Sherlock: A Scandal In Belgravia
Airdate: January 1st 2012. UK. BBC1
Warning: You might easily be able to deduce
the presence of spoilers in this review.
As much as I bemoan Steven Moffat’s current involvement in Doctor Who as being, well, a bit hit and miss compared to the Russel T. Davies era, I have to say that his updating of the Sherlock Holmes stories just keeps getting better and better. This series two opening story lifted/updated from A Scandal In Bohemia, the only tale to feature “the lady” Irene Adler (who was really the only person who outwitted Holmes), is absolutely brilliant and shows off British TV and creativity at its best. As the episode carried on, with very specific stopping points which seemed to indicate the end of where a shorter episode might finish but then just carried on like a three act drama, I was getting more and more impressed with it.
The cast were all good, of course, but that’s to be expected. Irene Adler has been revamped by Moffat into a high class dominatrix with all the wonderful flair for drama these ladies have in them in real life... although they don’t all tend to make the gazillions of cash Moffat seems to think they do, to be sure. There’s a certain amount of mismatch between the character and her real life counterparts it seems to me but, then again, Moffat knows how to exaggerate his playing pieces and make them interesting... this is Sherlock Holmes after all... a character who really couldn’t exist so easily in real life.
Ok... so character depth aside... it has to be said that this incarnation of Irene Adler is one of the best ever concoctions in my opinion. A more addictive and seductive version of the character has probably not been written, it seems to me. She’s well matched in her witty dialogue by Holmes, of course, but this is not the only standout element of this particular episode.
Starting up from that awful cliffhanger ending from the end of the last block of three episodes, there’s something of a whimper of a start as Moriarty leaves our heroes Holmes and Watson alive, in order to solve the puzzle of a particular piece of code for him, it turns out. However, the momentum of this episode gathers as it dazzles the viewer with brilliant visual and audio techniques that rush the episode along at a blistering pace.
Screen wipes are used, for example, to disappear prospective cases as Holmes walks in front of them... only to be taken back and used to reappear a set of clients when Holmes hears something that catches his attention (in a case which is one of many puntastic titles referring to actual Conan Doyle titles... in this case The Greek Interpreter becomes The Geek Interpreter). Other scenes place Sherlock right at the crime scene even though he’s not actually there... interpenetrating objects and spacial juxtapositions from cross cut scenes into each other, like having Irene Adler sitting on a sofa in a field as Sherlock talks her through a case. This is very much an extension of the kind of thing Soderbergh was doing in his movie The Limey, where two characters have a conversation shown at three different cross-cut locations which makes perfect sense “in the moment” until you realise the practicalities of this don’t actually work. They tend to work in Sherlock because transitions between plains of reality are surreally blended to herald their arrival as a visual metaphor in a much more blatant manner than many directors would push. And it all hangs together very well here.
The use of typography to indicate “silent information” which was used the most in the very first episode of the last series, is used even more in this episode so that it’s on people’s radar more in time for a scene which demonstrates that Holmes is completely unable to “read” the naked Irene Adler when he first meets her. This is a really great sequence, not just because it shows this basic fact but because it simultaneously sets up Irene Adler as a powerhouse of a character and a worthwhile opponent for Holmes... also, obviously, because it’s got a hot, naked Irene Adler in it... but primarily for the way in which it sets the character up.
The story has a little twist in its tail right at the end which you almost guess is coming and which you almost wish the writer hadn’t done. The ending gives the viewer hope that Adler might return as a major character in a future episode and, although I would certainly welcome that, it would take some fairly nifty writing since, as far as I remember, the character only ever appeared in one story (although I believe she is referenced in a few).
Frankly, though, this episode was a real tour-de-force of British television and was so much better even than the three episodes of the last series. This may well have been the best hour and a half of television that I watch all year... which is a bit worrying but, no matter, at least I have a new benchmark now.