guns: Thoughts on Sherlock's Second Season

Two seasons into its run, I'm having trouble deciding whether Sherlock is a brilliant show or a terrible one.  The episodes themselves seem to alternate between the two extremes, with little in the way of middle ground--devastatingly clever updates on Sherlock Holmes tropes alongside plots so full of holes that they barely hold together, gags that make you gasp with laughter alongside lines so leaden and overwrought that you hardly know where to look, characters you fall in love with in a single scene alongside one-dimensional harpies.  My reaction to these episodes is similarly bi-polar--sometimes the credits roll on what seems like a perfect story, but thirty seconds later the whole thing has collapsed into a pile of contradictions, implausibilities, and contrivances; other times, you switch off an execrable story and the only thing that sticks in your mind is that one hilarious scene.  When writing about Sherlock, I invariably find myself making laundry lists of its faults, then concluding that I really like it.  If I weren't so frustrated, I'd be very impressed.

Sherlock's second season is very much of a piece with its first, which is--predictably--both a very good and very bad thing.  The things that worked in the first season--Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, the relationship between Sherlock and John, the witty overlaying of Holmesian tropes and stories over the 21st century--are still very much in evidence (though somewhat muted in that last case).  Equally, the flaws that marred the show and held it back from greatness--its messy plots, the unwieldiness of the 90-minute format, the horrible writing for female characters--are back in force (though again, there has been some marked--if, ultimately, insufficient--progress on that last front).  The one key differences is in the stories that Sherlock has chosen to tell in its second outing.  Though the first season appropriated many of Holmes and Watson's most famous attributes, only a few of Conan Doyle's original stories made it onto the show, and those that did were fairly obscure ones and only faintly referenced--a brief nod to A Study in Scarlet in "A Study in Pink"; "The Bruce Partington Plans" as a subplot of "The Great Game."  In its second season, Sherlock has broken out the big guns--the two most famous one-off characters in the Holmes canon, Irene Adler and James Moriarty, what is arguably the best-known Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the most iconic incident in Holmes's career, his confrontation with Moriarty and seeming death alongside him.

It will probably come as no surprise if I say that the results of bringing these stories into the Sherlock universe are mixed, but what's interesting about the ways in which the second season is terrible is that they give the impression that Sherlock is eager for the cachet of its source material, but doesn't entirely trust it.  "A Scandal in Belgravia" starts out like gangbusters, cleverly updating the story of a shady woman with damning information about a powerful man who may be more than Holmes can handle.  The episode's first half, which is very nearly a play-by-play of "A Scandal in Bohemia," is Sherlock at its best--tense, funny, fast-paced, and peopled with indelible characters.  When that story runs out, however, Sherlock appends to it a complication in which Irene Adler's actions go from naughty-yet-understandable to villainous and potentially disastrous, and "Belgravia" devolves into a muddled mess.  The sharp, quick-moving plot turns episodic, and the story seems to take forever to come to its close--not least because it has so many false bottoms.  (This structural complaint does not address the equally valid, and equally damaging, problem of "Belgravia"'s handling of Irene herself, about which so much virtual ink has been spilled that I could hardly contribute anything to the discussion, certainly not in the face of Steven Moffat's own rather revealing response to the accusation that "Belgravia," and Sherlock in general, are sexist.)

"The Hounds of Baskerville," meanwhile, carries over little from the original novel but its basic premise--the legend of the Hound and the young heir who fears that he is its next target--a few character names, and the theme of pitting Holmes's rationalism against the other characters' superstitions.  The story itself is scooped out and replaced with what initially seems like a clever inversion--few people are credulous enough to believe in spectral hounds anymore, but many would be willing to at least consider that the secret weapons lab next door is unleashing its test subjects on the local population--but whose execution is sloppy, rooted in the stupidity of its players (a top secret military facility allows its highest-ranking officers to choose a password as weak as "Maggie"), their inexplicable willingness to accommodate Sherlock (Mycroft just gives Sherlock the credentials he needs to enter Baskerville for the second time), and plain coincidences (John happens to wander into a room where the crazy-making gas is leaking), and whose resolution offers a "rational" explanation to the legend of the Hound that is in fact significantly less plausible than the original, supernatural one.

