Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

When I think of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, I now think of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  That these two actors have so thoroughly eclipsed their predecessors obviously has a lot to do with the medium of television, but it’s mostly due to Steven Moffat  and Mark Gatiss’s brilliant reinvention of a Holmes and Watson for the 21st century.  They set the tone in the first episode of the first series (2010) with  A Study in Pink, and carried it through to A Scandal in Belgravia.  As with Moffat’s other project, Doctor Who, I have to watch each episode twice to get catch everything the writing and acting has to offer.

In A Scandal in Belgravia, Sherlock meets his match in the supremely intelligent and beautiful dominatrix, Irene Adler, played by Lara Pulver.  Her clients from the upper reaches of the British establishment tell her everything, and she has it all stashed away in her cameraphone, protected by a passcode that takes Sherlock almost the whole episode to discover.

This duel of minds and sexual attraction (“Brain is the new sexy”) is the core that runs through A Scandal in Belgravia, relegating the serious business of why these secrets are so important to the subplots that weave around it.  Irene’s first meeting with Sherlock, when she walks into the room naked, was stunning.  It set the agenda for her plan to seduce him into complicity, something she seems to have accomplished until he confesses to feeling her pulse at that opportune and tender moment.  So deducing that she was in fact aroused, and extrapolating from it the passcode for the cameraphone.  What else but SHER?

But Sherlock is also smitten enough to rescue Irene from terrorists about to cut off her head.  “The Woman.  The Woman” says it all.

There is so much to enjoy.  A jumbo jet filled with dead people, so terrorists don’t realize that their plot to blow it up has been discovered, is wonderfully Gothic.  The kicking the CIA agents get is thoroughly satisfying – couldn’t happen to more deserving characters.  I particularly like the way their leader falls out of a window several times after brutally interrogating Mrs Hudson.  And it’s heartwarming to see how Sherlock reacts to her being in danger.  He’s a good boy, and he protects the people who care for him, despite his offhand manner.

That said, he’s also cruel in his honesty.  Poor Molly is humiliated at the Christmas party when she turns up dressed to seduce, armed with the knowledge that she’ll have Sherlock to herself when everyone leaves.  Sherlock’s dissection of her behaviour, and discovery that the present was meant for him, is painful to watch.  His apology is even more surprising.

Then there’s the assumption that Sherlock and John are a couple.  Even Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) accepts that John is now part of the family and can be trusted with emotional secrets.  Irene thinks they are, and so does John’s date at the Christmas party when he stays behind to keep an eye on Sherlock after Irene’s purported death.  At Mycroft’s insistence, no less.  Only John is convinced he’s not gay, and they’re not a couple.  Yet there’s a whisper of jealousy in the way he asks Sherlock if he’ll see Irene again, when she’s revealed as still alive.

John’s blog is a great joke, and making it the reason for Sherlock’s runaway success as a consulting detective is inspired.  Leading as it does to them fleeing the paparazzi in a hasty disguise, which of course means Sherlock grabbing a deerstalker.  What else would he wear?

Terrific stuff.  Can’t wait to see what Mark Gatiss makes of the Hound of the Baskervilles next week.  Robert Downey, Jr. can take his action/adventure, CGI-enhanced Hollywood Sherlock and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Torchwood: Miracle Day (6/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (1 & 2/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (3/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (4/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (5/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (7/10)

Most of this week’s episode is concerned with events at the two overflow camps, in Cowbridge, South Wales, and San Pedro, California.  Gwen and Rhys in Wales, and Esther and Rex in California, provide most of the excitement, while Jack pursues Stewart Owens, Phicorp’s chief operating officer, to find out who’s behind Miracle Day.

We’re introduced to Owens in his LA office, asking his administrative assistant and mistress, Janet, to be less familiar at work.  Owens is also trying to find out about Phicorp’s involvement in Miracle Day.  This particular morning he’s talking to a contact in Shanghai about a land purchase Phicorp made there in 1999.  The contact breaks into the guarded site, and the next time we see him he’s on top of a skyscraper.  He denies seeing anything, his message to Owens being “dead end.”  Then he throws himself off the building, presumably hoping this will end his consciousness permanently, as the “45 Club” believe.  They think 45 floors will do the job.  Which begs the question – has he seen something even worse than what we already know about?

Jack gets to Owens that evening through Janet, showing her an email Owens sent to HR transferring her to Cincinnati.  Believing Janet to be held hostage, Owens reveals all he knows.  And it’s nothing.  Nothing that can be traced back to Phicorp, or to anybody else for that matter.  There is no focal point for the evil, unless it’s “the system itself.”  But “someone is playing the system across planet Earth with infinite grace, beyond any one person’s sight.”  Owens and Phicorp are just middle men making a profit on the mysterious transaction.

I think we’d already guessed that Big Pharma wasn’t the Big Bad.  This segment felt like a filler with set speeches, designed to get everyone up to speed.  The only new information is the phrase, “the Blessing,” referring to something found in Italy in the mid-1990s.  From a dramatic point of view, this segment could have been drastically shortened, although the set-up between Jack and Janet was entertaining.

The real action is at the overflow camps.  At Cowbridge, Gwen confronts Dr Patel, who is only doing her job and doesn’t want to think too hard about the consequences.  But she already knows that what Gwen tells her is true: “This isn’t a hospital, it’s a concentration camp.”  So Gwen arranges for Rhys to pick up her father at 5:00 am the next morning, before he can be taken to the Modules.

