Monday, January 2, 2012

A Scandal in Belgravia

I wasn’t a very good blogger last year. The amount of times I told myself I would make a conscious effort to blog more (I even went on record on here a few of those times) clearly had no effect on the amount of blogging I actually did. I finished watching Smallville (ie. Clark Kent finally became bloody SUPERMAN!) and picked up on House where I last left off - and I didn’t even so much as think about logging into Blogspot. The Christmas episode of Downton Abbey aired and I didn’t even go near the computer!! Shameful.

But last night, at 8:10pm, on your TV and mine, something remarkable happened. Having enjoyed the first series of the BBC’s updated version of the Sherlock Holmes myth, which first hit our screens in 2010 under the watchful eyes of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, I was naturally excited about the prospect of a new episode to watch, especially since it had been 18 months since audiences saw Sherlock finally come face to face with the positively psychopathic Jim Moriarty by a swimming pool, with only a worried-looking Watson, a bunch of snipers, a bomb and a gun for company. However, there was no way in hell I could have anticipated just how bloody fantastic this new episode, A Scandal in Belgravia (based on the original Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia), would be.

Now, let me make something clear right now. I am no fan of Moffat. I enjoyed his episode of Sherlock last year, but the buck stops there. I’m no fan of Coupling. I try not to think about Jekyll. And I will never forgive him for what he’s done to Doctor Who. But what he did when he wrote A Scandal in Belgravia… well, I can honestly only describe it to you as pure perfection. From the opening moments to the final, exhilarating few seconds, I was hooked. And the only – and I mean only – piece of television that I can think of that betters last night’s Sherlock is the finale of Season 2 of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin’s Two Cathedrals. Nothing on TV will ever better that episode, let me tell you that now – so for me to say that Moffat’s Sherlock episode came perilously close to doing so last night… that is saying a hell of a lot.

It’s difficult for me to highlight just what was so excellent about Scandal because if I were to do so you’d end up reading a transcript of the episode, and as entertaining as I’m sure reading it would be, that’s not what I’m here to do. But there were just so many moments that I’m struggling to know where to begin. Perhaps, then, I should start at the beginning, which saw the knife-cutting tension of the final moments of the last series broken (or, quite possibly, exacerbated) by the ringing of Moriarty’s phone, which just so happens to have the Bee Gees as its ringtone. Or maybe I should talk about the way Sherlock sits in Buckingham Palace stark naked, covered only by a flimsy sheet. But then I’d also want to talk about how chilling it was to hear Sherlock describe to the annoying American exactly what injuries he’d have, and detailing how he would get them, before he even got them.

Benedict Cumberbatch simply OWNS as Sherlock Holmes, whilst Lara Pulver dazzles as Irene Adler

However, as wonderful as those little elements are, the ultimate highlight must surely be what was essentially at the very core of the whole episode - the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Hadler. For his whole life, Sherlock has been the cleverest person (and then some) in whichever room he’s arrogantly stridden into. But with Irene Hadler, he might just have met his match. And as interesting as Moffat’s decision to make his interpretation of the character a seductive dominatrix, a woman who elects not to stride arrogantly into a room but calmly glide into it naked, was, what was truly compelling was the way in which the entire episode was essentially an intellectual way of depicting two predators circling each other and trying to size each other up (though Sherlock did appear to have the upper hand on that front). Sherlock and Irene are so incredibly similar that they could be either friends, enemies or lovers – and, quite deliberately, there are elements of all three of those possibilities dispersed throughout the episode, and that makes for truly exhilarating viewing.

A big congratulations also has to go out to the show’s composer, David G Arnold. Composers  - especially on TV shows – don’t get nearly enough recognition, and often when they do receive it its only because somebody wants to complain about their music being too loud/interfering/whatever. I hope that nobody will be saying that about the score of Scandal because it was absolutely superb. There were some (well, a lot) of moments in the episode that were outstanding of their own accord, but when coupled with that tremendous, tremendous score – which struck me as rather evocative of Hans Zimmer’s score for The Da Vinci Code – they just became something else entirely. I’m thinking specifically of the scene where Irene finally figures out what Sherlock knew all along about how the accomplished sportsmen died, but, more specifically, the scene in which Sherlock reveals to Irene how he could tell from both her pupils and her pulse that all the words she’d ever said to him were more than just words.

Which leads me on to one last thing I wanted to talk about it. I like it when TV shows are clever. I like it when they make you think. Shows like The West Wing and Doctor Who are like that. And so’s Sherlock. But I especially loved Scandal because it wasn’t just clever in that traditional sense; it was clever because it was constantly able to fool the audience. When Sherlock typed in the codes 1895 and 221B into the phone, it can be presumed that if the codes weren’t at least the codes that the audience was thinking of, they were certainly the codes that they were sure would  be the correct ones (although I suppose the fact that there were remaining attempts was a big of a giveaway), only to find that they were not. That, I suppose, just made the eventual reveal of what the code actually was all the more satisfying. And as for the code itself…  well, I’m fairly sure that I AM SHERLOCKED is going to be remembered for years to come in Sherlock mythology. The ultimate moment of deception, though (at least for me), came at the end. I honestly thought that, having ‘died’ once, Irene’s death at the hands of the terrorist cell would almost certainly be unavoidable. This was cemented as she resigned herself to her fate, was approached by a swordsmen, and the screen faded to black. But to hear that text alert, and for the picture to race back to the screen, and to see Irene look up and straight into the eyes of Sherlock Holmes… that was the biggest surprise of them all – and what a surprise it was. Absolutely breath-taking, there’s no other word for it.


To be entirely truthful with you, I’m a little concerned about the rest of 2012. I mean, yes, it looks to be a good year in terms of television: there’s another series of Downton Abbey for starters, what I presume is the final episode of Absolutely Fabulous, and hey, there’s even another two episodes of Sherlock! But seriously, when you consider that A Scandal in Belgravia was a masterpiece in every sense of the word, will anything on television in 2012 – the rest of the decade, in fact – actually top it?

I think not.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review of the episode.

    For a different look at this episode, check out my review .