'Sherlock' Series Two, Episode Two: 'The Hounds Of Baskerville' // Words: Saam Das
SYNOPSIS: "Contemporary crime drama. Sherlock and John investigate the truth about the monstrous creature which apparently killed their client's father." (bbc.co.uk)
The first series of 'Sherlock' saw an extremely bright opening episode followed by a middling offering. Unfortunately, two years later(s), it's more of the same - last week's excellent return, 'A Scandal In Belgravia' followed in disappointing fashion by an effort that fails to live upto its original story ('The Hound Of The Baskervilles') basis. Spoiler-free thoughts below....
The opening of 'The Hounds Of Baskerville' has an element of British cult horror film 'Dog Soldiers', as we see a wide-eyed Henry Knight (Russell Tovey) relive his father's death at the hands/paws of "a gigantic hound". Meanwhile, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) struggling to maintain his composure and sanity as he battles his nicotine addiction and a lack of intellectual stimulation. Holmes and Knight discuss his father's death and after his usual flippancy, Sherlock takes the case on.
Watson (Martin Freeman) and Holmes travel down to the Dartmoor area (allowing us to witness some pleasurable vistas) to investigate Knight's father's death - all the more suspicious due to a long-standing governmental chemical and biological weapons facility, Baskerville, located nearby. Rumours have long since spread in the local area that one of the animals experimented on escaped...
A brief (illegal) foray into Baskerville sees Watson pleasingly take the limelight when he pulls rank to avoid suspicion, and also presents us with a brilliant look of disdain from Mycroft (episode writer Mark Gatiss). Holmes, Watson and Knight return to the scene of the death soon after and Holmes finds his pre-conceptions shattered, which later gives rise to a supremely breathless monologue - Sherlock at arguably his lowest point but Cumberbatch at one of his highest.
Unfortunately, such compelling moments are few and far between. The references to the original Conan Doyle stories seem slightly forced and the pacing of the episode is slow, particularly as the game is mostly given away with plenty of time to spare. I can only presume Gatiss has never seen 'Batman Begins'. His strong point and success is in building the characters of Sherlock and Watson - "John, I don't have friends. I just have one." - although that only goes so far in a plot-driven environment.
Director Paul McGuigan fails to follow up his impressive show in the previous episode, his horror chops largely lacking and undoubtedly hampered by the relatively small budget - the CGI "hound" is somewhat amateur-ish. Nor is McGuigan aided by Tovey's unnecessarily hammy performance, struggling to demonstrate years of mental anguish in a nuanced manner. Although arguably that too is ultimately McGuigan's responsibility.
Freeman and Cumberbatch, on the other hand, do their usual sterling job, save for one scene where the latter goes to his "mind palace", which is hilariously bad. Unless you enjoy seeing Cumberbatch do the robot while trying to re-enact a scene from 'Minority Report'. Once again, McGuigan is capable of better.
The unexpected coda proves to be a teaser for the (all too soon) series finale - a vivid demonstration of Moriarty's (Andrew Scott) obsession with Sherlock. Indeed, Moriarty's shadow has been looming throughout since the cliffhanger of the first series. The world's greatest criminal mastermind has since received less than five minutes screen-time and just a handful of lines. The stage is set. 'The Reichenbach Fall' could see Sherlock's greatest duel yet. Hopefully.
PREVIOUS EPISODE (SPOILER-FREE) REVIEWS:
'A Scandal In Belgravia' (2012)
'The Great Game' (2010)
'The Blind Banker' (2010)
'A Study In Pink' (2010)
Watch 'The Hounds Of Baskerville' on BBC iPlayer until 21:59, 22 Jan '12. Leave any thoughts on the episode in the comments below.