I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes since I was a kid. I read all the books, watched that CSI episode about the guy who killed himself and created a murder mystery around it, and I even own a t-shirt with Sherlock and the two Watsons on it. I don’t profess to be an expert, especially as it’s been a long time and I’ve forgotten quite a few of the details, but I love reading murder mysteries, and that’s because of Holmes.
However, I’ve discovered that it’s difficult to review something that everyone likes. For one thing, everything of importance has already been said. For another, there are so many reviews floating around that, even if you did say something original, nobody would be able to find it in the swamp of near-identical analyses. Which is a problem, as I’ve been looking forward to reviewing Sherlock for a while now, ever since my little sister forced me to sit down and watch the show, but I fear that everything of interest may have already been said.
But in the words of Sherlock Holmes, “Bitterness is a paralytic. Love is a much more vicious motivator.” And God, do I ever love this show.
Afghan war veteran Dr. John Watson starts a blog as part of his PTSD therapy. He also gains a flatmate, the extraordinarily odd “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes. The good doctor is quickly drawn into a murder, and together with Holmes, they track down a serial killer, a cabbie who drives his victims to remote locations and plays a psychological game that always results in the victim’s death by poison. Before the cabbie’s death, Sherlock is able to squeeze out the name of his employer: someone named Moriarty. Once the case is solved, John posts their adventure on his blog, along with all the cases that follow.
Just from that brief synopsis, you can tell that this show isn’t the traditional “deerstalker hat and pipe” story (although at one point Sherlock uses a hat to hide from the press, and it becomes his trademark. It seems to be inescapable). The story takes place in the present day: everyone has iPhones and Blackberries, Sherlock prefers to do everything over text message, and Watson puts everything on his blog (as the original Watson wrote stories about the cases). So there’s some deviation from the books there.
But there is one thing in particular that hasn’t changed, something that has caused every slashshipper, Tumblr owner, and Internet deviant to fangasm uncontrollably. In the books, Sherlock and Watson spent a lot of time together, and nobody thought anything of it, because that was the habit of the time. But times change, and attitudes and behaviours that previously were hidden have become the social norm. I am referring to the fact that everyone seems to think that Sherlock and Watson are gay, a fact of which the characters themselves are painfully (in Watson’s case, anyway) aware. In every single episode, someone makes the assumption that they’re involved, usually to hilarious effect (because there’s nothing funnier than Watson trying to get it on with a nice lady and having her run off because she thinks he sits on the other side of the bus).
The characters have been beautifully developed. Sherlock is “not a psychopath, [he’s] a high-functioning sociopath.” (Do your research.) He “sees through everything and everyone in seconds. What’s incredible, though, is how spectacularly ignorant he is about some things.” He is a contradiction in terms, a man who is so detached from society that he can keep human heads in his fridge to measure salivary coagulation, but at the same time will throw a man out the window multiple times for hurting his landlady, Mrs. Hudson. He is alarmingly blunt, cold, and analytical, and he once sat in Buckingham Palace wearing nothing but a bedsheet. He would be an awful person to know, but he’s wonderful to watch, and that’s a rare thing.
Watson is the loyal friend with a dark past, someone who can give Sherlock verbal abuse even as he receives it. He risks his life for Sherlock’s on a regular basis, not just because he likes the rush he gets from adventure, but because he is the sort of man who puts his life on the line for the people he cares about. And it’s that loyalty and selflessness that becomes so heartbreaking at the end of Series 2, when (spoiler alert) Sherlock fakes his own death. Watson stands at Sherlock’s tombstone, coldly calm and fumbling for words, and says,
You told me once that you weren’t a hero. There were times when I didn’t even think you were human, but let me tell you this. You were the best man, the most human… human being that I’ve ever known, and no one will ever convince me that you told me a lie, so… there. I was so alone, and I owe you so much. But please, there’s just one more thing, one more miracle, Sherlock, for me, don’t be… dead. Would you do that just for me? Just stop it. Stop this.
But as firm and unshakeable as their friendship was, it’s hard to know if their relationship would have meant as much if it weren’t for Moriarty. Jim Moriarty is irreverent, unconventional, calculating, and even more of a sociopath—and a psychopath—than Sherlock. They are meant to be evenly matched, and while Sherlock has (in my opinion) the superior intellect, Moriarty makes up for it with sheer madness. He absolutely terrifies me, but I always want to see what he’s going to do next. (Except for the part where he stuck a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, but we all know that won’t last.)
The whole series is the story of Sherlock and Moriarty, and why shouldn’t it be? “Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain.” A story is boring if it’s just one new villain after another, week after week after week. Granted, we do get new villains every episode, but there’s something very satisfying about knowing that it all comes back to Moriarty and his horribly fantastic mind.
Moriarty: “Kill you? Um, no. Don’t be obvious; I mean, I’m gonna kill you anyway, someday. I don’t want to rush it, though. I’m saving it up for something special. No, no, no, no, no, if you don’t stop prying… I’ll burn you. I will burn the heart out of you.”
Sherlock: “I’ve been reliably informed that I don’t have one.”
The only real problem I have with the show is that the plot occasionally gets a bit too twisting and complex, which is bound to happen when your hero and your villain are eccentric geniuses. So it takes a couple views before I can really stomach the entirety of the story, but that’s all right, because even though they’re ninety-minute episodes, I’ve watched each one multiple times. And since Series Three isn’t coming out for absolutely ages, I have to amuse myself by speculating about how Sherlock faked his death. Sites like this are pretty helpful.
I may have a problem.
In fact, it’s entirely possible that…
Final Grade: A
- Sherlock, storming into the flat, carrying a harpoon and soaked in blood, fuming because he had to ride the Tube; none of the cabs would take him.
- Sherlock: “Anderson, don’t talk out loud. You lower the IQ of the whole street.”
- Irene Adler is just wonderful. She defines the femme fatale, and I very much want to be her (minus the professional punishment, blackmailing governments, and wandering about in her “battle dress,” though).
- Sherlock: People have died. Moriarty: That’s what people DO!
- Mycroft: “We are in Buckingham Palace, the very heart of the British Nation. Sherlock Holmes, put your trousers on!” Sherlock: “What for?” That is all.