Welcome to the World of Gatiss. Just as an episode from Moffat means feisty women and spoddy whizzkids, so from a Mark Gatiss episode of Sherlock, we can reasonably expect dead daddies, suspicious offal, and Kensington gore. In this case, served up with devilish humour and abundant references to Withnail and I. Onwards: for science, UST, and daddy issues!
Sadly, there will be fewer whores in this week’s Sherlock. Instead, we start twenty years ago, with a small scared boy (see also: Gatiss’s last Doctor Who) fleeing a man being attacked. Animal snarls fill the air, amid shadows and cries and blood-coloured leaves.
We follow the child across moorland, where he’s eventually found by an early-morning dogwalker. The terrified boy takes one look at her dog (friendly, stupid) and screams.
Back in London, Sherlock’s BORED. He’s quitting cigarettes again, being thoroughly vile to John and Mrs Hudson (again), and not even a blood-soaked harpoon battle can spark his interest for very long (all right, that’s new). Climbing the scenery walls, Cumberbatch peacocks in an appropriately coloured dressing gown as John scours the Guardian (bless you, you bleeding-heart liberal) for “anything IMPORTANT”—which, in Sherlock’s nicotine- and corpse-starved mind, excludes military coups, media attention, and Cabinet reshuffles. Dull.
Gatiss’s Sherlock is petulant, manic, and ridiculous: mimicking accents, tantrumming, and overturning the living room (including a Turkish slipper, hurrah canon!) in pursuit of Lady Nicotine. Mrs Hudson’s soothing (“How about a nice cuppa, and perhaps you could put away your harpoon…?”) but no, it’s stabby-stabby, flouncy-flouncy for the greatest detective/worst flatmate the world has ever known.
Even Sherlock’s website, 640 Types of Shit Only I Would Care About, isn’t bringing in the business: just a small girl with a stolen rabbit called Bluebell. Sherlock expresses his contempt for this with a gesture somewhere between spiteful jazz hands and interpretative dance. John, we learn, has even resorted to playing Cluedo with him, and we’re left in no doubt how well Sherlock didn’t cope with the rules.
And then, Henry Knight turns up: the little boy from twenty years ago, now all grown up and in desperate need of Sherlock’s help.
Once upon a time, there was a big-eared History Boy. From Jack Harkness to werewolves, Russell Tovey’s covered most of the career, um, bases, including (allegedly) a fling with Gok Wan and a role in Gavin and Stacey (set in Billericay—Tovey’s real-life hometown).
Physically, Tovey’s not an instinctive choice for the role of tormented aristo Henry Knight—it’s like seeing the Kittenbatch play rugby. Tovey/Knight brings Sherlock exposition, sorry, a documentary, in which a presenter who’s definitely not Reeta Chakrabati fills in our Gatiss Bingo Cards for us. She explains about Baskerville, a Top Secret Science Laboratory for Doing Monsters And Science (check!), set in lonely rugged Dartmoor (check! for the wild card: Places Which Aren’t The North But Could Be), from which terrifying Monsters might have Escaped (Full Hammer House of Horror).
Also, I think the BBC’s got some sort of electronics deal with Samsung—every TV we watch in this ep has the logo. Anyway, after six rousing choruses of Horrors Beyond Imagining, the documentary explains: Henry Knight thinks that one of these monsters killed his father, all those years ago.
John does his special GP voice, but Sherlock’s STILL BORED.
Henry: …we used to go for walks, my dad and I, after my mum died … every evening, we’d go out onto the moor….
Sherlock: —yes, good, skipping to the night your dad was violently killed; where did that happen?
It happened in Godric’s Dewer’s Hollow, which is (apparently) an Olde English name for DEVIL; so John (mentally inscribing a prescription for lithium) asks calmly if Henry saw the DEVIL that night.
Indeed Henry did. It was huge, with coal-black fur and glowing red eyes… Sherlock’s lolling slightly at the talk of MONSTERS and DEVILS (blasphemer!!), and Henry takes offense. Never knowingly modest, Sherlock wins him round with some virtuoso deduction about Henry’s activities in the past 24 hours—
John: [disapproving] You’re just showing off.
Sherlock: Of course, I AM a showoff, this is WHAT WE DO—
—and persuades him to stay.
At which point it becomes clear that Henry holds one exquisite attraction for Sherlock: no, not the ears. His smoking habit.
