I wrote recently about S01 of the BBC One series Sherlock and raved about it. Season 2 was just as good and just as frustratingly short. This time around, we got treated to three of the classic Holmes episodes, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Final Problem. Now, I was not a Sherlock fan before this series and had not read a single line of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books previous to devouring this television series. I found all three episodes intriguing and full of both humor and enormous amounts of suspense. I also loved how the characters continued to develop – the relationship between Holmes and Watson, Holmes and Lestrade, Holmes and Moriarty…all very well written and riveting television. No spoilers here I promise. I just will say that the Irene Adler in S02E01 was superior to that of the 2009 film IMHO and that the Moriarty in the whole series – which represents a real departure from previous depictions of him – was extraordinary. I thought that E03 in particular was masterful – super ideas for moving the plot forward, clever plot twists, and first-class acting. This series is a real must.
As for the books, during my vacation (and yes, I owe my readers a discussion about my Sicily vacation!) I read about 60% of the Holmes books and stories. The first Sherlock book, A Study in Scarlet, is our introduction to Holmes, his meeting with Watson, and a good mystery with loads of Holmsian twists. Comparing this with the BBC One show’s first episode, I appreciated the fact that the TV show managed to also have Watson as an Afghanistan veteran. The play between the characters stays reverential on Watson’s end and aloof on Sherlock’s. A big difference between the series and the books is that in the books, no one ever refers to Sherlock by his first name other than his brother Mycroft. In the TV show, I suppose as a nod to our more casual society, everyone calls him Sherlock. The Sign of Four starts out describing in detail Sherlock’s cocaine addiction. In the TV show, they decided to show this as a nicotine patch thing instead. I suppose that the oriental aspect of The Sign of Four inspired the TV shows S01E02 to be based on a Chinese story (the weakest episode out of the six IMHO). One thing I found interesting about The Sign of Four is the racism that is typical of the times that Doyle was writing in. The Indian characters are all shady and unclean and less worthy of respect of consideration that the Imperial British characters. In fact, taken on a larger scale from the 3 books and 30-odd stories I read, the rich clients or victims in most of the Holmes stories that didn’t involve some government agency were enriched primarily due to the empire – they made their money in India, Australia, or South Africa primarily. There is clearly no judgment on the brutality of the Empire, just the benefits it bestowed on a certain number of colonists that returned the to UK. I read the Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (24 stories in all) as well as several stories from The Return of Sherlock Holmes. They are all entertaining and fascinating. The narrative idea of having Watson writing about the stories and having Sherlock often criticising Watson’s choices of cases and “romanticising” of them is a fascinating self-ref. The fact that none of the stories are really in any order – some of the cases such as Gloria Scott – are actually sub-narrated by Holmes himself because they occur before Watson entered his life and there is naturally an order between The Final Problem and The Empty House for obvious reasons (those same reasons that will keep me guessing in anticipation of S03 of Sherlock). The whole narrative style is quite interesting as much of the cases are told as monologues to fill in either past details to paint the scene of the crime or by Holmes at the end of the case to prove his deductions of about the guilty and their motives. There is a certain cruelty about the Holmes character as several times he uses Watson as a guinea pig or even bait for testing theories or catching the bad guys and sometimes without Watson being aware of this. This is depicted well in S02E02 of the TV Show, the Hound of the Baskerville episode. My friend m.poulet was disappointed in this episode in particular. Having now read the original book, I think that the ideas for the adaptation were pretty good but I would agree that the phosphorous in the eyes was a cooler device than the hallucinogenic drugs, but then I’ll let you be the judge.
All in all, I have enjoyed becoming a little bit of a Sherlock addict these last few weeks. I’ll review the two Downey, Jr films about Sherlock and have more to say about the adaptations from the original text in a post real soon.