Here be SPOILERS for Sherlock series 2 episode 3!
It was always going to come. Steve Thompson gives us a reworking of a cult classic. ‘The Final Problem’, the short story in which we are told, by Watson, that his friend Sherlock Holmes is dead, was always going to be a milestone in the updated series. Like the story of the Titanic, everyone knows the facts of the case. Hounded by Moriarty, Holmes will arrange for Watson to be drawn away so that he can face Moriarty alone. Later, when Watson discovers he has been duped, he’ll run back and find what he thinks is evidence of Holmes’ death. The question is, would the update follow the well-known chain of events, or would it be more of a mystery? After all, we’d just had ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’, which was more a nod to the original than a retelling. What were we going to get this time?
Sherlock’s huge successes have caught the media in the last eighteen months since ‘A Study in Pink', his last big case being the recovery of a certain painting by Turner depicting ‘the falls of Reichenbach'. Cheeky and in-keeping with the spirit so far. To keep the light-hearted mood going, we have the pair back at 221B going through the newspaper, talking about ‘death frisbee’s (his deerstalker) and the press’ nicknames for them both - Sherlock the boffin, and John the ‘confirmed bachelor’. While Sherlock seems oblivious to the newspaper’s attention, it’s John who foreshadows the story by telling him that the press will one day turn on Sherlock - because they always do. Here we have But We’re Friends, Damn You! Moment #1:
Sherlock: It really bothers you?
Sherlock: What people say - about me?
Sherlock: I don’t understand - why would it upset YOU?
John: [pulls face of ‘you have no concept of feelings or in fact normal humanness’]
Jim the fish Moriarty shows up and commits ‘daylight robbery’, striking three places at once. He tells the world to set Sherlock on him, and successfully gets ‘the Reichenbach hero’ to testify against him. (Lovely use of Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’ here.) John, again, is trying to be helpful in But We’re Friends, Damn You! Moment #2 as he tells Sherlock before the trial not to get up anyone’s nose:
Sherlock: You mean [I shouldn’t appear] intelligent?
John: Intelligent is fine - let’s give smartarse a wide berth.
Sherlock: I’ll be myself.
John: Are you listening to me?
John: Don’t do that.
Sherlock: Do what?
John: The look. You’re doing the look again.
Sherlock: What look?
John: The look.
Sherlock: Well I can’t see it, can I? [John nods to mirror.] It’s my face…?
John: Yes and it’s doing a thing. You’re doing the ‘we both know what's really going on here’ face.
Sherlock: Well we do.
John: No - I don’t. Which is why I find the face so annoying.
Moriarty: Aren’t ordinary people adorable? Well you know - you’ve got John. I should get myself a live-in one. It’d be so funny.
it’s quite Harold Saxon of him.
Meanwhile, John is over at the Diogenes Club, and via Douglas Wilmer, who used to be Holmes in the 1960s, he finds Mycroft. It seems Sherlock’s big brother has been reading The Sun newspaper, which is threatening to expose Sherlock as some kind of fraud. On top of this, Mycroft shows John and Sherlock’s flat is surrounded by top international assassins, and that he should try to protect Sherlock for him. John’s attitude - that the two Holmes might be smart but they’re petty and childish when it comes to each other - is well-earned. On his way home, John encounters an envelope full of breadcrumbs, but is distracted by the news that Lestrade et al want Sherlock on a kidnapping case. During the course of their recovery, Sherlock finds a book of fairy tales and the audience shouts ‘Hansel and Gretel’. Sherlock’s own snippy comments are, as usual, excellent: ‘Brilliant, Anderson. Brilliant impression of an idiot’. John comes in with But We’re Friends, Damn You! Moment #4 as he warns Sherlock - with good reason - not to be so happy about a complex kidnapping case.
Through some predictably clever sleuthing on Sherlock’s part, the children are found and all seems well. (The girl, as it turns out, is the actress used to portray young, run-away River Song. Which means Moriarty kidnapped River Song! His talents know no bounds.) Sherlock seems to understand what John’s been saying to him about not being his usual self. However, when he tries to talk to the young girl, her screaming gives the impression that Sherlock is to be feared as if he is a kidnapper, making people wonder… Exactly as Moriarty wanted?
