Sherlock: The Last Vow

A First: A Guilty Displeasure

Magnussen's data on Sherlock

Magnussen’s data on Sherlock

My vow after watching this horrendous Sherlock episode on PBS is not to watch again unless three highly esteemed friends insist writers Moffatt and Gatiss have regained their sanity and writing ability. The season 3 finale “The Last Vow” was a hokey train wreck.

The real crime seems that these writers have been kidnapped or possessed by zombies of some sort. You know how Sherlock’s able to delete irrelevant information from his brain. How I wish I could delete the experience of watching “The Last Vow.” It kept me up last night and was the first thing in my head when I woke.

This episode involved Sherlock in pursuit of uber-blackmailer, Charles Augustus Magnussen after the government official whose face he licked (talk about creepy to watch) enlists Sherlock’s help.

What follows is a mishmash of slick graphics and preposterous scenes that made my head spin. While many parts of the story were culled from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s original stories, it’s as if someone took pages of the stories, put them in a food processor, removed any sensible bits, stirred the remaining mess up, spit in the bowl and served it up to the viewers. I watched with my aunt and we kept saying, “How is it possible that this has gotten worse?” And the true sign of a terrible show: I kept looking at the clock to see how much longer we had to watch.

Ever the optimist, I thought the show would redeem itself at some point, but alas, it never did.

last bow

My observations:

  • Sherlock’s a mastermind who can read people with incredible precision, yet he didn’t see that Mary was a spy and assassin when he met her. Are we supposed to believe that?
  • Though Mary Marston is connected with uber-villain Magnussen and shoots Sherlock, we’re supposed to buy that John staying married to her is a good thing. She has completely presented a false identity and we have no idea who she is and John’s not certifiable for wanting to stay with her? Isn’t not wanting to know who she really is the height of objectifying a woman? Since John gets so frustrated with Sherlock’s lack of empathy, wouldn’t Mary whose empathy is questionable at best and put on at worst, make her a terrible wife for John?Sherlock doesn’t have the logic to see this? Divorce is legal and acceptable in England.  In this case, i.e. fraud, annulment is in order. John can try to get custody of the child, which he’d get if Mary is in jail, where she belongs. Viewers realize that what’s deep down matters in a person and deep down, Mary is not trustworthy. She will kill when it suits her. How’s that for ethics?
  • I could do without the face licking, thank you very much. Could all screenwriters make a note of that?
  • A pun is not a good source for a theme. In the last episode, Sherlock vowed to help John and Mary stay together. In this episode, that vow doesn’t make sense and more importantly isn’t the noble thing to do.
  • Why wouldn’t Mary going to jail be more satisfying?
  • How long can someone who’s been shot walk around town solving crimes?
  • Moffat’s been taken to task for poor treatment of female characters. This episode shows that in spades. Molly, a character I really like, is given some big actions, but because they have little impact or take place briefly in Sherlock’s drug induced imaginings don’t give the character her due. The end of her engagement is brushed off with a quip. We learn Sherlock’s mother is a math genius, but she packed that up and views it as nothing. Mary’s a sociopath and Mrs. Hudson is a pothead. Really?
  • Why didn’t this woman who would have had to push her way to the top of a male dominated field, stand up to Magnussen?
  • There’s a reason cutting from scene to scene in a manic fashion is not listed in Aristotle’s Poetics. It does not result in good storytelling. Cheap flashy cuts just make viewers head’s spin.
  • Though I missed Moriarty, bringing him back through implausible means wasn’t want I wanted. I can live with the loss and as AV Club reviewer Genevieve Valentine points out, when there are just three episodes, we don’t need an overarching villain. Remember there’s something called evil in the world and that more than suffices.
  • It’s implausible that John has some highly tuned sociopath detector that sensed that Mary was a sociopath so he was drawn to her. There’s nothing in earlier seasons that showed the Everyman character was that far gone. What  does that say about everyone?
  • Packing multiple pieces of Doyle’s stories into one episode just doesn’t work. There’s no need to.

Questions

  1. Did the British audience take to this?
  2. Has or should Moffat issue an apology for this disgraceful writing?
  3. Did anyone else feel they needed a shower or some sort of medical attention after suffering through this?

