Sherlock 2x02 - The Hounds of Baskerville



Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Sherlock series 2 episode 2!



What’s the difference between a reboot and a remake, a re-imagining and a retelling? Star Trek (2009) gave us a clear reboot. Battlestar Galactica (2003, etc.) gave us a re-imagining. Life on Mars (UK, 2006) was the victim of a remake in 2008 as it went across the pond and ended up getting only one series in the US.

So what is Sherlock? Thus far, it’s been mostly a retelling. The short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been trawled and shaped into modern-day versions - complete with chunks of dialogue taken straight from them. However, it’s been a straight-laced retelling of the main points of the stories brought to the screen in a way that means it happens pretty much as the originals went, but with some new flourish on top. A Study In Pink is a good example - right up until the cabbie is recognised, it’s all as it should be, apart from adding in Mycroft and his meddling.

Then we get to series two, and The Hounds of Baskerville.

Mixed reactions from me here - I loved the episode as a whole, but I had some doubts (‘doubt’ being a watchword of the episode). This was a departure from straight hanging-the-original-coat-on-a-new-hanger; for me it was the first story that’s been re-imagined. It’s not any less impressive because of this, it’s just not what I was expecting. Thinking logically, for me that’s a good thing because if you just retell every written story the same way, you run the risk of developing a pedantic series that’s just there to get through the backlog of stories written, not to entertain with the subject matter. It was a good break from the routine, and for that, I liked it. The problem is, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a firm favourite with TV movie-makers and series develops alike - not to mention viewers. Every incarnation of Mr Holmes so far has had a go at the legendary story. Mark Gatiss has given us a rewritten version that used all the major players but in surprisingly different places. I could list all the characters and how they were moved about, but that would be boring. Instead, I’ll say the inclusion of a few things had, at first, thrown me. And then I realised why.

So, beginning at the beginning: Sherlock out and about, riding the London tube covered in blood to show he’s actually (harpooning ‘dead pigs’ for experiments), keeping himself more or less out of trouble. However, it all breaks down and he displays typical manic tendencies as he’s all out of cases and so lost without them. The disappointment here was that, whilst he’s raging about not having anything to engage him, he’s ransacking the flat for cigarettes. Cigarettes? Mr Holmes (from the books) was notorious for cigarette and pipe-smoking so much that Watson frequently had to open the windows to Baker Street just to see across the room. Mr Holmes’ weapon of choice as far as alleviating boredom went was certainly not normal cigarettes - I think it was the beginning of A Scandal in Bohemia that Watson sits and berates Holmes for endangering his towering intellect with such stupid hobbies as cocaine - his seven percent solution, if you please. This is well known amongst Conan Doyle readers, so having Sherlock (the new update) in fits looking for a packet of normal cigarettes seems a little lame - especially in this day and age. It’s 2012, people. John Watson’s sibling ‘Harry’ is now a lesbian sister who’s also a drunkard and a failure at marriage. Would it really have turned the viewers against Sherlock if he’d been seen to have some other, softer, kind of recreational drug in his flat? It was hinted at in A Study in Pink - coppers bursting into his flat on a ‘dugs bust’ led by an impatient Lestrade. When John protests Sherlock’s innocence to do with all things drug-related, it’s Sherlock who makes him shut up and not delve too deeply into what he might have in his flat. Back then, I was pleased the writers weren’t simply sweeping all the nasty drug business under the carpet. Now, after seeing him go after normal shop-bought cigarettes, I’m not so sure. A few little unexplained bags of suspicious recreational supplies would have been harmless to the character (nowadays) and would have kept my faith in the ability of the writers to make even this aspect fly. Holmes’ boredom relieving habit was neatly referenced by Sherlock though, when Mrs Hudson offers to make him a cup of tea - but he simply says he needs something stronger: “Seven percent stronger.” A way to remind the viewers that we all know what he really wanted? Or are we supposed to believe he actually wanted tar-filled cigarettes over a cup of tea? This brings me to another point; Sherlock is much more petulant, much more cutting when he’s on the brink of shooting walls out of boredom than the Holmes I remember. I have no problem with this - for me, this teetering on the edge of engaged and desperate for stimulation makes him more of a manic depressive, more of a believable genius.

