You can deduce every single fucking thing you need to know about Sherlock from the final scene of the pilot alone. Don’t feel too pleased with yourself though, like everything else about this skewer full of bollocks, it’s nothing to be proud of.
We’ve been teased for 90 minutes about the identity of a mysterious and vaguely sinister character who kidnaps Doctor Watson, in the midst of a plot where multiple references to an ‘arch-enemy’ clang to the floor like Octomom’s Ben Wa Balls. In an amazing twist, it turns out it was Mycroft, Sherlock’s avuncular older brother, all along! He holds a position in the British government, and has a lovely assistant called Agatha (that’s a clever bit!)
“Upgrade their security surveillance status,” he utters as Holmes and Watson depart the scene of the climax. “Grade three, ACTIVE!” There are probably words for how loathsome this is, but they are beyond me at the moment. And yet somehow, it gets worse.
“Who?!” replies Agatha, as if that wasn’t obvious.
“Why,” he says, adopting a self-serious expression, and glaring stiffly after our heroes, “Sherlock Holmes, and Doctor Watson!” Cut to the detectish duo stalking moodily into the night in slow motion as the theme swells beneath them, urging these new partners forward to fresh excitement and daring adventures!
Having watched and (shame-facedly) enjoyed the last series of Doctor Who, I’ve nevertheless come to abhor Steven Moffat’s inability to give a character a ‘cool’ moment without resorting to just having them, or someone else, bleat their name in awe and adoration. I could forgive Doctor Who, since it is written for nine-year-olds, but this is meant to be a proper, grown-up, top-tier, flagship drama. Raise your fucking game, man; this dogshit just is not good enough.
I don’t really blame the actors (apart from Mark fucking Gattis, obviously). Benedict Cumberpatch is recognisably Sherlock. As the only Holmes actor with a stupider name than his character – including Basil Rathbone – he does a really good job with the bullshit he is forced to try and invest in. Martin Freeman is an amalgamation of various filmic Watsons, simultaneously dependable and competent, yet ‘comedically’ buffoonish and slow. It’s handled well enough that it doesn’t feel contradictory. Given the dialogue is peppered with overly smug, try-hard one-liners, it says something about these performances that I still managed to come away with some sympathy for the characters.
The problems here almost all lie in the nuts and bolts of the writing. In trying to bring Holmes’ method into the present day, they have made what looked elegant and brilliant in the hands of Conan-Doyle seem contrived and idiotic by only a cursory comparison. Holmes’ first flashy deduction, where he infers a whole mess of personal details about Watson from the state of his mobile phone, hinges completely on an inscription that was engraved for the phone’s previous owner. Who the fuck engraves a mobile phone as a romantic keepsake? Most people I know upgrade their phones more often than I upgrade my pants.
Holmes’ famous pocket watch deduction – from which this scene is transparently lifted – is far-fetched, but it does make sense. It’s not hard to imagine receiving an inscribed pocket watch. If a girlfriend of mine gave me an exploitative, vulgar and disposable gadget as a token of her love, I’d probably smile and say ‘aw thanks, sweetie’, and give her a lovely cuddle and a nice feel up. Secretly, I’d be thinking about making her eat it, inscription or not. There are some gifts you engrave, there are others you don’t. Meantime, the deduction that breaks the entire case hinges on a single salient, patronising fact: Women like pink stuff.
Oh yeah, the case. Inexpertly field-splinted together in shrieking agony from the smashed ribs of A Study in Scarlet, this story has been twisted out of all recognition. If it were done in service of something good, then so be it. Instead, it’s used to deliver a fucking idiotic serial killer narrative, where the villain can’t decide what his motive is. He’s proving a point, Jigsaw style; but he’s also being paid for every corpse he delivers because ???? Even though he washes his hands of responsibility for his victims because technically they killed themselves? Strewth, mate.
It also starts the ball rolling on an obvious series arc; Holmes’ eventual clash with Moriarty. Even Guy Ritchie could resist blowing that particular wad right off the bat, never mind the fact that this ‘faithful’ version of the gentlemanly Holmes obtains the name of his nemesis by torturing a dying man.
And while I’m on; fucking nicotine patches? You might think that is a clever way to sidestep the thorny potato of depicting a famous and unapologetic smoker in a modern, sanitised world. It isn’t. It’s lame as fucking hell and reeks of pointless compromise.
“Purists will take umbrage,” huffs the Guardian. Fuck that, fuck them and fuck this show. I enjoyed the Guy Ritchie version for what it was: a daft, fun Holmes-flavoured action movie. Similarly, I despise this for what it is; night soil through and through.