Second Looks//Sherlock Series 2, Episode 2 - The Hounds of Baskerville

So on with the episode entitled ‘The Hounds of Baskerville.’

The first parallel is that of a small boy running through some woods as *something* wild attacks a man. This is inspired from the source material of the original novel where in Chapter Two the tale is told by a Dr Mortimer of ‘the Curse of the Baskervilles’ where, in 1742, Sir Charles Baskerville is chased by something through the woods next to Baskerville Hall. We then see the boy grown up, Russell Tovey, stood in a forest clearing alone bewildered and confused. Like that of any great mystery we haven’t a clue what’s just happened and, more importantly, what’s going to. Cut to credits.

This is where we take Holmes’ most famous case into new territory, Tovey, who is the Henry of the episode (here his surname is Knight not Baskerville), brings the tale of the Hound to Holmes (the Henry of the novel doesn’t believe in such stuff and nonsense) and quite clearly Knight believes to have seen the Hound kill his father, near the mysterious Baskerville Military Experiment building on Dartmoor where urban myths circulate that they create genetic animals for the battlefield. Yes Gatiss –who penned this particular episode – is certainly taking us out of familiar territory and right into an updated 21st century take on the material where the government is much more frightening than any silly ghosts...

Amusingly, when proof of the hound is mentioned (footprints) Henry is asked whether they are ‘a man’s or woman’s?’ (exactly like in the book) and where the literary Henry dramatically replies, ‘Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!’ the T.V. Henry is cut off by Sherlock before he can mention the hound, by shouting ‘boring!’

Here is an example of where modern creators play with our expectations of familiar characters, the certain situations we believe they will get into or the things they may say: this reminded me of the scene from the recent Man of Steel film where Lois is cut off before she gives Superman his moniker based on him wearing an ‘S’ or in Star Trek Into Darkness where SPOILERS Spock screams Khan instead of Kirk doing so from ‘Wrath of Khan’ END SPOILERS.

But Henry does eventually say the above well known line from the novel, and as we find out later it is the specificity of these words that changes Sherlock’s mind, he takes the case but says he’s  too busy and put’s Watson on the case, telling him to keep him updated. This is from the original novel where, oddly, Holmes ends up being missing for the for the first half of the book (this is been put down to Conan Doyle being fed up with the character, he had already killed the character off by now but begrudgingly wrote ‘The Hound...’ as an earlier untold case story); here Sherlock is simply messing with them as it is whim to with those around him.

The shots of the moors (before the scene where Sherlock is driving) gave me the first inkling of something trippy or druggy within the story and was reminiscence of the camera work in the recent Ben Wheatley ‘Pastoral Horror’ film, A Field in England, which is well worth seeing if you want a break from the usual generic Hollywood tripe on offer.

As Holmes and Watson wander the small village next to the moors quizzing the pub landlord and watching the Hound tours that are available, I realised Gatiss had picked a good story to ‘translate’ as the second episode (in between the more serial feeling one and three), as this get the detectives out of the city for the episode, giving it a change of pace, a little lighter touch, and away from Moriarty dominating the proceedings (as he does with the wonderfully flamboyant portrayal by Andrew Scott); the fact that Gatiss manages to do this without the episode ever feeling like  ‘series padding’ or a hold over till the next Moriarty episode, (as that’s something I felt about the second episode of the first series: The Blind Banker), is a testament to his writing.

Other allusions and inferences to the original novel (and other Holmes stories):

·         Many think that Holmes’ cigarettes are a new take on his pipe where I believe it to be a modernisation on the Literary Holmes’ cocaine addiction. We see him in the first series with seven nicotine patches and here he mention he needs something ‘seven per cent stronger’ than tea which again alludes to the cocaine as the Literary Holmes used a ‘seven per cent solution’ of cocaine. When he checks in the shoe this is a nod to the stories as Holmes keeps his tobacco in a Persian slipper.

·         The blood soaked appearance and harpoon comes from ‘The Adventure of the Black Peter’ where the murder weapon is a harpoon and Holmes gains evidence by gutting a pig with it.

