Genius at work. And that could apply equally to Sherlock Holmes or to Steven Moffat. We’ve waited the best part of eighteen months to discover just how the cliff hanger to the first series of Sherlock is resolved and inevitably the suggestion has been that a second season might somehow disappoint, that the first series’ powerful mixture of inscrutable Englishness, modern tech and character based interaction was a fluke. Not a bit of it. `A Scandal in Belgravia` is the best Sherlock yet, packed with pin sharp wit, clever plot twists, intriguing characters and some excellent editing tricks to pull us through. It is the best thing Steven Moffat has ever written for TV, it is seriously that good. What a way to start the New Year!
|"I think I used too much wallpaper paste."|
We open straight back in the swimming baths- which itself looks suitably Victorian- for a brilliant musical gag and a lead in to the new adventure. Needless to say in his short time on screen Andrew Scott’s Moriaty again manages to outdo every TV villain you’ve seen in many a year. Just his accent, changes of mood and casual nastiness works superbly. Series of this nature often pit their sides unequally- either the hero is too virtuous or dull or the villain too over the top but this series manages to make both equally mesmerising to watch. So even though he’s not the subject of this story, there’s another equally interesting character waiting in the wings.
The recent Sherlock Holmes movie despatches Irene Adler rather too easily forgetting that of all the characters the detective meets, she has a different hold on him. Moffat’s script and especially Lara Pulver’s playfully seductive portrayal rises to all the possibilities. Irene and Sherlock duel with words and deeds, their connivances and trickery difficult to keep up with on one viewing but in a way you don’t need to take in every move. Just a look, a movement of the eyebrows is enough. On screen chemistry smoulders even though they never even kiss. Never mind the bromance everyone keeps talking about between Holmes and Watson, this affair of the mind between Sherlock and Irene is enough in itself to keep you watching.
Yet it’s not all by any means. We’re taken sideways into the mystery via a series of brief cases that seem to bore Sherlock but which turn out to be relevant later on while the central mystery of compromising photos on Irene’s mobile that no less a client than Buckingham Palace wants Sherlock to retrieve becomes a fascinating game. No detail is unnecessary and the visual use of sharp edits and flashbacks –including the Criminal Minds trick of placing the detective at the scene even when he isn’t actually there- means we have to pay constant attention. This is not to be watched while ironing, eating or texting. It requires 100%.
There are some twists it would be unfair to mention- if you’ve seen it you’ll be smiling knowingly, if not then go to the iPlayer now! Each one seems more audacious than the last including a final turn that only works because of how far we’ve gone even though your initial reaction might be `come on, how does he do that?`
Throughout the episode Sherlock tries to unlock the phone, trying to guess what password Irene would use and when we- and he- finally find out what the word is it is so obvious yet nobody will have guessed. It’s that kind of story. In many ways there is nothing new- a scandal, CIA agents barging in, one side tricking another, the will- they, wont- they fission between detective and can’t be trusted woman. Yet the final result is an engrossing, energetic, effervescent 90 minutes. Yes, it’s the best thing that’s been on TV in 2012 but I bet we will still be saying that a year from now.
Words: John Connors