Blightyvision: “Sherlock” Series 2

Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss
Written by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and Steve Thompson
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and Andrew Scott

After the ending of the first series of Sherlock, a friend tweeted desperately to Steven Moffat that clearly he forgot to deliver the next episode to the BBC.  For more than a year, the fandom has been biting their nails waiting to see how the horrifying cliffhanger would be resolved, and on New Year’s Day they finally got their show back and could breathe again.  For three weeks.  In those three weeks, though, we got to see an already-good show evolve, finding ways around last year’s weak points without suddenly flying off the handle and changing format and theme.

A few things did change this series.  For one thing, they went in a similar direction to “Jonathan Creek,” forcing their genius protagonist into the limelight to deal with unwanted new-found celebrity.  The unwanted attention also found its way into Sherlock’s personal life, as his unfortunate admirer Molly (Loo Brealey, an unsung talent in the show) goes from being a bit of a joke to genuinely sympathetic.  This isn’t the only woman in Sherlock’s life, though.

Nope.  If you had your ear in even the general direction of this series’s production, you knew The Woman — Irene Adler — was on the way.  Played by Lara Pulver (of “MI-5” and the ill-fated final series of “Robin Hood”), this Irene is certainly a bit on the edgier side — her episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia” (based on the original story A Scandal in Bohemia), presents her as a dominatrix whose fascination with Sherlock’s apparent asexuality leads her to play a variety of games with him, mental and otherwise.  Let’s just say the “battle dress” she greets him in leaves very little to the imagination.  Moff came under a bit of fire for this, as the show aired before the watershed, but he’s always getting yelled at for something, so moving on.

Now in its second series, the show knows where it stands well enough that it can tackle the famous stories; thus, their second episode is Gatiss’s “The Hounds of Baskerville” (based on … well, it’s fairly obvious).  “Hounds” is a horror story in every sense, from directorial choices to high-strung psychological crises.  Gatiss, whose Doctor Who history includes the spooky “The Unquiet Dead” and “Night Terrors,” was a good match, and his writing gives the actors a challenge they appear to be more than up to.  Russell Tovey puts in an impressive appearance — and no, I don’t think it was lost on anyone that the werewolf from “Being Human” was in the episode about a giant demon dog.

As for the third story … “The Reichenbach Fall” … there’s not much one can say.  This is in part for spoilers, in another part for honest inability to try and relate it, but mainly because if you know Holmes canon you already know what that title signifies.  What can I say?  Strenuous and amazing work from both Cumberbatch and Freeman, for a start.  Andrew Scott continues to be utterly mad as Moriarty, and we finally get to see an extended performance from him.  More than anything, though, this proves Steve Thompson as a writer, whose episode last year — “The Blind Banker” — was (if one had to choose) the weakest of the three.  He was given an essential and unchangeable piece of Holmes canon to adapt, and he made it both tear-jerking and utterly confounding … though one gets the feeling Moff helped with that.

I think I’ve complained in the past — actually, I know I have — about warring fandoms (specifically, Ritchie movies vs. this … I’ve yet to see a rabid Basil Rathbone fan lose it on Tumblr about accuracy to the source).  One thing I really did love in here was a pair of brief, yet obvious, directorial nods to the Ritchie flicks.  Given that I’ve heard Cumberbatch enjoys the movies and they scared him into going to the gym, I take them as a cute little tip of the hat to its fellow reinterpretation.  See if you can spot them.

The main thing Sherlock had going for it this year was the fact that there was no more setup necessary.  With all the characters in place and the style of the series established, they were free to branch out both with plots and with character development.  Rupert Graves is delightful as Lestrade, and he actually gets some of the best lines in the show for a change.  And Una Stubbs as the indispensable Mrs. Hudson becomes essential to the action, as does the aforementioned Molly Hooper.  Even the main pair got some character development — yes, even Sherlock, a risky direction for this characterization but handled well and interestingly.  Cumberbatch and Freeman continue excellent, with their chemistry improving significantly this year.  I heard from a few viewers that the “we’re not gay” gags wore a bit thin on them, but your mileage may very.

Last year, too, the pairing of writer to story seemed a bit arbitrary — the show-runners get the first and last story of the year, and the third writer picks up the middle.  Here, the choices made sense: Moff gets the sexy one, Gatiss gets the spooky one, and Thompson gets a golden opportunity to show what he can do.  And while there was the running thread of Moriarty last year, this year the connections between things are more subtle and (according to Moff) some are still going unnoticed as the fandom scratches its head over the big finale.

Never fear, though.  A third series was commissioned and approved long before it was announced, so questions will be answered and more stories are in store.  I can’t wait to see them explain this one away, though.

The second series of Sherlock will air in the US as part of Masterpiece Mystery! starting on May 6.  Tune in to see people get naked … there, that’s got your attention.