I don't mean to suggest that Sherlock's problem is that it deviates from its source material, but I do think that the ways in which "Belgravia" and "Baskerville" deviate from their sources are telling, and shed a light on the show's actual problems.  "A Scandal in Bohemia" is an interesting story not simply because Holmes is beaten, and not even because the person who beats him is a woman, but because Irene Adler is so thoroughly uninterested in Holmes.  She's in the middle of her own story that is far greater than him, and he is but one of the impediments on her path to a happy, private life with the man she loves.  What's more important, however, is that by the end of the story Holmes recognizes this, and realizes that his client is the villain in Irene's story and that he, Holmes, is on the wrong side.  Irene beats him less because she's smarter than he is--does anyone doubt that he could have tracked her down after she gave him the slip?--than because he's realized that letting her go is the right thing to do.  It's a story that shines a light not only on Holmes's appreciation for intellect, but on his fundamental decency, and is thus completely unsuited to Sherlock, which has chosen to recast Holmes as an amoral sociopath.  Sherlock is far from the first Holmes adaptation to have reworked Irene Adler into a villain, Holmes's requited love interest, and Moriarty's ally (Guy Ritchie's first Sherlock Holmes movie did all three just a few years ago), but its emphasis on Sherlock's need to be the smartest guy in the room--in the pursuit of which, not justice or the greater good, he humiliates Irene and leaves her to a gruesome fate--makes him seem a great deal crueler and less heroic than I think the episode intends him to be, even taking into account the "happy" ending in which he saves Irene's life.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, meanwhile (which I feel I ought to say is my very favorite Holmes story, and whose mangling at Sherlock's hands I am finding it hard to get over), does two things that Sherlock could never have countenanced.  First, it sidelines Holmes for most of the story, sending Watson to gather evidence and meet the various players while Holmes observes from afar, only appearing to solve the mystery in the novel's final chapters.  Second, despite its Gothic premise, the novel is in many ways a cozy mystery, driven by the tightly-woven, longstanding relationships between individuals and families in a small village, into which both Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville blunder.  The plot is driven and eventually resolved by those relationships--by Miss Stapleton's confused feelings towards Sir Henry, or Mrs. Barrymore's devotion to her criminal brother.  Sherlock is too invested in its title character and his antics to spend the bulk of a story away from him (a fact that "The Hounds of Baskerville" amusingly comments on when it has Sherlock pretend that he is about to send John to investigate on his own, then dismiss the idea as lunacy) or root that story in the emotional lives of one-off characters.  I'm not enamored of the choice to make Sherlock both a sociopath and the emotional center of the show, but having made those choices, it was surely incumbent on Sherlock's writers to choose stories that would complement them.  Neither "A Scandal in Bohemia" nor The Hound of the Baskervilles do, and it's hard not to conclude that they were chosen solely for their name recognition, with very little regard for whether they suited Sherlock's vision of itself and the kind of stories it was trying to tell.

