Dr. John Watson is a troubled man. He dreams of both the battles and men he’s lost, and they’re not nice dreams. You might even say he’s like a hobbit, unable to forget the giant spiders who chase him still. Oh, be quiet. You knew I was going to have to make a hobbit joke eventually. Just be glad it was in the very first paragraph.
Anyway, even though John Watson (Martin Freeman, future Bilbo, no relation to Morgan or Gordon) is home from the war, he’s still on the front lines in his shattered psyche. We see him jerk awake from his nightmares, dissolving into tears, trapped in the bloody past. The man’s a right mess, is what I’m saying. He lives alone in a tiny apartment with nothing for company but his cane (for his war injury) and his pistol (for his inevitable messy suicide). His therapist is trying to help him out of the abyss, encouraging him to start a blog so he can write down what happens to him to make some kind of sense of it. He stares at her with dead, dead eyes. “Nothing ever happens to me,” he says flatly. And thus begins the best damn Sherlock Holmes adaptation evah. Suck it, Robert and Jude! You too, Rathbone, you hack.
The mystery opens with a businessman home from a trip. His assistant tells him there’s no car coming for him, and he should get a cab instead. He hangs up and walks away. The next thing we see is him taking a pill from a bottle with a shaking hand. He dies a rather awful death on the floor of an empty office building. Okay…what? His wife has a press conference to try to salvage his reputation from an unexpected and shocking suicide.
Next up, two blokes are running in the rain trying to hail a cab with no success. One of them decides to go home and get an umbrella. His friends waits and waits for him to return, but he doesn’t, because he’s busy tearfully taking a pill from a bottle and swallowing it. Yup, the newspaper is saying it’s a suicide. I repeat: Okay…what?
Now we see some people at a bar, and one of the women is plastered. Her pal steals her car keys from her purse because friends don’t let friends drive drunk. When she discovers in the parking lot that her keys are missing, she looks around to figure out her next move. Her next move, of course, is to swallow one of those damn pills from the bottle in an abandoned warehouse. A mystery indeed!
Scotland Yard is on the case. They hold their own press conference to assure the media and public that they’re working day and night to figure out the link between these “serial suicides”. “There has to be one,” DI “Sexypants”Lestrade insists. Every cell phone in the room gets a text message: WRONG! Sgt. Sally Donovan instructs the press to ignore that. A reporter wants to know what exactly they’re investigating if they’re all suicides. Lestrade isn’t quite sure himself, but he insists they have their best people working on the case. Another text to every phone: WRONG! A second reporter wants to know if this could possibly be the work of a serial killer. Lestrade scoffs at that, and tells them that everyone is as safe as they want to be. You know it, here comes another text message that disagrees. But this time Lestrade also gets one that says, YOU KNOW WHERE TO FIND ME. S.H. Insert my squee here. The press conference is hastily concluded. If they could figure out how he did that, they’d stop him from doing it anymore. Hee.
John Watson isn’t aware of any of this, as he’s all wrapped up in his bleak blanket of battle fatigue. He’s limping along through a park, minding his own beeswax, when an old school buddy spies him from afar. John is too gimpy to make a run for it, so he’s forced to endure a coffee and a chat to catch up. Even though John insists he couldn’t afford to stay in the city, his old mate is sure John couldn’t bear to leave London – “That’s not the John Watson I know.” To which John snaps, “I’m not the John Watson you know.” The mate wonders if he might get a flatshare. But who would want him for a flatmate? His friend laughs, because that’s the second time someone said that to him that very day. And who was the first?
My asexual sociopathic TV boyfriend, that’s who! Our first sighting of Mr. Sherlock Holmes (the exquisitely named Benedict Cumberbatch) shows him flogging a naked dead bloke with a crop, much to the breathless titillation of Molly, the morgue worker who pimps Sherlock all the corpses he asks for, I guess. Like he is wont to do, Sherlock treats her with brisk disdain, which only makes me you her lust after him more. When she awkwardly asks him if he’d like to have coffee, he tells her, “Black, two sugars, I’ll be upstairs,” and strides purposefully away. Next time, Molly! We’re rooting for you, girl!
