Sherlock Series 2 is Here: Let's Dish "A Scandal in Belgravia"

Sherlock is finally back in America! (To say that I am so excited about this is probably the understatement of my year.) Series 2 premiered last night with the episode “A Scandal in Belgravia,” which is based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story A Scandal in Bohemia and introduces us to one of Holmes’ most famous adversaries, Irene Adler. (Fun fact: This is actually the only Conan Doyle story that Adler ever appears in – and the story itself is much, much shorter than this episode, actually. Yet, she is one of the most enduring figures in the Holmes canon.)

Series 2 really is probably the best TV you will watch all year. No, really. No matter what sorts of problems anyone might have with this episode (and, to be fair, I have a few), it’s really remarkable television and it’s just such a shame that we only get three episodes of this brilliance a season. It’s that good.

Anyway, if you’re itching to dish “A Scandal in Begravia,” click right on through for a wide variety of ramblings from me on the subject. And, as always, leave thoughts, comments, favorite lines, general likes, disagreements and other sundry items in the comments below.

I happen to own a region-free DVD player and have been dying to gush about these episodes for months. But, as I didn’t want to spoil anyone I have kept it all inside. So, you know, beware the word flood that’s coming over the next couple of weeks.

To be fair, “A Scandal in Belgravia” is my least favorite episode of the three installments that comprise Sherlock’s second season. This isn’t because “Belgravia” is bad, per se; it’s simply that I find the next two episodes to be that good. So, if you enjoyed this last night, just get ready because it gets even better from here on out, in my opinion. 

A Word About The Editing. Just so you know, several minutes of this episode had to be cut out of the American broadcast due to time constraints. I understand why this had to happen, but I also strongly recommend that everyone make sure to buy or rent a copy of the DVDs when they are released. There are several wonderful small character moments that didn’t make it to air here last night, including one of my absolute favorite bits where Sherlock basically shoplifts an ashtray for John from somewhere important. In terms of overall footage, the cuts only equal a few minutes, and they were done by the show’s producers, so at least you know that the episode was trimmed by someone who was very knowledgeable about it. But, there are several great small moments that are definitely worth seeing, so I encourage everyone to give this season a second viewing once you’ve a DVD or iTunes download in hand.

On the Whole, This Episode is Wonderfully Put Together. Though I have a handful of nits to pick down below, it would be remiss not to open by saying that this episode on the whole is pretty spectacular. It’s lovely to see something getting so much support on American broadcast television that lives and dies by the tenant of “Brainy is the new sexy.”  I think Sherlock is a perfect example of the fact that television doesn’t have to play to the lowest common denominator, and that if you trust your audience to keep up with you, and you write them something smart, they will be with you every step of the way.  (Very vocally if the shrieking I’ve heard from Sherlock fans is anything to go by.)  The writing is determinedly clever, the producers aren’t afraid to let the characters be unlikeable or vulnerable or heroic if the story calls for it, and there are so many sparklingly wonderful character moments woven seamlessly in amongst all the mystery stuff.

The Pool Cliffhanger. Well, we all spent the better part of a year and a half speculating about how Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were going to get the Baker Street boys out of the pool showdown with Moriarty and then they go and wrap it all up within the first handful of minutes. Not the way I expected that cliffhanger to go, I’ll be honest. When I first saw this episode, I actually thought this resolution was a bit of a let-down/ cop-out, but it’s grown on me a bit over time. Mostly because Sherlock makes the best faces in these couple of minutes. And “Staying Alive” is funny, even if it does turn Moriarty into a little bit of a cartoon. But it certainly does establish him as certifiably crazy and willing to do anything for any reason, which is likely part of the point.  And I suppose that they can't spend but so much time on this resolution what with everything else that they have to cram into an hour and a half.

Sherlock and John, BFFs Forever.  Honestly, if someone made an entire show that was basically just the first fifteen minutes of this episode, that was just Sherlock and John sitting around their flat bickering about his blog ,or traveling the country hanging out in random places and giggling at things, I would watch that show until I passed out. I would have been completely happy if this was all the episode had been, it was that fantastic. All props to Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman for not only having ridiculous and fantastic chemistry with one another, but also the ability to make us believe in Sherlock and John's friendship and convey a sense that they’ve become closer and more settled together than in Series 1. My other absolute favorite moment in the episode (besides the ashtray bit some of you may not have seen) is the scene between the two of them in Buckingham Palace where they just look at each other, have an entire conversation without actually saying anything out loud, and then burst out laughing. They’re incredible and honestly, this show would simply not work at all if their core relationship wasn’t as believable and realistic as it is.