Rhys is delayed by a jobsworth with suit and clipboard, who wants to know who gave him authorization, but drives off anyway to pick up Gwen’s dad.  Pursued by jobsworth and guards, he smashes through the camp gates.  Very satisfying.  I like the way his relationship with Gwen is portrayed, with Rhys not very adventurous but so in love with Gwen that he’ll do anything for her.  You can tell who wears the trousers in that family.

In California, Rex has become a convert to Torchwood, after seeing the horrors his government have connived in.  Like someone caught in a nightmare Big Brother house, he tells the video camera containing all the evidence of the atrocities: “I’m not with the CIA or a US government authority.  I’m with Torchwood, and we’re going to expose everything that’s going on here, everything that I just witnessed.”

Trying to get out of the camp with the evidence, he pretends to be Category 1 to draw a soldier’s attention, knocks him out, and puts on his uniform.  Only to walk into the place where all the military nicotine addicts are congregated, and of course he’s arrested.  Even in hell there’s a no smoking policy in the workplace.  Colin Maloney, the administrator who burned Vera, comes to interview him, telling the guards to leave them alone together.

Meanwhile, Esther has been trying to find out what happened to Vera, listening at Maloney’s office door, and inventing reasons to go inside and gauge what’s going on.  A lot.  Ralph also wants to know what happened to Vera and he’s appalled to discover the truth.  The Modules are for “storage” until legislation is passed to allow cremation.  Maloney’s rationale doesn’t convince him:

Maloney:  The Modules were designed to kill.  Therefore death within this compound is legal.
Ralph (incredulously): How’s that work?
Maloney: Because I say so.

Maloney alternates between panic attacks, bluster, and trying to cover up the murders.  Ralph is sent to drive Vera’s car to a shopping mall parking lot in San Pedro, while the camp is put in lock-down mode to give them an alibi.

When Maloney goes off to interview Rex, Esther finds out from Ralph that they’re in the generator room.  She follows him.  Just in the nick of time, too, because the situation is getting really painful for Rex.

He doesn’t know that Maloney is the man who murdered Vera, so he tries to enlist his aid in exposing the truth.  He even points out the video camera with the evidence on it.  In an echo of Jack’s offer to Danes of becoming a hero, Rex offers the same chance to Maloney, who looks at the film and realises that unless he kills Rex, he’s toast himself.

In a brilliant scene where Rex asks Maloney to unlock his chains, he appears not to have the key.  In fact, he’s looking for something with which to kill Rex: “I wonder what I can use.”  Then, finding his pen, “That’ll have to do.”

And he sticks it into Rex’s wound.  This was excruciatingly painful to watch, even though it only showed Maloney positioning the pen and the first tentative probing of the wound.  But the screams tell the rest of the story.  Even then, the passive aggressive bastard is making excuses: “I’m very sorry. It’s been such a long day.  All I want to do is go home.”

With Esther’s arrival, he goes out into the corridor.  She makes the mistake of saying he has a call from Vera.  Rex shouts out for her to run, and they fight.  This is also extremely violent, with Esther eventually getting the upper hand.  I think she strangled him, but I might have heard the crack of his neck being broken.  Then she has to find his keys.  Maloney, of course, revives and is strangling her when Ralph shows up and shoots him:  “This has got to stop!”

Rex and Esther understand each other better in the aftermath.  I think the dramatic reason for killing off Vera, as well as exposing the real purpose of the overflow camps, was to free up Rex for a relationship with Esther.  It’s been foreshadowed from the first episode.

In Cowbridge, Gwen has one more thing to do before leaving for LA.  She puts in the handy-dandy Torchwood contact lenses and tells Jack, back at Venice Beach, to open a radio link while she tells the world what she’s seen.  Not quite sure how that worked, but I’m willing to suspend disbelief.  I enjoyed this thoroughly forthright Gwenism: “I don’t care if the whole of society bends over and takes this like a dog.  I’m saying no.”

Then she goes off to find some plastic explosive and wire the crematoria complex for detonation, which doesn’t seem to take long because in the next shot she’s on a motorbike and blowing it all up for the cameras.  There’s a moment when you see Gwen on the bike, with the crematoria exploding behind her, which I immediately converted it into a frame from a comic.  It had that quality.  Then she roars off.

Back at Venice Beach, Torchwoood have become whistle-blowers.  The world is outraged.  But it’s not enough, as Rex points out.  The White House is unrepentant, except in calling for an investigation into Vera’s death: “There will be no apology for the Category 1 process.”  So if “Torchwood wasn’t designed to fight politicians,” then they need to find out about the Blessing.

There’s a sting in the episode’s tail.  As Gwen is walking through LA airport, she’s paged to a courtesy phone, told to put on the contact lenses, and given this message from the Illuminati: “We have your mother.  We have your husband.  We have your child.  Bring us Jack.”  No word about her dad, who is presumably back in an overflow camp.  Judging by the excerpts from next week’s episode, she will try to bring them Jack.

I didn’t find this or the previous episode as enjoyable as the first four, quite apart from the subject matter, which isn’t exactly laugh out loud.  It’s because a big part of the attraction of Torchwood is the way the characters interact with each other, one of the many good things in the previous series.  When they’re all separated it becomes much more of a generic science fiction adventure thriller.  That said, Colin Maloney is a terrific character – a whining, blustering, passive aggressive coward who you love to hate – and superbly played by Marc Vann.  I’m almost sorry he’s out of the picture.

And the subtitle, The Middle Men, is an accurate description of the way people are willingly used as part of this conspiracy that seems to know no bounds.  Owens, Phicorp, Dr Patel, Maloney, and everyone else who refuses to look beyond their jobs or narrow self-interest are middle men.

I hope the Torchwood team stick more closely together and play off each other in the next episode.  I don’t want the series going generic.