Following Guy Ritchie’s recent re-invention of Sherlock Holmes (2009), starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, a competing re-imagination should have fallen flat. Instead, the BBC’s modern take has propelled its lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch into even greater projects. His upcoming turn as the villain in J.J. Abrams’ next Star Trek movie (2013) will likely propel him even further.
The American premiere of the newest episode of the BBC’s Sherlock, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” drew 3.2 million viewers to PBS—a rare occurrence for the station. Undoubtedly, the burning cliffhanger that ended the previous episode almost a year ago contributed to drawing in so many viewers. After the final reveal of the consulting criminal Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), Holmes (Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) are left covered with red sniper’s dots, and Holmes points a gun at explosives lying at Moriarty’s feet. After the relatively quick resolution to this dilemma, which of course ties into the main case of the episode, we’re given a taste of what the day-to-day life for the consulting detective and his blogging companion is like.
Because Holmes previously described himself as a “high functioning sociopath,” he has a compulsion to solve the impossible cases that are brought to him. Anything simple is too boring.
But the big question that Sherlock consistently revisits is, How can someone with Holmes’ massive intellect carry on any semblance of a normal life? “A Scandal in Belgravia” brings Holmes as close as he is likely to get to an actual romance. The woman in question is a dominatrix named Irene Adler, who extorts money by taking compromising pictures of her recognizable clients. These pictures are on her cell phone, and Holmes spends much of the episode trying to crack its four-letter password.
The revelation of the password is one of many highlights in a great episode. Adler’s connection to Moriarty, which is hinted at in the intro, is a complication underlying her manipulation of Holmes and his brother, the high-ranking government agent, Mycroft Holmes.
Adler is fascinated with Holmes’ mind and his lack of a romantic history. When she first meets Holmes, she strips naked in order to elude his usual efforts of deduction.
This kind of playful subversion underlies the rest of her interaction with him. Making sure to add her own custom ringtone for whenever she texts Holmes (which is often), she gives Holmes her phone containing all of the scandalous pictures.
Unlike a typical, tacked-on love story that seems to plague many mainstream movies, Adler and Holmes’ mutual fascination adds a new depth to a detective who has already been re-invented many times over. All of the surprises and subversions the series has to offer are beginning to make it difficult to think of a more definitive version of Sherlock.