|It's all in the hat!|
Watching the first season again on DVD reconciled me to episode two (after all, if Basil Rathbone's Holmes battled the Nazis, why can't Benedict Cumberbatch duke it out with Chinese gangs?), but I still hated this modern incarnation of Moriarty, who seemed a miscalculation in every way. Obviously intended as scary-mad in the Heath Ledger Joker fashion, to me he was more goofy-sad.
However, Season Two has won me over completely. I loved the controversial reconceptualization of Irene Adler in "A Scandal in Belgravia," though I know others have dissented, some on the grounds of morality (she's now a lesbian--or bisexual?--dominatrix, oh my!), more on account of seeing her as anti-feminist. I don't see this myself. The complaints of both groups seem rooted in the notion that the highly sexualized of Adler is "wrong."
Arthur Conan Doyle's Irene Adler was, after all, what was then known as an "adventuress"--a term that definitely had a sexual connotation.
As for the feminist critique that Adler's ultimately bested by Holmes--well, so is everyone else, or haven't you noticed? Even Moriarty (more on him later). At least she really knocked him for a loop, so to speak. As for Adler being revealed as being genuinely attracted to Holmes (the passcode business), well, there's quite a bit of interest in her for his part as well. One of the really teasing things about this episode was the relationship between these two brilliant but surely rather damaged individuals.
This brings me to my larger point about this series, one I'm not sure has been much discussed amidst all the hyperventilating over Irene Adler's sexuality. That is the portrayal in Sherlock of the relationship between the Great Detective and society. To me, this matter really came to the fore in Season Two.
Yet Cumberbatch's Sherlock, following in the footsteps of Jeremy Brett's portrayal, is also a supremely odd individual. Basil Rathbone's Sherlock may have been somewhat eccentric, but Brett's and Cumberbatch's versions disconcertingly often seem to occupy some unsettling borderland of sociopathy.
In the modern series Sherlock Holmes is as lacking in social skills as poor, downcast Molly Hooper, the shy medical examiner so hopelessly smitten with the Great Detective; it's just that he has an overweening self-confidence that she utterly lacks, one which enables him to override societal conventions of which he's often at best only dimly aware (and usually contemptuous of when aware of them). Yet these conventions remain potentially deadly pitfalls for Holmes. It's Dr. Watson--so superbly portrayed by Martin Freeman--who, with his "average brain," has to try to act as Holmes' social guide (God knows the series' Mrs. Hudson is too ditzy to do it), in order, essentially, to prevent Holmes from destroying himself. Watson, in short, has to teach Holmes how to minimally accommodate "the group" so that Holmes can survive within society.
|Yup, Moriarty's mad all right!|
But there be method in this madness
Moriarty figured out how to turn society against its repeated rescuer, Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty understood that all the mediocrities in the police (Rupert Graves' rather winning Lestrade is the only sympathetic policeman in the series; he's the one copper intelligent enough to know that he's not intelligent enough) don't like depending on an egregiously obnoxious super sleuth to perform the feats they can't accomplish on their own.
One surmises that the cops would rather not solve cases at all than to have to depend on Holmes to solve them (I'm reminded of the transfer scene of the provokingly efficient PC Angel in the brilliant police comedy film Hot Fuzz). To be sure, it doesn't help that Holmes is so completely lacking in people skills! Add into this mix a crass and stupid press that delights in the personal destruction of "heroes" and celebrities. How comforting and reassuring for them all to believe that the Great Detective was a fraud all along!
|Don't worry, John--he''ll be back next season!|
Crime writer and critic Julian Symons argued that modern society was incompatible with the idea of the Great Detective, an uber-individual who, whether donned in a deerstalker or a top hat (or even hatless), disregards rules and solves crime completely on his/her own terms. Yet, Symons notwithstanding, the Great Detective is still with us a dozen years into this new century, whether that individual is named Adrian Monk or Patrick Jane or Sherlock Holmes (Holmes apparently is immortal). Besides being terrifically entertaining, Sherlock more than any other series I know of is a thought-provoking exploration of the concept of the Great Detective in our modern age. I applaud the series for this.