Friday, March 14, 2014

What I really thought: BBC Sherlock Series 3

BBC Sherlock series 1 and 2 were surprising and brilliant, emotionally resonant and with storytelling flair far beyond what I remembered from reading the original stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Series 3 took the show in a very different direction for me. A friend asked why I didn't connect with it as strongly as with the first two series. I ended making a list of reasons:

- I felt like the over-the-top fanservice took a sledgehammer to the fourth wall. I admit it was fun in the moment, but the next morning I felt a lot more sober about the whole party. I thought the in-show fan club was winky fun, but when I know I'm only getting three episodes to last the next two years, I want to skip the winks and get down to the mystery-solving. 

- That said, I appreciate the way this show develops relationships. Mystery solving is boring if you don't care much about the characters at the heart of the mysteries, and the show has for the most part made each episode's characters sympathetic. As the fans know, the most well-developed and engaging relationship is, unsurprisingly, the ongoing one between Sherlock and Dr. Watson. Surprisingly, then, not a lot of time was spent in S3.1 on the actual reunion. 

This was a bit of a travesty to me. I felt like the fanservice parts ate into the precious minutes we could have had going a bit deeper into the reunion.

The way they kept changing location was funny but prevented us from sinking deeply into what could have been a very emotionally rewarding scene. Must have been a deliberate choice by Moffatt/Gatiss et al., and I get it given the emotional heaviness of the close of season 2, but this felt a bit TOO light.

- I felt like Sherlock was way too confused about people, like about John asking him to be best man and about his best man speech itself. "Did I do it wrong?" He was practically asking, "What is that salt watery substance emanating from their tear ducts?" I mean, come on.

- I thought the trick he played on John in the tube railcar was *really* weird and such an off, off note. I think I've seen an interview somewhere indicating that the actor made this deliberate choice, that terrible things had happened to Sherlock in the two years he was gone and so he was even less in tune with humanity than usual. But still-- the way he laughed at John's emotional response was so jarring. We did see how he was badly beaten and tortured in the beginning of the episode, but I don't think that was enough to establish how far backward the show seems to want to suggest Sherlock has slipped emotionally. This was basically my issue with the whole season.

- I wasn't that entranced with the mystery of the Mayfly Man in The Sign of Three. I know it may have been based on canon but they usually do a better job of punching those Victorian-era mysteries up. A needle in his abdomen that he didn't notice?

- I thought having such an incredibly long-winded and poorly delivered best man speech, interrupted by "Let's play murder" and ending on a surprisingly loving note, strained even the most accommodatingly credible viewer. I just can't believe that Sherlock would be so terrible at making public speeches, especially given how seriously he took his role as best man (look at how assiduously he practiced napkin folding and how he wrote the music for John and Mary's first dance).

- Speaking of John and Mary, I wasn't sure I believed John and Mary's relationship-- that he was that into her, that she was that into him. (Ironic given their real life relationship, I know.) 

- If I was suspicious of why Mary was so in favor of the two of them spending time together, shouldn't John have been too? How could John have been so easily hoodwinked? I get that he was vulnerable after the death of Sherlock, but still. Her enthusiasm for their friendship just didn't pass the smell test for me.

- I did basically buy Mary as an assassin. But I didn't buy that she'd be that distraught by this Magnusson character. Or that anyone (especially Sherlock) would be surprised that there are no paper files. ?! It's in the cloud, man!! It's more surprising to me that he thought there would be a vault of papers at Appledore. 

- And on Magnusson: I was repulsed by how totally he oozed sleaze, and no one likes a licker, but I didn't find him that scary. Certainly not as bad as Moriarty, who doesn't mind having people killed.

- How did Sherlock leave himself no out but to shoot Magnusson?

Things I loved:

- HUGE hat tip of respect and admiration for Michael Price's scores. How It Was Done, the French waiter, and all the other variations on the Sherlock theme (which is, as we've seen throughout the show, John's theme) brought just the right mood this season seemed to call for: big, brash, emotionally forward.

- I did love the continued evolution of how the deductions and mind palace are visualized onscreen for us. They could have continued the same (initially amazing) way of doing that, but they challenged themselves to keep changing it up and I appreciated that.

- I loved how they showed Sherlock as a boy (although Moffatt has strenuously argued that we'd never, ever hear Sherlock's backstory, not ever in a million years ). 

- And of course, the scene where he remembers Redbeard is ridiculously and beautifully affecting.

- I liked a lot of little callbacks and references. I especially appreciated Mycroft's sadness at Sherlock's "six month assignment." "Six months" seems to be code for "yer toast" -- Irene Adler, Sherlock's female mirror, was also given "six months out there." And so maybe we shouldn't be surprised that, like Irene, Sherlock earned himself a reprieve from someone who loved him.

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