Review: Sherlock - Series 2 (12) / Directed by: Various / Written By: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson / Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss / Release Date: Out Now
The moment the credits rolled on the series two finale of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern reimagining of Sherlock Holmes, the entire series was eclipsed by one question: How did Sherlock do it? The Reichenbach Fall ended, as the entire world knows by now, with Sherlock leaping to his apparent death in a bid to save John’s life, only to show up watching his own funeral in the closing seconds. The internet promptly exploded with theories and extravagant guesswork as the millions of fans were turned into sleuths themselves, searching for clues in an episode stuffed with so many red herrings that you could smell it from a mile away.
But in all the excitement over mysterious laundry vans and bouncy balls, people have almost forgotten the show itself, which has to be one of the most confident pieces of British television ever made. Gatiss, Moffat and third writer Steve Thompson know they have a hit on their hands and have realised they can get away with being even more outrageous than they were in series one, while Martin Freeman has a BAFTA and a leading role as a certain Hobbit to his name now and Benedict Cumberbatch is just everywhere. In some places this newfound confidence goes to Sherlock’s head. There are some misjudged moments where the performances tip towards broad, and The Hounds of the Baskerville finds itself unable to come up with a suitable way round the inevitably disappointing ending of the source material, despite some stunning visuals and one of the best sequences in the trilogy, in which Russell Tovey’s traumatised Henry Knight faces off with a malfunctioning security light.
But, on the whole, you’d struggle to call series two anything other than a triumph. The series opened with A Scandal in Belgravia, an episode so slick it’s amazing it can stay upright. Lara Pulver was excellent as Irene Adler, the only woman to get under Sherlock’s skin, and the script teases out some wonderfully humanising moments between Sherlock and his icy brother Mycroft, played again with relish by Gatiss. The episode also showed off some truly mind-bogglingly clever visuals courtesy of Hollywood director Paul McGuigan.
The finale, penned by Thompson, a writer famous only for delivering the worst episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who, was surprisingly the best of the bunch. It was the first episode of this coolly intellectual show to really tug at the tear ducts, boasting an ending that packs a real emotional punch. Andrew Scott’s gloriously mad Moriarty very nearly steals the show, winning over most of his series one detractors, but at the last moment everything spins back round to the real heart of the show: Sherlock and John’s relationship. Sherlock’s self-sacrifice is still a killer even when you know he’s not dead, because you’re not mourning him - you’re mourning the death of one of fiction’s greatest friendships.
And that friendship is really what series two is all about. For all that the casting is flawless across the board (Louise Brealey deserves special mention for making lovelorn Molly one of the most passionately loved characters in the show) this is the Cumberbatch and Freeman show. Their chemistry is flawless – hilarious, spiky and ultimately suggesting a deep bond with the barest minimum of sentiment. Cumberbatch continues to astound as TV’s only Aspergic hero, making him just vulnerable enough, but it’s Freeman who owns this series. No-one in television does reaction shots better than Martin Freeman, who is quite simply extraordinary at being ordinary. His grieving John will be the image that sticks with viewers during that long hinterland between series two and three. Because yes – there will be a series three.
Special features: Sherlock Uncovered is a disappointingly short making of, touching briefly on each episode and a couple of key sequences and visuals, but going into few details. The two audio commentaries throw up a few more interesting factoids, including what happened the first time Mycroft stood on Sherlock’s bed sheet in Buckingham Palace. Moffat, Gatiss and producer Sue Vertue do both commentaries, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Lara Pulver on sparky form for A Scandal in Belgravia and Russell Tovey joining them for an earnest Hounds of the Baskerville talk-track. The commentaries suffer a lack of the New Zealand-bound Martin Freeman and it would have been fascinating to hear Andrew Scott and Steve Thompson’s thoughts on The Reichenbach Falls, but sadly that’s the one episode that gets no commentary – presumably because they were terrified of accidentally giving the game away and spoiling all the fun that the internet conspiracy buffs are having.