Thursday, 5 August 2010

Sherlock: The Blind Banker

Watson: “Me, Sherlock. In court. On Tuesday. They're giving me an ASBO.”

Tonight's episode was a loose adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Dancing Men'—and when I say 'loose' I mean pants falling down, baring your arse loose. If Steven Moffat hadn't mentioned it on Twitter, I probably wouldn't have noticed. The only similarity I picked up on was that both stories have a secret code as their central theme. In 'The Dancing Men' it was a code based upon a system of hand-drawn stick men, in 'The Blind Banker' it was a system of graffiti style Hangzhou numerals. Apart from that, and a couple of possible references to 'The Sign of Four' and 'The Valley of Fear,' I caught nothing.

Despite being unfamiliar with Stephen Thompson's work, I have to say, I was impressed with tonight's story. After last week's Moff-fest, I'll admit, I was expecting a bit of a lull, but Thompson's script was smart, intricate, and stowed-out with clever dialogue and pacey action. Which makes it all the more puzzling why tonight's episode was, generally, less well received by fans and critics alike. I loved it. Everyone I know loved it. Each to their own, I guess.

'A Study in Pink' had the unenviable task of introducing us to the central characters which, inevitably, hindered the pace. Tonight's yarn felt faster, deeper, and somehow more self-assured. There was some nice character development, too. Watson's finally found himself a job as a locum doctor—a nice tip of the hat to classic Watson. He's also found himself a lady friend—much to Holmes' disgust. Whether she'll last another episode is anyone's guess. That was a fairly fraught first date Watson took her on.

But there was something deliciously atmospheric about the Chinese circus, with its human spider and potentially fatal escapology act. Although 'Oriental', it had the undeniable feel of a Victorian sideshow. As for Watson's date, Sarah, I liked her. More than Holmes did, anyway. Despite her ravishing looks, Holmes looked distinctly unimpressed. Which is bizarre considering she probably saved his life tonight. That was some thrashing she dished out. She certainly kicks ass with gusto. She was also responsible for breaking the Hangzhou code, or at least for noticing that Soo Lin had partially translated it. Not that she got much thanks for her efforts.

And I'm definitely warming to Freeman's Watson. He combines all that was good about Tim Canterbury (his character in The Office), with the dependability and competency of classic Watson. I love the contrast between the two characters. While Watson was out shopping and arguing with a chip-and-pin machine, Holmes was back at Baker Street, fighting for his life with a sword wielding madman. But why all the secrecy from Holmes? Why try to hide the sword under the chair, and why, outside Soo Lin's flat, didn't he let on that he'd almost been strangled? It's not as though Watson's oblivious to the dangers. Why the pretence?

Watson's correction of Holmes calling him a 'friend' was also puzzling. How does Watson really feel about Holmes? He admires his deductive prowess, certainly. Maybe he even needs him—he was, after all, indirectly responsible for Watson's transformation from peg-legged veteran to semi-athletic crime fighter. But does he really feel any sort of affinity for Holmes? He's more than just an 'colleague,' surely? They share a house. The call each other by first name (instead of the usual 'Watson' and 'Holmes' of the books). So why the reluctance to admit their friendship in front of Dimmick? Of course, later in the episode, whilst taking Sarah to the circus, Watson referred to Holmes as his friend—but why the earlier uncertainty?

Despite being different in many ways, Watson and Holmes compliment each other perfectly. Watson may not have Holmes' brain, but he's intelligent in his own way. Though painfully orthodox, he gets the job done. Watson was certainly quick-thinking enough to take a photo of the graffiti before it mysteriously disappeared. True, Holmes seemed almost disappointed by the mundanity of Watson's methods, but sometimes Holmes misses the obvious solution. He needs someone there with practical nous, and Watson's just the man.

I completely failed to guess the identity of the book necessary to break the cipher. My first guess was the Bible—most likely the King James Version—but the Bible probably isn't that widespread in Eastern circles. Ditto the Oxford English Dictionary. In the end, international appeal wasn't a consideration. I've never owned a copy of a London A to Z in my life, but it was a logical choice for London, I suppose. For a Chinese Crime syndicate? The jury's still out.

And where was Lestrade this week? Why has he been replaced by the equally dreary, DI Dimmock? Was there some kind of scheduling conflict? Like Lestrade, Dimmock has no discernible personality. I thought at the beginning he was going to be some bad-ass detective, out to give Sherlock a hard time, yet within minutes, Sherlock had him eating out of his hand. I suppose, like Lestrade, he's come to realise that opposing Holmes is counter-productive to getting results. Despite having to kowtow to him on occasion, Lestrade's career never suffered from Sherlock's interventions. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So, all in all another strong offering. Thompson's script was so multi-layered it was sometimes hard to keep up. True, the plot was a little convoluted in places, and Sherlock's leaps of logic did beggar belief at times, but Watson trying to explain that he wasn't Holmes—despite having Holmes' credit card in his pocket, buying circus tickets under the name of Holmes, and shouting 'I am Sherlock Holmes' at the top of his voice outside Soo Lin's flat—had me grinning from ear to ear. Beautifully plotted, simple, ingenious and thoroughly brilliant!

Other Thoughts: 

—I really felt for Soo Lin. Both parents dead; a mad brother; a terrible childhood smuggling historical artefacts for the Black Lotus; and the worst tea pouring skills I've ever seen. I'd never have her round for tea. Never!

—Mrs Hudson to the rescue with her nibbles. Maybe a cup of tea and a slice of cake next time?

—Shame on Sherlock, using Molly's affection for him to his own advantage. Poor Molly. One feeble compliment about her hair and she was all aflutter.

—The more a teapot is used the more beautiful it becomes? The more disgusting, you mean. Have they never visited a students' digs?

—Euros Lyn directed tonight's episode. He's more widely known for his work on Doctor Who and Torchwood.

—Why was this episode called 'The Blind Banker'? Because of the line painted across the portrait's eyes?

—A token appearance by Moriarty this week. Here's hoping we see more of him next episode.

—Presumably, once fingerprinted, the graffiti case against Watson would be easy to disprove. He only touched one can.

—There was a backwards 42 inside the bank.


Watson: “Why do they die, Sherlock?”

Watson: “You've gone all croaky. Are you getting a cold?”
Holmes: “I'm fine.”

Holmes: "How would you describe me, John? Resourceful? Dynamic? Enigmatic?"
Watson: "Late?"

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