“Once more unto the breach.” – Sherlock Recap – The Lying Detective

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Sherlock, Season 4, Episode 2
“The Lying Detective”
Posted by Sage

We are officially going around in circles. Then we are backtracking and going on random tangents and we don’t even get the satisfaction of tormenting Mycroft while we do it.

“The Lying Detective” brought so many of Sherlock‘s favorite devices limping back into an already overstuffed narrative. Were there fun moments? Sure. Was the emotion real? Sometimes. Did Martin Freeman break me with this acting? Absolutely. Even though the pacing of this episode made it an easier watch than “The Six Thatchers,” it still collapsed in the center under the weight of everything it’s trying to do.

Let’s start with Toby Jones as the odious Culverton Smith, a wealthy philanthropist who moonlights as a serial killer. I’m surprised any scenery was still standing after Jones chowed down on it all, but hey, that’s why you hire him. Culverton is the jolliest murderer you’ll ever meet and so eager to share his deeds with an audience that his board meetings always come with a complimentary mind-eraser. But who needs an explanation of why anyone would agree to be hooked up to such an IV, even if asked by someone they trusted, let alone a creepy little troll like this? There are cereal/serial killer jokes to be made!

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How many more times will Sherlock tell us that no, actually, THIS is the worst and most heinous criminal he’s ever encountered? Whatever their methods and motives, so long as Sherlock writes all its uber-villains to be overly articulate, pompous, joyously maniacal, and just half an IQ-point less sharp than its hero, those variations barely register. Andrew Scott’s Moriarty is unsurpassable. And yeah, the show blew that wad in season 1. But that’s no reason to turn every Conan Doyle bad guy into the same monologue-crazy gentleman psychopath.

So Culverton Smith’s taunting of Sherlock wasn’t as effective as it should have been. It did eat up plenty of time though. None of that time was spent explaining what Culverton’s endgame was or how he’d planned to get Sherlock in one of his hospital beds. (I don’t know how he could have anticipated what happened in the mortuary.) He grandstands with his guests in the children’s ward, behaving a way that made me wonder who would ever let him speak to kids, fortune or no fortune. Nothing about Culverton Smith is lovable. He’s off-putting and scary, even when he’s smiling. He’s so clearly operating on some strange and separate plane yet no one but Sherlock and Watson appear to be repulsed by him or even the slightest bit concerned. I wondered at first if we’re meant to be seeing his behavior through Sherlock’s eyes – that in his drug-stupor he was looking beyond the facade and into the guilt. The show could have also made a more trenchant point about the leeway we give to the rich. But as it was, Culverton’s strange personality just hung there, unexplained and unquestioned.

Source: sannapersikka

I’m going to put my murder weirdo hat on right now and say that it is EXTREMELY unusual for a serial killer to want to stand out like Culverton does. Some are extremely anti-social. Most blend seamlessly into their communities. Ted Bundy was famously charming. It’s not Culverton’s hinting at his atrocities that’s unbelievable, it’s that he’d draw attention to himself in other ways, putting his name on hospital wings and appearing on television. His methods are interesting though, and I do appreciate how the show melded the “The Dying Detective” plot with the very true and very fascinating story of H.H. Holmes, the serial killer doing big, big business in Chicago during the World’s Fair. (Have you read The Devil in the White City? You get on it, and Leonardo DiCaprio, get on that movie you promised me.) He’s committing mercy killings minus the mercy and he’s doing it in a tricked-out MURDER hospital. (“I like to make people into things.”) Still, Culverton Smith falls short of being the terrifying presence Sherlock intends him to be because THERE ARE NO VICTIMS. I mean, there are meant to be many, but why are they locked out of the story? It was a nice character detail to show Lestrade so broken after hearing part 1 of Culverton’s lengthy confession. (He’s a good man.) But without context, the whole case felt so…impersonal.

