I’ve decided to do one of those “Thirty days of _________” memes for the “Sherlock” show. As I’m thinking about it, I may as well be blogging about it.
Day 01: Your favorite episode
There’s this common idea in medieval philosophy that you can’t compare two things unless they have some quality in common. For instance, is “Psycho” or “Casablanca” a better movie? Well, it means what you think it takes to be a good movie. Anselm went so far as to say this is one way we know God exists: because we cannot rank thinks as being better or worse (which everyone does) without thinking they have some source of goodness in common.
I won’t go that far, but I do think the movie example is plausible. Both movies are good on their own terms, but they do quite different things, and you can’t compare them until you figure out what characteristic we’ll be considering.
And therein comes the problem for Sherlock. Because there are a grand total of six episodes (*cue weeping and gnashing of teeth*), four of which succeed spectacularly – in four very different ways.
This episode is one of the most comfortable episodes I’ve ever encountered on television. There’s something about it that just feels like slipping into one of Jawn’s jumpers. It does exactly what an introductory episode needs to do, setting the stage for what’s to come in terms of characterization arcs, but it also stands on its own quite well. It also sets up my two favorite minor characters (Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft) in truly charming ways – just thinking about those scenes make me smile. This episode is probably the best in terms of characterization, encapsulating a whole line of development in a thirty-second clip or the expression on some actor’s face, in the whole series.
Next up: “The Great Game.”
In a word: pacing. What a wonderful thriller of an episode, with the stakes keep getting higher and higher. If that’s the test of a great episode (and I think it often is, particularly with a mystery show like Sherlock), TGG can’t be beat. The ending is also wonderful – what a cliffhanger, and what a way to ensure a series two. (And what a way to resolve it in the next season.)
Then there’s “A Scandal in Belgravia,” the series two opener.
What can I say about Belgravia? The whole episode –well, not the whole whole episode, but enough to make it stand out– is just such pure id. Sherlock has some really nice humor throughout, such as this bit from TGG or the way Sherlock crashes Jawn’s date in “The Blind Banker” (his date’s reactions in particular are pure gold). But in “Belgravia” the show really brings their A-games. You have the whole Buckingham palace-in-bedsheets moment (still giggling at the memory), when of course Sherlock goes on to steal the ashtray John said he was contemplating stealing. Then there’s the unforgettable “I had bad days” bit and the woman woman thing. Pretty much every thing with Irene Adler in it. And perhaps I’m biased as a blogger myself, but pretty much that whole sequence about Watson’s blog had me smiling like a loon and trying my hardest not to squeal out loud. (The hat with two fronts is such a great homage.)
I could go on (and do click the links above, they take you to some truly LOL-worthy scenes), but one deserves to be embedded in its entirety. No matter how many times I watch it, it never gets old.
The point here isn’t just to share some truly brilliant Sherlock memories, so much as to say: this episode is just brimming with good humor. And it still finds time for a serious plot, though it’s not so mystery-heavy as the other episodes are. (Also, for the revelation that as a child, Sherlock wanted to be a pirate.) If there was ever a Sherlock episode to make you laugh, this is it.
And finally, “Reichenbach.”
And, oy vey. I literally cannot say anything about this episode without spoiling the surprise, except to say it’s taken me six weeks and I think I’m almost ready to watch it a second time. Granted, I’m a little more sensitive to the issues it raises than most, but there’s a reason this episode has inspired its own tag on Tumblr, separate from the general episode tag: “reichenbach feels.” Crying and angsting over the episode has become its own genre within the Sherlock fandom, and it is entirely warranted. Yet at the same time the show is brilliant, bringing about a sense of pathos that makes you wonder if you don’t secretly like to be hurt by Moffat & Co. So when it comes to breaking your heart in the best of all possible ways: “The Reichenbach Falls” really is in a class of its own.
If you’ve seen the episode you will get why these images are so moving (without being positively spoilerish, I don’t think), and why we Sherlock fans are still talking about Sherlock so long after the last episode to date aired.
It really is par excellence in the pathos department. But in the pacing, or characterization, or laughs department? This is why I can’t single out a single episode. Because they all stand out but in different ways. The trauma of being a Sherlock fan, I think.
I also keep thinking I should mention “The Blind Banker,” which to my mind is highly underrated.
The only thing stopping me is it seems a bit outrageous to add a fifth episode to this list at this point. Also, where would that leave “Baskerville,” which really is quite good on its own. But if you are interested in questions of friendship vs. romance, that episode is really quite awesome as well. I’ll save my full thoughts on that for a post I want to write about why the controversy over Johnlock (John/Sherlock slash) matters. But for the moment, let me just add: don’t mistake my leaving it off the list for not liking it in its own way either.
Here’s hoping my future thirty-day posts will be a little shorter.