Happily, "The Reichenbach Fall" does a better job of marrying Holmes to Sherlock.  It helps that hardly anyone remembers what precedes the ending of "The Final Problem."  The salient points about that story are that Holmes is determined to stop Moriarty, that he sends Watson away to keep him safe, and that he realizes that the only way to kill Moriarty is to lay down--or at least pretend to lay down--his own life.  All of which is perfectly congruent with the way that Sherlock has built up both Sherlock and Moriarty.  The episode itself, though by no means perfect, is probably my favorite since "A Study in Pink."  True, the plot relies, like too many Sherlock stories, on coincidences and stupidity--Sherlock entertains, if even for a second, the possibility that a few bytes might comprise a computer program sophisticated enough to break into any computer in the world; the police are said to be stumped by Moriarty's break-ins but apparently never bothered to consider the possibility that he had help on the inside; Mycroft happily chats about his brother with an arch-criminal who has made his animosity towards Sherlock abundantly clear; no one ever explains how the kidnapped children were made to fear Sherlock--but these are in the way of go-homers, the kind of plot holes that only make themselves felt after the credits roll.  And the story works, credibly suggesting a threat that could easily get under Sherlock's skin, and tying that threat to a series of well-crafted challenges that only lead him closer to his doom.  "Reichenbach" is a sort of cross between "A Study in Pink" (it restores John, at least partially, as our point of view character, bookends the beginning of his relationship with Sherlock, and echoes the question of how a person can be forced to kill themselves) and "The Great Game" (which like it features Sherlock jumping through Moriarty's hoops on the path to his own destruction), and though it doesn't deliver the sort of highs that these (or "A Scandal in Belgravia") do, neither does it plumb their depths.  The pacing, which is Sherlock's most consistent bugbear--most of its episodes lose steam around the one hour mark--is kept at a steady clip that obscures all but the most egregious plot holes without shortchanging the characters and their interactions, and the plot handles its high stakes in a way that is plausible and that doesn't veer into melodrama until very near the end.

Something else that "Reichenbach" does, however, is to drive home just how thoroughly Sherlock is committed to its vision of Holmes as the Doctor.  That Moffat's Doctor and Moffat and Gatiss's Holmes shared a lot of their DNA was obvious already in "A Study in Pink," and in the intervening two seasons Sherlock has taken a very similar approach to its storytelling and character work as Doctor Who, emphasizing its central character, a superexcited blur of furious, and extremely funny, intelligence over his more recognizably human companions, and using moments of cleverness to distract from an incoherent overarching plot.  The two series's most recent seasons even wrapped up in largely the same way, with the main character, who has for a while been aware that he is marching towards his death, faking that death in part in order to get away from the attention that put him in danger in the first place.

Which raises an interesting question: given that I find Who basically unwatchable at this point, why am I still--and despite all the flaws that I've noted in this review, and which have aggravated me over the course of this season--won over by Sherlock?  Why, in other words, am I still debating whether Sherlock is brilliant or terrible rather than coming down, as I have in Who's case, on the latter side?  Like Who, there's almost always something worth watching for in Sherlock--a particularly funny scene, an especially clever bit of plotting, and of course the two leads--and it could simply be that after a mere six episodes, Sherlock's novelty hasn't worn off yet.  But the real reason, I think, that I'm still invested in Sherlock, and that "The Reichenbach Fall" works for me as a whole while "A Scandal in Belgravia" and "The Hounds of Baskerville" do so only intermittently, is Martin Freeman.  Freeman is Sherlock's secret weapon--so secret that it sometimes seems that even the show's writers have forgotten about him.  With hardly enough screen time or material to work with, he not only constructs a complex character--tough and vulnerable, bumbling and terrifyingly competent, fussy and adventurous, exasperated with Sherlock and deeply devoted to him--but gives the show something that Who lacks, a beating, human heart.

Season two, and especially "The Reichenbach Fall," make much of Sherlock's moments of emotion.  These, however, often seem either calculated and cheap--as if, having built up the character's inhumanity to such great heights, even the most basic emotions, such as anger at a thug who beat up Mrs. Hudson or shame at having humiliated Molly, count as major development--or overwrought--not to bring this back to Doctor Who, but the final confrontation with Moriarty has more than a whiff of David Tennant and John Simm chewing the scenery at the end of Who's third season.  It's John's emotions, which are on a more human scale--modulated by his awareness of society's conventions, and rarely operatic--that give Sherlock real resonance, especially when he's stripped raw, as he is at the end of "The Reichenbach Fall."

