Sherlock Season 2: A Game of Foreshadow

Sherlock and Watson

Between Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a show on television that doesn’t justify the medium’s monicker, “idiot box”, but in 2010 we saw the genesis of something that may well aid in the fight against reality television. The BBC’s Sherlock won’t exactly have you earnestly retrieving your every IQ point but it engages the audience, and it engages it well.

The premise is as simple as it is well-known. A master of deduction and reasoning works to take on criminal cases that are unusual and challenging. The show adds a small twist to this, it transports the detective from the Victorian era we found in the books to the contemporary age. This results in subtle changes, such as Dr Watson, Holmes’ accomplice, returning from the War in Afghanistan rather than the Second Anglo-Afghan War or the use of the internet for information rather than newspapers or even references to Twitter for the purpose of tracking targets. Thankfully though, Holmes and the riddles set out by the plot are unharmed by this transition.

Usually disparities and similarities are identified between an adaptation of a story and the books, but we’re fortunate enough to have two ongoing adaptations between which we can draw parallels. The Sherlock Holmes film series is seeing huge success at the Box Office, and rightly so. It’s the great detective with an added sprinkle of action and a dash of mania, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The stories often made references to off-screen violence and Watson noted that his partner was an expert boxer and swordsman. Perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle preferred the attention to be on Holmes’ mentality and not his physicality but today’s audience has become accustomed and almost expectant of more than just mind games. As for the mania, Sherlock Holmes has always been depicted as sane to the point of insane; his insistence of rationalising every nuance of life has led him to conclude that caring is a disadvantage, love is a mere chemical imbalance in the brain and that knowing the Earth revolves around the Sun is such a useless knowledge it should be forgotten at the earliest convenience.

So, for the benefit of those who have not yet enjoyed the television show, how does it compare to the movies? For one, there is considerably less emphasis on brawling; the character’s martial ability does come to surface but not nearly as often as his almost superhuman deductive skills and his sarcastic wit. Second and more importantly, the puzzles are very solvable. (Warning: Spoilers for the first Sherlock Holmes film on this line) The first of the two movies on the big screen expected the audience to recognise a charred leaf as part of the mildly toxic rhododendron ponticum, from which you can extract a grayanotoxin capable of reducing the subject’s heart rate when applied at the correct dose – hardly what I consider reasonable. Conversely, the puzzles of the show are set at a much more viewer-friendly standard and this aversion to resort to Deus ex Machina is what I believe to be the critical feature which makes it an outstanding watch. Foreshadowing, both subtle and explicit, is abundant and even if you don’t manage to work out the entire plot at work, it is broken into digestible bites which you can solve individually and often there is a minor plot on the side that can also rack your thought.

For fans of conundrums, eccentric enigmatism and a fast-paced delivery, there’s very little I can recommend over Sherlock.