Sherlock gets a taxi alone because he says he doesn’t want John to talk - but is it because he, as Molly has rightly pointed out, doesn’t want John to observe him deal with his worry over this predicament? We see that Lestrade trusts Sherlock, correctly calling him CSI: Baker Street and defending the record of arrests he’s helped them with. It’s Sergeant Donovan who bangs on about Sherlock being too good - has she missed all of his amazing cases over the last eighteen months? Dozy tart. Or has Moriarty somehow got to her? Left something in her flat, left Derren Brown notes on her desk to plant the idea in her head? Or worse - is she working for him?
Sherlock: I don’t care what people think.
John: You’d care if people thought you were stupid. Or wrong.
Sherlock: No. That would just make THEM stupid or wrong.
John: Sherlock, I don’t want the world believing you’re--
Sherlock: That I’m what?
John: A fraud.
Sherlock: You’re worried they’re right.
Sherlock: You’re worried they’re right about me.
Sherlock: That’s why you’re so upset. You can’t even entertain the possibility that they might be right. You’re afraid that you’ve been taken in as well.
John: No I’m not.
Sherlock: Moriarty is playing with your mind too. Can’t you SEE WHAT’S GOING ON?
John: No. I know you’re for real.
John: No-one could fake being such an annoying dick all the time.
Lestrade, still believing in Sherlock despite being told by the Chief Superintendent to arrest him - calls John to warn him they’re coming. Now there’s another envelope containing a gingerbread man, burnt to a crisp, and the audience is singing ‘Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man! I’m the gingerbread man and I’m out of the pan!’ Sherlock takes this as a hint as to what he should do next, what Moriarty wants from him - the next stage of the Final Problem.
Sergeant Donovan unwisely chooses to gloat in front of Watson: ‘What kind of man kidnaps those kids just so he can impress us by finding them?’ If she actually knew Sherlock, if she had idea one in the useless head of hers, she would know the answer to her own question. You ignorant, brainless wonder, Donovan. Do you really think for one minute that Sherlock would waste time and resources making up cases just to solve them? Boring! What’s the stimulus for Sherlock if he already knows the end? Perhaps Lestrade has some inkling of this - John obviously understands. His reaction to the copper in charge being an insensitive twat is brilliant - and again Martin Freeman delivers lines like a BAFTA winner: ‘Apparently it’s against the law to chin the Chief Superintendent,’, an act which successfully gets John arrested along with Sherlock. Whilst on the run - as Sherlock believes Moriarty wants him to be - they discover the assassins knocking about Baker Street all want a computer code that Moriarty has apparently secreted somewhere in Sherlock’s flat. He’s killed for spilling this information, of course.
Knowing the net is closing in, Sherlock and John head for the investigative reporter’s place, only to find that Moriarty is her source on her Sherlock exposé. Except he’s calling himself ‘Richard Brook’ and appears to have a long history in telling children’s stories. Superb. There’s one problem though:
Why would a ‘just the facts mam’ investigative reporter have that on her wall? And Moriarty is standing right underneath it! In the same room as his live-in ordinary person, desperate to show she can help him. It’s a brilliant scene, as Moriarty strives to convince everyone of his clever lie.
Sherlock: You’re wrong you know. You do count. You’ve always counted and I’ve always trusted you. But you were right - I’m not ok.
Molly: Tell me what’s wrong.
Sherlock: Molly, I think I’m going to die.
Molly: What do you need?
Sherlock: I wasn’t everything that you think I am, everything that I think I am. But you still want to help me. [Thinks: ‘Ordinary people are so attached to this ‘friends’ thing’?]
Molly: What do you need?
What he neglected to add while the camera was watching was: ‘A bag of blood - about two pints should do and make sure it matches mine, a couple of paramedics you trust and a cadaver that could pass as me if you identify it for the records’.
BAMF extraordinaire - who else gets to stroll - I’m sorry, strut - into the private men’s club and tell the core of the British Government that he’s destroyed everything with his over-reaching ideas of serving the Greater Good. (As an aside: Mark Gatiss shouldn’t be a writer/co-creator and Mycroft - Mycroft should be smarter than Sherlock, but he doesn’t seem it in this update, perhaps because a writer can’t make himself cleverer than the lead. I’m reminded again how Stephen Fry should have been Mycroft in this adaptation, not the other one.)
John: Fine. Sit there, alone.