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Naturally, it’s all about Sherlock, who we know from the episode title is keeping something from us. It’s back to another familiar well with the detective getting himself hooked to achieve a goal: this time, it’s to court the sympathy or at least the presence of John Watson. John, you’ll remember, decided to break all ties with Sherlock after the death of Mary.  His grief has left him temporarily incapable of taking care of Rosie, and he takes offense at his shrink approving that choice out of pity. “Why does everything have to be ‘understandable’?” he asks. “Why can’t some things be unacceptable? And we just say that?” John Watson is so alone, with no company but his dead but still cheerful wife.

It’s common in Sherlock for people to communicate with themselves by communicating with their concept of another person, usually, that’s achieved by Sherlock in his mind palace. But there’s something unkind about putting Mary in this position, following John around, existing to only motivate his participation in the world or to stir up his guilt. She’s dead and she still can’t catch a break. Selfishly, I loved seeing Amanda Abbington again. She’s a master of the reaction and made for a charming personal ghost – as nurturing, mischievous, and on Sherlock’s side as ever. And even though the manipulation was strong and so predictable, Mary’s presence broke up the anger that rightly dominated most of Martin’s performance in this episode. She tries to remind him: “John, you’ve got to remember, it’s important: I am dead.” But John refuses to register this information. His stubborn denial was this episode’s most moving moment, though I expect Team Johnlock will disagree. (I’ll get to it, dain’t you worry.)

Source: livingthegifs

High Sherlock is still a sight to behold and I applaud the unabashed Britishness of having Benedict Cumberbatch roaring the most famous speech from Henry V for no detectable reason other than his training. (Question: if Sherlock doesn’t need room in his brain for the solar system, how come Shakespeare gets a spot? Answer: He’s a romantic, duh.) The visual bravado of the scene comes to its slow-mo/sped-up climax when Mrs. Hudson drops Sherlock’s tea so that she can get a grasp on the gun he’s been waving around. (“Of course I didn’t call the police, I’m not a civilian.”) And prepare to hate me, because I’m about to rain on your Hudders parade.

“That’s good.” Source: livingthegifs

I miss the subtlety of early Sherlock, where Mrs. Hudson would make reference to her checkered pass and then chuckle and pass the biscuits. (That never happened exactly so, but you get the drift.) Now all subtlety is gone. Mrs. Hudson drives an Aston Martin like a coked-out 007 and evidently has the upper body strength necessary to shove a 6′ tall man into the boot before she does it. She doesn’t need to do these things to prove to me that she’s a badass. She always has been; those original episodes show us that she endures what Sherlock puts her through because she cares about him but also because she loves the danger.

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“The danger was the fun part.” – Sherlock Recap – The Six Thatchers

Source: 1985

Sherlock, Season 4, Episode 1
“The Six Thatchers”
Posted by Sage

As dangerous as it is to hand too much of a popular series over to fanservice, so too is it to treat your audience like adversaries. That’s the feeling I got when I watched the Sherlock Season 4 premiere — like the show was all puffed up and encroaching into my space, daring me to turn against it. “Give the people what they want,” John says. “No, never do that,” Sherlock counters. “The people are stupid.” Why do I get the feeling they were talking about us?

Where was the joy? The giddiness? I felt like my heart would burst during the majority of Season 3. I was so happy to be back watching such a clever and sleek show with characters I adore. Not here. Sherlock is always self-aware, but usually in a way that lets fans share its ego. This episode felt interminably long, because it seemed as if we were no longer included in the fun. “The Six Thatchers” was a dour installment that set up what looks to be a dour season. As Mary says in her video message to Sherlock, “The danger was the fun part.” A slow march to the gallows is not.

The case isn’t tremendously important, but the circumstances surrounding Sherlock’s return are. He must have subconsciously worked out the majority of his issues with the ghost of James Moriarty during his drug trip in “The Abominable Bride,” because “The Six Thatchers” finds him interested in the villain’s next move in his “posthumous game,” but not so preoccupied as to withdraw from life. (This is Sherlock Holmes we’re talking about, the measure of successful social interaction is different.) Anyway, Lady Smallwood, Mycroft, and the rest of their Rulers of the World knitting circle make quick work of absolving Sherlock of the murder of Charles Augustus Magnussen. They rescind his death sentence so he can sniff out the metaphorical bomb Moriarty left ticking away somewhere in London, and Sherlock is only too delighted to tell them that there’s currently nothing to be done in that regard. (“I’m the target. Targets wait.”) He returns to Baker Street and his expectant friends.

