Entertainment Magazine

REPOST: Sherlock 2.1: “A Scandal in Belgravia”

Posted on the 08 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

First off, a little introduction for those that haven’t read my reviews for the previous season of “Sherlock”. I’ll get no points for originality for saying this, but I consider myself to be a pretty big fan of Sherlock Holmes. In particularly, I have a deep appreciation for the original stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, as well as some of the later adaptations. I greatly enjoyed the first Guy Ritchie film for what it was (sadly, I have yet to see the sequel, which I hope to remedy soon), though many fans thought it took too many liberties with the source material.

REPOST: Sherlock 2.1: “A Scandal in Belgravia”

These dissatisfied fans might be wise to consider checking out “Sherlock” instead. Despite the modern-day setting, the show is an arguably more faithful representation of the original stories. As much as I enjoy the Guy Ritchie take, “Sherlock” is a far more sophisticated and compelling version, and quite simply one of the finest Holmes adaptations ever made. Not being familiar with any of Benedict Cumberbatch’s work, I was as skeptical as anyone could be, but his performance greatly surpassed my expectations and won me over almost immediately.

Cumberbatch’s performance alone is a pretty significant draw, but “Sherlock” has a lot more going for it, with Martin Freeman and Mark Gatiss both providing strong performances in their respective roles as Dr. John Watson and Holmes’ brother, Mycroft Holmes. The writing has ranged from good to absolutely stellar, with the second episode of the first season standing as the somewhat weaker link between two more impressive episodes. The direction has been consistently strong throughout, with great cinematography and onscreen text becoming a signature part of the show.

The bottom line is, if you haven’t already started watching, then what are you waiting for? You really don’t have to be a fan of the original stories to enjoy this, because Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have done a tremendous job of remaining faithful to the original stories while translating and expanding on that material in a modern context. There are loads of cool references for the hardcore fans, but the casual viewers can easily watch this as an exceptionally well-crafted detective thriller with excellent characterization.

“Sherlock” fans had a bit of a wait for the second season, presumably due to the scheduling difficulties of for Moffat, Cumberbatch, and Freeman. Moffat has, no doubt, been spending a lot of time on “Doctor Who”, while Cumberbatch and Freeman have been working on “The Hobbit”. For a while there, I was worried that we wouldn’t be getting a second season at all, but it’s finally here. The format is identical to that of the first season, with the entire season consisting of only three 90-minute episodes. And if you ask me, it’s for the best. I think you get a lot more “bang for your buck” this way.

Like the first season, this one borrows a lot of story material from the original stories, putting its own spin on them, of course. But with this season, it’s been made clear from the onset which individual story each episode is predominately based on. Just from the title, it’s clear that “A Scandal in Belgravia” is based on “A Scandal in Bohemia”. It’s no surprise that this was one of the stories chosen to be adapted, given that this story marked the only appearance of Irene Adler in the original stories (she’s mentioned in a few more, but never appears again); a character who has become a favorite for contemporary writers of Holmes fiction.

There was never any clear indication of romance between Holmes and Adler in the original story, but that hasn’t stopped other writers from reading between the lines and expanding the relationship from one of mutual respect to an actual attraction. I can understand the fascination with Adler. Holmes is typically asexual, having absolutely no interest in women (or men), so the idea of just this one woman, the only woman who has ever beaten Holmes at his own game, becoming the basis for a mutual intellectual (or sexual) attraction has its compelling points. Doyle may not have intended for Holmes’ respect for Adler to be taken this far, but it’s easy to see where the inspiration for a Holmes/Adler romance came from.

There is always the potential for an Irene Adler story to seem like fan fiction, but that is not at all the case here. I appreciated the mature approach to the concept, which allowed for a massive amount of exploration of the idea, without detracting from the Holmes character. Holmes always manages to keep Irene at just enough of a distance for there to be a bit of ambiguity about his actual feelings, with that final moment in which Holmes rescues Irene from a beheading serving as the best evidence that he cares about her, or at least respects her enough to think that she’s worth saving.

Despite being an avid Holmes fan, it had been quite a long time since I’d last read any of the original stories. I’d hoped to read many of them again in the lead-up to both the return of “Sherlock” and the return of the “Sherlock Holmes” film franchise, but I didn’t end up reaching that goal. I did, however, find the time to re-read “A Scandal in Bohemia” in preparation for this episode (a very enjoyable read, by the way), which added a layer of interest to my viewing experience. It was a pleasure to see how various story elements were integrated into the episode. Holmes’ clever plan to ascertain the location of the photographs (only a single photograph in the original story) is very similar to that of the original story, right down to Holmes dressing as a clergyman.

After the previous season finale, John Teti (over at The A.V. Club) described the episode as being an “extraordinarily dense 90 minutes”. This quote also serves as an accurate description of this season’s premiere episode. It really is an absolutely packed episode, which is simultaneously a strength and a weakness. I enjoyed the fact that I was forced to pay close attention and focus on the details, which effectively serves to immerse you in the world of Holmes and his rapid-fire approach to every situation. But at times I did feel slightly bewildered by the constant flow of information. I’ve no doubt that I missed important details here and there. As a result, sometimes the dramatic impact of a scene isn’t felt as strongly as it should be. This may be just because I’ve grown so use to American shows pandering to the lowest common denominator that I wasn’t dedicating as much concentration to the show as I should have been.

A person could discuss at great length all the beautiful little details in the writing that made this episode such a fascinating viewing experience. The recurring usage of that phone (the one with the erotic sighing as a ringtone) is just one example of a brilliantly-executed idea that dramatically enhanced the story. The attention to detail is impressive, so I suppose it’s fitting that the main problems with the writing relate to the bigger picture. The overall structuring of the episode could do with some improvement. The individual scenes are invariably great, but scenes don’t always lead into the next one in a clear, logical fashion. For that time jump, there’s not much of a sense that time has actually passed. At times, it seems like a few episodes have been roughly pasted together to form a longer one.

Again, I really feel as though I could go on for days just discussing everything that was great about the episode. That’s not a brag about my writing abilities, but a compliment to how much there was to enjoy about the premiere. There are a seemingly endless amount of memorable exchanges that beg to be quoted. The humor and character depth that I loved in the first season is just as strong as ever. I suppose I could point out a few more problems I had, but these are simply too minor to be worth mentioning. The positives outweigh the negatives here. Every Holmes fan and anyone who enjoys detective fiction shouldn’t be missing this show. There’s every reason to suspect that this season will be even better than the last.

Rating: 9/10

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