Once Henry lights up, farce ensues as John tries gently to elicit information from the traumatized man, while Sherlock does vast Lecter-style sniffs and practically licks his face off (this doesn’t make Henry any less traumatized, but it DOES remind me how much more palatable I find Cumbersniff when he’s kept safely in broad comedy).
Nevertheless, Sherlock’s impatient (astonishingly) with Henry’s halting narrative (as am I—he sounds like David Niven’s wetter sister) and comments that if he wanted poetry, he’d read John’s emails to his girlfriends—much funnier.
Henry’s mention of PAWPRINTS makes Sherlock dismiss him, but then canon swings in like a wrecking ball:
Henry: Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!
And Sherlock takes the case. He’s going to Royston Vasey Dartmoor!
Our heroes (Gladstone bag & carry-on) leave for their mini-break, and we cut to a lot of New Age footage of Dartmoor itself. The wind whispers, the rocks rustle, there’s some time-delay shenanigans, and here are Sherlock and John in a Land Rover. I call shenanigans here, too, because while John may have seen action in Afghanistan, shot a taxi driver, and survived a near-death experience as Moriarty’s human bomb, I don’t think he’s sufficiently brave or reckless to let Sherlock drive.
Then Cumberbatch stands on a rock. It doesn’t sound like much, this simple act of feet on granite, but, for the love of Tennant, watch Cumberheart pose on a jagged spar of stone, while the wind ripples his dark rippling dark curls to an almost-audible SWISH SWISH and while every fibre in his heroic hero’s coat Acts as outwear has Never Acted Before. Respond, o viewer, to your innate desire for souped-up similes about Our Hero’s Ice-Blue Gaze as he with austere eye regard the unthinking landscape, which John (struggling with an Ordnance Survey) is apparently also regarding equally satisfactorily from fifteen feet below. If you think you hear the distant pipes/roll of thunder/back catalogue of Kate Bush, embrace it! Embrace, too, the desire to sink to the ground and laugh until you vomit.
Somebody has directed Cumberbatch to stand up there like Heathcliff’s camp brother, and they cannot be held to blame. Were I left with Cumberbatch and a camera, the innate wickedness of my sinful human soul would take similar effect.
And, in fact, if Sherlock is become a masque in which Cumberplonk is put through a series of screamingly funny poses, may I suggest the following visions: Cumberbatch As Whistler’s Mother. Cumberbatch As The Birth of Venus. Cumberbatch And A Series Of Small Animals With Equally Stupid Faces. Cumberbatch Looking Astonished, In Drag. Cumberbatch on a Fainting Couch – oh, wait.
Anyway, eventually David Tennant’s Hamlet Poster brings himself and his bone structure down from Hero Peak, having established that a minefield surrounds Baskerville. If you infer from this that somebody’s going to die in said minefield later in the episode, I absolutely refuse to comment.
The boys rock up at Location-of-the-Week, a charming country pub with an obviously brand-new pub sign. Outside, Some Yokel is finishing up a tourist tour with a poster called “Beware Of The Hound!!”. Exposure to regional dialect means Sherlock has to pop his collar. Again. The pub offers boutique rooms and vegetarian cuisine.
Meanwhile, Russell Tovey’s having a flashback, intercut with shots of the tour guide wearing a big scary hound mask (has anyone read that Prisoner of Azkaban parody where Snape shouts WEREWOLF WEREWOLF WEREWOLF? Yeah). He’s having therapy at home (architecturally Manderley-meets-the-Big Brother house), revisiting his father’s murder, and has remembered two words from that night: “Liberty” and “In”.
Again, if you infer that this might be A Clue, I couldn’t possibly comment.
Back in the tavern, John books rooms and tries and fails to explain to Some Gay Landlords that he and the Withnail lookalike nancing suspiciously in high tailoring aren’t actually a couple. (All right, Marwood. We believe you.) John gets his sleuth on, however, when the vegetarian hotel has an invoice lying about for All The Meat. This bit of the plot made me joyful: a) Hilary Briss is apparently alive, well, and living in Undershaw, and b) it isn’t every writer who’d be so open and uncompromising about his creative obsession with illicitly-sourced offal.
ETA: Undershaw. I only just got that one. For goodness’ sake.
Beardy Gay Landlord does a nice recap of the story so far (minefield! Science! DEMON HOUND!) and Sherlock goes to chat up the tour guide. Tacitly convincing John to join in a bet (John’s getting much better at following Sherlock’s cues—there was the smoke alarm last week, and now this), he tricks the gambling-minded Some Yokel into revealing he genuinely believes in the Demon Hound. And, conveniently, in the Monsters Beyond Imagination being spliced/grown/Oryx-and-Craked behind barbed wire. There’s a painful amount of Oi Seen Et, Zurr to get through, but after some Farmers’ Weekly rumination about what They’re Putting In Our Water, Some Yokel even has a plaster cast of, yep, The Footprints of a Gigantic Hound.
