Monday, January 9, 2012

Sherlock, "The Hounds of Baskerville" (Series 2, Episode 2)

"As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor."  The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Another week, another episode of Sherlock based on a classic, well-read story.  As with all Sherlock episodes, the story took its foundations from the original Doyle and not only modernized but expanded it.

Guest star Russell Tovey's Ears played Henry Knight, the client of the week.  At first he comes across as paranoid and borderline terrified, trying to keep everything together while slowly unraveling--sounds about right for a man terrified by a giant, genetically-enhanced monster.

Russell Tovey's Ears was very well-cast, playing the part of a man slowly losing his mind without ever overplaying the role.  He was fully believable in a role that couldn't have been easy.

My favorite scenes, however, were Sherlock's.  His drug addiction is getting more explicit; as I said with "Belgravia," it's always been touched but never fully explained.  Now, he's even making references to a solution that's "seven percent stronger."  I wonder if they'll ever call it cocaine by name or continue to dance around the edges; it's always been my impression that Doyle gave Holmes a narcotic addiction to help keep him balanced but also to give him a weakness, and a reason to need and rely on a doctor friend.  This series does a good job of showing just why Sherlock does need Watson--and it's more than just drugs--but that added subtext helps flesh everything out even more.  After Sherlock's desperate search for the unnamed substance, there is an implication that all he was looking for was cigarettes, but given his manic desperation I think we all have to know that it's more than just that.

However, maybe Sherlock is trying to avoid some controversy by not naming anything explicitly.  The show certainly wasn't shy about its pre-watershed nudity last week, but perhaps that added to a drug-addicted protagonist might be just a little too much.  I'm not sure; I don't know what all expectations exist in the United Kingdom's television rules.

I've digressed; Sherlock's withdrawl--both from casework and from chemicals--only took the opening of the episode.  One keyword and he's off his need for a cigarette and calmed down quite considerably.

Until, of course, his experiences on the moor.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are extraordinarily well-cast, and the scene near the fire after the Hound incident is a perfect demonstration of why.  Even at his most manic, Cumberbatch exudes a desperate control over his portrayal; every tic and mannerism is perfect, both alienating and drawing in the audience at the same time.  Freeman, ever the straight man, allows just the right amount of hurt and bitterness to show through without overwhelming us with self-pity or discontent.  The chemistry between these actors is truly what makes the show, even with potentially silly plot-twists like a Scarecrow-esque villain using chemical warfare to create fearful delusions.

This revelation, played straight and with the highest stakes, almost bordered on silly.  However, given the clear paranoia we've seen creep into (and totally overtake) Knight's life, it's utterly believable that he wouldn't be able to take it anymore and given the fact that not all Sherlock guest stars make it through everything alright, the threat was very real.  Tovey's performance was engaging and completely believable; despite a possibly silly premise, it was not at all silly to believe that Knight would be driven to such desperation.

There is more to say about this episode, but I'll wrap up where it did, with another unexpected ending.  This one, however, was far more effective--if more confusing.  It certainly sets up for a doozy next week, with Moriarty returning in a big way--and just in time for the Reichenbach Fall.

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