If you’re looking forward to Star Trek 2 but don’t know who Benedict Cumberbatch is, it’s time to get more excited. The BBC series Sherlock is what launched Cumberbatch into his current “hot get” status in films like The Hobbit and in ST2, and it proves that he is a phenomenal talent, and someone well worth keeping an eye on. He plays the titular character opposite Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson, and in the second season the show hits new levels of greatness. Our review of the Blu-ray of Sherlock Season 2 follows after the jump.
For those who haven’t seen either season, each consists of three ninety minute episodes – basically three mini-movies – and it gives the show a greater heft. It’s the perfect time for things to unfold (something readily apparent in the one hour version of the pilot that is available to view on the first season’s DVD and Blu-ray set) in a more natural, more filmic take on the material. You get the sense that you are watching something that isn’t just television.
The first episode of the second season is “A Scandal in Belgravia” which starts by showing that Cumberbatch’s Holmes has become famous for his crime-solving. Though many in the police department resent him, he’s a minor celebrity. This fame comes partly from Dr. Watson’s blog, which has thousands of readers a day. Such also leads Sherlock to grow bored with lesser assignments. He’s called in by the royal family to get involved with a blackmail scandal, which leads Sherlock to Irene Adler (Lara Pulver).
If you don’t know the character, she is in some ways Sherlock’s equal, and when he arrives she confronts him completely naked. As he’s used to using the environment to get a read on the people he talks to, she stops him cold, and provokes him. She’s a public figure who has a website devoted to her domanatrix fetish, and Sherlock is almost entirely unsexual. Such begins a great battle of the minds, as she plays him as the bad guy and the not bad guy. But she’s also working for Moriarty (Andrew Scott), and so the stakes get that much higher than simple government blackmail when her phone becomes the key to a terrorist plot.
This may be the best episode of the series, as it shows two smart people matching wits, and possibly falling for each other. She’s amoral (and to a certain extent, so is Holmes), and because they both believe themselves supermen (in the Nietzchian sense of the word), Holmes is more amused by the chase than the moral questions involved.
The second episode is more about the characters than the mysteries, which makes it a little disappointing and the villain is a little Scooby-Doo. Perhaps that’s inevitable when you do an ep called “The Hounds of Baskerville,” which is probably his most famous case. Here Sherlock and Watson go to a village to investigate a man who thinks there’s a big wolf hiding in the forrest. There’s a army facility nearby, and it may have something to do with the wolf.
What’s great about this episode is that it reaffirms the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, and it works on that level, in which we see their bond and how Sherlock tries to recognize his limitations in human interactions. Of course, he’s still kind of an asshole, but still.
The final episode of the series is “The Reichenbach Fall,” where Sherlock comes head to head with Moriarty once more (and perhaps for the last time). The film starts with Jim Moriarty using his phone to open a prison, break into the place holding the crown jewels, and open the Bank of England. He gets arrested, but it’s all a part of his plan to destroy Sherlock. Holmes’s mortal weakness is that he isn’t a people person, and so all the static electricity he’s generated rubbing people the wrong way allows him to be seen as the possible mastermind behind many of his successes.
It’s a great episode of escalation, and though it may not be as much to watch as some of the previous episodes, that’s because it never cheats – you like Holmes too much to see how he could be exploited. Holmes was just famous enough to be turned against, and Moriarty targets his weakness well. And where Irene did it with the kick of the sexual, Jim Moriarty just wants Holmes destroyed. The season ends with a great cliffhanger. Too bad it’s going to be a while before Season three.
On a whole this is great storytelling, and a lot of fun to watch. Creators Mark Gatniss and Steven Moffat run into the occassional problem of having a genius as a main character while having to lay out clues. Sometimes a viewer can be faster than Holmes and the good Doctor, and it feels awkward. But they understand their characters and create a great universe for them. This is one of the best shows going now, and it’s great to have six mini-Sherlock movies to watch. All are pretty good at worst, and thrilling at best. Good show.
BBC has presented the show on Blu-ray in widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1. The picture quality is good, though it’s worth noting that it’s only 1080i, likely a limitation of how it was shot. The series is spread out over two discs, with the main supplement on the second disc. The first offers the first two episodes, with a commentary on “Scandal” with Moffat and Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue, and Cumberbatch and Lara Pulver, and on “Baskerville” with Moffat, Gattiss, Vertue and actor Russell Tovey. The second disc offers the featurette “Sherlock Uncovered” (20 min.), which is a general look at the season. Solid supplements with the commentaries being the highlight.