Sherlock Shows Where You Should – and Shouldn’t – Shake Things Up

Just as I was starting to worry it’d lost its way, Sherlock rights the ship in wonderfully quirky fashion. After filling time with a fun yet throwaway special and glum series premiere, season four’s second episode cranked up the humour for a much warmer story. Better still, the end-game has finally crawled out of the wood-work; its twist is intriguing enough to inject life back into the series. In addition, the reveal is another sign that shaking up a classic doesn’t simply work – it can push the story to new heights.

The more things change, the more they stay the same - art for the Sherlock comic book by Titan Comics.
The more things change, the more they stay the same – art for the Sherlock comic book by Titan Comics.

You wouldn’t think so in 2008. The BBC drama was always playing with fire by modernising Holmes. The contemporary setting smelt of a gimmick, justified or not. However, Sherlock made it work brilliantly. Creator Mark Gatiss once said that the franchise translated seamlessly into today’s world; as he pointed out during a BBC press-release, “Arthur Conan Doyle was a writer of genius and it’s worth trumpeting that point… It’s not said often enough. His short stories, particularly, are thrilling, funny, lurid, silly, strange, wonderful pieces of exciting adventure which lend themselves incredibly well to a modern setting.”

I wholeheartedly agree. I take issue when the narrative bends its heroes out of shape, though. Beware: there are spoilers for Sherlock coming up.

The trend started when Holmes shot Magnusson point-blank. It was a surprise that never sat well with me. Sherlock is, at his core, a thinker. Holmes’ MO is to outwit his way to victory, not fall back on murder if things get tricky. It was fascinating to see how he responds in an impossible situation, yes, but it also felt like a step too far. It left a bitter taste in my mouth.

To make matters worse, season four grabbed the baton and ran with it when Watson considered having an affair. Not only did this make me go off him a little, it didn’t seem in character either. Despite being an excellent cross-examination of John (he’s striving to be the man people already think he is), that doesn’t count for much if I end up disliking him anyway.

It’s a classic way of alienating your audience. Spider-Man 3 fell into this trap when Peter made one bad move after another, and Man of Steel pulled a similar heel-turn in its final act. The cleverness of it all is irrelevant; we feel betrayed.

That said, it’s a small complaint when you consider how fantastic everything else has been from beginning to end. The production values, editing, performances and script remain beyond compare. Furthermore, Sherlock’s some of the best television from the BBC in a long time. I’m incredibly glad to have it back.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.

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