Once Mr Henry Knight (not Baskerville) brings them his case of a ‘gigantic hound’, Sherlock is Derren Brown’d into accepting the otherwise unappealing work. (And a word about Russell Tovey here - he’s ace, as always. A perfect trodden-down wee man in need of help, so helpless and harmless and endearing.) This taking of the case was interesting; it was the words, the description that piqued Sherlock’s interest, not the idea of the case itself. Off they go to Dartmoor, Sherlock driving the Land Rover in a way that made me giggle as I thought that the only time I saw Holmes drive the trap was during The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988). Upon arriving, they find a glow-in-the-dark rabbit that ties in with earlier thrown-away cases in the episode. As usual, Sherlock has failed to make a connection between the trivia he tosses away because he finds it boring and the main case. It’s easy for us, the audience, to put it all together because one, we already know huge dogs covered in phosphorous appeared in the original, and two, we’ve been trained by the last four episodes to expect the trivial cases he discards in the opening moments of the episodes to ofttimes come back and bite him in the arse.


We’re all itching to see and hear a giant hound that’s somehow got free of the experimental department at Baskerville base. Top secret labs, army presence - it’s all very intriguing and of course, leads viewers to believe there’s an escaped monster on the loose. A veritable Beast of Bodmin appears to be running around, apparently only attacking people once every twenty years. A clever moment ensues; Henry and Sherlock witness the hound itself, as John is busy jotting down what he thinks is a secret message sent via Morse code. What happens next could only have been brought so successfully to life by the two main actors: Sherlock, in the nice warm armchair of the quaint country inn, is practically shitting bricks in terror at what he’s seen. Unable to sit still, unable to come to terms with the fact that he’s feeling the horror, the fear, of what happened, he proves he’s still able to think clearly even though he’s scared out of his wits. At the time, he puts it down to his body betraying him - but he should have known better. On reflection, if he hadn’t been gassed with some hallucinogen and been suffering after-effects, then he would have realised it was an hallucinogen and its after-effects making him shake like he was about to fly apart. We get John, witnessing this, and, surprised by his friend’s ability to be frightened by what he saw, tries to calm Sherlock down. He gets rebuffed, of course - Sherlock no more knows how to deal with all this and accept the help of someone he trusts than John ever knows what goes through Sherlock’s head. This means we get the second reminder, the second countdown to imminent fan shittage re: the brothers who never were:

John: [pointedly] Why would you listen to me? I’m just your friend.
Sherlock: [angrily] I don’t have ‘friends’.
John: [Gets up to leave] I wonder why.

I did like John calling him Spock, especially after Spock in the Star Trek (2009) film directly quoted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’. Touché, Mark Gatiss.

Then, as this retelling confirms itself to be a re-imagining, we get John trailing the nightly Morse code lights to find not a hidden escaped convict, but a kind of Lover’s Lane spot with some inadvertent headlight-stalk malfunctions. At first I was not a fan of this departure from the original - no convict brother of a character? But then I realised; it’s a red herring. Mark Gatiss does like to remind us that this is the new series, doesn’t he? The fact that Sherlock then seems to have recovered some equilibrium and manages to get John to ‘interview’ Dr Mortimer (not the dog-keeper from the original, but a nice young lady who also happens to be Henry’s shrink) by showing him her picture made me giggle - John seems to have decided there’s nothing to forgive in Sherlock’s pissy remark about not being his friend. It’s Sherlock, after all - understanding the concept of friends is one thing, but actually experiencing it and seeing it for what it is is something completely different. To me, this moment shows how much John understands Sherlock more than probably anyone else on the face of the planet - including his own brother.

