Sherlock: I have high hopes for you, Inspector. A glittering career.
DI Dimmock: I go where you point me.
Sherlock (walking away): Exactly.
It’s rather difficult to pace a series of three reviews of one series, episode by episode. You never quite know what to mention when. Last Sherlock review I did, for the first episode “A Study in Pink”, I realized about halfway through, I was transitioning into a rather in depth study of how the characters have been translated into this new setting and series. I have 3000 words to review this series, I said to myself, and then used that transition to go elsewhere. Well, here I am at the 1000 word mark, staring at a blank screen with Sherlock, episode 2: “The Blind Banker” on the second monitor and let me say: it’s really tough to pace a series of three reviews.
I guess it’s also tough to pace an entire series when it’s only three ninety minute episodes long, because “The Blind Banker” brings Sherlock‘s first misstep. It’s not a wide misstep and it’s not a disappointment, but it’s rather obvious when the writers change hands from episode one to two. All of a sudden, the series is more action-based, with fight scenes cropping up. The big puzzle our Sherlock has to figure out basically involves brute forcing a solution–deciphering a book cipher in another language. Last week, he had to put together a man’s identity from a string of serial suicides, but this week, he has to look for a book. The deduction scenes are still impressive, but they seem almost obvious now. It’s not that any of this is bad. Episode 2 of Sherlock is as worthy as episode 1 of Sherlock. It’s just a dip in the season, is all.
The plot this week goes something like this. An old friend calls Sherlock in to find the apparent security blind spot in his building. He works in a big bank headquarters, and it seems someone went up to the trader floor in the middle of the night and spraypainted over a painting. Sherlock works out who the message was meant for, goes to their apartment–whoops they’re dead and we’re off to the races. There’s a new DI this week named Dimmock–you can see his name there in the epigraph. Don’t worry, those aren’t his first lines this week, but it’s not really a spoiler either way. Dimmock is new to dealing with Sherlock’s particular brand of eccentricity–always right, never polite–and antagonizes him at every turn. Lestrade, by contrast, is the one person at Scotland Yard who has any faith in Sherlock’s ability, ironically putting him one up on the rest of his staff. Don’t tell anyone I said that, though.
As I mentioned earlier, the main thrust of this episode is figuring out a cipher left by vandals in spraypaint. Yes, this is the Sherlock and John walk around analyzing graffiti episode, and I must say that after seeing that scene in context, I am a lot more impressed. I have to admit, it’s a smart use of its updated setting, after all. It’s not like they were looking for a killer whose tagging was going to tell Sherlock exactly who he was and where he was from. … Uh, I mean, not in the–okay, so it tells Sherlock that the guy’s part of a Chinese gang of smugglers, but honestly, there were a lot of things leading to that conclusion before the graffiti even–yeah. That–yeah.
… As I also mentioned earlier, the writing in this series is fantastic. What I didn’t mention about last week’s episode was the writing staff’s habit of inserting subplots or subtle things that inevitably come back around at the finale. In the last episode, several lines, moments and quite obvious hints in retrospect were sprinkled liberally throughout the episode, and the same happens here. In the interest of not spoiling anyone watching the first episode of the series, I’ll just say that every victim had something in common with Sherlock and John that you saw before they even got to the crime scene. This week, several small moments add up to a dangerous mis-conclusion in the climax of the episode. This week was far more subtle, mostly because you never think they’ll do the same thing twice.
A rather uncomfortable note on this episode is that, on first viewing, I thought they’d kept the villains as Chinese despite shifting cultural mores being sort of against that “yellow fever” mentality. Turns out that in the original story the cipher element was lifted from, the villains were actually Chicago gangsters. I’m not sure why this change was made, but I do know that in the end, I just don’t care. Having the villains be Chinese allowed for far more subplots than generic violin-case wielding gangsters. When a mob thug gets in a fight with you, what does he do? Punches you. When you get in a fight with an acrobat who’s over in London as part of a “circus”, what does he do? Any thing he can to hurt you. Which, I must say, looks better on TV than just fighting a dude in a suit.
Given that I’m likely taking my time out in my review of “The Great Game” to talk about the four central characters to this arc, there are two things I should likely mention before then. For one, the faked miniature establishing shots used throughout this series are perhaps the nicest use of a technique whose popularity is only growing. As fake miniatures are certain to become the next lens-flare in the arsenal of lazy cinematographers, I thought I’d take a moment out to say I see you and I approve. Same goes for The Social Network.
The second thing I should mention is that last week, in the final moments with the killer onscreen, Holmes asked him desperately who was funding his criminal misadventures. The killer refused to give Holmes his name–at first. When pressed (with a foot… to a bullet wound), he only supplied a last name: Moriarty. This week, the villain is told by a mysterious M on the other line of an instant messaging client that they have disappointed him for the last time. Frightening.