BBC’s Sherlock, you are an unusual beast. The main characters have one of the most convincingly hidden-in-plain-sight pseudo-romantic relationships dedicated to the small screen, but the adventure that surrounds this realistically odd fish of a pairing has leapt gleefully off the deep end.
This week the boys tackle one of Sherlock’s most famous mysteries: The Hound of the Baskervilles, but, in what now seems to be Sherlock tradition, the similarities to the original text end there. This iteration is all about military bases, secret genetic experiments and generational conspiracy. If it wasn’t for the show’s disarming sense of humour and Watson’s pitch-perfect weariness it’d all be a bit fifth series X-Files.
The episode kicks off in similar fashion to last week: Sherlock is bored, he’s making headlines in the national dailies (slow news week?), the jobs coming his way are uninspiring, something about a glowing rabbit, but this time round we know to pay attention to absolutely everything. That is Chekhov’s Glowing Rabbit. Anyway, the exquisitely cracked Henry Knight (Being Human‘s Russell Tovey) turns up with a story about nightmares and vicious dogs on the moor. Suddenly the master detective is piqued.
The following half hour or so is right out of Miss Marple. There’s a vegetarian gastropub run by a gay couple (okay, maybe a bit modern for Marple), a West Country tour guide, a suspicious bill for large quantities of low-grade meat and Knight’s therapist all in the same tiny village, which just so happens to host a military base that shares its architectural and interior design with the Umbrella base in Resident Evil. There’s an excellently tense/daft scene in which Sherlock pretends to be his brother, infiltrates a British army base and guesses (correctly, of course) that they have twenty minutes to compromise as many state secrets as possible and get out, and suddenly I’m sorely tempted to compare it to half a dozen other movies.
And I believe this stands to reason rather than my own encyclopedic addiction to mass media: it doesn’t feel a whole lot like an episode of Sherlock. What we’ve come to expect from the four existing episodes is a lot of sleuthing, improvising with whatever comes to hand, low-key and intimate dialogue wrapped around a tightly-knit mystery that the audience works out at roughly the same pace as, though ideally a pace behind, our heroes. “The Hounds of Baskerville”, while a ripping lark, is at its heart the kind of double-feature horror caper so beloved of its creator Mark Gatiss. The goalposts are moved.
So let’s move with them. This episode is, at times, deeply creepy. Without giving too much away – and it’s worth approaching the episode with all the cards face down - we only get one good look at the hounds, and the look of terror on Sherlock’s face when he sets eyes on it is genuinely shocking. This is a character we know/love for his coolness, his complete unflappability. A scene afterwards at the Only Pub On The Moors in which Holmes tries to convince Watson that he’s not crazy by accurately diagnosing a middle-aged couple’s infidelity by just looking at them is perfect for the character. A normal person might have night terrors, like Henry: Sherlock goes into deep detective mode.
And once again, I have nothing but praise for the casting decisions from the Sherlock team – one assumes it’s up there with Doctor Who for Britain’s finest queuing up for supporting roles.
“The Hounds of Baskerville” is an episode that could only have been the middle child out of the season’s little family. It’s too big and daft to be the opener and lacks the emotional impact for the finale, but it’s a heckuva ride, and makes an excellent case for Gatiss and co to make more tv horror in the future. As for Sherlock, this season’s finale is entitled “The Reichenbach Fall”.
PS: be sure to check out a really nicely off-kilter recap over at Moniqueblog.net. So, how have you found this year’s investigations? Let us know in the comments.