Season two of Sherlock, which just aired here in the U.S. for the first time, turned out to be even stronger than season one, in part because the characters are so well developed, and in part because the bromance between Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) seems so natural at this point, as if the two actors have been doing this for years. The only real negative of the season is that it will be so long before we see a third set of episodes, especially on this side of the Atlantic. (My writeup on season one went up in February.)
As in the first season, the middle episode was somewhat weaker than the two surrounding it, with the first episode the strongest of the troika. Irene Adler’s dominatrix character is fascinating – with her clothes on or off, it’s all good, really – and the tense flirtations between her and Holmes were absolutely electric, even though it’s clear he has (or will simply admit to) no interest in sex with her. The crime he’s solving is almost secondary, and she seemed a more convincing adversary than Moriarty because her methods of social engineering are so foreign to Holmes. An American police procedural would have played up her professional life, whereas this episode focuses instead on layers of intrigue and the aforementioned dialogue between the two main characters.
The second episode, derived from the one full-length Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, takes the setting and some core elements of the original story and adds a host of modern twists, including a play on our worst fears about our governments and their research into weapons of mass destruction. The solution hinged on Holmes guessing a password rather impossibly quickly, which I’d peg as a copout; it’s a neat trick, but not that likely on the first try, and any decent network security setup would lock an account after an attempt or two. (Wouldn’t the modern Holmes carry a cracking program on a USB drive? Or is that too easy?)
The final episode, “The Reichenbach Fall,” brings an unexpectedly early confrontation between Holmes and his nemesis, Jim Moriarty, played diabolically by whats-his-face, clearly having the time of his life. Based on the story “The Final Problem,” in which Holmes originally dies, only to have it later revealed that he merely faked his death after public outcry forced Conan Doyle to hit control-Z, “Reichenbach” turns the tables and puts Moriarty on the offensive, destroying Holmes’ life from the inside-out with a cleverly plotted, intricate trap, from which Holmes can extricate himself only through his own death – or so it appears. The whole detective-as-suspect plot device is quite hackneyed at this point, but I’ll give the writers points for the Richard Brook twist, and for crafting the scheme so tightly that Holmes does indeed appear to be trapped when we reach the final clash between the two antagonists. I’ll get to the end of this episode, the subject of much speculation online (which won’t be answered until next year as the show becomes victim of its own success), later on, to avoid spoiling anything for those of you who haven’t seen it.
This season felt faster and tighter than the first one, which I think is in large part because the three episodes in season one had to spend time introducing us to the main characters and developing their relationships with each other. Cumberbatch and Freeman have a very easy chemistry and superb timing, enhanced by British series’ willingness to keep the pace up rather than slow it down to accommodate an audience looking for large print and short chapters. It feels like smart television because it is smart television, rapid-fire, witty, and demanding. It should have you talking long after each episode is done. To wit…
Spoiler alert: I’m discussing the end of season two, episode three below. Just stop reading if you haven’t seen it.
Seriously, go away.
For those of you who have seen it, it seems like some suspected elements of Sherlock’s faked suicide are, if not obvious, quite likely to be true. We have Sherlock’s conversation with Molly, where he says he expects he’s going to die and needs her help, a plea that remains unresolved at the end of the episode but that we know would be fulfilled because Molly is inexplicably smitten with the great detective. We have the flatbed truck that starts up the moment Sherlock’s body is about to hit the pavement. And we have the cyclist who hits Dr. Watson at the moment he’s about to cross the street to see to his friend, leaving Watson on the ground and quite groggy when he stands up. I submit that the grogginess is the fourth clue.
Here’s my theory, although it is a bit tinfoilhatty: Sherlock landed in the truck and threw a cadaver, supplied by Molly and rigged to bleed from the head on impact, to the sidewalk, obscured from witnesses by the truck. The cyclist clocked Dr. Watson and somehow drugged him – perhaps a gas like that from the previous episode – so that he wouldn’t be able to properly examine or even identify Sherlock. (That gas would make him suggestible, meaning one member of the crowd could also have been a plant from Sherlock, there simply to tell Dr. Watson it was Sherlock’s body and that he was dead.) This would explain Sherlock’s confession to Dr. Watson, which was wildly out of character for him – it was an act, yet one that, oddly, didn’t set off any alarms in his only friend’s mind.
This leaves a few unanswered questions: Why was Molly, who was on Moriarty’s radar after they had a few lunch dates (seriously, Molly, are there no other fish in the English sea?), omitted from the final hit list, while Holmes’ landlady and Lestrade were included? Who notified the other two shooters (we can assume the hitman assigned to Dr. Watson witnessed the suicide) that Sherlock was presumed dead? Why did the kidnap victim scream upon seeing Sherlock’s face? And, really, why did Moriarty kill himself? I believe he is actually dead, as Moriarty dies in the original story, “The Final Problem,” that inspired this episode. I can’t imagine the writers deviating that far from the source material, and the Moriarty character, who only appeared in two of the original stories anyway, is pretty well played out from here. But why would he die of his own hand, leaving himself unable to witness Holmes’ final humiliation?
Feel free to discuss any of these spoilers or questions in the comments; I assume anyone who’s made it this far has already seen the full season.