Modern Sherlock is much luckier than all the other Sherlocks of yore, because he can text and thus avoid actual human contact as much as possible. Still, when the old school mate of John’s brings him to the lab to meet Sherlock, he’s polite enough, although he can’t help but be a smug know-it-all, telling John in no uncertain terms they’ll meet the next evening at Sherlock’s new flat to see if he wants to move in. John is shocked and insulted. They don’t know the first thing about each other! No, they don’t, except that Sherlock has deduced in the entire minute since they’ve met that John was an army doctor, has an alcoholic brother who’s worried about him, and that his therapist correctly thinks John’s limp is psychosomatic. Um. Good guesses? John likely wants nothing more to do with this strange and off-putting fellow…except he’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to John in a long time. How can he resist?
They meet at 221B Baker Street where the lovely Mrs. Hudson tells them there’s an extra bedroom upstairs if they need it. Of course they will, John indignantly replies, and a million fangirls go >:( . They’re interrupted by DI Lestrade, who’s come to inform Sherlock that there’s been another “suicide”, this one left a note, and would Sherlock please come take a look? Sherlock grudgingly says yes – then does the happiest Sherlock dance ever when Lestrade leaves. Four suicides and a mysterious note – it’s practically Christmas! He rushes out the door, scarf fully erect, leaving a rather frustrated John behind. BUT! Sherlock u-turns. John is a doctor, a good one, who’s seen lots of blood and gore in his day, right? “Far too much,” says John grimly. “Wanna see some more?” “Oh God, yes.” And so a most kick-ass coalition is born. The game is on!
They cab it to the crime scene, and Sherlock has more than enough time to prove to John that his powers of deduction aren’t guesswork or trickery; they’re the result of a keen eye and an ability to sort through an endless supply of details and data. He’s right – the police don’t consult amateurs. John thinks it’s bloody remarkable. For once, Sherlock is surprised. People don’t usually say that after Sherlock reads them…they usually just say piss off.
At the crime scene, Sherlock and Sally engage in a bit of foreplay, I mean snide sideswipes, before he and John go take a look at the corpse in question. Sherlock refuses to put on protective coveralls; his germs are WAY too intelligent to contaminate the crime scene. The body is one Jennifer Wilson. She’s dressed all in pink and she’s carved out “R-A-C-H-E” in the wooden floor with her pink nails. We get to see Sherlock’s genius at work as his thought processes are…you know…texted out for us read. The man’s a human smart phone, okay? He doesn’t really need John per se, but it is nice to have someone to show off to. It takes Sherlock mere moments to deduce that the woman had a suitcase, but it’s missing. Who else could have it but the killer? Sherlock bounds off, hot on the trail of London’s newest serial killer, leaving John to navigate four flights of stairs with his imaginary limp. Sgt. Sally Donovan warns John to stay away from Sherlock, because he’s a psychopath, and psychopaths get bored. One day it’ll be Sherlock doing the killing for the kick of it. OMG I’d watch that!! Ahem…I mean, what nonsense. ::whistles::
On his way to catch a cab, John notices that every pay phone he passes rings. He finally answers one. It’s a mysterious voice that commands him to get into the car that pulls up beside him. He does so, and is driven (with a sexy and utterly unavailable minion named Anthea) to an empty warehouse where the mystery man is waiting for him. He self-identifies as Sherlock’s arch-enemy, and is very much interested in the man who met Sherlock 24 hours ago, and is now moving in and solving crimes with him. He offers to pay John to pass along information about Sherlock, what he’s up to and so forth, because he worries about him. John is a rock, unruffled and unmoved by this deceit. He’s seen a hell of a lot worse than this foppish bureaucrat. Although he is plenty shaken when the man diagnoses John far more accurately than his therapist ever did: he’s not haunted by the war – he misses it. And that right there is all the character motivation anybody could want for why Dr. Watson wants to be with the likes of Sherlock Holmes. Other than the blue eyes, I mean. When Sherlock texts him to come at once though it might be dangerous, it surprises absolutely no one when John goes home…to 221B Baker Street. He’s brought his gun for just in case.
