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Yeah, I know… That subject header is both corny and a bad joke. Sorry. Anyway, Sherlock. While I loved how the BBC series started its second season, I found the following episode – “The Hounds of Baskerville” – a bit of a disappointment. Entertaining, yes, but also not nearly as clever or charming as “A Scandal in Belgravia” had been. (Preferring naked yet tastefully presented Irene Adler over a hoary CGI hound? Perish the thought!) In that respect, season 2 shaped up to reflect the pattern set by the first three episodes: one good, one weak… one brilliant?
In hindsight, season 2 did mirror the first season – inverting the episodic quality as a mirror would. “The Reichenbach Fall” was definitely a good episode, but it was no “Scandal”… and it showed that a little Moriarty goes a long way. Sherlock‘s flamboyant take on the Napoleon of Crime was perhaps its most controversial take on Arthur Conan Doyle. Was he effective or annoying? While I haven’t read many reviews praising Andrew Scott’s camp Irish master villain, I was a big fan of his in “The Great Game”. His Moriarty’s over-the-top flamboyance struck me as an overt performance covering a ruthless, utterly amoral and frighteningly insane nemesis for everyone’s favourite be-cheekboned sociopath. (Check out his “If you don’t stop prying, I’ll burn you. I’ll burn the heart out of you. ” at 5:45 in the following clip.)
Thing is, there are so many scenes featuring Moriarty in “The Reichenbach Fall”, it frankly becomes a bit boring… and yes, his shtick does begin to grate. He still has many effective moments and a highly surprising exit from the episode, but there was a scene about halfway into the episode that I was hoping to end sooner rather than later.
The second issue I have with “The Reichenbach Fall” is this: set up an ending that signals this clearly that there’s some sort of trick involved and it’s very difficult to become involved in the character’s emotional journey. I’m sure it comes as no major spoiler that at the end of the episode, as in the Sherlock Holmes story it’s based on, our consulting detective seems to fall to his death… but the great sleuth manages to trick death somehow. Thing is, Martin Freeman’s wonderful take on Everyman John Watson makes him an obvious identification figure for the audience, but in the final moments of “Fall” we’re not empathising with him: we’re wondering how Holmes pulled it off. Freeman’s emotionally truthful scene at his friend’s grave is wasted because the previous five minutes were so clearly signalled to be some sort of sleight-of-hand trick. Which, incidentally, also means that the series’ writers will have a hell of a job with the payoff: they won’t get away without an explanation, but chances are that the explanation will be too elaborate to feel satisfying to the audience – the most amazing magic trick is rendered clumsy and inelegant by an “Oh, so that is how they did it… Hmm. Blimey. Cor… And we’ve waited a year for that?”
Having said all of that, the episode was entertaining and, at least to my mind, better than “Hounds” – and it did one thing exactly right: when the whole world turns against Holmes, they don’t go for the tired old “Even his best friend doesn’t trust him…” Watson, the sort of friend Holmes may not deserve and quite possibly isn’t smart enough to wish for, never gives up, never buys Moriarty’s fabrication. And that’s what I’ll be tuning in for when Sherlock returns: not the reveal, not the cases. Holmes and Watson.
Damn… I’m turning into the modern-day equivalent of a Mulder/Scully ‘shipper, aren’t I?
… oh, but it is. It is. In subtle but essential ways.
Okay, that’s probably way more cryptic than you would’ve hoped for – so let’s clarify things: Anthony Minghella’s latest, Breaking and Entering, a film that feels like it was made by Guardian readers for Guardian readers, gets some things very right. If you’re into urban decay, atmosphere, good acting, if you basically want to see a mood poem set in London, or indeed if you want to ogle Jude Law and enjoy his accent, this film is for you.
If you want a stringent story with credible character motivations and subtle writing… Meh. Not so much. It’s a shame, really, because the acting is there: I’m not usually a fan of Robin Wright Penn, but she makes her character’s pain credible, and the rest of the cast does a good, sometimes great job – but it doesn’t help that the film takes things that were already clear when they were only implied and makes them clumsily explicit. Also, one of the central two relationships seems to pop up out of nowhere in between scenes – and this, to me, almost crippled the film. (In fact, I felt like I’d fallen asleep for five minutes and had missed an important scene.)
What I really liked: the depiction of London; Martin Freeman’s character (oh so British!); Vera Farmiga’s character, miles away from her shrink in The Departed; Juliette Binoche (there are people, good friends of mine, who hate her – I’m sorry, guys, but I hope you forgive me for liking her acting a lot); the look and feel of the film. In some ways, I think I would have preferred Breaking and Entering if I’d seen it dubbed into some language I barely understand. If I could have watched the dialogues through some sound-proof window and taken in only the images and the soundtrack, I might have loved it.
P.S.: Minghella’s working on an anthology film called New York I Love You. Check out the list of directors, and give a good, hearty “What the…?”