Increasingly uneasy, Our Heroes take the Land Rover up to Torchwood Baskerville (which is in no way a gas power station, FYI), and Sherlock uses Mycroft’s library card Access All Areas pass, or something (it’s a central tenet of the series that Mycroft is outside the government, beyond the police all-powerful because of reasons), to get in. Presumably the armed guard who swiped the photo ID was too stunned by the hair dye to notice that the brothers Holmes look completely unalike.
They’re having a nice walk round the gas works (full-length Martin Freeman shot reinforces that a) he is tiny, b) he is doing Perky Soldier Walk, and c) I love him more than audible frequencies can ever convey) when Attractive Bit-Part of the week shows up!
Corporal Lyons! Since our Texan overmistress already billed me as Oxford-educated, now’s probably a forgiveable moment to say that I met Will Sharpe when he was President of the Cambridge Footlights (I worked a lot with his Oxford equivalent). He’s an amazing stand-up. Not unlike Rupert Graves, Sharpe’s primary function in this episode is, via his fearful symmetry, to make all other actors look comically misshapen.
Cpl Lyons is a bit concerned by the all-powerful Mycroft’s sudden arrival (if not by his head transplant) but is chastened when John goes all thrillingly authoritative and pulls rank and says that’s an order Corporal and is Captain and Sherlock does very well at not, like, snogging his face off. The twitchy cupid’s bow schtick is probably Sherlock’s version of arousal.
As Some Computer Sequence progresses (scanning Mycroft’s ID), Cpl Lyons leads Withnail and Captain down to a 1960s B Movie basement full of Bjork-video white lighting and over-exposed cages (most of which are, bless the BBC, completely empty, although we do get a few shrieky monkeys and one almost offensively healthy beagle).
Here we also find Clive Mantle, playing a jovial scientist, and learn more about the medical research and weaponry in development at Baskerville (there’s a lot and it’s TOP SECRET—Gatiss isn’t into detail)—just as Some Computer Sequence spots that it’s unlikely Mycroft Holmes would be in Dartmoor today (especially wearing the wrong head).
And then! O joy o rapture, it’s Amelia Bullmore! Seen now as the brilliant and unprincipled and actually quite foxy Dr Stapleton, Bullmore has—since Sherlock—played Boss Queen Of Everything DCI Gill Murray in the hand-bitingly unmissable ITV Scott and Bailey. Although foxy brunettes FIGHTING CRIME are, y’know, a long-standing academic interest, I will confine my remarks on Ms. Bullmore to the observations that 1) Scott and Bailey is everything you (by which I mean “I”) want in a TV drama; that 2) Bullmore’s character trajectory is to become more fabulous with every second. That is her trajectory; and 3) Amelia Bullmore is partnered with Jamie from The Thick of It, thus representing everything that is right and good and true in the world. And here she is in the BBC Sherlock, doing what a woman hasn’t done since the pilot, and lolling openly at the Cumberbatch.
Bullmore also makes 50% of an amazingly farcical exchange wherein Sherlock whips out his Moleskine (voucher codes for notebooks, Land Rovers and Samsungs are presumably in the post) and asks Why Did Bluebell Have To Die (do you remember? The dead glowing fairy-rabbit from Act 1). Time’s ticking, though, and Sherlock suspects their luck may be about to run out—a clever guess, since Some Computer Sequence has now, via TECHNOLOGY, put a series of calls through a series of receptionists to alert Mycroft in the coffee-room of the Diogenes Club.
Looking like a Siamese cat with a furball (nice family resemblance there), an infinitely displeased Mycroft texts his little brother to ask what the hell’s going on. Heading for the exit, the boys are confronted by Major Barrymore, Baskerville’s answer to Nurse Rachet, but escape detection (it evidently takes a Major to notice when someone’s got the wrong head) when Some Clive Mantle unexpectedly confirms that Sherlock is Mycroft, rather than (for example) a delinquent brat-prince with militaristic detailing, swanning ’round a top secret weapons base for fraternal shits ‘n’ giggles. Some Clive Mantle, it turns out, is a massive shipper fan –
Dr Frankland: I thought you’d be wearing the hat, though…
Sherlock: That wasn’t my hat.