Sherlock is lying on the sofa, thinking. I’m not saying he’s stoned, except he completely is. He asks John to use his phone to text someone. John can’t believe this is the “dangerous” task Sherlock lured him across town for, and of course it makes the sentiments against Sherlock seem just that much more valid. He peers out the window, and when Sherlock asks him why, John tells him he just met a friend of Sherlock’s. “A friend?!” Sherlock asks, mystified. “An enemy,” John clarifies. “Oh. Which one?” Ha! When he finds out that it’s his arch enemy, Sherlock knows exactly who it is. He berates John for not taking the money the man offered to spy on Sherlock – they could have split it. Interestingly, Sherlock doesn’t for a second consider that John might have betrayed him – he takes his loyalty utterly for granted and they’ve known each other for, like, five minutes.
As instructed, John texts the phone of the dead woman in pink, asking whoever sees the message to go to a nearby address. Sherlock’s trying to trick the killer into thinking she’s still alive somehow. Oh, and by the way, he also has her missing pink suitcase. John is shocked enough by that fact that Sherlock scathingly denies being the killer (no matter what Sally says, nyah!). He found the case in a dumpster not five minutes from the murder scene, because he knew the killer would have ditched it the moment he noticed he had it. Right on cue, the phone rings with a blocked number. Sherlock dons his coat and scarf of sexual supremacy, ready to sprint out the door. He asks John if he’s coming. John tells him what Sally said, that Sherlock gets off on murder. Sherlock smiles at him. “And I said dangerous and here you are.” Ah, it’s nice when you meet a kindred spirit, isn’t it? What can John do but follow? Sherlock is right. He’s always right.
They go to a restaurant around the corner to stake out the address from the text message to the killer. John discovers that not everybody hates Sherlock – anybody he’s ever helped thinks he’s a hero. That’s why Sherlock has a table reserved for him at all times, because the restaurant owner loves him. He tells Sherlock anything on the menu is free for him and his date. John strongly denies being his date, possibly not because Sherlock is a man but because he’s a jerkwad. John might as well be on a date with Piers Morgan!
While waiting for the killer to hopefully make an appearance, John has his first personal conversation with Sherlock, who answers his questions with as few words as possible, but does answer them. Sherlock thinks the normal, real world sounds utterly boring, with friends and lovers instead of arch-enemies. John looks twice when Sherlock says that girlfriends aren’t really his area anyway; does Sherlock have a boyfriend, then? No, Sherlock hates men and women about equally. “You’re unattached like me,” says John, eyes fixed on his menu. And that’s where the subtext allllmost becomes text. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but as long as the possibility is there, the fangirls can dream. As an aside, in this scene John goes from perusing the menu to eating the meal he didn’t even order yet. He’s magic!
But enough of all this talking. A cab stops and waits in front of the address Sherlock fed to the (hopefully) killer, the man in the back seat staring around him. Sherlock hurries out of the restaurant and John quickly follows, leaving his cane behind. The cab speeds off. John’s memorized the cab number… but Sherlock’s memorized the entire grid of the city, and knows exactly where he needs to go to meet up with the cab as it drives. Off they dash, Sherlock pushing people out of the way and John apologizing in his wake. They take to the roofs like Batman and Robin. John wants to be afraid, but Sherlock doesn’t allow him the luxury. They finally catch the cab, but the man in the back is just an American tourist. Curses! A dead end. They arrive gasping and laughing at 221B Baker Street. So what now? Sherlock calls out to Mrs. Hudson that Dr. Watson will be taking the room upstairs. Says who? Says the man at the door, says Sherlock. Sure enough, there’s a knock. Sherlock texted the restaurant owner to say that John forgot his cane, so he’s brought it over. It seems John’s leg doesn’t bother him as long as he’s having adventures with tall, well-dressed, asocial detectives. How lucky for us all!