What season two, with its emphasis on the big guns of the Holmes canon, has brought into focus is that what's wrong with Sherlock is, well, Sherlock.  Not the character, who is great, nor Cumberbatch, whose showier role makes him easy to dismiss but who handles what is actually a tough job with aplomb, switching easily between funny Sherlock, amazing Sherlock, and terrifying Sherlock and making great meals of all of them.  No, the problem is the show's infatuation with Sherlock, and its willingness to set all considerations of plot and character aside in order to let him do his thing.  That infatuation is the reason that "A Scandal in Bohemia" and The Hound of the Baskervilles are neutered in their Sherlock versions--because this is not the show whose main character can realize that he is a minor character in someone else's story, or step back to let John drive a story.  The problem, however, runs deeper than simply a bad choice of source material, as "The Reichenbach Fall" demonstrates.  Sherlock only comes together when it's told from John's point of view, when his normal, ordinary perspective is allowed to mediate Sherlock's extraordinary one.  But the show is too in love with Sherlock to ever let that happen.

I think I'd be alright with Sherlock if it were simply a show that sometimes seems brilliant and at other times is just terrible.  But it's getting harder and harder to watch the show veer between those two extremes knowing that it has the potential to be consistently great, and absolutely no willingness to fulfill it.  That knowledge makes watching Sherlock one of the most nail-bitingly frustrating experiences I've known--it's probably a good thing that its seasons are only three episodes long or I'd go nuts.  But hey, if nothing else, whether brilliant or terrible, at least it's never boring.

18 comments:

Ian Sales said...

There was a lot, I thought, of Michael Kitchen in Freeman's depiction of Watson in "The Reichenbach Fall".

Omer said...

Great analysis as always, abigail.

One thing that you might have mentioned that strengthens your thesis is Mycroft's role; In the stories, Mycroft is actually the smarter Holmes brother; He's more intellectual, more aloof, less willing to dig into things. but in "Sherlock", Mycroft is yet another ordinary man, an observor of Holmes's genius.

Dragonpaws said...

A side note: The "fear gas" element of Baskerville is taken from a lesser-known Holmes story, The Valley of Fear.

ibmiller said...

Er, I think the "fear gas" is actually taken from "The Devil's Foot."

As someone who completely agrees that the first season's casting of Holmes as a sociopath is a major misstep, I actually think the writers and actors tried to distance themselves from that choice significantly. In other words, I found Holmes' moments of emotion (particularly his interactions with Molly in both Belgravia and Reichenbach) a bit more than merely deviations from a pattern, but actual shifting in Sherlock's self-analysis. I think the way Reichenbach in particular deliberately invokes and then subverts Donovan's assertion that Holmes will eventually get bored enough to start creating his own crimes signals that the show is not interested in playing House anymore.

However, there is still Sherlock's claim that though he's on the side of the angels, he should not be mistaken for one of them - but I think that should be weighed against his goodbye to John, and John's evaluation of his character.

All that being said, I completely agree with you that Martin Freeman is the person who makes the show worthwhile. Had the show taken the recent BBC route of making Watson smart but antagonistic (Ian Hart playing against Rupert Everett and Richard Roxborough) or the Ritchie/Downey/Law route of making them basically just buddy superheros, I don't think the show would be at all worth watching. However, by maintaining the original's hero/sidekick heirarchy, but investing John with arcs, relationships, and a strength of will equal or greater than Sherlock's, it manages to create something unmatched since Edward Hardwicke (and Michael Williams on radio) played the character a decade or more ago.

That being said, I was profoundly unamused by the show playing John's split emotional attention between his girlfriends and Sherlock for comedy. I appreciate the original Watson the more because he can balance the two - but to make John henpecked and create even more ugly female caricatures in a show already riddled with them did nothing for anyone in the show or audience.

Alexander said...

