Monday, January 09, 2017

The Lying Detective

This week's installment of Sherlock was a step up from the fourth series premiere, though still perhaps shy of the greatness the show reached in the beginning. (A fact cheekily acknowledged in the episode itself, when a "blog reader" commented that Sherlock's adventures aren't as good as they used to be.)

The Lying Detective took its primary inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Dying Detective," in which Holmes pretends to be at death's door to bait a villain into coming after him. Here, the main component of the modernization was to focus on Holmes' drug addiction as a proxy for the old story's infirmity. The effects were a bit mixed.

Benedict Cumberbatch gave an excellent performance, dialing up Holmes' mania to previously unseen heights, and convincingly showing us a man that felt close to the edge of a total break. The directing helped as well, full of jarring edits and distorting lenses to suggest Sherlock's mind set to the audience. (Though perhaps those techniques would have been more effective had they not also been used to convey the memory loss effects of the villain's drug.) On the other hand, the script itself was too fanciful about drug addiction in moments, particularly in just how functional Sherlock remained even in the grip of the drugs. There were moments that played a bit too uncomfortably for "fun" when the subject was anything but.

The other main update in the adaptation was the continued fallout of (ahem, SPOILERS here -- more explicit than anything I've mentioned thus far) the death of Mary. The device of a ghostly Mary "haunting" John played mostly to good effect, particularly when Mary represented part of John's self arguing against the rest. I'm glad that John's guilt over his brush with infidelity in the premiere was addressed -- though admittedly, bringing it up after Mary's death meant her "ghost" was able to forgive him rather easily. Of course, Martin Freeman excelled in Watson's second major emotional breakdown in two episodes.

We got some fun moments as Mrs. Hudson took a larger role in the story. Toby Jones gave us a particularly oily performance as the villain of the episode. Plus, of course, there will be more here to unpack retroactively after next week's finale, after the full exploration of the "long-lost Holmes sister" invites us to go back and watch this episode (and the one before) to see the slow trap she laid.

I grade The Lying Detective a B+. A solid adventure, though it left me wishing for an even stronger one in places.

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