In the second episode of the second series of Sherlock, this is some scary shit. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Sherlock.
Oh, there are just too many feelings, everyone. Just way too many feelings. Allow me to split this review up into sections in order to best capture the brilliance and the pain of “The Hounds of Baskerville.”
SO MANY FACES
I can’t escape this, and it’s the one thing I bring up immediately if anyone tries to talk to me about this spectacular episode. This is absolutely some of the best facial-expression acting I have ever seen on the face of this fine planet. We all know Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are talented; luckily, now we get to add Mark Gatiss, Russell Tovey (ALLONS-Y ALONSO!), and Rupert Graves to that list. (Actually, I want to retroactively add Lara Pulver to this as well. IT’S ONLY FAIR.)
I’ve lost count of how many times a wordless look made me want to pass out from excitement. I love that the entire argument scene in front of the fireplace was filmed to frame Sherlock’s profile in one half of the screen. I suppose this might fit in another section, but seeing fear strike Sherlock so hard that it makes him cry was one of the more genuinely upsetting things in this entire run of the show. The writers and Cumberbatch have done such a fine job at showing us how distant Sherlock is from his emotions that it is wholly shocking to see him exhibit that kind of behavior.
Then there’s Mycroft’s eyeroll at his brother. IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL. There are the countless times that Sherlock actually smiles at John. There’s the way he looks at John when he’s drinking coffee. There’s the way Sherlock looks at John when he realizes he’s actually hurt him. There’s the way John’s face looks like post-drug-induced fear session in the lab. There’s Sherlock’s face when he enters the room, covered in blood, carrying a harpoon. THERE ARE TOO MANY FACES AND I LOVE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM. I swear to you, all day yesterday I fought the urge to make this entire post nothing but GIFs of every face I loved in “The Hounds of Baskerville.” I ACTUALLY STARTED COLLECTING THEM ON TUMBLR. oh my god what has this show done to me.
OKAY THIS FRIGHTENED ME
Sherlock has always been grounded, in some part, with a real-world rationality. It deals with complex relationships and political systems, in the very human actions of the world around us, and the way that subterfuge and dishonesty work against people. Even if the show fucks up, it’s all very real. The fiction is only in the details, not the general worldview. It’s why this episode is particularly satisfying: for a large part of this story, we have to start accepting that there might be something paranormal at work for once.
I have a strange relationship with the horror genre. It is the only genre of film that I will almost unequivocally give a chance. I have certain directors I adore (Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Lynch, David Fincher, and, until Antichrist, Lars Von Trier) that I’ll generally make sure to see whatever they’re putting out. But I’m not that way with an entire genre. I don’t really care for most action movies; I tend to seek out underground thrillers over big-budget ones. I like period-piece dramas sometimes. Actually, my taste in movies is really all over the map, but I generally go out of my way to watch any horror movie I can.
I know a lot of people enjoy being scared, but I really love it. That’s ultimately why I don’t really understand my obsession: most horror movies aren’t scary and are rather awful. On top of that, what frightens me isn’t what scares most people all of the time. Sometimes, thrillers that have no supernatural or horror elements in them at all scare me to death. (I am going to recommend this movie until the end of time: 13 Tzameti. Do not read anything about it. Rent it. I’m pretty sure it’s on Netflix. Don’t read the synopsis, don’t read the sleeve it comes in. Just know that for about 60 minutes straight, nothing makes any sense and it hurts and I thought I was going to throw up because it’s so tense and terrifying. I LOVE THINGS THAT GIVE ME A VISCERAL AND PHYSICAL REACTION.)
There are a lot of horror tropes to be found in “The Hounds of Baskerville,” and I can’t say I dislike any of them. Part of that is the novelty of them; I didn’t expect them to show up at all. But Mark Gatiss, who wrote this episode, uses them in a loving way; it’s not some deep commentary on their existence or a chance to necessarily invert or subvert them. Instead, he’s focused on capturing one very specific thing from the original source: how fucking creepy it all was.