Excellent analysis that gets at a lot of what I find so frustrating about the show. Including a run through of the two and a half episodes of the second series that I didn't see that seem to match my general issues, as I stopped in frustration in the middle of the premier. In the end I don't share the ambivalence of the post, for better or worse, and find the irksome elements enough to drain any real pleasure from the viewing.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Omer:

I'm really not sure how the show intends for us to see Mycroft. In most of the series he does seem to be quite clever - Sherlock says that "he is the British government" in "A Study in Pink" (which echoes Conan Doyle's version of Mycroft) and he's the person who came up with the plan that Sherlock exposes in "A Scandal in Belgravia" (which was actually quite silly and implausible, but was treated as clever by the show). Then you have "The Reichenbach Fall," where his failure with Moriarty is something far worse and more damning than being ordinary - it's simply inconceivably that a person as highly placed and influential as Mycroft is supposed to be could be that stupid. I'm inclined to read it less as a sign of stupidity than as a psychological issue - an unconscious desire to hurt Sherlock that Moriarty played on - but the show hasn't done enough to build up either Mycroft or his relationship with Sherlock to justify that reading.

I've seen theories that Sherlock was on to Moriarty's plan from the start and that Mycroft selling him out was part of his plan. Which, if true, would mean that Sherlock has taken one further step on its path to becoming Doctor Who, sacrificing the plausibility and emotional coherence of its current story in order to lay groundwork for a future one, which will, in turn, be just as implausible and emotionally incoherent.

Dragonpaws:

I don't actually have a problem with the concept of "fear gas" - if anything it's a more plausible idea in the 21st century than it was in the 19th, and I wouldn't be surprised if something like it actually exists. My problem was first with the coincidence of John wandering into a room where the gas happened to be leaking (at just the time that Sherlock was observing him in the belief that the fear reaction was caused by something that turned out to be innocuous), and more than that, with the idea that someone could mine a bit of countryside with pressure pads that release the gas, and that no one would notice this despite the fact that there are tours to that area. The show even tells us that prolonged exposure to the gas causes long-term psychosis, and yet the tour guide Sherlock talks to seems perfectly normal.

ibmiller:

As I said, I found the exchange with Molly in "Belgravia" calculated - a deliberate attempt to make the audience go "aw, he does care!" I was more moved by the exchange with John at the end of "Reichenbach," though given that Sherlock staged large portions of that scene, I wouldn't be surprised if his distress was an act as well (after all, we've seen him sham emotion quite successfully in the past).

That said, I do agree that season 2 has been hinting that Sherlock's assessment of himself as a sociopath is mistaken, and I think that that could be a very fruitful and interesting story. But I think that it would work better if it were told from John's perspective and gave us more access to his emotions, which so far the show does only intermittently - I don't agree, for example, that Sherlock has given John arcs and relationships, or at least not any away from Sherlock.

Catherine Hill said...

"using moments of cleverness to distract from an incoherent overarching plot"

Thank you! This is exactly the thing that has been bugging me about Who for a while. I just haven't been able to express it nearly so coherently.


You make many good points about Sherlock. I find I mostly enjoy it while watching, but it doesn't always completely hold my attention. Plus I keep stumbling over the fact that Sherlock is so damn unlikeable and fail to understand why the other characters don't punch him more.

Aishwarya said...

Freeman's Watson is by far my favourite thing about Sherlock. But I think the show has stepped away from the thing I found most compelling about the first episode - Watson's own issues, and his reasons for joining Holmes, make him interesting in his own right. Since then, though, I feel like they've used him almost entirely as a humanising (and human-emotion-translating) device for Sherlock (and I think you're absolutely right that the show's crush on Sherlock himself is its fundamental flaw).

Oddly enough I think the only sign of that character we've seen in season 2 is in his apparent inability to tell his own girlfriends apart - though as another commentor said above, I'm not a fan of this being played for comedy.

Anonymous said...

You make many excellent points. I find Moffat also uses quite a lot of telling instead of showing, especially for emotional connections and plot points which are present in the original stories but not obvious beyond lipservice in Sherlock.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Aishwarya:

Yes, that's very much how I feel too. As you say, there's a sense that the show is edging around these issues in season 2 - the characters who wonder why, given that they're not and apparently don't want to be lovers, John is so devoted to Sherlock, to the extent of neglecting other relationships or potential relationships. But instead of reflecting on what this says about John and the ways in which he is almost as weird as Sherlock, the show most often uses this as fodder for jokes about John and Sherlock being a couple.