Source: sirjohnwatsons
 

Unsurprisingly, my favorite parts of this episode were all domestic. Pregnant Mary heaving about the flat, weighing in on cases. Sherlock’s amused smile when John and Mary simultaneously shut down his offer to give their unborn baby his name. Molly teaching Mrs. Hudson how to focus John’s camera. Sherlock trying to explain his rather reasonable expectation that Rosamund Mary Watson NOT throw a toy back at him that she appears to want. Greg and another Scotland Yard officer making small talk on the landing while they wait for their consultant to be free. Sherlock showing off photos of his godchild to his brother, who offers the kindest compliment he can muster: “Looks very…fully-functioning.”

Source: sherleck

Finally, Giles Greg offers up a case that’s worthy of more than a chat in the living room with Sherlock and John’s balloon stand-in. But determining the cause of the sad end of Charlie Wellsbury isn’t something to be done with a Holmesian flourish. The most dastardly thing the family has done is to have a shrine to Margaret Thatcher.  And though she was no picnic, that certainly doesn’t make them deserving of what happens to their son. This boy cut a trip of a lifetime short to travel thousands of miles to wish his father a happy birthday. He dies alone; his body is burned beyond recognition. But there’s no murderer but Death himself. Death does not always arrive in the body of enemy, but it always gets its man. In the market at Baghdad or outside an English estate.

Sherlock has tossed off condolences before, but he’s never sounded more genuine than when he tells the Wellsburys how sorry he is for their loss. Would it have been any comfort if the great Sherlock Holmes could have identified some nefarious plot and apprehended an assassin on whom they could lay their anger and grief? Maybe. As it is, it’s a hopeless, purposeless death that propels the rest of the episode.

“Well, I like you.” Source: 1985

The episode lags a bit after Sherlock discovers that first missing bust of The Iron Lady. Because the busts don’t matter – only what’s contained within. The dog sequence is cute, but unnecessary. There’s only the symbolism of the market, and the episode was heavy on the symbolism already. Craig is a chubby and bespectacled hacker stereotype in a show that doesn’t need one. (One of the most thrilling things about Sherlock is that – besides the texting – the detective is rather old-school in his methods.) Anyway, while I understand that A.J. is a broken and desperate man, I would think that a world-class secret assassin would know when he was creating a pattern. But he doesn’t, and Sherlock heads him off at the home of one of those crazy Thatcherites. It was brilliant throughout, but I want to especially acknowledge the work of first-time Sherlock director Rachel Talalay here in the fight scene, particularly as A.J. and Sherlock grappled in the pool.

Sherlock gets the upper hand, smashes the bust, and then looks among the shards for the Black Pearl of the Borgias – a link to Moriarty. Instead he sees Mary’s A.G.R.A. flash drive. Sherlock said earlier that he knows when the game is on because it’s his lifeblood and what used to be his only bliss. But Sherlock’s eyes are panicked as he tries frantically to discern who this man is and how he’s linked to his friend. This isn’t a game he wants. It’s all well and good when he’s playing fast and loose with his own life. But there’s nothing to love about a threat to Mary, John, and their baby girl.

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Confronted with the drive, Mary tells Sherlock what the acronym means and why she and her three compatriots each carried one. Their last mission went belly-up during a coup in Georgia; Mary believed she was the only one who’d escaped alive. Her past is catching up to her again. And though she’d prayed it wouldn’t, she’s been honing a protocol for that very occasion. Because Mary is a PRO. Since the moment he met her, Sherlock has known that Mary Watson is capable of taking care of herself. He even tries to send John home to be on baby duty in this episode so that he can Mary can follow a lead together. She’s a combination of Sherlock and John: an intelligence agent AND a soldier, smart, always aware, and willing to do what is necessary. She goes on the run – a wife and mother throwing her own peace away so that she can protect her family. And what does Sherlock do? He undermines her agency by tracking her movements and then going to COLLECT her, like an errant child.