Not so lucky is Sherlock, what with half the police force waiting for him upstairs in his flat. Lestrade has already guessed that Sherlock would find the pink suitcase, and doesn’t appreciate Sherlock investigating the case on his own. Thus, he’s ordered a drugs bust of the flat so he can search it. When John scoffs at the very idea (“This guy – a junkie? Have you met him?”), Sherlock stops him with a look that says clearly: ixnay on the ugsdray. John can’t believe it, but there’s no time for an intervention at the moment. The cops expected the killer to have the suitcase, and who has it but their favourite psychopath. Sherlock is quick to point out that he’s not a psychopath, he’s a high functioning sociopath. Do your research! When Lestrade tells him that they’ve discovered the dead woman was carving the name of her stillborn daughter into the floor when she died. Sherlock is baffled by this, which makes him crazy. Crazier. Mrs. Hudson comes to tell him his cab is here, and he promptly berserkos out and shouts at everyone to be quiet. Lestrade orders them to obey, because Sherlock’s the only chance he has to solve this case and keep his job. Which doesn’t say much about Lestrade’s detectimg abilities, but everything about his massive mancrush on Sherlock.
Sherlock immediately deduces that “Rachel” is the password into the dead woman’s email, that she in fact made sure her cell phone (with GPS signal) stayed with her killer. John quickly looks up the phone’s location on the mephone.org website (snort), and discovers it’s…on Baker Street. Everyone starts to tear the place apart looking for the phone, but as the muddy waters clear for him, Sherlock calms. The clues are falling into place in his gigantic brain. Who passed unnoticed when the victims went to their grisly ends? Who did they trust without hesitation until it was too late? The person waiting at the top of the stairs for Sherlock, that’s who: the cab driver. The cab driver takes a pink phone from his pocket and sends Sherlock a text that says Come with me. And wouldn’t you know it, Sherlock does. He doesn’t tell anyone, of course, because that would ruin his fun. Sherlock, you silly ADHD-riddled boy.
The cab driver is beyond unassuming, a bespectacled rabbit of a man. He admits he’s the reason the victims died, that he said something to them which made them kill themselves. But he’s sure Sherlock isn’t going to call the police to take him away, because then the cabbie will never, ever tell what he said to them and Sherlock will never know the truth. He gets in the cab and waits for Sherlock to get in, too. Sherlock is in an agony of indecision. He accuses the cabbie of wanting to kill him. “I don’t want to kill you, Mr. Holmes. I’m going to talk to you, and then you’re going to kill yourself.” This is the smartest taxi driver on the freaking planet – it’s exactly the right psychological bait to make Sherlock get into the cab, which he does. It’s like Cash Cab, really, but if you lose you die a hideous death. Whee!
Upstairs in the flat, John watches out the window with disbelief as Sherlock gets in the cab and it drives off. He calls the victim’s cell phone again and it rings, but not anywhere they can hear it. Sally Donovan is so pissed off you’d think she wants to have sex with Sherlock instead of arrest him. Which she totally does. She insists that once again, Sherlock has wasted their time. Lestrade reluctantly agrees and calls off the “drugs bust”. When John wonders why Lestrade puts up with Sherlock’s nonsense. “Because Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And I think one day, if we’re very lucky…he might even be a good one.”
Sherlock meanwhile is wondering how the cabbie knows so much about him. He says that someone warned him about Sherlock, a “fan”, but he refuses to say who. He confesses that he admires Sherlock’s massive intellect, but that’s probably a given. The cabbie drives him to a nearby college, and leads Sherlock to an empty study hall. They sit and face off, taking a moment to discuss how hard it is to be a genius. The cabbie finally takes two bottles from his pocket, each containing a single pill. He invites Sherlock to choose a pill to swallow, promising that he’ll take whichever pill is left over. This is what he did to his victims, and because he had a gun, they agreed. He tells Sherlock this isn’t chance, it’s chess, and here’s the first move. He pushes one of the bottles toward Sherlock. Is he trying to make Sherlock second-guess whether it’s the poisoned pill? Is it a double bluff? Has the cabbie spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocaine powder? It’s a life-and-death decision, and this is probably the happiest moment in Sherlock’s life.