I am also not at all surprised that Sherlock carries on talking to John whether John is actually present or not. Because that’s absolutely the kind of friends I believe they are now.

OMG THE DEERSTALKER and Other Fabulous Conan Doyle Bits. When this show gets things right, it gets them so right. We get finally the iconic image of Sherlock Holmes in a deerstalker hat, but it’s a hat that he’s stolen from a random wardrobe room and is using to hide his face from the paparazzi now that he’s internet famous. It’s such a perfect, perfect moment. There are actually so many fantastic tiny nods to Holmes canon sprinkled throughout this episode – a clear sign that not only is this series put together by people who truly love the source material, but that its made with serious Holmes fans in mind, as well as regular viewers. You won’t miss anything as a viewer if you don’t know that the fire that John lights in Irene’s foyer is a tip of the hat to the original story, but if you are a hardcore Holmesian you probably smiled pretty wide at that bit.

Mycroft and Sherlock, Or, Wouldn’t It Be Great To Meet the Holmes Family.  One of my favorite things about this particular Holmes adaptation – one out of about a million, apparently - is its depiction of Mycroft. Gatiss does a great job of making a Mycroft that’s prim and manipulative and dry and, above all, interesting in his own right with his own agenda.  The Sherlock/Mycroft interactions are some of the most interesting moments in this episode and simultaneously make you feel so sorry for both of them and also desperately want to meet their parents. (Is it strange, that the more I watch Gatiss and Cumberbatch together, the more I think they actually look related?) Both the Holmeses are so brilliant and removed and the tiniest bit warped and also, it seems, so, so lonely.  I hope Mycroft has a John, or finds a John someday. Because the “caring is not an advantage” scene just breaks my heart. I would just love to see some flashbacks of the family and childhood experiences that made these boys turn out this way.

Because It Has To Be Said: Cumberbatch Really is Amazing. I adore Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, because he is rude and awkward and anti-social and also incredibly devoted and loyal to the handful of people that matter to him. And now in Series 2 we’re seeing Sherlock be a bit more human, become a bit more humanized, thanks to the influence of people like John and Mrs. Hudson, and events like meeting Irene. Cumberbatch handles every single moment of playing Sherlock wonderfully, whether it’s stumbling over his words when confronted with a flirtatious Irene, raging when random Americans threaten Mrs. Hudson or being the absolute biggest jerk on the planet to poor Molly, until you see him actually realize that he said something hurtful. I want Cumberbatch to go on making episodes of Sherlock forever, because I can’t imagine that there’s any way he would ever be boring at it. Also, the poor man deserves some sort of special award for those absolutely insane deduction monologues.

Wonderful Small Moments Abound.  There are so many little things that this episode does well, that are not huge, game-changing plot twists, but just small moments that give us better insight into who these characters are and what they all mean to one another.  Was there anyone whose heart didn’t break for poor Molly at Sherlock and John’s Christmas party? Was there anyone who wasn’t stunned and oddly moved that Sherlock realized (all by himself!) that what he said to Molly crossed a line and that he actually apologized for it? Was there anyone who didn’t love the stuffing out of the moment when everyone yelled at Mycroft for telling Mrs. Hudson to shut up? And was there anyone who didn’t completely agree with Sherlock that indeed, England would fall if Mrs. Hudson ever left Baker Street. (She is the proverbial ravens in the Tower for our boys, I expect.) 

Bonus: This Episode is Beautiful. Paul McGuigan deserves all the awards for directing this episode. It’s gorgeous. And the camera shots are so interesting, even the hydraulic bed that comes out of nowhere behind Sherlock in the field.

Additionally, “Belgravia” actually does a lovely job at depicting the passage of time without having characters randomly drop dates into their conversation for no reason. The montage that skips time forward while Sherlock is playing the violin was especially lovely. (Fun fact: Cumberbatch played himself, under the tutelage of an actual expert on set.)

