Friday, November 12, 2010

"The great game"

Now I present my review of the mini-series finale titled “The great Game”.

Mycroft Holmes asks his brother Sherlock to investigate the mysterious death of an MI6 employee linked to the disappearance of top-secret military plans. But Sherlock is soon distracted by a series of crimes which he must solve in a prescribed time limit before innocent hostages strapped into bombers’ vests are blown up. Holmes’ successful deductions eventually lead him to his first face-to-face confrontation with nemesis Jim Moriarty, which ends with Sherlock pointing Watson’s gun at a bomber’s vest positioned between himself and Moriarty.

The closing instalment of the season was a welcome return to the form of the opening episode, with Sherlock dispensing his deductive skill in rapid-fire fashion as he solves case after case (many referencing a number of the original Holmes short stories, most explicitly The Bruce-Partington Plans). Cumberbatch plays Holmes’ self-confessed sociopathic tendencies perfectly as he tackles Moriarty’s conundrums with glee, treating the innocent pawns in the game with casual and coldly rational disdain. His reaction to the explosion which kills the blind old woman (and 11 others) – “but I solved the case!” - before immediately reeling off on another whirlwind of deductive reasoning reveals both the inner child within the man and the child-like excitement of returning to the game, and Cumberbatch’s performance is utterly believable without being unsympathetic.

In fact, as we discover, the lives of Moriarty and Holmes have been intertwined since childhood, with the former’s first murder being the case which ignited Sherlock’s boyhood interest in criminal investigation. Perhaps more explicitly than any of the books and adaptations have ever done, it is emphasised here that Moriarty is the yin to Holmes’ yang. Both are sociopathic geniuses disillusioned with the boredom of ordinary life, but whereas Holmes uses his particular skills to help solve crime, Moriarty has chosen to assist others to commit them as the world’s only consulting criminal. In the same way that Holmes fails to express concern for the potential or actual bomb victims (because to do so does nothing to help him solve the puzzles), Moriarty is equally dismissive about his victims having, as a boy, killed another “because he annoyed me” and blowing up the blind woman for simply ignoring her script.

Holmes and Moriarty are flip sides of the same coin: you can see how each could have easily become the other. It is a compelling theme which has frequently been addressed in the realms of science fiction, perhaps most thoroughly by Star Trek, through the original series episode The Enemy Within and subsequent forays into the mirror universe.
The Great Game was an excellent episode, packing an incredible amount of story and character development into 90 short minutes. Sherlock’s ongoing struggle to balance his sociopathy with his need to deal with people is explored more thoroughly here than previously, and he displays a clinical understanding of human emotion – or at least how to manipulate it at the flick of a switch, as in his tearful interrogation of the missing banker’s wife – which makes him even more chilling. Watson’s increasingly confident exchanges with Mycroft show how far he has progressed since A Study in Pink, and his willingness to sacrifice himself at the climax underlined the strength of his relationship with Holmes.

There were two niggles for me. Firstly, the implausibility of the first two bomb hostages – surely someone would notice a woman crying in a busy car park for nine hours, or a man doing the same in Piccadilly Circus for eight? Secondly, and more importantly, the casting of Andrew Scott as Moriarty jarred. It is not so much Scott himself (although his physical similarity to Ant had me wondering whether Dec would come around the corner at any moment), but more the fact that he was unveiled at all – although I appreciate that doing so significantly upped the tension for the cliffhanger. (Anyway, more on that later.)

Quibbles aside, this was a strong end to what has been an excellent retelling of the Holmes legend, and I cannot wait for the second season which airs in August 2011.


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