Dr Frankland: [jovially] I hardly recognize him without the hat!
Sherlock: That wasn’t. My. Hat.
He’s also a friend of Henry’s Dead Daddy, whom Some Clive Frankland
denounces identifies as a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Offering John and Sherlock his cell number, he responds to Sherlock’s question about what exactly he does at Baskerville by joshing that he’d love to tell them, but then he’d have to kill them!
Sherlock: That would be tremendously ambitious of you.
He’s also no fan of Stapleton. Which reminds John to ask how on earth Sherlock knew about Bluebell.
John: Oh, please. Can we not do this, this time?
Sherlock: [confused like a cross-eyed kitten] Do what?
John: You, being all… mysterious… with your cheekbones and turning your collar up so you look cool.
Sherlock: I don’t do that!
John: Yeah you do.
With John now hemorrhaging straightness, the boys drive through some moors and some more moors back while Sherlock explains that the tiny girl with the stolen rabbit was Stapleton’s daughter; Stapleton’s conducting secret genetic experiments on animals. The question is, how big and dangerous do these animals get?
Posh Russell Tovey is waiting at the house. John’s impressed. Of course he’s impressed. Henry Knight is 27 and lives in what is quite clearly Mark Gatiss’s (god bless him) Barbie Dream House (it’s also mine, okay).
John: This is…. are you… rich?
They drink coffee while Henry explains about “Liberty In” (Sherlock, never knowingly chirpsome, thinks it’s Liberty In Death) before moving to strategy.
John: Sherlock’s got a plan.
Henry: [cheerful] Right!
Sherlock: [terrifying smile] We take you back out onto the moor.
Sherlock: —and see if anything attacks you.
Despite John saying quite clearly (and rightly) that that’s Not A Plan, Sherlock insists.
Sherlock: If there is a monster out there on the moor, there’s only one thing to do.
Stay well clear? Call in the army? Consider taking an animal specialist or just some sort of firearm?
Sherlock: Find out where it lives.
Thus, come nightfall, Henry Knight, John Watson, and Some So-Called Genius head down into Dewer’s Hollow. Ignoring the first rule of flashlit horror-sequences, John decides to split up from the group (who, given that they’re largely shot in silhouette, could best be described as Pointy and Juggy) and follow various unearthly screeches towards the mysterious corpse lights flashing across the moorland. In Morse, he sees the message—U M Q R A—before rejoining his friends for a particularly jittery horrorshow.
Sherlock and Henry discuss Bob Frankland; Henry’s father’s best friend, of whom Henry himself is very fond. Giving the men’s diverging views on Baskerville, and his own massive lack of social awareness, Sherlock’s astonished that two such different men could maintain a friendship.
Henry: Well, mates are mates, aren’t they? Look at you and John.
Sherlock: [spiky] What about us?
Henry: Well—he’s a pretty straightforward bloke, isn’t he, and you’re…
An overbred ponce with severed limbs in the fridge? A tormented sociopath with complicated fraternal angst? A sulky kitten with an otterface?
Sherlock makes cross-eyed confused!face, and on they pop. At the Hollow, though, everything starts to go wrong. There are flashing lights. There are wolf noises. There’s an intensifying soundtrack reminiscent of impending death by blunt instrument, and then, dear god, there’s a Hound. There’s a Hound, and Sherlock and Henry have seen it.
A staggered Sherlock reels out of the hollow denying he saw anything, but Henry knows he’s lying. Knight’s distress amounts almost to mania; John prescribes a sedative and rejoins Sherlock in the pub, having totally accepted Sherlock’s story that there was no Hound.
Except that, in his absence, Sherlock has turned into a trembling, snivelling freakout (to whom, incidentally, an HD-closeup at pore level does precisely no favours). It takes John a while to notice the pink eyes, blinking, and panicked breathing, and Sherlock doesn’t thank him for it. Knight’s not the only one who’s manic. Martin Freeman’s GP Voice is, in this scene, hilarious, as he tries to mother Sherlock into being rational (creased face of professional patience) while Cumberlocks mows and gurns through a brandy glass. Every time the camera cuts back to him, someone’s applied another metric tonne of pink eyeshadow and Vaseline. In a weird way, this is one of Gatiss’s greatest writing strengths: the ability to play high camp melodrama (Sherlock’s rambling monologue about always having been Above Feelings and having Kept Himself In Check) simultaneously with Watson’s very dry wit.
