TV Review: Sherlock: The Great Game

Sherlock

S1, E3: ‘The Great Game’

Good GOD, the Napoleon of Crime is a tit.

Grade: A-

***SPOILERS FOR ALL EPISODES OF SHERLOCK UP TO S1, E3****

GodDAMN. An absolute cracker of an episode, zipping through six neat little puzzles and making time for a little astute Sherlock-analysis and some badassery from John Watson. And thankfully keeping its wincingly irritating villain offscreen for most of it. I wonder whether there’s a correlation between the number of Holmes canon nods in an episode and how satisfying it is? This episode, like A Study in Pink, is dripping with winks to the canon, and it is tremendous. I could only scratch together one reference in The Blind Banker, and – well. Something to ponder as we tackle the episode.

‘Bored! Bored, bored, BORED!’

Sherlock is bored, and of course being Sherlock Holmes is bored in the most histrionic and adolescent way possible – lounging on the sofa, stomping on tables in silk pyjamas, and shooting smiley faces into the walls of his flat. He’s not so bored that he’ll take a case brought to him by his brother, of course – even if the case involves a suicide-that-isn’t, and national security. So Sherlock’s ‘best man’ is sent out on the case, and works through it pretty well – only for Sherlock to bob up and say ‘Knew you’d get there eventually’. Amazingly, though, there’s a certain…pride? …in Sherlock’s voice.

In any case, Sherlock can’t be seen to interest himself in his brother’s affairs. Thankfully, someone else is getting bored too. A certain someone is wiring random innocent bystanders to bombs and having them read out flirtatious messages to Sherlock, along with pointers to an unsolved crime and a deadline to solve it. If Sherlock misses the deadline: boom. They’re all quite fun little puzzles, and each of them strikes me as more substantial than the leaden-footed animal we were lumbered with in The Blind Banker. We have the case of a mysterious drowning – in fact, the case that got little Sherlock started out in detection. We have a banker’s disappearance, the death of a popular makeover host, and a lost Vermeer that turns out to be not very much of a Vermeer after all.

The pace throughout is breathless: John and Sherlock are zipping through their cases with the urgency of a ticking clock and lives at stake, and the Vermeer case in particular is kinetic and suspenseful in an absolutely irresistible way. It involves a giant assassin, chases through tunnels, and a fantastically sinister tussle in a planetarium with a spooling-and-unspooling informational reel, and a hulking shadow melting into and out of the darkness. It reaches its crescendo when we realise that it’s a child strapped to the bomb, and Sherlock cracks the case with less than a second to spare.

‘I will burn the heart out of you.’ ‘I have been reliably informed I don’t have one.’ ‘We both know that’s not true.’

Not that Sherlock seems to care that there are lives at stake – no matter how often John and Lestrade try to get it through to him. At least, he doesn’t seem to care noisily enough for John. And this begins to get a bit annoying. Firstly, it seems quite clear that Sherlock does actually appreciate that the stakes are higher for this outing than others, so the moralising seems out of place particularly for John. Secondly, call me a ‘high-functioning sociopath’ if you like, but Sherlock’s point seems perfectly sound that it makes sense not to care if caring won’t help the people primed to explode. Sherlock’s problem isn’t a lack of human emotion: it’s complacence about the lacunae in his knowledge. His lack of basic astronomical knowledge slows him down when it comes to the case of the lost Vermeer, as John points out to him. That knowledge may not assist John, but it is almost certainly important to the world’s only consulting detective. You don’t know what you don’t know, remember, Sherlock.

And certainly you could argue that Sherlock falls over the line from ‘blunt’ to ‘dickish’ when Molly introduces him to her new beau, and Sherlock promptly – and with entirely too much satisfaction – tells her that ‘Jim from IT’ is obviously gay: product, clubber’s eyes, visible underwear, and the fact that he left Sherlock his number. Molly storms away tearfully, and John is stern.

Oh, John, never mind. Sherlock may not be able to work up much of a demonstration for random potential bombees, or Molly, but he is capable of feeling. In the final twenty minutes, Sherlock decides to engineer a meeting with Moriarty – for it is he, of course, who is behind the bombings. Sherlock shows up at a darkened swimming pool, holding aloft the defence secrets he procured for Mycroft as a ‘getting to know you present’. And out steps John, robotically intoning the words ‘Bet you never saw this coming.’

Sherlock looks about as thunderstruck as I do, as my brain starts screaming ‘OMGWTFBBQBUTWAITWHATDOWEKNOWABOUTJOHNOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT’. And then John slowly unbuttons his parka, and we see that he is strapped to a bomb. Sherlock’s normally dulcet tones scream ‘WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS’ and we finally meet the man himself. Out comes Jim from IT saying ‘I gave you my number. I thought you might call.’