·         In the conversation with the landlord the Grimpen mine field is mentioned as a dangerous place to stay away from and this is an overt reference to the Grimpen Mire where, in the novel, many an innocent have been sucked under.

We are then are given by the tour guide what is ostensibly ‘a stay way from the moors’ story. This is interesting, in and of itself, as Gatiss originally wanted to make the episode more of a typical Gothic Horror, as he felt because its Holmes’ most famous case,  they should stick to the source material more than usual. However he discarded this idea when he realised society has moved on and the government is the new ‘boogeyman’ and conspiracy stories are the new myths we tell each other.

·         Using Mycroft’s I.D card is a reference to the literary Holmes’ penchant for disguises.
·         Major Barrymore comes from the name of the butler in the book.

·         The caged animals are directly from ‘The Copper Beaches,’ ‘The Creeping Man’ and ‘The Speckled Band’ and even ‘the Giant Rat of Sumatra’ which is only ever referenced in ‘The Sussex Vampire’ (and also the recent CGI Tintin movie because Moffat was one of the scriptwriters on it.)

·         The mention of the lost Blue- Bell the Bunny, from the beginning, is connected up here to the animal experiments, but the mention of ‘glowing’ comes from the phosphorous put upon the Hound in the novel to make it seem supernatural.

·         The female Dr Stapleton here comes from the male Stapleton character who is in actual fact the ‘real’ villain in the novel and controls the Hound.

·         Frankilyn’s talk of nearly ‘not recognising Sherlock without the hat’ pays homage to the fact that the general public believe the deerstalker to be an important part of the mythos, when in fact it is only mentioned a couple times in the original canon.

After Frankilyn helps Sherlock and John leave the facility (by pretending Holmes is Mycroft), we arrive at Henry’s rather large house- he’s rich like the Henry of the novel will be when he gains his Baskerville inheritance- and the words ‘Liberty’ and ‘In’ are remembered by him.

At the Hollow John hears the ghostly sounds of the hound(?) but Holmes, although he doesn’t admit it, actually sees it: although interestingly enough we, as the viewer, do not.
·         The morse code lights in the night- which are doggers here- are communication from an escaped criminal, in the original novel, to Barrymore as he is Mrs. Barrymore’s brother.
·         ‘Once you've ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true’ is something stated by Holmes in various stories and is one of the few statements he makes that could be considered a catchphrase. ‘The game’s a foot’ and ‘elementary my dear Watson’ however are not in the stories although variations on these can be found in the dialogue once or twice.

·         (Also its interesting to note that John calls Sherlock, ‘Spock,’ because of his incapacity to feel, little did any of them know Cumberbatch would play chief villain in the next Star Trek film.)

·         The idea that there something ‘dodgy’ about Stapleton goes back to the aforementioned fact that Stapleton is the villain of the novel: Gatiss is cleverly using the literary villain’s name as red herring, so all the fans of the Conan-Doyle books are shouting at the screen ‘it’s her she’s the baddie!’ Shouting smugly and wrongly.

Lestrade appears and has his little moment of glory uncovering the Hound as a set up of the couple from the pub, to help trade.

Sherlock goes to see Henry and asks why he uses the word ‘Hound’ and not ‘dog’, and this the nitty gritty of why he changed his mind at the beginning of the episode and decided to take the case on- he starts to wonder if it’s an acronym. Things are starting to come together in Sherlock’s head and in the audiences if they’re particularly observant. So Sherlock drugs John’s tea, or so he thinks, locks him in the Baskerville lab  and finally poor old Watson sees the hound (SIDENOTE: the drug isn’t in the sugar, John’s already been exposed to the gas) and Holmes feeling is confirmed: the Hound is merely a drug hallucination. This fits in with the literary Holmes who experimented on himself many times to come to scientific conclusions  and took risks that included others safety for the greater good (as did  the modern Holmes that is Dr Gregory House).

