TV Review | Sherlock | Season Two
Season summary: Has some of Sherlock Holmes' most famous cases, and deals with the forging of the mighty Sherlock Holmes and his battle of wills with Jim Moriarty. (Baker Street Wiki)
The first thing to be said about Sherlock's second season is that you really, really, really have to have watched the first season and especially its finale, "The Great Game". The first episode of this season, "A Scandal in Belgravia", picks up right where the first season left off and just keeps going from there - Sherlock might have three separate stories per season, but the continuity is heavy here.
This does lead to a similar issue with the structure of this season to match the first, with the middle of the three episodes feeling like an odd one out. Much like "The Blind Banker", "The Hounds of Baskerville" is a standalone tale that is just kind of there. It's weird, because it's a very good episode, but the first and third episodes feel so heavily connected to each other and the finale of the first season that it doesn't quite fit.
And I will reiterate that "The Hounds of Baskerville" is indeed a very good episode, with this season being superior to the already great first three episodes. With the primary cast now settled in their roles, it's clear that the creative team behind Sherlock are much more comfortable pushing the characters to their limits, giving Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman even more opportunity to display their talents.
The audio-visual aesthetic remains the same to retain consistency, but each episode feels like it has a higher level of urgency to it and that the stakes are greater than before even when they're not. As an example, "A Scandal in Belgravia" revolves around the fate of Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) and that's all - except that she becomes incredibly important to Sherlock, so what happens to her becomes just as important to the audience too.
As for the episode itself, it's a hugely enjoyable start to the new season, although Irene doesn't quite have the lasting impact I hoped for and is very quickly forgotten about. It also doesn't help that, in order to play up her importance to Sherlock, John is pushed into the background a little, meaning the magical chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch is missing.
"Hounds of Baskerville" is a great episode that takes us outside of London for once and explores the Holmes-Watson dynamic in greater depth with them both outside of their element, but because it's so detached from the over-arching story it can't help but feel a little irrelevant. Being outside of London might make for a nice change, but it also ensures that none of the events carry over.
Then there's "The Reichenbach Fall", which is a paranoid thriller of an episode as Moriarty (Andrew Scott) goes after Sherlock with a vengeance, ripping his life apart piece by piece. This episode is the most movie-like of the lot - despite the heavy continuity links to previous episodes - feeling so intense and frantic to watch that it really sucks you in in a way no other episode has managed up to this point.
And so much happens too, without the episode ever feel over-stuffed either. It helps that there's prior knowledge of the characters so the story doesn't have to introduce them like a movie would, but events twist and turn all over the place and yet still finds time for slower moments to let the characters react to everything that's going on.
This all leads up to a finale that, when first broadcast, left people speculating about what was going to happen next from the moment the episode finished right up to the start of the third season. I'd forgotten a lot of how events unfolded and found myself getting drawn in to what was going on because I really wanted to follow what was happening despite having already seen it.
Do you know what I think this season's secret weapon is? The score. Yes, there's a lot of themes re-used because it's still the same show, but the variations introduced and how the music is used elevates everything shown on-screen. This is especially true of the finale, where it completes the package and turns a great episode into possibly Sherlock's best.
The one downside for the season that drops it down a notch and stops it getting a 10/10 score is that the plots and character choices don't hold up too well if you start thinking about them too much. Each episode races along as fast as Sherlock's dialogue, making a surface level sense that stops you questioning things right away, but once each episode is over and you start thinking about how the story played out, you might have a few questions.
Cumberbatch and Freeman are still excellent individually and even better together now that they're even more comfortable with the characters, which also allows some of the supporting cast to be explored in greater depth - my favourite of the supporting cast being Rupert Graves' Lestrade, who has enjoyably contrasting relationships with the leading men.
Sherlock's second season improves on the first, even if the middle episode feels detached from the bigger Sherlock vs Moriarty plot. Still, each episode is really bloody good, with the finale standing above and beyond everything else so far and almost countering the sole negative of the plots not really making a great deal of sense if you think too hard about them.