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Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

I think the second episode of this season's Sherlock fell for me into the category of 'perfectly decent, but not outstanding' TV. Above all, its characters were not seeking to deceive one another on the same scale as had made last week's episode so thrillingly alive with alternative possibilities for me. Oh, sure, there was misdirection early on to the effect that Frankland was a friendly and reliable fellow while Stapleton was an eeeviiiilll mad scientist, but there was nothing on the scale of battle of wits between Sherlock, Adler, Mycroft and Moriarty from the previous story, and the motivations of the regular characters were never really in doubt.

Partly, of course, that's just the nature of the original Arthur Conan Doyle story, and there's also a fair case for saying that the middle episode of the series needs to rein in the pace a little between the sha-bang of the opening episode and what is clearly going to be an epic confrontation next week. But even with that understood, I felt I could have asked for a little more from it. What The Hound of the Baskervilles can offer is a creepy atmosphere of growing tension, and I felt that was missed, too.

Perhaps I wrecked the suspense for myself by reading the lovely thanatos_kalos's write-up of the preview screening shown in Cardiff on Tuesday, so that I knew before the story began that the fearful visions which the characters would experience were the result of hallucinogenic drugs. But I certainly felt that with Sherlock in particular, his attack of the terrors came on too quickly and too intensively for us to stand any real chance of believing that he was seriously facing up to a new and unsettling emotional experience. This would have been far more effective for me if we had seen him experience a few smaller moments of self-doubt earlier on (whether brought about by real experiences or by lower doses of the drug), so that we could believe the full-scale attack was an escalation of genuine fear, rather than obviously something anomalous. It could have been a really amazing moment in the ongoing development of his screen character to believe that he was really experiencing the break-down of his treasured logic and self-assuredness - but it didn't happen for me.

Still, it was great to have Russell Tovey on board, especially in the scene where his outside light kept getting set off, reducing him to a ball of sobbing terror. That really did look like a man who had been slowly and systematically pushed beyond the limits of endurance. And Sherlock's relationship with Watson developed a little bit when he described him as a 'friend' for the first time. Plus I liked the way the flashing light on the moor was at first misdirection (Morse code), then a joke (a different kind of dogging), then a plot device to ensure Watson wasn't exposed to the hallucinogens the first time around and finally the prod needed to help Sherlock figure out that 'hound' might be an acronym. That is definitely getting good value out of a single device.

Problematic portrayals were less of an issue than last week - but of course that's partly by dint of keeping women in the role of secondary assistant characters and not having any ethnic minorities (that I could spot) at all. And meanwhile, there, yet again, is that ridiculous running 'joke' about how everyone keeps mis-reading Watson and Sherlock as a gay couple. I liked this in the first ever episode, because any acknowledgement of queer sexuality on mainstream TV is cheering, and found the prospect of a heterosexual and heteronormative Watson being prompted to rethink his own attitudes by finding himself labelled as gay appealing. But that really isn't how it has turned out. Instead it is just the same childish gag about what a trial it is for a straight person to be continuously mislabelled as gay, like a broken record week after week, and it is REALLY annoying me now. Partly because it is offensive, but also because it is taking up screen time which could be used for more nuanced character development, or more intricate plotting, or - well - anything really.

So now I feel like one of those people who makes others wonder why they even watch a show if all they can do is criticise it. To which I can only give the classic reply to that accusation, which is that there is so much about Sherlock which I do like that it makes the flaws doubly annoying - and meanwhile I have written enough about it previously to feel that I can take its strengths as read now, and don't need to repeat them. In case it needs re-stating, though, I do think that Sherlock and Watson as characters are brilliantly drawn, that the plotting of the adventures they share together is (nearly) fantastic, that the scripts are witty and lively and clever, and that the visual design is absolutely outstanding. I bloody love this series, and can't wait until next week's grand finale. But I still think it could be better.

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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
jekesta
Jan. 10th, 2012 10:22 pm (UTC)
what a trial it is for a straight person to be continuously mislabelled as gay, like a broken record week after week, and it is REALLY annoying me now. Partly because it is offensive, but also because it is taking up screen time which could be used for more nuanced character development

OH GOD THIS. It's such LAZY writing. And it is offensive, it's boring, and it's this pathetic sort of need to distance themselves from this very properly slashy thing they are writing, and it's Sherlock Holmes, and they're just being childish about it.
strange_complex
Jan. 10th, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC)
*nods* Somewhere in an alternative universe there is a version of this programme with proper slashy undercurrents, and Watson getting a bit confused by it all and having to do some self-questioning, and the script-writers just totally revelling in all the possibilities that offers, and fandom exploding in squee. But Moffat and Gatiss have apparently decided they can't be bothered to take us there.
a_d_medievalist
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:33 am (UTC)
although... (and I'm not arguing against tiresome or offensive, just offering another reading), I sometimes think that part of it is that Watson just doesn't get it, because he isn't attracted to Holmes, but Holmes's sexuality is much more ambiguous, and he is the character whose personality sort of overpowers people. I am more perplexed by the scene in the restaurant, but was more ok with the scene in the pub/inn.