Sherlock pays a call on Henry and he’s checking his pupils whilst pretending to be concerned about him - checking for signs of being drugged? It seems Sherlock already has it figured out - it’s in the sugar, and everyone taking it is made very susceptible to believing rumours about gigantic hounds - and then seeing one. A great scene follows - which, again, could only work between those two actors. Sherlock looks to be making some kind of apology to John; it’s obvious Sherlock is troubled, or even uncomfortable by the effort he’s making, but he still needs to make things clear. But then Sherlock, being Sherlock, brings it back round to himself: he’s admitting he has doubt in his own perceptive abilities, and to him, that might as well be the end of him. John takes the opportunity to give him the cold shoulder, apparently unwilling to let Sherlock walk all over him. The viewers are treated to Sherlock trying to make amends - Benedict Cumberbatch may not have the heart-breakingly apologetic eyebrows of Jeremy Brett, but he manages to make you feel like you not only want to forgive him for his childish fear, but also his bipolar disorder lash-outs.

And then it goes all-out with dialogue adapted straight from the original book:

BBC:

Sherlock: John! You are amazing - you are fantastic!
John: Yes, alright. You don’t have to overdo it.
Sherlock: You may not be the most luminous of people but as a conductor of light you are unbeatable.
John: Cheers. --What?
Sherlock: Some people who aren’t geniuses have an amazing ability to stimulate it in others.
John: Hang on - you were saying ‘sorry’ a minute ago. Don’t spoil it.

Book:

Holmes: It may be that you yourself are not luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people, without possessing genius, have a remarkable power for stimulating it in others. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.

You’d think that this run-in with emotions might somehow change Sherlock, but thankfully, it does nothing of the kind. Putting sugar in John’s coffee to test the theory that it’s the agent used to drug people, and then locking him in the lab to see what nightmares John experiences only go to show how unbending Sherlock can be - it’s going to take a lot more than Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat to turn him soft, and aren’t we bloody glad.

The audience, meanwhile, has already clocked that it’s the mist that sets John off - the same mist in the hollow where wee Henry thought he saw his dad being mauled by a gigantic hound. Once John is ‘rescued’ by Sherlock - who never bothers to take time to check John’s actually physically and mentally ok because who wouldn’t be? - we get a lovely scene from John as he goes off on one about being wrong - he now believes he’s seen a real hound. Ironically, this is how Sherlock knows he’s wrong about being wrong - and how Sherlock is also wrong about the sugar.

Things come to a head and we all end up back where we started - in Dewer’s Hollow, the hound is supposed to be have been seen. Purr wee Henry is suicidal and it’s Sherlock that talks him down with cold, clear logic. The consulting detective spells out the ending for us, but I was a little disappointed that it took the entrance of the the actual ‘hound’ for him to realise it was the mist. But then, he had had a hard time of it this episode. I liked the moment when Sherlock believes he’s seeing Jim the fish Moriarty due to the mist - is he a nightmare then? Or someone that preys on his mind? Then we get Franklin dying the same kind of way as Mr Frankland - on the moor, hoist by his own petard. All that remains is for Sherlock to admit to John that he used him as a guinea pig to aid his investigation into the hallucinogen and for John to force Sherlock to admit that he was wrong about the sugar. Class.

The fact that we then get Moriarty let out of some kind of government facility by none other than Mycroft Holmes should tell us what’s to come. As a warning, or a dangling worm on a hook, it’s great. We hope to be rewarded with an explanation during the next part, and it doesn’t disappoint - but that’s a story for another post.

So this re-imagining: it worked for me. Once I’d got the hang of it, it was fine. I liked the small moments, the little bits that only Martin ‘I’ve won a BAFTA’ Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch can carry off to such effect. What the hardcore Sherlock fandom thinks of it, I’ve no idea. And as for the Robert Downey Jr movie: good rollicking fun - but it’s not Sherlock Holmes. This is the best Sherlock Holmes out today, this is stimulating, thought-provoking entertainment, this is what people pay their Beeb license for. And I approve.

Peach and lube, people. Until I get round to blogging about the final act.

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1 'aye's:

buddy2blogger said...

Nice review of the episode.

Check out my review .

Cheers!