It seems a bit pointless to spend a tremendous amount of time nitpicking an episode that is such a true joy to watch – and even the bits I don’t care for on a more technical level, I can still enjoy in the sense that this is an episode that makes me smile. This entire series is really almost as close to perfect as you can get in modern television and snarking at it feels a bit like kicking a puppy. So take the following in that context – for all that so many critics fall all over themselves to love on “A Scandal in Belgravia,” I think, for me, it’s the weakest episode of this (really exceptionally stellar) season.  Again, that is a bit like saying “This is the ugliest Monet I’ve ever seen,” but there you have it. And I’ve a couple of nits to pick, just to get them out of my system because I’m having a lot of emotions. But you can feel free to skip over the next bit to get back to the gushing at the end.

I AM _ _ _ _- LOCKED. So, I get the sort of cutesy, overly clever utility of having “I AM SHER-LOCKED” be the ultimate passcode to Irene’s phone, but I’m also of the opinion that having this be the solution to our puzzle completely doesn’t work and is, in a strange way, a bit offensive. Irene Adler, who is master criminal enough to beat Sherlock at his own game makes the passcode to her phone – something that she’s said repeatedly is her protection, her living, her very life – the name of her current crush? Really? As up until this point she has seemed a remarkably smart and prepared businesswoman if not a terribly likeable person, I can only assume that this pun was an image that someone in the writers room thought of (Wouldn’t it be AWESOME if SHERLOCKED was the password?) and that they just decided to go with it for the “clever” factor rather than consider whether or not it made any sense at all within the confines of their own story. Because it doesn’t. And, while I am not entirely on board with much of the feminist criticism that was leveled against this episode from some quarters in the UK, I can see where they are coming from in this particular moment, simply because, it is a bit troublesome to have Irene ultimately “lose” to Sherlock in the end simply because he’s got more control over his emotions than she does. (I am positive Sherlock’s Blackberry password is not “Irene”, let’s put it that way.) 

One of the things I do like about this episode is that for so much of it the attraction between Sherlock and Irene is played fairly ambiguously – in the sense that if you want to believe it’s an intellectual thing, a romantic thing, a game among equals thing, or some mix of all three, there’s plenty of fodder for any of those readings and all of them work. Their relationship is complicated and multi-faceted. This bit – where we discover that Irene is so actually smitten with Sherlock that she apparently wants to type his name everytime she logs on to her phone makes her seem like a silly, lovestruck idiot who deserves to lose. (And of course, there’s also the fact that this story has turned Irene Adler into an actual criminal who is helping and/or working for Moriarty is also troubling in a completely different way and means that she really does have to lose because she’s kind of a bad guy. I don’t know what I think that means, but I’m not entirely comfortable about it.)

The Ending Coda is Pretty Ridiculous. I would literally pay someone to make this episode end with Mycroft and John’s conversation at the café next door. I would pay them a lot of money. That moment is the perfect ending for an episode that’s done a bit too much explaining of things over it’s last third – it leaves Irene Adler’s fate up to the eye of the viewer, as it were – we can believe she escaped, we can believe she is dead, the audience can fill in their own gaps and the ambiguity, the not knowing,  actually adds some heft to the story. This is modern London after all, and not every crime will be wrapped up with a neat little bow, and leaving some things to the “I guess we’ll never know” category is realistic.

Having Sherlock show up randomly at what appears to be a terrorist camp in Pakistan, dressed in laughably stereotypical “Middle Eastern wear” and wielding a scimitar to save an Irene Adler on her knees is kind of awful. It’s not only completely ridiculous – this scene strikes completely the wrong tone for this sort of dark and gritty drama – it’s also totally implausible. It’s the sort of magical fix it that I expect from Doctor Who when the TARDIS vworps onto the scene so that the Doctor can do something completely ridiculous, and not in a show like this. I have to actually pretend that this bit doesn’t happen, because having to accept the premise that neither Mycroft (with all his government connections) or John (who is basically on Sherlock suicide watch about the Irene situation) noticed at all that Sherlock not only disappeared from the flat, but also the country for a day or two, is just too much of a stretch.  (And notice I’m not even touching the bit about turning the woman that beat Sherlock Holmes into a damsel in distress on her knees. Eyeroll forever.)

For me, “Hounds” and “Reichenbach” deal with much more interesting emotional issues than “Scandal” does, so I’m chomping at the bit to just get to next week already. Plus, for me, the mysteries work a bit better too; “Scandal” in some ways does suffer from “too clever for its own good” syndrome.  All of that said, I always feel so terrible with the nitpicking, because even with its flaws, this episode is very, very good. Just, for me, the other two are even better. It's going to be such a great couple weeks!