Sherlock: Alone is all I have; alone is what protects me. (He did not add for camera: ‘I know Moriarty is after my friends because people like John and Molly will never believe Sherlock is a fraud, and they’ll make others believe, and that would ruin Moriarty’s plan, so he has to kill them’).
John: But We’re Friends, Damn You! Moment #6: Friends protect people.
Sherlock doesn’t say ‘Which is what I’m doing, numptie, by sending you away.’ He doesn’t need to.
And so to the big finale, the big ending everyone has been getting so worked up about:
Moriarty against Sherlock.
Jim the fish versus Mr Deerstalker.
Top entertainment, brilliant editing and camerawork, wonderful, wonderful performances. Moriarty is critical of Sherlock; he makes him out to be dull, boring, conceited and arrogant in his dismissal of the tiny facts: ‘You always want everything to be clever.’ He quite rightly says that newspapers are the new fairy tales. But Sherlock is not done yet - a bit of reverse psychology on Moriarty produces answers he needs. It seems Moriarty has only identified three of Sherlock’s friends - John, Mrs Hudson, Lestrade - as ‘all of them’. He failed to specify Molly. Sherlock knows that Moriarty has overlooked her - which is why Sherlock used her and her unique placement to help him with his plan B. As Sherlock’s plan A to get Moriarty arrested seems more and more unlikely, he knows he’ll have to switch to plan B after all. Not a problem for the consulting detective - he tells Moriarty as such. He’s willing to do anything - anything - to ruin Moriarty, including hurting the people that call him ‘friend’ to do so. Moriarty makes him look over edge of the rooftop: ‘Look - you’ve got an audience now’. So he has - wait, is that Molly in the coat by the bench? But ah, here we go: ‘You’re not ordinary - you’re me. Thank you, Sherlock Holmes. Bless you.’ Is that what Moriarty wanted? Validation? Someone to tell him he’s not ordinary? Someone to make him feel that all this running around and planning has been worth it? Is Sherlock’s seal of approval that important to him?
Moriarty allegedly commits suicide - he’s left-handed, he had a good grip on Sherlock’s in a gentleman’s handshake and still managed to shoot himself. Clever. This leaves Sherlock with plan B - make the assassins believe he’s dead, so that his three friends aren’t shot in retaliation. Here’s where it gets sticky - quite literally.
Throughout the sad piano music and mournful colours we see Mycroft reading about it in The Sun. Was he in on it? Perhaps - Sherlock was very careful to keep up the idea that he would not ask Mycroft for help, and Mycroft, in turn, made it known he would not step in to help his own brother. Making sure their alibis were straight? Setting the scene well? Time will tell.
I also see a whopping great beating on the cards for Sherlock when, in series three, he makes his re-appearance. How it will happen is anyone’s guess - rounding up the last of Moriarty’s gang? Solving a case and proving he’s innocent, that Moriarty was real? Who knows with this writing team - but when John finds out he’s alive, there’s going to be bloody hell to pay. Unfortunately, Sherlock has the right of it; John needs to believe he’s dead, or he’ll give it away somehow. He needs John to labour under the assertion until such time as the charade has served its purpose - and only Sherlock knows what that purpose is, right now. Hopefully, with series three starting possibly in 2013, we’ll know too.
CBS’ plans to make an updated Sherlock Holmes series - that’s a lambast for another day. Suffice to say, where else in the world do you get ninety minutes of such high quality entertainment, where the dumbing-down is kept to a minimum and everyone’s capable of paying attention for an hour and a half without the need for adverts or breaks to let people catch their breath? If this isn’t the best BBC offering since Life on Mars, then I’ve missed out on some quality television and I demand to know why. I can’t wait for series three to start, but I understand Martin Freeman has to do some Hobbiting first, and Benedict Cumberbatch will be busy doing some villainous cackling in the new Star Trek film. I approve. Andrew Scott has given us the most immeasurably fun - and lunatic - Moriarty I’ve ever seen and I adore what he’s done with the character. Yes, I said ‘adore’. I don’t use the word ‘adore’ very often - but it’s warranted just this once.
And that, finally, is all the news that’s fit to print. I need to go get some fresh tea and hope that Moriartea doesn’t appear to spill it for me.
Peach and lube, people. Peach and frelling lube.
~ BBC ~ Sherlock ~ Benedict Cumberbatch ~ Martin Freeman ~ Andrew Scott ~ Moriarty