The sequence where Holmes goes to his mind palace (a device used by Derren Brown who is also another influence on this modern interpretation of Holmes, according to Messrs. Moffat and Gatiss) is stunning in its execution and not only does it give us a glimpse of what goes on in his head when deducing but shows us how his intuition is like that of a ‘super power’. 

We find out H.O.U.N.D. is a project set up to create an experimental drug that leaves its victims incredibly suggestible and, as a side effect, very dangerous, so no monster here just the monstrous behaviour and immorality of humans. Frankilyn is uncovered as the true villain and Sherlock and John rush off to find Henry whose gone to the ghollows to commit suicide. Henry remembers in fact it was a Young Frankilyn, in a Project H.O.U.N.D. sweater, that killed his father and that mixed with the gas, which is actually the fog of the Hollows, led Henry to create a false memory of a gigantic hound.

·         The use of a gas to bring on hallucinations is from The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot.

·         The Grimpen Mire (‘Minefield’ here)  being the place where the novel’s villain, Stapleton, meets his fate.

We then hilariously see the experiment Sherlock placed John in to test his theory about the sugar.

Less hilariously Mycroft lets Moriarty out of prison. And the audience ready itself for a final battle of wits.

There are three reasons I feel this episode works really well (and this can be attributed to any episode of the series really):

1.    Holmes and Watson’s relationship- Unlike the homoerotic undertones of Downey Jnr./Law partnership or the Miller and Liu will- they-or wont-they, Cumberbatch’s and Freeman’s  is all based on true friendship. Watson respects and admires Holmes’ abilities and Holmes appreciates Watson’s loyalty and candour. Also of great importance to the relationship (and to the audience) Sherlock maybe a great eccentric but John is quirky in his own way: he has an eye for  the ladies, a militaristic sense of dress, a soldier like walk and obsessively writes all their adventures on his blog; this is certainly no dull sidekick in the shadows.

But the most important part of the relationship  is they balance each other out and give each other what they need from life: John gets excitement and reason to be enthusiastic about life again after coming back from Afghanistan and Holmes gets someone who helps him keep his feet on the ground, as his flights of fantasy could truly take him away one day never to return... It’s almost like the Holmes of the books has been transported to the 21st century, so is seemingly odder and more eccentric than ever before. This makes Watson a real necessary anchor for Holmes and why John is more confrontational to him than in the original stories; he’s trying to help him, stop him from falling into the abyss he teeters on every day, where he totally cuts himself from humanity and becomes pure ego- like the Greek gods of old to modern day superheroes- if Sherlock turned nasty, with all the power he has, God help us all. And that is why the character of Dr John H. Watson is so important: He stops Holmes doing that.

2.    Humour: In many ways Holmes and Watson are a stereotypical comical double act but instead of two idiots (stupid and stupider) it’s about two outsiders (lonely and lonelier). Much of the humour is derived from them being opposites in personality, morality, perception and what they long for in life. In particular there’s a lot of room for humour in this episode because of the strangeness and absurdity of the case, so it doesn’t ever get bogged down in its own seriousness. There’s the small touches too, like Sherlock thinking Greg is code for something and not realising its Lestrade’s first name to Watson running around like an arse in the lab. As the epilogue foreshadows things are about to get darker, it was good to have a more straight forward investigation and adventure this week.

3.    The story never cheats you: The information is there, you’ve just got to know where to look because if you watch them again and again you see things that seemed unusual or unimportant at first become an obvious clue or plot point – like LIBERTY IN, the fog as gas, Frankilyn as the villain (as in Colombo he’s just far to helpful from the beginning), as well as the red herrings of the flashing lights and Stapleton as the villain (because of poor old Blue Bell’s fate).

The only negatives I can muster is that the case was easier to work out than usual (but then again I usually don’t have a bloody clue, so I shouldn’t complain!) because I guessed hallucinogenic gas early on, and Russell Tovey over acts a little in places - I genuinely thought he was going to turn in to a werewolf at the end - but, along with Doctor Who, it’s still one of the best things the Beeb has produced in years. 

Bring on next week’s finale and then series three. Ciao and happy viewing.

Words by Martin Shepley. 

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