The use of light in this story is one of my favorite tropes in horror movies, and as a storytelling technique, the inversion of it ends up being even scarier. The moors are awash in darkness and shadows betray the identity of the hound that seems to be lurking just beyond our view. But the most effective of all the scenes in “The Hounds of Baskerville”? The scene where the flood lights go on and off in Henry Knight’s backyard. Was he imagining them? I loved that there was no set up for that scene, in the sense that we discovered at that moment that Henry had installed those lights. It’s when we realize just how serious his affliction is; we suddenly know that the things Dr. Frankland did to him are killing him. Yes, that hindsight comes in later, but I love that brightness is used to represent a threat.
If you think about it, that comes back into play during the scene where John is taunted by the hound inside the laboratory. The set the show uses for the inside of Baskerville is unbelievably bright, a pristine location meant to give us thoughts of purity and cleanliness. Yet the second the lights go out, that place doesn’t seem so serene anymore. It’s terrifying, but I found myself even more frightened when the lights came back on and John was upset, screaming at Sherlock.
But there were two moments that scared me in a way most horror movies never even get close to. I’ve already mentioned the scene before, but that moment in front of the fireplace is pivotal to this entire story. Seeing Sherlock afraid is bad enough, but that is such a huge character moment for the man. Here is someone who trusts his five senses so implicitly for observation, and now he has to accept something that is virtually impossible: he saw the same hound that Henry did. Henry’s silly story is not a story at all. It’s real. It destroys him, plain and simple. Yes, he does later accept that he saw it and wrap it into his own personal theory, but in that space of time, we see Sherlock as we’ve never seen him: afraid.
And I cannot be the only one to have completely lost my shit when WE saw the hound at the very end of the episode. I was satisfied with the resolution/endgame, even if it dispelled of any supernatural entity. But then the hound actually showed up and I was so confused and WHAT IS GOING ON HOW IS THIS REAL WHAT IS AIR?!?!?!?!?! Ugh, I know that showing the “creature” in any capacity in this kind of story generally can be disappointing, but I adored it. SO GOOD.
Also when Sherlock hallucinated Moriarty I screamed. So what? Stop judging.
LET ME LOVE YOU, LESTRADE
I am just beginning to, like, fall in love with this character? His appearance in “The Hounds of Baskerville” is not just unexpected; it’s one of the highlights of this episode. He’s evolved beyond being the only person to tolerate Sherlock. In series two so far, I feel like there’s a new subtext to his behavior towards the man. He respects him in a new way that he never did before. A lot of what his character did in series one was to act irritated with Sherlock, to simply allow him to do what he needs to do to help solve a case. Now, however, his joy at being to help out Sherlock and John during the last portion of this story isn’t fake. It’s not ironic. It seems so very real to me, and that makes me very happy.
I am kind of in love with the fact that this entire story does not take place in the city. The moors are beautiful, and it really sets this whole episode apart for all of the others. It’s an excellent use of filming on location, and one of numerous things that stood out to me.
OKAY JUST TWO SMALLER COMPLAINTS
I don’t think this is a flawless episode, but it is really damn close to being one. First of all, the whole “I’m-going-to-drug-my-best-friend-against-his-will-and-lock-him-in-a-room-with-an-imagined-beast” thing is a bit much for me. Yes, Sherlock ended up being wrong, having not drugged him at all, but it makes me feel icky that someone’s consent was ignored in this context. He’s your best friend! Your only best friend, I might add. Surely you should respect that?
And I’m glad he did respect Henry enough to at least tell him that he was going to take him back to the moors, but holy cow, taking someone to the one place that triggers them more than anywhere in the world and setting them loose is a bit too far. Thankfully, that could have turned out so much worse than it did, but oh lord.
THE BEST THING EVER
Apology apology apology praise praise praise praise THINLY-VEILED INSULT. Oh, Sherlock, just please never change.
Actually, the Mind Palace might be better than this? God, I don’t know TOO MUCH GOOD. It’s kind of sad to me that next week is THE LAST ONE OF SERIES TWO. That soon??? SWEET SUMMER CHILD, WE ARE ALL SO UNPREPARED.