The sheer audacity of the resolution to the pool cliffhanger positively makes me squeak with joy. All that build up, all that tension diffused in one brilliant comedic moment by the tinny notes of Staying Alive. Utterly audacious and very clever. Andrew Scott continued to manage to terrify switching from genial, if business like to bellowing death threats in the blink of an eye. Loved the utterly commanding moment of him removing the threat of imminent death for Sherlock and John with just a single click of his fingers.
And then on to the story proper with naughty Irene having pictures of an equally naughty female royal (coughKateMiddletoncough) that needed to be retrieved by Sherlock. But it was a testament to the strength of the writing & Moffat’s faith in our love for the characters that we didn’t immediately dive into Irene’s tale instead spending time showing us how Sherlock and John’s odd couple relationship has settled into an engagingly domestic friendship with Sherlock wandering in and out of frame, bits of experiments in hand while John updates his blog. In the space of about 5 minutes we got multiple cases & several brilliant nods to canon (”The Speckled Blonde”) all presented at lightening fast speed while the audience can only smile at the giddy delights on offer. And kudos for getting Cumberbatch in a deerstalker in a way that didn’t come across as contrived. Its a silly throwaway moment but at the same time somewhat iconic.
But then we meet Irene and can we just talk for a moment about how truly superb Lara Pulver is? Far too often strong female characters like Irene are written and presented simply as stereotypical femme fatales but there was nothing stereotypical or trite about Lara’s performance. Strong, sexy, damaged – in Lara’s hands Irene Adler completely comes alive. It’s a gorgeously nuanced performance. Brave too – there aren’t many actresses who would be happy to be wandering around nude on the BBC before the watershed. Her first scene with Sherlock and John is a joy as she struts around, utterly comfortable within her own skin while Sherlock struggles to read her. Special mention should also go to the actress playing Irene’s friend – the sequence where she struggles to conceal her laughter at “Battered Priest Sherlock’s” terrible lies is adorable and very funny indeed. Irene and Sherlock’s “relationship” may consist of nothing more than a few text messages and a handful of charged exchanges but the infatuation is clear in every line of their bodies as they speak to each other and was so beautifully played by Lara and Benedict.
My favourite scene remains the beautiful, delicate scene between John and Irene at Battersea Power Station where they discuss how utterly useless labels are when it comes to emotion. Irene is gay, John isn’t but Sherlock is still desperately important to each of them in different ways. And Sherlock, who we saw throughout series 1 never shies away from confrontation turns tail and runs when he realises Irene is alive rather than deal with the ramifications of that conversation and what it means for him. Such a small scene and yet it packs quite a punch.
And then that glorious end confrontation with Sherlock, Mycroft and Irene. Irene triumphant, positively aglow with her own cleverness, crowing over getting one over on the Holmes brothers and the British Government in general, Sherlock bested and humiliated, slouched and small in his chair (never has he looked more the “little brother” than in that sequence) and then with the revelation of the passcode it all changes in the blink of an eye. Benedict Cumberbatch is utterly wonderful in this sequence. I think the scene might have been unbearable if it had given off a sense that the clever man had once again triumphed over the lowly female but while Sherlock is ultimately triumphant he derives no pleasure from it. His face as he delivers his monologue about emotion, punching in the keycode with venom is extraordinary, so many different emotions – fascination, love, anger, humiliation, confusion all at once. It’s breathtaking to behold. And Irene comes full circle. Her battle armour may consist of nothing more than some exquisitely applied make up and her bare skin but it isn’t until this scene that we see her truly naked as Sherlock strips her bare emotionally. And then that beautiful, oddly romantic little coda with Sherlock rescuing her from the terrorists – all very boys own adventures. I confess my heart leapt. Which given that Irene lied, conspired with Moriarty & blew an operation designed to protect the lives of UK citizens is impressive. A curious, twisted and utterly fascinating relationship between two very damaged souls bought to life by two extraordinarily talented actors.
The acting in general is just brilliant – everyone from the stars to the actors with the teeniest guest roles are on the very top of their game. Benedict Cumberbatch continues to be breathtakingly brilliant as Sherlock, adding welcome notes of vulnerability and in the scenes where Sherlock is drugged some fine clowning skills. I love that Sherlock has been slightly humanised but not too much. He may grudgingly suffer a Christmas get together with friends and colleagues for the sake of John but he still hasn’t learned quite enough not to humiliate poor Molly (A heart-breakingly sweet and wonderful Louise Brealey) with his deductions. But he has learnt just enough to apologise and kiss her on the cheek after!
Martin Freeman is wonderful as John Watson, whether ineptly trying to hold onto his girlfriend, chatting up the random girl sent to pick him up, or cuddling a distraught Mrs Hudson (the glorious Una Stubbs who is magnificent in every scene), or exploding with anger at Irene and showcasing his fierce loyalty to Sherlock in their brilliant scene together. And his every interaction with Sherlock is just brilliant. The chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman just works and they are a perfect team. Freeman is just a joy to watch, his acting is always gentle and understated and he sells every single scene.
I mentioned in my earlier review that the biggest surprise of this episode was how heavily Mark Gatiss was featured. His Mycroft Holmes is a sheer delight. The early sequence of Sherlock, John and Mycroft in the palace is immense fun as the brothers bicker like children (“Shall I be mother” “Thats a whole childhood right there”.) I found the scene of Mycroft and Sherlock at the morgue with Mycroft comforting Sherlock in his own odd way surprisingly affecting even if it is completely lacking in sentiment (as is the Holmes’ brothers way). And then that remarkably dark sequence on the plane of the dead with a coldly furious Mycroft, incandescent with rage over his little brother unwittingly having put lives at risk by decoding the email. It’s a horridly dark concept – the notion that actually Sherlock could be such a security risk that it could justify his execution by an intelligence agency. And yet even while furious at Sherlock Mycroft is still thinking of his brother, sorrowful for having sent him into Irene’s path as ill equipped for emotion as Sherlock is. Gatiss is quite superb as Mycroft and I do hope we see as much of him in the remaining episodes.
Paul McGuigan proves why he should be directing everything with stunning visuals that put many a Hollywood blockbuster to shame. I was particularly fond of the simple reveal of the hiker’s death with Irene and Sherlock in the field, the woozy dreaminess of Sherlock’s drugged state, the claustrophobic creeping horror of the plane sequence and the charged final confrontation between Sherlock, Irene and Mycroft.
The music (by David G Arnold and Michael Price) is beautiful with Irene’s theme in particular being suitably heartbreaking. The score adds so much to the scenes. It never gets in the way or drowns out the action but is suitably exciting and rousing throughout. I’d love to be able to download it right now.
In short Sherlock A Scandal in Belgravia is utterly bloody brilliant telly and one hell of a return for the series. Bring on the Hounds!