So the long-awaited Season 3 of Sherlock finally premiered here in America on PBS this past Sunday. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and thinking about it inspired me to think about the previous 6 episodes of Sherlock (spread across 2 seasons and available on Netflix/Amazon Instant/Hulu Plus). Specifically, where I rank them and which I think is the best story. So, here we go:
6. The Blind Banker (Season 1, Episode 2)
Never have I seen a piece of television start out so promising and torpedo itself with its own storytelling so swiftly. A grafittied painting in a bank leads to Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch being called in to investigate, where he and Watson (Martin Freeman) eventually uncover a deep conspiracy involving a Chinese smuggling ring funded by the Triads and an expat pottery expert (Gemma Chan) who’s tied up with them.
Chinese gang warfare isn’t explored much in Western media, so this should be interesting. But Mark Gatiss’ script collapses under its own convolutedness and Euros Lyn, usually a quite capable television director, seems completely lost. This can honestly be skipped with no character development or continuity gap.
5. A Scandal in Belgravia (Season 2, Episode 1)
I don’t hate this episode on its own merits so much as I hate what it does to the mythos and how it demonstrates the grosser aspects of Steven Moffat’s writing. Picking up immediately after the events of the first season finale, Sherlock and Watson are hired by Holmes’ older brother, British government employee Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), to retrieve a series of compromising photographs of a (female) member of the Royal Family from professional dominatrix Irene “The Woman” Adler (Lana Pulver) while dealing with another mystery involving a man’s body appearing in the middle of nowhere. Adler, however, seems just as smart as Sherlock, and also is clearly drawn to him.
Turning Adler–who was certainly an interest of Holmes’ but on a purely intellectual level originally–into someone who throws herself at Sherlock is, if anything, completely regressive, and the added oomph of her being a domme is embarrassingly on-the-nose and crass. It’s more of an example of Moffat not really knowing how to write women, although, to her credit, Pulver isn’t that bad here. Also, the very end of this episode is so outlandish that it borders on parody; it’s ridiculous.
I actually presented an academic paper on, in part, this episode once and smarter people than I have also pointed out its flaws. Unfortunately, it’s required, if only because the first 10 minutes clear up the cliffhanger from season 1.
4. The Hounds of Baskerville (Season 2, Episode 2)
Arguably the most famous of the Holmes adventures, this take has Holmes and Watson traveling to Dartmoor in Devon, England at the behest of Henry Knight (Russell Tovey of U.K. Being Human fame), whose entire life has been haunted by him witnessing the death of his father 20 years ago by what he remembers as a gigantic hound.
Once there, the pair get drawn into the mystery surrounding the military research base, Baskerville, and using Mycroft’s credentials, the pair break in and uncover sinister, dark experiments.
Director Paul McGuigan takes full advantage of the creepiness of his setting to amp up the tension and surreality present in Mark Gatiss’ script to deliver a compelling work that can hold its own, and surpass, most modern horror movies. My only major complaint is that this episode goes out of its way to make Sherlock seem terrified at key moments of what he’s up against, which really isn’t all that cool. Still very much worth a watch, though.
3. A Study In Pink (Season 1, Episode 1)
The one that starts it all, seeing the famous pair meet, and team up to help solve a strange series of murders in abandoned hotels with strange writing, as well as deal with a suspicious cabby (Phil Davis, who funnily enough is a good guy on the ITV series Whitechapel).
As far as establishing the filmic tone of the series and plunging us right into its sensibilities, this is done to a T. Moffat’s script is tight and compelling (although not without its share of gross sexism). An alternate, 602.-minute version of this, which was the first pilot commissioned by the BBC, is available on the Season 1 DVD and it’s interesting to see how much was compressed in the initial version.
2. The Reichenbach Fall (Season 2, Episode 3)
Yes, the final five minutes is stunning, and basically fueled all of Tumblr with speculation for the last two years. But the episode leading up to it is equally amazing. Stephen Thompson’s script takes viewers from one dizzying bit to another, never slowing down from its breakneck pace.
The title alludes both to the original setting of the Doyle story “The Final Problem” as well as a painting recovered by Sherlock in the opening, which is what makes him famous, much to his annoyance. But Moriarty (Andrew Scott) seems determined to use that fame against him, throwing everyone for a loop in a grand plan to discredit and destroy Sherlock in the depths of his mad obsession.
Scott is absolutely stunning as Moriarty and makes him one of the most deranged psychopaths in TV history. Cumberbatch and Freeman both bring their A-game to make this one of the most devastating episodes of television you’ll ever see.
1. The Great Game (Season 1, Episode 3)
As amazing as “Fall” is, I think “Great Game” is even better. It’s just as tense, as Sherlock and Watson have to not only find Moriarty and stop him, but save each of his victims, who deliver messages from Moriarty to Holmes while at death’s door themselves. Despite a rather confusing fight sequence set in a dimly lit planetarium at one point, this episode still holds my attention. At the final confrontation between our heroes and Moriarty, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time the first viewing and when it ended, I demanded to see the next episode. Absolutely great from start to finish.
Well, this was fun! Agree or disagree with me in comments, and NO SPOILERS for Season 3 (I’m waiting until it ends on PBS to talk about it).