Sherlock: The Sign of Three

sherlock-wedding

Warning, readers: Spoilers below.

John Watson marries Mary Marston in this episode. Yet Sherlock in many ways overshadows the couple, as one would expect. While the secondary characters like Mrs. Hudson are excited for the couple most are worried about Sherlock. How will he handle this change in his friendship with Watson? I’d rather the big question surrounded solving a crime and capturing the criminal.

The episode did have its bright spots: the costumes were splendid as were the settings. I really liked the bright yellow walls in the place where the reception was held.

The episode started with Lestrade desperately trying to capture three elusive bank robbers. A series of scenes shows the police’s near misses over the course of a year. (Why wasn’t Sherlock brought in to help?) Just as Lestrade and his officers are about to make their arrest, he gets a text from Sherlock. “Help!” Though capturing these robbers is crucial to Lestrade, he decides to race over to 221 B Baker Street to help Sherlock. Since he thinks this plea indicates a dire emergency, Lestrade calls the station to send loads of officers over to 221 B.

But wouldn’t you know it was a big misunderstanding? Sherlock just needed a question about John’s wedding answered. If we hadn’t seen this sort of joke before it would be funny. The show’s done this before with John racing to Sherlock’s aid for a false alarm. While Sherlock’s behavior wouldn’t change, those around him would learn and would think twice before sounding the alarm or racing to him. Why didn’t Lestrade call first? He’s not an idiot.

sherlock-season-3-episode-2-watch-online

The show was uneven to me. Because of all the attention paid to the wedding and how Sherlock would cope, I felt the show was off kilter. The first crime we see involves the murder of a Royal Guard and that was undertaken mainly as a diversion to get the boys out of the house.

There were some scenes with Mycroft which seemed superfluous. Since the episode is entitled “The Sign of Three,” and does borrow characters’ names from “The Sign of Four, I’d hoped we’d see some version of the annoying, and humorous Abernathy Jones, whose in that novel. A modern Abernathy Jones could be hilarious or vexing and intrigue us all. We don’t need Mycroft in every story.

The crimes seem tacked on as if its a bother to deal with them, which shouldn’t be the case. They are the crux of the series. Jonathan Small, the murderer, has a personality and back story that’s paper thin. In the original there’s much more dimension to him.

The writers fill the time with sequences that wore out their welcome fast. I didn’t need to see a protracted stag party/pub crawl with Sherlock and Watson getting plastered. Sure, if you must, show them getting drunk, but do it quickly. The humor of the drunk stumbling around is of the lowest order. I can do without the cliché. Also, the wedding speech dragged on. Though it was interspersed with lots of flashbacks, it still dragged. The speech contained some touching moments and did provide some exposition, but it went on far too long.

After last week’s episode, “The Empty Hearse,” which was weighed down by nods to fans and fan fiction, this episode made me long for Jeremy Brett‘s Sherlock Holmes. While I’m fine with the idea of deviating from tradition, I do still want a good story and not a potentially good story hidden amongst easy gags. It seems like writers Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson, are drunk on the show’s popularity and have taken to writing to the giddier fans. I could excuse a fluffy episode like this if we weren’t limited to three Sherlocks a year.

Not to harp too much about the original, but in the novel, we do learn why John so loves Mary. He worries about whether he’s too poor for her as she’s the heir to a fortune. He describes her character and in the end he is able to propose. I have liked the character of Mary Marston played by Amanda Abbington does a fine job, but she doesn’t have much background. She’s a beautiful cheerful woman who doesn’t try to divide these friends, but there’s no sign of why John’s marrying this beautiful, cheerful woman rather than another. In the book, that was clear.

elementary

As a Sherlock Holmes fan and a big admirer of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s hard not to view Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu skeptically. Well, they and all the production staff are adults and they must, one would think, know what they were getting into, so I make no apologies. I did tune in, right? What more could they ask?

Alright so the show opens with a slick, choreographed attack and murder in progress, before it cuts to Joan Watson, former surgeon, now a babysitter for addicts, getting a call from the treatment center where her new client, Sherlock Holmes was staying. He’s escaped, one day early.

Why bother if it’s just one day? Indeed. This Sherlock later explains he was bored. Seems that rehab and the group sessions would have been boring from the beginning. I guess the writers thought this was clever. I thought – hackneyed, obvious Hollywood trope.