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“There’s always two of us. Don’t you read The Strand?” – Sherlock Recap, The Abominable Bride

the abominable bride

Sherlock, New Year’s Day 2016 Special
“The Abominable Bride”
Posted by Sage

If you follow Head Over Feels on social media (and you’d better), you perhaps noticed that we didn’t give off our usual hum of anticipation leading in to a brand new episode of Sherlock. Truth be told, I found it genuinely difficult to get excited about a special that looked for all the world like it was going to be some kind of dream or alternate reality adventure, totally outside of the actual show canon. “The Abominable Bride” was a standalone story that put us right back where series 3 left off…and it wasn’t. I admire Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat for their determination to have their cake and eat it too, even if that doesn’t work out for them all the time. But when years pass between our appointments with this Sherlock and Watson, why not be bold?

sherlock set

Look, this Victorian Inception thing either worked for you or it didn’t. But the conceit gave the show’s brilliant production and design staff another way to shine; their care and attention to detail showed in every frame. At last year’s Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles, I was privileged to spend an hour in a hotel boardroom with Sherlock production designer Arwel Wyn Jones and a dozen other fans, 12 Angry Men style. That’s nearly a full 11 months ago, but he was already neck-deep in preparations for “The Abominable Bride.” The task that was keeping him up at night around that time? Finding era-appropriate versions of Sherlock and John’s signature arm chairs.

Production designers spend their lives considering minute details that only the most attentive of viewers will even consciously note. And that’s why we love them. But the scarcity of the new Sherlock episode to the people who make it shows in the final product. In “The Abominable Bride,” I see a piece of work that’s been made in its own sweet time with the cool, shrugging confidence that can only come with runaway success and a heavily tumbled slash ship. I also see that the artists behind the show had months (and years in the case of the writers) to think about how to do it and how to do it right. Contradiction, my dear Watson. It makes for a divided audience. About a third of my Twitter timeline really hated this episode.

Me? I’m fine. “The Abominable Bride” didn’t have the giddiness of “The Sign Of Three” or the cold dread of “The Reichenbach Fall,” and believe me, I’ll get to the problematic bits. Still, I enjoy Gatiss and Moffat’s textual high-fiving over their own cleverness – you kind of have to, to be a fan – and the one-off did push the story forward incrementally. Or at least, a couple of characters.

Though the first five minutes did nothing to allay my fears in that respect. The episode opens and proceeds for a while as a straight-up Victorian re-telling of “A Study In Pink.” John Watson is injured in the war; runs into his old friend Stamford, and meets his new flatmate Sherlock Holmes whilst he’s wailing on a dead body in a morgue. It’s all very twee, aside from Martin fucking Freeman. Sherlock is always Sherlock – a “man out of his time” or any time. He’s timeless. But “Bride” showcased the traditional Watson who runs parallel to the modern one in Freeman’s performance. He plays this Watson so differently, though there’s never a doubt that the partnership is still the same. As always, I marvel at his talent and get more excited when I should when he gets to yell.

good lord

Then the episode fast-forwards a bit to an established sleuthing duo returning home from another adventure that’s sure to be written up for publication in The Strand magazine. The time-warped Baker Street is proper thrilling, as is the appearance of Mrs. Hudson. She’s the first in a series of women to be overlooked and undervalued in the episode. And while she may be used to reading her name in a perfunctory context in John’s stories, she’s not over it. “Well, I never say anything, do I?” she challenges her tenant. “I’m your land lady, not a plot device.” (THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT A PLOT DEVICE WOULD SAY.) Inside their rooms is another woman is taking drastic steps to be seen. Mary Watson resorted to gaining access to 221B as a client, since it’s the only way by which she can see her husband. Not that her husband is really worth the trouble. 0/10 recommend dating or marrying 1895 John Watson, ladies. His painfully bored wife misses him, and offers up her assistance on the next case. “What would you do?” John asks her, befuddled by the suggestion that she might be of help. “Well, what do you do?” Mary shoots back. He doesn’t have much of an answer.