Sherlock: —the GRIT on the LENS, the FLY in the OINTMENT—
John: —yeah. All right, Spock. Take it easy. You’ve been pretty wired lately, you know you have. I think you’ve just gone out there and got yourself A Bit Worked Up.
Heathcliff In Frills, however, proceeds to furiously deduce the private lives of their nearest neighbours in the pub (because obsessively noting everything about total strangers is one of the clearest indicators for good mental health).
While Sherlock spits himself into silence, we see that fear makes him unprecedentedly vile:
John: […] why would you listen to me? I’m just your friend.
Sherlock: I don’t have friends.
John: No. Wonder why?
John storms out of the pub, but spots the mysterious flashing lights again and sets off in pursuit. Meanwhile, Henry Knight experiences a series of flashbacks: Liberty In again. John’s flashing lights turn out to be doggers (no, really, you can click it—but there is sound…!); Sherlock, in a warped peace offering, sends a text suggesting John “interview” Henry’s fit therapist, who is also now in the Only Pub In The Valley.
Poor Henry, however, has another breakdown when the flashing lights intensify, the TV seems only to show wolves, and, outside, a snarling canine shape rushes across his garden. Alarmingly, we also see that Henry keeps a gun in the house.
John’s chatting-up fails abruptly when Frankland lumbers over to interrupt and outs John as a celebrity sleuth’s “live-in PA”. Poor John. Cockblocked by Clive Mantle.
Next morning, a dervish-like Sherlock bounds round to make coffee for a truly haggard Henry—and comments on Henry’s specific choice of HOUND instead of DOG to describe what he saw (that’s what prompted his sudden volte-face in taking the case).
Sherlock leaves the house as abruptly as he came, and—for reasons, we can only suppose, Of Plot, discovers John sulking in a graveyard.
John, undersexed and undervalued, doesn’t want to talk, until Sherlock clutches his arm (oh Cumberbatch, you mustn’t spring moments of actual tension on me, I cannot take it) and announces that he was right in what he’d said last night: he Doesn’t Have Friends. He’s Just Got One.
John, although touched, has the sense to walk off, when the Kittenbatch is suddenly possessed illuminated and dashes after him. John is amazing! He is fantastic! He is metaphorically quite stupid but still useful (John advises him not to spoil it)! With John back in his rightful place as the person who shows Sherlock the only love he’s ever known stimulates Sherlock’s genius (oh Gatiss), Sherlock realizes that HOUND isn’t a word—it’s an acronym: H.O.U.N.D. And then Lestrade turns up!
If seeing the boys outside London wasn’t weird enough (Sherlock in particular looks like an extra from Twilight), seeing them against the stunningly tanned Rupert Graves is mildly offensive.
Looking as relaxed and as gorgeous as only an actor recently returned from filming in Guadeloupe can, Lestrade has been sent by Mycroft to keep an eye on his delinquent baby brother. Sherlock’s contemptuous of Lestrade for traveling incognito—is that why he’s calling himself GREG?!!?! No, Sherlock, that’s his first name. (I suppose that if you’re “Sherlock”, and your brother’s “Mycroft”, that sweet little syllable would seem inordinately bizarre.) John makes good use of everyone’s favourite Inspector (rowr) by getting him to investigate the plot strand “vegetarian” pub’s excessive expenditure on meat. Turns out, the landlords decided to boost tourism via their own Demon Hound, an uncontrollable dog kept in a local mineshaft.
In the background, a still-penitent Sherlock makes John an unasked-for cup of coffee, which freaks John out about as much as you’d expect. He even gets the sugar wrong (John prefers it without) but looks so like a forlorn advert for the Otter Protection League that John drinks it anyway. Sherlock watches carefully…
Lestrade’s disgusted with the landlords’ plan—they’ve nearly driven Henry insane—and storms off. John tries to placate him by saying Sherlock’s glad to see him. Secretly.
Lestrade: It’s nice. I suppose he likes having all the same faces back together. Appeals to his… to his—
They stand grinning as a haughty and discomfited Sherlock sweeps out the pub, clearly suspicious as to why his two boyfriends are lolling and knowing each other’s first names again. With a dazzing smile and a great deal of boyish enthusiasm, Lestrade heads off to be the most attractive thing fake!Dartmoor’s ever seen liaise with the local force break hearts and take names.
John and Sherlock agree that there’s no way that an ordinary dog—however vicious—is what so rattled Sherlock. After all, as Sherlock says, the Hound had red eyes, and its whole body was glowing. Collarpop time: old Cheekbatch has A Theory but needs to get back inside Baskerville. John points out the Little Misunderstanding regarding Mycroft’s Head.
