John: Punch you?
Sherlock: Yes! Punch me! In the face!–Didn’t you hear me?
John: I always hear “punch me in the face” when you’re speaking, but it’s usually subtext.
If you’re a fan of Sherlock, then you should already be aware that the first episode this season contains the best use of “Stayin’ Alive” to fend off imminent death. If you’re not a fan, that fact should likely pique your curiosity about the series. Sherlock is the new adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mythos/universe from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both late of the new series of Doctor Who. It’s also one of two adaptations competing for my affections this winter, along with Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows, the latest from the Guy Ritchie camp. Of the two series, Sherlock is the far more cerebral, deductive adaptation, with Holmes taking the physical route. It’s nice to have them both taking opposite approaches. It means you get to see how the two series cross-pollinate.
And cross-pollinate they have, with “A Scandal in Belgravia” taking all of the best elements of Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes into itself–including slow-motion analysis before fistfights, as well as a lot more comedic nudity and overt romance–and keeping the best of its own traits–the firecracker wit and the thoroughly modern atmosphere. The biggest barrier to a new audience for a Sherlock Holmes adaptation is the language and the setting. Victorian England is hardly relateable for a new reader, and it has a tendency to dull the characters. You either keep the setting and modernize the action or you change the setting entirely, usually changing the characters as well. A pair of high school students, maybe, dealing with things that aren’t murder mysteries. Or, you set the story of Irene Adler in present day London and make her a dominatrix. I don’t know if she was in the book.
Our series this year starts with the resolution of last year’s cliffhanger, of which I will say nothing. In a montage of Sherlock and John’s ennui with the detective life, our hero is seen casually dismissing cases left and right while making time to tell two children that their grandfather is not in heaven, because he has been burned after his death. He gets one case that truly baffles him as well as one case that’ll come into play later on: a hunter, returned from traveling abroad, who died after a car backfired nearby. He’s called to Buckingham Palace by his smarter brother Mycroft in the middle of solving it from home, with John on Skype via wi-fi at the scene. John is escorted there by helicopter, and finds Sherlock exactly as he left the house: in a sheet with a pile of clothes in front of him. He’s apparently refusing to dress until he’s told the name of his prospective employer.
Despite still not being told who he’s working for, it turns out this week’s case is that of some scandalous pictures of a young, new Royal family member–likely married in at some point last year–that are in the hands of Irene Adler. Literally. They’re on her camera phone. And all she wants for them is nothing. It is Sherlock’s very job to get the pictures back by sundown that night. And as Irene Adler is the only woman to ever beat Sherlock Holmes, you can tell that their first encounter doesn’t go very well for the poor sod. First, he’s flashed, then he ends up on the floor drugged after having had to beat away Americans with guns. And just to rub it in, it turns out Irene’s changed his cell phone ring to the tiniest of her sighs whenever she texts.
For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that every episode of Sherlock is written with both an A-plot and a B-plot–the B-plot often only being revealed in past tense at the end. “A Scandal in Belgravia” doesn’t disappoint in this regard, being filled with more plots than all four Mission Impossible movies cut into shreds and thrown onto the cutting room floor. Like the best mysteries, if you don’t watch it as intensely as you would a rabid dog on a leash that’s a bit too long, you’ll miss a number of clues and it’ll be ahead of you, yet again. Yet, oddly, this episode seemed strained to fill the 90-minute-per-episode runtime of this series, stuffing a lot of flashy sequences and superficial twists into the mix for pleasure. It also has a bigger effects budget than before, with the visuals taking a dip into the surreal at times. Not bad things, and not fatal flaws.
If you’re as enchanted by a good mystery as I am, you’ll love this series. If you’re as enchanted by the Millenium series as I am, for instance, you’ll be captivated in minute one. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are delightfully friendly as Sherlock and John all over again, their chemistry amplified by competition with the electric Downey and Law. And Lara Pulver is an unexpected treat as Ms. Adler, winning me over with every second of her ferociously sexual and devious performance. You really believe that Holmes has found an intellectual equal, both of whom regret that she’s a woman–the one thing Holmes refuses to be interested in. It really is a tragedy and a shame that these two could never be romantically involved.
Then again, neither could Batman and Catwoman, and that only increased the chemistry. Win some, lose some, I suppose.