This review contains spoilers. You can view the episode here
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“Your mind, it’s so placid, straight-forward, barely used.”
We join Sherlock for the penultimate episode of Series Two for the classic novel 'The Hounds of Baskerville' featuring Being Human star Russell Tovey. There are two different groups of viewers for this episode; those who know the original source and remember it and those who come to the episode fresh or have forgotten most of what happened. I say this because at its heart 'The Hounds of Baskerville' is a classical murder mystery 'whodunit?', so when it comes to rebuilding a modern adaptation of a novel which has received well over twenty different adaptations; how do you build suspense and intrigue. The writers have taken a hammer to the source material and have completely rebuilt the storyline with the same familiar names and locations. The story is still set in Dartmoor (although much of the episode is set in a clinically white military base) and we have all the familiar names; Stapleton, Barrymore, Mortimer, Henry and of course the Hound itself although the roles they play are jumbled and the names slightly modified. Henry Knight a man driven to despair and insanity by a Hound that has killed his father and is now still at large roaming the moors seeks out a fidgety Sherlock to figure out what exactly happened the night his father was taken. Sherlock only takes the case because Henry insists on using the archaic word 'Hound' and so Sherlock and Watson set out to Dartmoor; West Country on a new adventure.
The episode starts brightly with as much zip and verve as the first as we rejoin 221B with Watson and Sherlock. There are few shows where the main character drenched in pig blood wielding a harpoon could be considered the norm. We glimpse another opportunity to see into Sherlock's psyche, he is a man who cannot sit still, a man who is both a slave to cigarettes and his brilliant mind. I absolutely adore the witty banter that exist between the duo, the writers do brilliantly with dialogue that hints at an unseen history and chemistry. They are in many senses like an old married couple, bickering and fighting and the writers are fully aware of this and regularly poke fun at this. Sherlock and Watson also provide the best comedic scenes with a surreal good cop/bad cop moment and especially Sherlock's desperate inhaling of Henry's smoke.
However this is as much London as we will see as the rest of the episode is based in the dark remote and bleak West Country, Dartmoor. There is a beautiful scene where Sherlock stands atop a rock surveying the landscape which really sets the tempo that Sherlock is here to do business. The directors show their versatility with a completely different vibe some of which is successful and some which fall a little flat. The scenery is bleak but beautiful, and the soundtrack suitably ominous however their attempt at the horror genre is a little contrived and unimaginative. Considering how genre breaking Sherlock is, it is disappointing to see them sticking with conventional horror motifs. Watson being left behind, loud noises and predictable jumps are just some examples of how unambitious the directors were being in this episode. However the scene where Henry is in a hallucinogenic nightmare as the Hound stalks him in his own backyard is well directed with Russell Tovey's acting taking centre stage.
There are no particular problems with the storyline itself but rather the pacing is slow and there are plot holes that are never answered for example Watson stumbles upon the potential answer of the whole case as he discovers a metal canister in the forest (and why does he never mention this to Sherlock?). The characters of Major Barrymore (Simon Paisley Day), genetic scientist Dr Stapleton (Amelia Bullmore) and Dr Frankland (Clive Mantle) seem to be rather one dimensional and lack the charm or intelligence of 'The Woman' in the first episode. One redeeming character is Louise Mortimer, Henry's psychotherapist. The sessions are a nice plot device to look into Henry's mind and actually the words 'In' and 'Liberty' are revealed here.
|Watson's discovery in the forest|
Russell Tovey was always going to be watched closely being the guest star and he does not disappoint as he plays a harrowed Henry driven to the edge of insanity and despair. His mansion in disrepair is filmed with cold blues and is as bleak and desolate as the moors itself and I thought this was a nice touch by the writers.
Cumberbatch is also given ample time to flex his acting chops with the episodes defining moment. A visibly shaken Sherlock who has long advocated a fictional Hound has seen with his own eyes the Hound for himself. Sherlock starts off scared and shaken and quickly becomes increasingly angry; whether at himself or at Watson is never clear but he offends Watson by stating that he has no friends in a moment of exasperation. I think this scene is important not only for the development of Watson and Sherlock's relationship (Sherlock makes up with Watson later) but reveals the deeper issues inside Sherlock's mind. He is a man ruled by logic and everything he does has an order and method to it; when he first approaches the Dartmoor military base his eyes constantly scans the environment for every little thing that may be of significance. This is even clearer with the minority report-esque mind palace moment. So when he is faced with a glitch, a clear vision of the Hound, he is caught between his human fallible emotions which he always tried to divorce himself from and the machine that is his mind.
Watson then is the perfect companion, ever willing to bring his human side out. Considering Sherlock later experiments on him, he is also infinitely patient and I think Sherlock realises that he is a better person and investigator with him by his side.
'The Hounds of Baskerville' is somewhat lacklustre and lacks the pace and charm of the former episode but Cumberbatch and Freeman with their sharp dialogue and interactions together are highlights of the episode. The problem with the plot line is that it lacks an antagonist that the viewer can care about. Next week's episode features the excellent Andrew Scott as Moriarty and as we return back to the central struggle between Moriarty and Sherlock, I hope that the final episode of Sherlock we may see in a while can finish on a high note.