Sherlock: Season 1, Episode 3. The Great Game (2010)
Well, The Great Game (2010) is a major improvement on The Blind Banker! Thankfully for the neighbours, our bored hero is distracted from his scientific experiment to see how many bullets will pass through the party wall by the timely arrival of Mycroft (Mark Gatiss). Said brother requests Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) to track down a missing data stick carrying the plans of a Top Secret missile system. Well perhaps that’s slightly less than accurate as descriptions go because Sherlock evinces absolutely no interest in preventing the nation’s defence plans from being leaked to our enemies (whoever they are and as if they should care). Instead he lies through his teeth that he’s up to his eyeballs in work and can’t tear himself away. With the impeccable timing that only BBC scriptwriters can command, his windows are then blown in by a massive explosion in the house across the road — notice how considerate the bombers are in waiting until Sherlock is standing in a position where he will not be injured by flying glass. This care to ensure his safety hints the game’s afoot with our hero given challenges (five on a scale of pips) against the clock. Fail and more bombs will go off — this is an intellectual challenge only because there’s no sign Sherlock gives a hoot whether people are disassembled by explosives. He’s using the additional time allocated to him to investigate who’s playing the titular game and, when no-one’s looking, get back the data stick. If he had any shred of decency in him, he would have these victims released from their torment within minutes rather than hours, but that wouldn’t fit the new sociopathic stereotype the scriptwriters have given him. Everyone must suffer while he thinks.
Even the The Study in Pink was running out of steam towards the end, but the first four cases given to him in the episode are sufficiently interesting to maintain momentum over the full length of the show with Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) back in the saddle as the hapless police stooge. The first involves a cold case with a swimmer poisoned through his feet — that’s why Sherlock is given the young man’s shoes — what other reason could there be? The second involves what seems to be a murder with blood found in a rented car abandoned by the docks. The third is a woman who may have been killed by accident — a cut on the hand received while in the garden being contaminated by tetanus, cf The Adventure of the Retired Colourman. The fourth is a body found on the Thames mudflats at low tide. This last crime is the least satisfactory because, having declared absolutely no knowledge of the solar system or anything connected to astronomy, he’s expected to recall a momentary image flashed on to the roof of the Planetarium while fighting a Jaws lookalike (that’s not Spielberg’s great white, you understand, but the Bond version). Almost all the other examples of deductive reasoning are vaguely plausible. This resolution is silly in a poor melodramatic way.
In the midst of all this excitement, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) strolls around trying to solve the case of the missing data stick. Taken overall, this element is a good version of The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, including the appearance of Mycroft as in the original story. The actual identity of the killer is rather more prosaic being the solution in The Adventure of the Naval Treaty but, in a sense, that’s less important than the overarching game being played with Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) which is the fifth pip case. When we finally get to meet him for a chat next to the fatal swimming pool — I hope the chlorine in the water has killed the foot poison — this man actually proves quite interesting as antagonists go.
I suppose we will get to see how the Mexican stand-off is resolved next time, but I’ve always been a bit suspicious of this as a plot device. For those of you who like redundant information with your reviews, this has become a staple of the Western film with Clint Eastwood and others eyeing each other and trying to work out who should shoot whom first while Ennio Morricone practises mournful riffs on the harmonica. But it’s actually derived from nineteenth century politics and the Mexican-American War — you know that thing with the shooting at the Alamo Rent A Car branch in Texas.
Anyway, with multiple snipers all aiming for Sherlock’s head, are we supposed to believe they can’t bring him down before he shoots the bomb and blows everyone up? I remember all the fuss about the police shooting Jean Charles de Menezes in the head, wrongly thinking he was a terrorist. This was justified because multiple bullets entering the brain reduces the chance a suicide bomber can press the trigger. And thinking about bombs wrapped round people like a poultice, was that guy supposed to stand in Piccadilly Circus for hours with no-one noticing he had a bomb strapped to his chest while a laser targeting beam played over the flashing lights on his chest? He must have had amazing bladder control. And that opening sequence in Belarus was just a time-filler, wasn’t it? A few jokes at the expenses of the slightly thick English twit who’d offed his girlfriend to prove he still had the butchering skills passed on by his father. Who would pay the airfare and expenses to go all that way for that response? Perhaps Mycroft commissioned an RAF jet to take Sherlock there as part of the Legal Aid Scheme’s Outreach — a person charged with a crime is always entitled to free advice while in police custody, even if it’s only advice about grammar. It’s nuts! But it’s nuts in a more constructive vein than in The Blind Banker. For all its faults, and there are many, The Great Game is very entertaining and probably the best of the episodes so far which, in no small way, is due to having Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat back as the writing team.
For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 1. A Study in Pink (2010)
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 2. The Blind Banker (2010)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 1. A Scandal in Belgravia (2012)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 2. The Hounds of Baskerville (2012)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 3. The Reichenbach Fall (2012)
Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 1. The Empty Hearse (2014)
Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 2. The Sign of Three (2014)
Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 3. His Last Vow (2014)