Let me get this out of the way: I. cannot. Stand. Moriarty. I get what they’re going for, I do, with the puckish mannerisms and the sing-song voice and the sudden bellowing. But for me, the character barrels right past ‘unsettlingly unpredictable’ to ‘punch the little fuckwit in the throat’. He doesn’t scare me, he annoys me. And I really do think that is a problem for the so-called Napoleon of Crime.

Well, anyway, such as he is, he’s got snipers somewhere with guns pointed at the Semtex on John’s chest. Sherlock instantly- but instantly – hands over the military secrets to Jim. It’s a nice gesture, but Jim just chucks away the USB, sing-songs ‘BOO-ring!’ And John reciprocates Sherlock’s gesture, grabbing Jim, calling out ‘SHERLOCK, RUN!’ and pointing out that if the snipers shoot at John, they’ll both go up. I confess I swooned not a little here. But of course, John’s tipped his hand there. The snipers turn their attention to Sherlock instead, and a defeated John steps away.

Moriarty then chunters on about how he’s not going to kill Sherlock just yet and he’s going to savour it yadda blee Supervillain 101. He issues a warning, Benedict Cumberbatch very convincingly pretends that this little bacillus is remotely threatening (he really is a damn good actor), and Moriarty swans away with yet another nails-down-the-blackboard singsonged God alone knows what.

And there’s Sherlock’s heart, on his sleeve plain as day. Ripping the parka and vest off John, barking out ‘ARE YOU ALL RIGHT. ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?’ to John, and pacing distractedly up and down with the muzzle of a loaded gun scratching his head, stammering out incoherent gratitude to his bestie. While his bestie responds with a dry bit of gay panic humour that doubles as gallows humour so I’m absolutely allowing it.

And back comes Jim, having realised that baddies who let the heroes live seldom come to a good end. Sniper sights all over Sherlock and John, Sherlock lowers the gun to the bomb-filled vest, and….smash-cut to black. Stay tuned!

Deerstalking: Holmes canon nods

  • Holmes shoots at the wall when he’s bored in The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.
  • Sherlock retains his ignorance about heliocentricism as described in A Study in Scarlet. The ‘hard drive’ metaphor is an update of Holmes’ ‘storeroom’ analogy.
  • I’m assuming that ‘without the work, my brain rots’ is a tweak of ‘my mind is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built’ from The Man with the Twisted Lip?
  • The stolen defence systems plot is of course taken from The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.
  • From A Scandal in Bohemia:
    • ‘I’d be lost without my blogger’ is an update of ‘I am lost without my Boswell’.
    • The ‘Bohemian’ stationery is of course more from A Scandal in Bohemia, as is the Czech name of many of the involved parties.
    • When Sherlock points out that Molly’s put on three pounds (which she resentfully corrects to two and a half) since she got together with Jim. Except there the target was Watson and the disputed weight was seven and a half/seven pounds.
    • ‘You see, but you don’t observe!’
    • ‘Dangerous to jump to conclusions. Need data.’ possibly a lift from ‘It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.’
  • ‘You’ve seen what I do’ might be ‘You know my methods. Apply them.’ From the Sign of the Four.
  • I rather enjoyed the GMT signal pips as a nod to The Five Orange Pips.
  • ‘Any ideas?’ ‘Seven so far.’ I am pretty sure is a reworking of something similar, but for the life of me I can’t trace it. Any ideas? (Seven, so far…)
  • Sherlock’s homeless network is, of course, his Baker Street Irregulars.
  • Sherlock’s sending John off to crack a case he’s already solved – is that an echo of the Hound of the Baskervilles?
  • ‘[Mycroft] threatened me with a knighthood…again’ is a reference to The Adventure of the Three Garridebs, perhaps?

Odds and sods

  • Given how anally retentive Sherlock was about that poor bastard’s grammar in the opening scene, you’d think he of all people would avoid saying ‘who’s sleeping with who’.
  • The ‘Dear Jim, please will you fix it for me…’ is of course a reference to Jimmy Savile’s Jim’ll Fix it. Anyone au fait with the British newspapers of the past two or so years will shudder at the reference now.
  • Sherlock thinks Jim’s writing is ‘obviously’ female. Does the show think that gay = effeminate (assuming Jim is in character when he writes the directions to Sherlock)? And if so, ugh. And clearly homosexuality throws Sherlock for a loop.

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