Not so much for John, who’s started to wonder if the cab is more menacing than he first thought. When he sees from the GPS that the cab has stopped, he decides to chase it down. He takes his own cab, and tries to call Lestrade, but nothing doing. He gets to the college, but it’s very large and he knows that if everything’s going south for Sherlock he’s running out of time.
But Sherlock wants to play his own game first. He reads the cabbie like we read the back cover of a paperback, deduces that he’s dying of something and has nothing and no one to live for. But why is he killing people before he dies? The cabbie divulges that he has a sponsor, that for every person he kills, someone is giving his estranged children money – the mysterious fan of Sherlock’s. Why, this fellow might even be smarter than Sherlock! Sherlock twitches at the thought. But enough chit-chat says the cabbie; choose a pill. Sherlock refuses, and points out the gun the cabbie is using isn’t even real. He makes to leave, and the cabbie doesn’t try to stop him, just asks which pill Sherlock would’ve chosen had he gone through with it. To know if he would have beaten Sherlock, that’s all. Sherlock sits back down. He wants to know if the cabbie would have beaten him, too. He chooses the bottle in front of the cabbie. Roh-oh.
While they’re playing for their lives, John is frantically searching the college for Sherlock, darting from room to room, calling his name. He finally spies him, pill bottle in hand, almost ready to bet his mortality on being the most clever of all. The only problem is that John isn’t in the right building – he’s in the next building over, and is watching Sherlock through a window two hundred yards away. Oh noes!
The cabbie is as convincing as a snake charmer, pointing out that there’s no point in being clever if Sherlock can’t prove it. He knows the only thing that really matters to Sherlock is finding a way to stop being bored. Sherlock takes the pill out of the bottle and hesitates. “You’re not bored now, are you?” the cabbie says and boy, is it the truth. They both put the pills to their mouths. Before they can take the final, fatal step, a bullet comes through the window and hits the cabbie. This brings Sherlock back to his senses. He peers out the window into the next building, but there’s nobody there. He demands to know if he chose the right pill, but the cabbie is too busy bleeding out to answer. Fine, then Sherlock wants to know the name of the “sponsor”. The cabbie refuses to tell, but Sherlock convinces him by stepping on his bullet wound. This isn’t a very nice thing to do, and Sherlock isn’t a very nice man to do it. Sherlock has told us before that all he cares about is the game, and now he’s proving it beyond a doubt. With his dying breath, the cabbie shouts, “Moriarty!” Oh. My. God. Now it all makes sense. Finally, an adversary worthy of Sherlock’s attentions.
Now there’s nothing left but for the police and ambulance to come and clean up the mess. Sherlock is forced to wear a blanket in case he’s in shock (that’ll be the day), but he’s still fully capable of deducing who the shooter must be: someone who’s seen violence but is still a good man, a crack shot, probably in the military…that’s when he sees John Watson waiting patiently in the crowd, blending in with the common folk. It all comes clear, and Sherlock quickly tells Lestrade to forget what he’s said, it’s all rubbish – he’s in shock, remember? He escapes from Lestrade’s questions and has a insightful chat with John, who has proven himself to be just as capable as Sherlock, and a darn sight more mentally stable. He’s just what Sherlock needs, and Sherlock is just what John needs. The heavens open and angels sing as all becomes right with the world. Okay, no they don’t, but Sherlock and John become BFFs lo, before our eyes. It would be a perfect ending, except that the man who claimed to be Sherlock’s arch-enemy is waiting for them. Is this the evil and brilliant Moriarty? Nope, it’s Mycroft, Sherlock’s interfering brother. Ha! They have a fight over who upsets their mother more before Sherlock stalks off in a huff. John couldn’t be more surprised if Mycroft turned out to be an alien. Mycroft vows to keep an even closer eye on the new partners in crime, the one and only Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. So do we, Mycroft. So do we.