Sherlock ignores the domestic happening behind him and murmurs some foreshadowing about going “deep” within himself for a case. (“Ummmm…” – Tumblr.) Then a pair of mutton chops walks in, followed quickly by Detective Inspector Lestrade. He’s shaken, and certainly there on business. But first, a drink. (“Watson, restore the courage of Scotland Yard.”)

waltz

Lestrade (still FINE AS HELL, even with the face-warmers) begins weaving the tale of Emilia Ricoletti. On her wedding anniversary, Ricoletti put on her wedding dress, smeared red lipstick onto her mouth, and then stepped out onto her balcony in full view of the busy street below. Bystanders ran for cover as she shrieked (“YOU?”) and fired shots at the ground, the whole ordeal ending when she pointed the gun at herself and pulled the trigger. Or so that’s what rationality would predict. Later that night, none other than Emilia Ricoletti’s husband Thomas meets “the bride” on his way out Lime House. The dead woman, whose body he was certainly on his way to identify, shoots him in front of several witnesses and disappears into the foggy night.

bride

I want to talk about storytelling for a minute. It’s happening on every level of Sherlock. Every case starts with a story, whether that comes from the law or from the client. It’s never nothing. There’s never no information. There’s a version of events from a specific point of view. There are prejudices and assumptions about what humans are or are not capable of. It’s Sherlock’s job to suss the truth the out, his lack of emotion (keep telling yourself that, Shezza) making him the ideal editor to cut through the bullshit. (“Poetry or truth?” “Many would say they’re the same thing.” “Yes, idiots.”) Once that happens, the story is re-written yet again, this time by John Watson. Whether he’s writing for a blog or for the Strand, he’s writing for an audience now. Sherlock’s work doesn’t make him a legend. John’s stories do. And they’re nothing without a little flair. My head canon is that every Sherlock episode is a “filmed” version of a Watson blog entry, and maybe the cases themselves weren’t quite so melodramatic. It’s all about framing, you see.

Lestrade’s narration is enhanced by a cool visual trick. The Sherlock crew set up the sitting room of 221B in the middle of the street where Thomas Ricolletti is shot; the camera zooms in and out of the meeting of minds and back to the murder, so it’s as if Lestrade, Sherlock, and Watson are actually witnessing the crime. That technique also backs up my unreliable(ish) narrator theory. The sleuths are seeing events as Lestrade describes them. He’s the storyteller.

Not that Sherlock trusts him. The first stop is the morgue, to ascertain whether or not what’s on the slaaaab is truly Mrs. Ricoletti. A “moron” has strapped the corpse to the table (hi, Anderson!) and is rewarded for his stupidity with verbal abuse by “Hooper,” the mustachioed, no-nonsense coroner. I do believe I love this. Modern Molly is a very feminine character who doesn’t see why her desire to date, wear lipstick (right shade or not), or be a low-key cat lady should at all undermine her authority in the lab. (Or in Sherlock’s mind palace. HM.) Molly could have been written into this special as a barmaid or something and the cross-dressing out of necessity could have been given to a female character who’s less stereotypically girly. But our Molly Hooper is a little ruthless. And she’s certainly brave. I could see her gaming the system to live the life she feels she deserves and do the work no one could do better. My shipper heart also leapt at the brief yet weighty interactions between Holmes and Hooper. There’s something about Holmes not noticing something very off about the coroner that calls back to the bad timing, misunderstandings, and tentative healing of their 21st century relationship. I ship it in every era.

hooper hooper 2

Anyway, the dead body is (or was) unquestionably Emilia Ricoletti. The only change from the body’s previous day spent in the morgue is the smear of blood on one finger – the finger “she” used to write “YOU” in her own blood on the wall. (Anderson’s precautions aren’t so stupid after all, maybe.) Watson offers a meat-dagger-quality theory that Sherlock shoots down immediately: twins. SECRET twins. (“This whole thing could have been planned.” “Since the moment of conception?”) The good doctor does make a helpful note on the way out, however. The body shows signs of consumption. Sherlock doesn’t hear this part, since he’s already decided he’s learned all he can from these people. (“Thank you all for a fascinating case. I’ll send you a telegram when I’ve solved it.”)

