Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Art of Disguise

This post is part of Andrew's "Episode Blogathon" in which the participants must pick their favorite TV episode during the past season.

To say I had a myriad of choices for this blog-a-thon would be underselling it. That's what happens when one watches approximately 25+ TV shows regularly with episode counts ranging from 3 to 24. What I quickly realized though was I was going to pick something British. I'm not saying American TV had nothing to offer because that's far from the truth. I could've just as easily picked and talked about an episode from Fringe, Parks & Recreation, Community, or The Good Wife, but for some reason I knew I wanted to satisfy the Anglophile in me. And yet even with this self-imposed limitation, it was still quite daunting. After all how could I possibly choose between such diverse and brilliant shows such as Downton Abbey, Misfits, Being Human, Doctor Who, and Sherlock?

Last week I narrowed it down to the heart-wrenching third season finale of Being Human "The Wolf-Shaped Bullet," the Neil Gaiman-penned and supremely elegant Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife," and the thrillingly intense Sherlock finale "The Great Game." All three episodes I could probably watch ad nauseum with the production, the acting, the writing, the direction all just top-notch. But I had to pick one and so I picked Sherlock Holmes*.

Like any good mystery story "The Great Game" keeps its audience on its toe. In fact, the whole conceit of the episode is keeping the title character Sherlock on his toes as he tries to solve various murders with only a clue left to him by a mysterious person threatening to kill more people if he doesn't solve the murders in time. It's all fun and games for Holmes even with lives at stake, which speaks to one of my favorite elements of not just this episode, but the series as a whole and that is the seemingly clashing nature of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, one thinking with his head while the other with his heart.

Head and Heart. Subtle.

Of course, there's more to their relationship than that since both display smarts and empathy, no matter how fleeting, in this episode. Sherlock constantly prompts Watson to figure out the case himself while Watson prods Sherlock at his heartlessness**. As for the "game" being played out as the main story of the episode it is appropriately gruesome as men, women, children, old ladies are all used as pawns delivering clues from an unknown source, decked with bombs and a sniper gun aimed at them. But the game is not the main story here. It is merely a distraction. "The art of disguise is knowing how to hide in plain sight," Sherlock utters in the middle of this densely packed episode not knowing how very right he is. So while Sherlock, and the audience, is absolutely captivated by this mouse-and-cat game, there's a darker force at work and all he wants to say is hello.

Even those with only a passing knowledge of the Sherlock Holmes canon knows that Moriarty is the detective's archenemy. In the season's first episode***, "A Study in Pink," we are tricked into thinking that Sherlock's brother Mycroft is Moriarty. But even after it is confirmed in the 71st minute of this 90-minute episode that Moriarty is indeed behind all of this, we still don't know who he is. After a couple more twists and turns, we do find it out finally in the end, but in an effort to convince people to see the episode as unspoiled as possible, I won't reveal him. I'll only say that he is revealed in such a thrilling way that I had to watch those last ten or so minutes a dozen times. As amazing as the episode had been leading up to the end, those last few minutes are some of the best TV I've seen all year. The way the actors played off one another, the heart-stopping suspense, that unbelievably fantastic cliffhanger... it was all really was a magnificent game.

And now for a few choice quotes:

Sherlock: Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.

Watson: Fantastic!
Sherlock: Meretricious.
Lestrade: And a happy New year!

Moriarty: I'll burn you. I'll burn the heart out of you.****
Sherlock: I have been reliably informed that I don't have one.

*This is a lie. I actually picked the Doctor Who episode, because that episode was the most important episode the show has done and that's saying a lot since it's been around for close to 50 years. But someone else already chose to write about this episode and I just thought it'd be better if I picked another one. So why not another Steven Moffat creation?

**Didn't get a chance to say it up there, but whoever did the casting for Sherlock and Watson deserves a medal. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman work so well together and inhabit both characters with such commitment and uniqueness that it seems they were born to play them.

***There are only three episodes for this season. The first one I alluded to here was written by creator Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling). Co-creator Mark Gatiss wrote the exquisite finale.

****The way this line was delivered was horrifyingly perfect. It went deep into my soul and shook it to its foundation. So good.


  1. I'm a fan of Sherlock. It's a great idea to modernize Holmes especially when the movies are coming out to drive up interest in the character as a whole.

  2. I'm quite happy you chose an episode from a British show, because you know how I much I love the British (although, oddly, I don't watch any British, unless you count Episodes).

    I love how detailed the write-up is, although this post takes me back to the SHERLOCK HOLMES movie which I loathe. Worse use of Jude Law ever.

  3. Ugh, you pointed out so many things I missed! I'll have to force myself to watch this again now and appreciate everything I learned from your post :)

  4. @Michael - That's one of my favorite aspects of this series. I love all the modern touches like Sherlock being obsessed with his smartphone or Watson blogging about his adventures with Sherlock. It feels RIGHT.

    @Andrew - You don't watch ANY British shows? WHAT?! You need to at least watch Downton Abbey. It's like so British, you'll probably pee tea at noon. Huh, that was weird.

    @Jenn - Thanks! Though for full disclosure, I also missed the heart/head thing during first watch and only caught it once I started reading other people's thoughts as well.


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