Joan and Sherlock get acquainted as she follows him around resuming his police consulting work in New York. Highly improbable, you say. Why would they let a consultant work on a case? Indeed. Well, Sherlock is acquainted with Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) who has no problem working with Sherlock. In fact, he’s pretty impressed by him. (These writers don’t understand the power of conflict.) One of the guys collecting evidence does balk at this Brit’s contribution, but he’s quickly silenced and ignored. Opportunity squandered. If the writers saw Sherlock, they’d learn something.

So Joan lives with Holmes in his father’s most shoddy brownstone with wood floors and nice moulding. She’s an addiction companion or some such thing and predictably, they don’t take to each other. She’s got a secret reason for leaving medicine and you don’t have to be a genius to deduce that she killed a patient. Holmes does get more from her parking ticket, Google (yes, Google)  and her demeanor. She supposedly accidentally killed a poor person who’s buried in a potter’s field. Joan’s rather cold and humdrum so I didn’t really care.

The problem with Elementary, which for me ties with the poor Robert Downey Jr film, is that while they throw in some quirks and references to Arthur Conan Doyle‘s characters and stories, the series is in inept hands. I wasn’t wowed with Holmes’ ability to deduce because his conclusions seemed contrived or obvious. I stopped caring about the murder.

Holmes discounts the husband as the killer and they interview an acquaintance. The scene was ho hum, but the duo learn that the victim had plastic surgery.  We never hear the second suspect speak, another opportunity lost. Finding out through exposition, that he was a troubled rage-oholic guilty of attacking redheads, didn’t captivate as exposition usually doesn’t. By the time we find out who the killer was, I was tired of this Holmes who foolishly smashed the prime suspect’s car so he could get imprisoned. That wasn’t eccentric, it was foolish.

Contrivance piled upon contrivance and the writers’ lack wit so the attempts at humor all failed me. Elementary follows the party-line of CBS shows’ formula to the letter learning nothing from Sherlock or the equally brilliant Luther.  I tried to rewatch to make better notes for this post, but it’s ghastly and I really couldn’t.

If you do stick with the series, my money’s on the writers forcing the duo into becoming a couple. Liu brings nothing to the role, neither does Quinn, though I grant both have little in the script to work with. Miller is miles behind Cumberbatch, but since I saw him and liked him in Frankenstein, I think with better writers, he could be a decent, different kind of Holmes. It’s doubtful we’ll see that.

Elementary reminded me why I watch so few programs on CBS. They’re all slick and flashy with anemic stories. No one at CBS seems to understand that the ante has been upped by the BBC.
Tonight I’ll watch my Sherlock  DVDs or maybe an Outnumbered.

Sherlock, Season 2

Holmes and Watson on the Moor

I won’t spoil the fun for Sherlock fans, but I just finished watching season 2 and have been blown away. American viewers will see the new Irene Adler, though I’d keep the kiddies away from this R rated characterization. This time around Irene’s a dominatrix. But anyone with a yen for thrillers and suspense will love what Sherlock does with “The Hound of Baskerville” and Moriarty‘s return in “The Reichenbach Fall.” Fabulous television!

Sherlock and "The Woman"

Now why is CBS going forward with an updated Sherlock Holmes called Elementary with Lucy Liu of all people as Watson? She was fine in Ally McBeal, but the woman has so little range from what I’ve seen. She’s good at annoying the audience, but that’s not what I want from a Watson. Elementary will be set in New York City. How mundane. Seems half the genre’s set there. I hope they don’t blow too much money on this. No lover of Holmes would ever approve these choices.

Sherlock

This update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories gets it right. This BBC series earns a place along the best of Holmes films. Set in modern times, Holmes has the same genius for deduction with the addition of cutting edge tech savvy. The perfect Everyman, Watson here has just returned from the war in Afghanistan and is drawn to Sherlock’s intelligence, while often annoyed by his new friend’s social inadequacies.

The wit is supreme throughout. The suspenseful plotting is on par with MI-5. Even up to the last minute, the episode’s compelling. Too bad the makers of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows hadn’t learned something from this production.

The trick is writing smart characters that compel, rather than mere kooks who repel.