Friday, February 10, 2017

TV Review - Sherlock's The Hounds of Baskerville

The Hounds of Baskerville
Based on the book by Arthur Conan Doyle
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Russell Tovey, Chipo Chung, Gordon Kennedy, Kevin Trainor, Stephen Wight, Sasha Behar, Will Sharpe, Simon Paisley Day, Amelia Bullmore, Clive Mantle, Rupert Graves, Mark Gatiss, and Andrew Scott
Release Date: January 8th, 2012
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Sherlock is bored and on edge, he needs a case to distract him from his nicotine withdrawal. It's been hours since he closed his last case with a rather dramatic incident with a harpoon and little Kirstie's luminous pet rabbit who's gone AWOL isn't going to take the edge off. Thankfully for Dr. Watson's sanity a knight in dilapidated armor appears; Henry Knight. Henry has been haunted his entire life by the death of his father who was murdered by a giant hound twenty years earlier. Young Henry was discovered wandering the moors but his father's body was never found. Henry has recently returned to Grimpen in Dartmoor and he wandered to Dewer's Hollow only to be greeted by the hound of his nightmares. Dewer's Hollow's proximity to the government research facility Baskerville means Sherlock is even more likely to dismiss Henry's nightmares. In fact he would have gladly set Henry on his way back to his psychiatrist if it wasn't for his repeated use of the word Hound. But there's the need for a speedy resolution as Henry's grip on reality is quickly failing. So who is to blame? The villagers keen on embracing the legend of the hound in order to lure in the tourists? The military base which is clearly up to nefarious deeds? Or is there really a giant hound with glowing red eyes? And can Holmes trust his own senses when he believes he's seen the beast himself?

The thing about truly loving something is knowing that it isn't perfect. You can see the flaws but still love it. To blindly love say a TV show means you're not a fan, you're an acolyte. Perfection in this world is rare and a TV show achieving that? Well, it's kind of a miracle. So it sometimes even helps to vent these feelings. To come right out and say "I love you but...." That's how it is with me and Sherlock. In fact, that's how it is with me and every show that Steven Moffat does and Sherlock has the least "buts" of all. I love Sherlock, I really do. It's putting a modern twist on the Conan Doyle canon without being overly predictable like Elementary is and Sherlock is top notch. But... the fact is for a show that has only three episode per season having one dud episode each season is a bit problematical. Yes, I have over time come to grudgingly like these middling episodes, but seriously, is there anyone ready to really go all in on "The Blind Banker?" And let's not even talk about some of the absurdities of this season's "The Final Problem."

What I'm getting at is that "The Hounds of the Baskerville" is distinctly in this lesser than category. Perhaps I had hopes that were too high. I sometimes really need to dial my expectations back. The problem was this is one of the classic Holmes stories combined with Russell Tovey and I let things go to my head a little. I think one of the problems might have been Russell... yes he's perfect, but he's also, in my mind, "a name." He's a great actor but there's also a sameness to the roles in his CV, damaged yet lovable could be his descriptor. So I didn't really see Henry Knight, I saw Russell. This was also problematic with Lara Pulver as Irene Adler in the previous episode. You need to have an actor capable of making you forget who they really are. Which is the genius of Benedict and Martin, I actually see them as the characters. Russell... not so much. But repeated viewings of the episode have gotten me over this issue to focus on more specific problems, like that hound! Seriously, it looked like Zuul from Ghostbusters, and the CGI somehow looked WORSE than a film made in 1984!

But this newest viewing brought a new admiration for this episode, Zuul exempted because there is NO fixing that. Having just read The Hound of the Baskervilles I got to see how Mark Gatiss took the source material and reinterpreted it. Sherlock is all about reinventing what is basically a set of stories that have been told hundreds of times and making them new again. The call backs to the book, which are sometimes just an aside, a single line, to more integrated plot twists are kind of dazzling to watch. You're waiting with baited breath to see what Gatiss will pull out of the book next. From Sherlock's perfume analysis, to Lestrade getting the London out of his lungs, to Dr. Mortimer being Henry's psychiatrist in this iteration, to the dangerous Grimpen Mire becoming the even more dangerous Grimpen Mine Field, phosphorescent animals, John's inferior mind being a good sounding board, Sherlock claiming he's too busy for this case, the episode is just peppered throughout with these lines that are seemingly throw aways, but are SO much more. 

Though just incorporating what was into what is isn't nearly as fun as taking what's in the book and reinventing it, like Gatiss did with the Grimpen Mire. He refocuses on different aspects of the story while using other aspects to throw us off the trail. Instead of Henry being based on the new heir to the Baskerville estate his personality is taken more from the previous... the one driven to death by the apparition of a hound. Add to this a little of the breakdown the new heir suffers after the events of the story and you have a central figure who is far more flawed and therefore far more interesting. Yet what I really love is the red herring of Dr. Stapleton. Spoiler alert, despite whatever you think she's just a red herring. An ingenious red herring, because in the original tale the killer is using the name Stapleton! But the things that brought me the greatest joy was the insertion of two very modern ideas into this very Gothic tale but having them still relate to the story. That's the fact that obviously the small town of Grimpen would try to capitalize on the hound to lure in tourists, even if they do it in a ham handed way... the other is that the mysterious lights that Watson sees are a couple in a car having sex while others watch. This, this would be called dogging.

What I think I took most issue with the first time I watched this was when Sherlock uses Watson as a lab rat to test his hallucinogen theory. Yes, it's scary, but it's more uncomfortable that he would use his only friend in such a heinous way. I mean, seriously!?! If someone did this to me, no matter how much of a genius or how close a friend I viewed them, this would have been the end of the line. But thinking of it analytically I think it makes a point about the bigger horrors that Gatiss discusses in the episode, mainly animal experimentation. No matter which way you spin it animal experimentation is a tricky issue. As Dr. Stapleton says, if you can think of it someone is doing it, and she was just making a luminous bunny rabbit! But there are so many people who justify what they are doing to these poor defenseless animals using the name of science. And you can't deny that valuable data has been collected with regard to these studies. Therefore, how does one come out firmly on the side of the animals and not the scientists? By taking a character we love and turning him into the experiment. By turning Watson into that poor bunny Gatiss has made the strongest possible point against animal experimentation, on any form of animal. And that's why I love this show, warts and all. An old story can be spun into something new and illuminating; literally in the case of Kirstie's bunny.


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