never mention me never mention me 2
Oh, and there have been more murders pinned to “the bride.” All men, which has Lestrade shaking and Sherlock scoffing. It’s copycats, the detective reasons. With hysteria in the wind, why not add the bells and whistles the public associates with this ghostly terror to throw Scotland Yard off the actual scent? Sherlock’s interest in the case waning, Mycroft sends for the men to call on him at the Diogenes Club. But before that, we get a very strange scene between Watson and his maid. Mary isn’t in (and hasn’t been much since she received a cryptic telegram at 221B); the maid is quite intentionally impertinent in asking about it. John’s response is such a perfect jab at the designation between real duties and “women’s work.” (“If it wasn’t my wife’s business to deal with the staff, I’d talk to you myself.”) This hint at the conspiracy behind the city under siege would have worked better if the maid had appeared in one or two more scenes to underline the role she plays in the Watsons’ life and how enraged she is at being ignored. Instead: fat suit Mycroft.

wilder wilder 2
Besides the fact that Mycroft Holmes is quite rotund in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, I don’t understand this choice. I suppose the goal was a spot of dark comedy, with Mycroft eating himself to death just to win a bet with his brother. But it doesn’t fly. It’s too meanspirited a take on Modern Mycroft, who’s come to show real regard for and loyalty to Sherlock. The visual gag is easy and vile; John’s sign language hack-job is just as predictable, but much less uncomfortable. The success of the scene is that it’s where I began to really question what was going on backstage of this episode, if you will. Mycroft does delight in being the puppetmaster, but the way he fed this information to Sherlock and Watson (a Lady Carmichael will lead them to the perpetrators of these acts, “an enemy we must lose to…”) is too contrived for a regular Moffat/Gatiss script.

cards right cards right 2

Brother Mine meets with Lady Carmichael, who also has a story to tell. Her husband has been acting strangely since the morning he received five orange pips in the mail (classic Holmes reference), apparently an omen of death. “She’s come for me, Louise,” he chokes out. From that morning, he’s a haunted man. This is terrific news in Sherlock’s book, since it gives him a solid opportunity to see “the bride” in the flesh. Or not, whatever.

Sherlock: “Eustace is to die tonight!”
Watson: “Holmes.”
Sherlock: “…And we should probably avoid that.” 

The boys take a field trip out to the Carmichaels’ country mansion. On the train, Watson’s uneasiness starts to show. He’s accepting the stories as they’ve been told to him. Based on the witnesses and the positive morgue ID, there can be only one conclusion: Emilia Ricoletti is terrorizing men from beyond the grave. He forgets how facts can be twisted, until Sherlock accuses him of letting his pathetic fancy run wild. “Since when have you had any kind of imagination?” Sherlock asks. “Perhaps since I convinced the reading public that an unprincipled drunk addict was some kind of gentleman hero,” Watson answers back. And….fair.

come to mention

Sidebar: I love it when Sherlock gets all macabre and says things like, “There are no ghosts in this world, save those we make for ourselves.” I bet you all a million dollars each that James Franco has whispered this exact sentence into the ear of at least one NYU co-ed while drinking small-batch whiskey from a chipped coffee mug in a Brooklyn speakeasy.

Eustace is not psyched about being the carrot dangled in front of a misandrist spirit. He even attempts to convince the detective that his wife is overreacting, even though he was the one sobbing on the floor in his pajamas the night before. Sherlock will have none of it. He met Lady Carmichael and in an instant knew that she wasn’t the type to be held hostage by a scary story and a creaky step on the stairs. “She’s not a hysteric,” Sherlock reminds her husband. “She’s a highly intelligent woman of rare perception.” He does smell one rat in the house though. And I wonder if Sherlock’s enthusiasm for this rather dangerous plan has anything to do with his assumption that Eustace probably deserves what’s coming to him.

rare for us

“Mm, I should think so. Murder on the knees.”

At last, we’ve arrived. The gay greenhouse scene. *cracks knuckles*

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