Simon Coward said...

"She's in the middle of her own story that is far greater than him, and he is but one of the impediments on her path to a happy, private life with the man she loves"

No, the impediment in her relationship with her current partner is her unwillingness to let go of her previous relationship with the King of Bohemia, and her vindictiveness in threatening to wreck any future relationship the King enters in to. If all she wants is "a happy, private life with the man she loves", then threatening the King is pretty stupid way of achieving it, and one which quite seriously calls her supposed intelligence into question.

Quite why this combination makes her such a feminist icon in so many people's eyes - particularly when compared to her TV counterpart - is beyond me. Her partner's thoughts in this are unclear and, as his position in society is never revealed, we don't know whether or not Irene's relationship with him would withstand the publicity she initially intends to visit on the King.

As to her victory over Holmes, it's not really anything of the sort. Holmes' task is to prevent the scandal and that's precisely what his actions accomplish. If they had not, and the story had still stopped where it did, the spoils would undoubtedly be with Irene, but he's got what he wants and so it's not a question of "letting her go is the right thing to do". He's solved the problem and, having done so, has no reason to follow it up.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

No, the impediment in her relationship with her current partner is her unwillingness to let go of her previous relationship with the King of Bohemia, and her vindictiveness in threatening to wreck any future relationship

We mostly have the King's version of his relationship with Irene, but even that is suggestive. In her letter to Holmes Irene says that she was "cruelly wronged" by the King. Given that the King twice remarks that Irene would have made a magnificent queen if not for the accident of her birth it's pretty easy to guess what that cruel wrong was, which rather inclines me to sympathy with Irene's vindictiveness. However, by the time the story starts this is clearly no longer her motivation. She's been receiving the attentions of Mr. Norton (whose social status, by the way, is that he is a lawyer of the Inner Temple) for some time, and she marries him quite literally within hours of Holmes taking the case. So I do think it's fair to say that, whatever her motivations at the outset, by the time she and Holmes match wits all she wants is to be with her husband. She keeps the photograph as protection, which given that, according to the King's account, "Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice she has been waylaid." seems like a perfectly sensible precaution, and again, doesn't incline me to sympathy towards the King.

Holmes' task is to prevent the scandal and that's precisely what his actions accomplish.

No, Holmes's task is to retrieve the photograph and he fails. The scandal is prevented by Irene's own change of heart, which Holmes himself admits when he tells the King that they must hope that Irene loves her new husband and will thus be satisfied with her life with him, rather than returning to pursue the King. In the meantime, Irene not only spots Holmes and realizes that he has tricked her, but tricks him so thoroughly that despite her brazenly bidding him goodnight the keen observer of humanity fails to distinguish a man from a woman. Which to the best of my recollection is the only occasion in the canon in which Holmes is so thoroughly undone by an opponent. And that, in a nutshell, is why she's a feminist icon.

Lilian Edwards said...

Having just this second breathlessly finished watching Reichenbach Falls, I agree with a fair bit of this in its detail, but oddly, not the overall conclusion (that Sherlock is just as terrible as it is wonderful) - perhaps simply because, like a high percent of the UK population , I find myself, rationally or not, as much in love with Sherlock as the series is - not because of the sensibleness of the plot of otherwise but because , unlike in Who, the lead actor is someone whose charisma could practically power the national grid. (As sad for the Who franchise as this is, you can only congratulate Cumberbatch on picking the right horse, when you see what Who and "being on lunch boxes" appears to have done for the next-as-good actor in the UK, Smith's predecessor Mr Tennant ..)
I am really surprised though at your implication that one of the major plot flaws of Reichenbach is that Mycroft is too smart to blab his baby bro's life to Moriarty. Surely the whole point here is that Mycroft is not stupid but ruthless - willing to namedrop his own brother's secrets to a known psychopath in the hope of political, patriotic or whatever it is that drives him advantage, and then with fractional remorse asking his bro's best mate to watch out for him after.

