As with the first year, this batch — hitting Blu-ray just as it finishes its American run on PBS — is built with a mere three episodes, but each running a deeply satisfying 90 minutes, and more pleasurable than most feature films. This season also ups the dramatic ante by tackling — versus straight-up adapting — what are arguably the most famous stories from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes canon: "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Final Problem" and the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles.
After quickly resolving the previous season's cliffhanger involving Sherlock (a still-perfect Benedict Cumberbatch, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Watson (an also still-perfect Martin Freeman, Nativity!) the evil Moriarty (Andrew Scott, TV's The Hour), a swimming pool and a bomb, the episode now dubbed "A Scandal in Belgravia" gets under way.
The client of all potential clients — Buckingham Palace — comes calling for Sherlock's assistance, as the high-class dominatrix Irene Adler (Lara Pulver, in a star-making role) is in possession of compromising photographs and/or state secrets. But she's not interested in blackmail or extortion — she just uses her evidence as a bargaining chip in exchange for protection.
The takeaway of the episode (mentally excepted) is not Pulver walking around in the nude, but how she stands as somewhat of Sherlock's equal, although she uses her powers of cunning for the not-so-good. Compare her manipulative Adler to Rachel McAdams' wall-dressing one in the pair of big-screen Sherlock Holmes films to date: There really is no comparison, as Pulver plays her part like a chess piece, while McAdams' could be excised with virtually nothing lost but a superficial spritz of estrogen.
"The Hounds of Baskerville" begins with a sly nod to the original great detective's cocaine addiction — here, tobacco — before moving to the Big Mystery at hand. The middle-of-nowhere Baskerville weapons base and research center long has been the buzz around rumored mutations of "rats as big as dogs, dogs as big as horses,” and Sherlock’s new client swears he’s seen a giant, red-eyed hound.
As many times as we've read and/or seen this story — or simply heard its famous plot referenced — it feels anew here, given the technological twists that director Paul McGuigan (Push) and his writers give it, without losing sight or sense of their source material.
The same could be seen for the much-too-soon season-closer, “The Reichenbach Fall,” in which Moriarty stages quite the public break-in — or break-ins, plural, as in simultaneous. Brought to trial, yet inexplicably found not guilty, Sherlock’s nemesis saves his greatest play for the great detective himself. Meanwhile, Watson learns four top international assassins have moved within spitting distance of 221-B Baker Street. Yikes.
Those fairly knowledgeable about the Holmes canon can tell from the episode’s title how it will end. Still, the journey is an exciting one, and damned if I know how they’re going to write their way out of this corner whenever season three comes to light. Whether that’s tomorrow or two years from now, it’ll be far too late for my tastes. That’s how addictive this top-notch series is.
As with year one, this batch boasts absolutely inventive direction to convey the processing of clues and the transition of scenes — and now even the leaping among states of consciousness. The production design continues in intricacy, retaining elements from previous adventures while it adds more with these; look about Sherlock’s lair for such items as a Clue game board, a poster of the periodic table of elements, and a spray-painted smiley face.
You’ll have a smiley face, too. No paint required to fake it. —Rod Lott
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• The Crimes of Dr. Watson book review
• The Hour Blu-ray review
• Nativity! DVD review
• Sherlock Holmes: 1964-1965 DVD review
• Sherlock Holmes (2009) film review
• Sherlock Holmes (2010) DVD review
• Sherlock Holmes Double Feature: The House of Fear / The Pearl of Death DVD review
• Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century: The Complete Series DVD review
• Sherlock Holmes on Screen: The Complete Film and TV History book review
• Sherlock: Season One Blu-ray review
• Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy film review