Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 1. A Scandal in Belgravia (2012)
Ah ha! As Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (2012) starts off, we discover how to get out of a Mexican stand-off. Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) is just weighing up the options when a really annoying ringtone signals the arrival of a really annoying call from someone who may have an interest in saving Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch). That would be Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), of course, but our heroes don’t know that yet. So then we have a delightful game of clients, wannabe and accepted, playing with the names of the more famous Arthur Conan Doyle stories as the increasingly popular blog postings by John Watson (Martin Freeman) about their investigations begin to get serious traffic. In this, it’s good to see Lestrade (Rupert Graves) more actively involved in promoting Sherlock’s career even if his marriage is breaking down. The reason for Sherlock finally sporting a deerstalker is nicely organised as is the headline, accompanying photograph and subtitle, Hatman and Robin. The death by the river walks the thin line between a magnificently stupid idea and an inspired case for the ace detective to crack based on a few salient facts. After some thought, I incline to the view the solution is sufficiently hilarious to fall on the right side. Indeed, the entire tenor of the episode nicely balances humour and the more serious side of the action.
The palace sequence does not overplay the joke and the theft of the ashtray has the right level of childishness about it. When she appears, Irene Adler is wonderful as she literally resists giving away any clues about herself by just being herself. The Christmas party at 221B Baker Street also shows the aching loneliness of everyone in Sherlock’s circle (except for Watson’s current girl friend who loses out to Sherlock in the “love” stakes but will go her own way to find more reliable men in her life). The backfiring of Sherlock’s analysis of the present brought by Molly (Loo Brealey) says it all. It’s interesting to see Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) might actually care about his brother for all they both claim to see no advantage in the sentimentality of attachments. Yet there’s the hint of something more when Mycroft later says that his brother, who has the brain of a top scientists or philosopher, always wanted to be a pirate. Those men who swing from the rigging, a cutlass between their teeth, have a girl in every port — for violin lessons and other purely recreational purposes, of course.
We then come to the core of the episode which has, from the outset, been about the Coventry problem. For those of you who have yet to watch this episode, take care to remember the opening sequence of clients who walk in through his door. Some of them are highly relevant to the final solution. Although this theme is not something that ever appears in an Arthur Conan Doyle story, it has exactly the right qualities about it. Indeed, it reminds me of story elements that are used in Anthony Price novels where there are levels within levels of deception, usually in a Cold War context but sometimes not. More generally, I’m not convinced the CIA would be quite so crass on British soil. There’s an appalling lack of subtlety about they way they go about their work — a kind of cowboy approach to exceptionalism that lacks credibility. After the first failure in Belgravia, I seriously doubt they would beat up Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) in this way. Mycroft would have had words with Langley and sent them all home long before they could embarrass themselves again. That said, Sherlock has the right approach to punishing their temerity in threatening Mrs Hudson. Throwing them out with the rubbish seems appropriate.
The sexual chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch and Lara Pulver is nicely understated. That, at least, does play rather more credibly than the earlier television version of the story with Jeremy Brett and Gayle Hunnicutt. In the original story, it’s clear Sherlock is impressed by the lady but Brett seems too much of a cold fish for such dalliances. Insofar as this episode is about relationships, it’s interesting to see how much everyone misjudges everyone else. Watson seems to think Mrs Hudson is a shrinking violet, while Watson and Mycroft misunderstand Holmes’ failure to react to Irene Adler’s flirting. Holmes finally chooses to “see” Molly, but does see Irene Adler for who she is. Without a doubt, A Scandal in Belgravia (2012) is the best in this series so far. It’s a great story, well acted all round and, were it not for the ringtone at the end, it would be perfect. Ah yes, the final scenes. Shame about that. It’s overegging the pudding because everyone would have noticed and commented upon it if Holmes had left Baker Street for any length of time without a declared class 8 crime to solve.
For reviews of the earlier episodes, see:
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 1. A Study in Pink (2010)
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 2. The Blind Banker (2010)
Sherlock: Season 1, Episode 3. The Great Game (2010)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 2. The Hounds of Baskerville (2012)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 3. The Reichenbach Fall (2012)