This seems to me not just a minor plot point but significant in terms of the whole season arc, which is surely, as you yourself kind of point out, about Sherlock;s growth from self-perception as psychopath to almost-human, via a waft of sexual desire and a growth of caring for his friends ; at the start Mycroft was clearly presented as the far better adjusted Holmes brother, clever too yes, but also socially performative , able to small talk, empathise, all that stuff - but this at a stroke paints Mycroft as as unfeeling/inhuman/Aspergers as we have been induced to believe (or in ep 2, by far the weakest and most obviously written episode, explicitly told) Holmes to be. Whereas Holmes, who repeatedly claims to operate best alone, to have no feelings or need for friends, etc etc, (one of the huge nailed-in Emotional Points of ep 2 in fact) is the one who is in the end actually willing to die for his friends.

*Except* he isn't: as we all half know from canon , it turns out Holmes is faking his death (no matter how), and in so doing, torturing his friends just as much as saving them (and audience acceptance that Moriarty's story is true and not delusional is important here; significantly we are given external shots of the disarming gunmen to objectively prove that part, in a storyline which mostly remains frustratingly ambiguous) So who in the end is the real Aspergest? Holmes, Moriarty or Mycroft? The greatest turnabout this show could have - and which I would have adored as a stroke of Alan Moore like retcon genius - would be if it turned out Sherlock really WAS a high-functioning fraud; a real leap away from Conan Doyle canon into 21st century po-mo ; and the one moment where i thought maybe we were really there and Sherlock was really not the Holmes of print updated, was his phone "suicide note" to John: for how could it make John feel happier to be told his beloved friend was dying a fraud rather than a self sacrificing hero ? *That's* the bit which to me doesn't make sense at all.

But sadly as you say, Moff and co are far too much in love with Sherlock to contemplate such a revolutionary rewrite. Shame..

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Surely the whole point here is that Mycroft is not stupid but ruthless - willing to namedrop his own brother's secrets to a known psychopath in the hope of political, patriotic or whatever it is that drives him advantage

That's an interesting reading, though to my mind it still doesn't excuse Mycroft from the charge of stupidity - surely it's never a good idea to play into Moriarty's plan, much less to do so and then let him go. I also would have had an easier time accepting it if Mycroft had been defiant in the face of John's accusations, and simply admitted that he'd knowingly traded his brother for intelligence. Instead he seems genuinely surprised that his actions have had this effect - "I never thought". Which is not to say that the writers didn't intend for us to read Mycroft as ruthless, but the stupidity with which he's saddled in "Reichenbach," coupled with the fact that in "Belgravia" he's actually shown to be averse to collateral damage, bring me back to my observation to Omer, that Mycroft is too inconsistently and faintly drawn a character to be anything but yet another of the show's flaws.

The greatest turnabout this show could have - and which I would have adored as a stroke of Alan Moore like retcon genius - would be if it turned out Sherlock really WAS a high-functioning fraud

It would have been interesting, certainly, but as my brother pointed out after watching "Reichenbach," for Sherlock to have pulled off this elaborate fraud on so many people for such an extended period of time would make him just as extraordinary, and just as much of a genius, as being the great detective does.

As for the suicide note, I absolutely do think that it's kinder to let someone believe that you're killing yourself because of your own failures, rather than that you're doing it in order to save their life. Imagine the guilt John would have to carry if he'd known what Sherlock's true motivation was.

Anonymous said...

Please, never stop writing. :)

George Pedrosa said...

Also, the fact that Adler's lack of interest in Holmes is usually taken by less talented writers to mean that she's cold, manipulative and, deep down, deeply in love with him is, I think, quite revealing.

Dan Hemmens said...

I gave up on Sherlock after series one and I haven't quite convinced myself to go back to it, but all the problems you describe here are pretty much what put me off at the end of the first series.

I think the ambivalent relationship with the source material is a real problem. It seems unwilling to tell any story that isn't totally turned up to eleven.

buddy2blogger said...

Nice review of 'A Scandal in Belgravia'.

For a different look at this episode, check out my review .

Cheers!

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