Sherlock: [dials number on mobile] Hello, brother dear! How ARE you?
MONTAGE! Rabbit rat rabbit screech monkey CAGE TOXIN DANGER rabbit rat Amelia Bullmore rubber gloves TEST TUBE myriad signifiers of warfare rabbit reptile CAGE. The boys head back to t’gas works, where Sherlock sends John to search the labs for the Hound, warning him it could be dangerous. John smiles at the concern. Major Barrymore’s furious that Sherlock has ‘negotiated’ 24 hours’ access to Baskerville, and insults him by assuming he’s another conspiracy theorist (there’s also an Abbot & Costello joke—wonder if they edited that for the US crowd…).
John passes through several different laboratories, all of which seem to be closing down for the night… the last is a strange, gas-filled test lab labelled “Keep Out—unless you want a cold!”. The rooms grow progressively darker, until a huge surgical light switches itself on, dazzling him. Groping for the door, John’s further disoriented by a painfully-loud siren; then horrified to find himself locked in the lab as both lights and sirens go out.
Initially, John stays calm, investigating empty cages with that omnipresent flashlight of his. But as his breathing grows ragged, he’s disturbed by more than just the intermittent screech monkeys: something, somewhere in the lab is snarling.
All the doors are locked. Sherlock isn’t answering his phone. The Hound—what else could it be?—is scrabbling ’round corners, claws audible on the laboratory floor. When growling builds to open snarling, John clamps a hand over his mouth to muffle his own terrified breaths, and eventually resorts to locking himself in one of the cages, as the only possible barrier between himself and the monster.
When Sherlock rings back, a desperate John is practically groaning in fear; while promising to get him out, Sherlock quizzes his friend on what exactly he’s seeing. John’s barely able to get the words out, before Sherlock drags him out of the cage into a fully-lit, totally-deserted lab.
Just like Sherlock in the pub, John is loud, angry, and badly shaken, practically ricocheting off the lab benches. He confirms Sherlock’s description—huge, red eyes, glowing—and the detective’s delighted. He made up the glowing; John saw what he expected to see. He’s been drugged; they’ve all been drugged (only Sherlock would be pleased by this).
Blackmailing the divine Dr. Stapleton via a hilarious visual gag about glowing rabbits, Sherlock commandeers her microscope. While John and Stapleton discuss (Stapleton is basically Sherlock with unlimited access to genetics, and I love her with all my heart), Sherlock gets increasingly frustrated with his analysis of what looks a lot like sugar. In fact, it’s Henry Knight’s sugar: convinced that it contained the hallucinogen, Sherlock had spiked John’s coffee and been delighted when he “saw” the Hound. But the sugar’s clean. Infuriated, and (of course) sure he’s already got the answer somewhere, so—
Sherlock: Get out. Both of you. I need to go to my Mind Palace.
…reader, I deplore the intervention of advertising breaks into programmes never designed with such interruptions in mind. But now I need, you need, we need to stand back and take a breath.
What you will see will require deep breaths, grim determination, and a large supply of tissue—if not toweling—that’ll allow you to keep seeing the screen through a flood of tears. Benedict Cumberbatch is about to go to his Mind Palace, with the requisite gesticulation and Thinking Face reminiscent neither solely of a cat’s cradler swatting a fly, nor of a gay clubber sleepwalking, but of the collected essence of physical comedy, stored in the wine cellar of lols, and then served undiluted in a glass made of sheer hysteria. As you take your medicine and marvel at the greatest hits of MS Powerpoint visual FX c. 2010, please bear always in mind that this sequence is not meant to be funny.
Oh, and did you think Mind Palace sounded strangely like a euphemism? That’s okay, so did Benedict Cumberbatch’s ex-school chum.
Leaving Cumberzen behind, with the proper degree of shame and embarrassment, John mutters an explanation and ushers Stapleton away. Then the Mind Palace happens. I wonder if the assembled camera crew wept very hard. After ninety-six fonts and ten rounds of big-fish-little-fish-cardboard-box (did Cumberlama work out those hand gestures himself? Was he choreographed? The nation[s] must be told), Sherlock SOLVES Henry’s suppressed memory of “Liberty In”. It’s Liberty, Indiana, home of H.O.U.N.D. Hurrah!
Except, um, Henry’s running across the moors with That Gun? Which is bad? And now he’s firing it, which is worse, except ACTUALLY he’s firing it at his therapist which is doubleplus ungood since that means the whole thing was an enormous psychotic break. Horrified and apologizing, Henry flees, leaving her on the floor.
