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Sherlock, “A Study in Pink” (1.01)

“Is it nice not being me? It must be so relaxing.” – Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a classic literary character, ripe for reimagining, and in this modern-day adaptation the great Steven Moffat (alongside director Paul McGuigan) takes a swing at doing it his way. Does he succeed? Find out after the jump…

I will be the first to admit I am not terribly familiar with the original novels. The Holmes narrative is so suffused into the public consciousness that I know plenty about the story, including its key pair, but the closest I’ve come to the original canon is watching House. That said, I’ve long been a fan of mysteries such as Agatha Christie‘s works, so this is right up my alley.

Moffat has done it again. His Sherlock, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a fascinating “high-functioning sociopath”: tech-focused, brilliant, and socially detached. He doesn’t just have problems with social interaction, he willfully ignores it. Why does he need to bother with social rituals when the game is the only real thing worth paying attention to? And yet, despite everything about him being potentially alienating, he’s charming and engaging, no small feat. He’s not socially inept, after all, but willfully difficult to those he doesn’t want to waste time on. There’s occasionally a note that recalls Moffat’s Eleventh Doctor (note the moment where Holmes declares the serial suicides “Christmas”), but it never rings untrue to the character, either. Next to such a colourful character, Martin Freeman‘s Dr. Watson could easily have been an empty cipher for Sherlock to drag through this new world, but he is just as vividly sketched as Holmes. Quieter, but intense and very likable, the former army doc ground Sherlock handily. Freeman gives a fantastic performance as a regular man who nonetheless craves the excitement that the war, and now Sherlock’s ‘game’, offer. I absolutely love the psychosomatic limp; it says everything about Watson we really need to know.

The third investigator of the ensemble is DI Lestrade, portrayed by Rupert Graves. You learn everything about Lestrade and Holmes’ relationship just by watching Graves’ face. The desperation, the sadness, belongs to a man who is overwhelmed by things and can’t help but turn to someone like Sherlock, even if he doesn’t trust him completely. The cast is rounded out with Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson, Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper, and Vinette Robinson as Sgt Sally Donovan, all quality pieces of casting.

The style of the series is fantastic; its visualisation of texts very useful for getting across exposition in an engaging way. The development of Sherlock’s talents is done well: first showing him coming to his conclusions, then having him walk Watson through his thought processes, and then finally giving the audience to follow along (as he ‘reads’ the pink lady’s body). And the characterisation, as noted above, is strong, even with small notes like Mrs. Hudson continually reminding the boys she’s not their housekeeper. Plus, one key aspect of this show that many others have not capitalised on is technology: cell phones, in particular, are at the centre of this episode, and are brilliantly used.

The final showdown was interesting. The cabbie ultimately seemed unworthy of the chase, but the real showcase of the climax was what it did to Sherlock. This pilot makes clear that solving the riddle is more important than justice to Holmes, which is chilling and yet makes perfect sense. It also allows for that moment when Sherlock realises that he’s bound by his own craving to know the truth and that he may have doomed others because of it. This, combined with the truth that these people died only so that shadowy antagonist Moriarty could offer Sherlock a challenge, makes Sally’s assertion that Sherlock is dangerous perhaps more of a possibility than one would at first assume. And Watson, shooting a man to save Sherlock’s life only days after meeting him, could be his best hope of staying human.

I also love that you can always tell a Moffat script from the dialogue. Little things, like one character charging ahead while the other is still finishing the previous conversation, or repeated lines as response. Things always tie up nicely, handily foreshadowed without being obvious. The one thing that bugged was Sherlock not realising it was a taxi, as I’d actually thought he’d figured it out when scoping out the restaurant and later realised that, no, he’d assumed it was the passenger, a misstep that doesn’t quite fit him.

Either way, a brilliant start. It’s a shame this first season will only be three 90-minute episodes, but judging from the ratings, we’ll be getting a second season as soon as Moffat‘s done with season 6 of Doctor Who. Can’t wait for 1.02; August 1 can’t come soon enough.

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  1. […] I reviewed the episode in greater depth here. […]



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