Overall, I think the episode was not as good as last week's, but thought casting Russell Tovey in a story that had more than a couple of nods to Being Human was inspired. On the other hand, the glowing bunny was used in an episode of a fairly poor Patrick Stewart series, so hmph. On the OTHER other hand... the last minute or so of the episode?? Totally convinced me to be tuned in next week!
strange_complex
Jan. 11th, 2012 09:16 am (UTC)
I wasn't quite so sure about the last minute. Given that Sherlock had already hallucinated Moriarty's face in the hollow, I felt that the week's Moriarty reference had already been ticked off, and it also seemed rather strange to encounter him suddenly in a prison cell, with no indication of how he had got there. I mean, I felt that should have been a pretty big story in itself. Still, I'm glad to hear it worked better for you, and maybe we will learn more about the imprisonment next week.
matgb
Jan. 11th, 2012 07:58 am (UTC)
not having any ethnic minorities (that I could spot) at all

See, it bothers me that the army base and research facility was like that (I've suspended disbelief on the place existing because, y'know, that's the point of the epsiode), but for the village it bothers me not at all. The older barman's wondering-all-over-the-place accent did mind, the only close to local accent I picked up (the tour guide) was Plymouth not Dartmoor, but rural Devon really is overwhelmingly white-as "the only Black farmer" likes to trade on. So not sure if realism is good or bad for this sort of thing though.

But yeah, I still love the show, but it has problems, many of which could be fairly easily solved, which I think is what makes it more annoying.

Charecterisation of the two leads remains bloody good though.
strange_complex
Jan. 11th, 2012 09:37 am (UTC)
Yeah, it was the unremitting whiteness of the army base that most struck me, too. For a rural setting like Dartmoor, I think an absence of ethnic minorities becomes problematic if the audience is visiting that community every week, and supposedly getting to know it intimately, as in Midsomer Murders. In that set-up, I'd prefer to see 'the only black farmer' (as you say) being included, and his or her role within the community being explored. But for a community which we're only visiting briefly, and whose intimate daily life isn't the main focus of the plot, a more impressionistic form of realism at least helps to establish the setting quickly and efficiently.
djm4
Jan. 12th, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
I'm puzzled. I noted that the research base was visibly muliracial. Will Sharpe (Corporal Lyons) is English/Japanese (I checked, in case I'd imagined it) and there were several non-white faces. I have a memory of at least one having a couple of lines, but I could be wrong. In fact, lizw and I commented to each other afterwards on the fact that it *hadn't* been all white.

Of course, making the suspicious outsiders multi-racial but keeping the locals all white is a bit problematic in itself.
strange_complex
Jan. 12th, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, OK - guess I wasn't looking hard enough, then. I've been kind of meaning to rewatch it, so will take this as another reason to do so. Meanwhile, elsewhere, major_clanger reckons the presence of a beard on the commanding officer's face is a notable departure from realism!
biascut
Jan. 11th, 2012 09:54 am (UTC)
A friend on Twitter immediately complained about Stapleton using the word "cell", and I said, "maybe it's a clue!" And then it was! So I was suspecting him from the start. Heh.

I don't mind the "everything thinks you're gay" thing because I think it ties in well with the "John can't have a girlfriend while he's with Sherlock" thing - even if it's not be a sexual relationship, but it's so intense that it precludes any other serious relationship. So I see it as all these people pointing something out to John that he's in denial about.
strange_complex
Jan. 11th, 2012 10:09 am (UTC)
I see it as all these people pointing something out to John that he's in denial about.

That's why I liked it in the first episode, too. I thought they could go to interesting places with that idea, and that it could lead to real character development for John. But we've had five episodes now, all simply repeating the same joke but not taking it anywhere. Maybe there isn't really anywhere it can go without making the issue central to the entire show, but if they don't want to develop the theme much further, it's probably time to stop repeating that motif every single week.
peadarog
Jan. 11th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
I agree. This was very disappointing in comparison with the first episode, but then again, we have two different writers involved and two different ways of thinking.

This time around, I kept checking my e-mails during the episode. The first time... I couldn't risk tearing my gaze away for a second for fear I'd miss something.
strange_complex
Jan. 11th, 2012 11:35 am (UTC)
Yeah, I was much the same. I had to re-watch the first one to be sure I'd understood it all, but haven't felt inspired to do the same with the second. Obviously, as you say we shouldn't expect Moffat and Gatiss to work in an identical style, but I felt Moffat was working more effectively to his strengths last week than Gatiss to his this week.
surliminal
Jan. 23rd, 2012 01:30 am (UTC)
yep me too exactly, re both the rewatching and the checking emails. You almost feel sorry for Gatiss , hopelesly, effortlessly and repeatedly outshone by his big mate..
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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