Back to Baskerville: John’s keeping watch while Stapleton logs Sherlock into the computer system. When her access won’t give it, it’s up to Sherlock to accurately guess Major Barrymore’s password. Given the office full of Thatcher biographies and other Satanic emblems, Sherlock tries “Maggie.” And wins.
COMPUTER SEQUENCE XP! Backed by successive civil rights/medical hell/Significant Plot Text/clipartephemera, Sherlock scrolls twitchily through a database until he finds a group photo of a scientific team, whose leaders’ surnames make up the acronym H.O.U.N.D. The photos turn nastier; captions like “Paranoia,” “severe frontal lobe trauma,” and ultimately “homicide” scroll past as the images change from successive screaming faces, to blood.
Project H.O.U.N.D. developed a new deliriant drug which rendered users suggestible, paranoid, and—unfortunately—exceptionally violent in the long-term. Some Evil Scientists developed the drug as an anti-personnel weapon (fear and stimulus), but had to abandon it, due to the aforementioned final side effect.
But the names of the principal scientists mean nothing to Stapleton; none of them are at Baskerville now. So who’s carrying on the experiments? Speculating aloud, Sherlock studies the peripheral figures in the photograph—the junior team members, the technicians, those on the margins, oh look, it’s Some Clive Mantle in a mullet.
Dr. Frankland. A Brit who says “cell phone” instead of mobile because of time spent in America (there you go, kids! Creeping Americanization WILL get you in the end!). Sherlock decides to ring Frankland to set up the denouement, but just then Henry’s therapist rings John. She’s terrified—Henry’s left the house, with gun, and seems to be on some sort of psychosis-induced rampage. Sherlock calls Lestrade, instead, telling him to get to the Hollow, with gun.
Henry’s on his way, stumbling down into the depths of the Hollow. He can barely stand; the gun’s still in his hand. Apologising aloud to his father, he puts the gun to his head as Sherlock and John stumble down the bank. Sherlock talks him down, explaining he’s been kept silent, and tries to get him to remember, that what killed his father wasn’t any hound. Tovey is, incidentally, heart-breaking here, and genuinely frightening—the gun-wielding is particularly effective when the suicidal, heartbroken subject is someone as, um, stacked as he is. Er, not for aesthetic reasons, obviously. Because Sherlock and John would find it much more difficult to take him. No, damn you, that’s NOT what I mean, moving on…
Sherlock: It wasn’t a monster, was it, Henry? Not a monster. A man.
And Henry sees: the camera swings back twenty years to the scuffle and struggle we’ve been not-quite-seeing all through this episode. Henry Knight’s father dies at the hands of a man: a man whose face is obscured by a chemical hood, something like a World War Two gas mask. The murderer’s breathing is amplified and distorted by the mask; his jumper shows the animal that became the H.O.U.N.D. team’s logo.
John gently disarms Henry (“S’okay, mate,”) while the latter stares at Sherlock. Unusually kindly, Sherlock tells him about the landlords’ big dog, which is all they’ve been seeing. Oh, except for whatever’s making that VERY LOUD HOWLING at the top of the slope? LOL?!
It’s a dog. It’s a hound. Whatever way you want to describe it, it’s up there and snarling and real, and since even Lestrade can see it (he of the dazzling dentistry and undrugged brain), it’s rather more than a monster of the mind.
With Lestrade expressing, via blasphemy, the sentiments of the massed audience at this point, we finally see the CGI Hound up-close. As I believe the youth will have it: I cannot. I just cannot. As far as computerized horror goes, this is somewhere between Ye Scottish Werewolf Of Doctor Who Fale, and all the shameful activites of the Harry Potter Azkaban VFX team. However, Rupert Graves does some very nice shouting, and everyone else mows and gibbers appropriately.
Except Sherlock, who has spotted a gas-masked figure prowling ominously through the gloam. Surely, it is Some Clive Mantle! But no. Worse, it’s Andrew Scott doing Moriarty!Teeth through a gas mask, and my goodness if that man can’t inspire shock and awe via close-up. Sherlock is about as freaked out as we are, but it does occur to him that Moriarty actually cannot be here (we’ll find out why). He’s a hallucination. A hallucination which does become Dr. Frankland after a second, resolving into the flashlight and a hand clamped over his mouth. And if Sherlock’s hallucinating, the only explanation can be—
Sherlock: It’s the fog! It’s in the fog, the drug is in the fog!
The H.O.U.N.D. drug is an aerosol and the team is standing in a chemical minefield. Terrified of the dog, Dr. Frankland begs them to shoot it—Lestrade misfires, but John hits it twice. It dies quickly, whimpering and shivering on its side. Sherlock drags Henry over to look—he needs to see that it is, indeed, just a dog (poor thing, it looked like quite a sweet black Labrador, really, presumably similarly exposed to the H.O.U.N.D. drug). Finally, Henry understands—and promptly launches himself at Frankland, the man who killed his father and tried to drive him insane.
Sherlock’s exultant with solving the case (“Sherlock? Timing,” John hisses) but the problems aren’t solved—in a compelling but unlikely twist, the dog rears up, and in the moment John takes to shoot it, Frankland bolts. There’s a final, desperate chase sequence, in which Frankland crosses the Baskerville perimeter—and promptly steps on the minefield. Realising it’ll explode when the pressure pad’s released, he deliberates for a second before, defeated, triggering the blast. The four survivors—now in every sense—watch as the sky burns.
The following morning, John’s enjoying a full English (now with bacon and egg) outside the pub (god, I love ridiculously early-morning shots where the cast are pretending it’s not cold), and is joined by Sherlock. They agree that the landlords didn’t have the dog destroyed, after all—couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
Sherlock: I see.
John: [smiling] No, you don’t.
Sherlock: No, I don’t. Sentiment?
John: [impressed] Sentiment!
Less impressive is Sherlock’s admission that he did, in fact, lock John in the lab in the hopes of witnessing the effects of the drug. He was wrong in that John hadn’t been drugged via the sugar in his oh-so-penitential cup of coffee—instead, it came from the lab’s leaky pipes. Finally, in flashback, we see Sherlock’s view of the experiment—watching John on a Samsung monitor as he scurries in terror round an empty lab. And, of course, supplying concerned voice and dog noises (the latter via a tape).
Sherlock: Well, I knew what effect it had on a superior mind, so I needed to know what effect it had on an average one.
Sherlock: You know what I mean.
And harmony settles back over fake!Dartmoor, as Sherlock swishes off to ruin the landlord’s morning—he has to see a man about a dog.
Sorry, did I imply we were in any way going to have a happy ending? My mistake.
Cut to Andrew Scott’s beautiful face. Not exactly unhappy, but he does seem to be in a cell.
Moriarty’s in a cell, being watched by Mycroft. In the interests of world peace and homoerotic tension, this isn’t a bad state of affairs either. Unfortunately, Mycroft seems to be agreeing to Moriarty’s release. As a serene, half-smiling Moriarty leaves his cell, we see—with Mycroft’s warder—the terrifying truth. It’s covered, everywhere, in identifiable, Shining-esque grafitti. Just one word, repeated thousands of times. It’s even etched on the mirror: SHERLOCK.
Well! Did you enjoy that, readers? Are you longing to visit Dartmoor? Have you reappraised your friendships with any members of the scientific profession? Can you accurately describe your feelings on learning that Mycroft’s just released a psychopath, obsessed with his brother, back into London at large?
Again, there was plenty to love about this episode. John’s angry little texts in ALLCAPS. And, as I’d hoped, the COMEDY. This show works best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Gatiss writes better for Cumberbatch than any other writer does, because he infuses the dialogue with the mannered excess that an actor like Cumberlols really needs. Paul McGuigan is a stunning director, and I’d say this was his strongest work to date (I preferred the plot of Scandal, but thought the actors were working much harder in Hound). I hope your Mark Gatiss bingo cards were full-to-obliterated by the end of the episode.
I do have three unanswered questions, though:
- When John tells Louise (Henry’s therapist) to stay at the house, and they’ll send someone over to protect her, to whom is he referring? There are literally no other characters left in the episode. Therefore, I choose to believe that Nicola Stapleton (for my purposes a single parent) heads over, and that she and Louise (admirably played by That Woman Off Lewis) now have a civil partnership. Louise is helping her new step-daughter get over her deep-seated fear of her mother splicing jellyfish genes into household pets.
- Why on earth would anyone commit a murder wearing the equivalent of a college hoodie?
- Was Tovey miscast, or did he just need to close his mouth more often?
Tune in next week for THE REICHENBACH FALL, an episode that made me scream audibly and clutch at my viewing buddy. In the meantime, I so hope you enjoyed the recap, and the episode! If you did, if you didn’t, if you’ve got a decent image of Greg Lestrade’s tan: I want you. In the comments. Glowing.