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Blu-ray Review: Sherlock – Season Two

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Sherlock is BBC’s modernized reboot of the classic Sherlock Holmes world created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The series stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, and Martin Freeman as his partner Dr. John Watson.

The Series

I’ll go ahead and play my hand by saying that I find BBC’s serial adventures of Sherlock Holmes to be highly more enjoyable than the current Hollywood movies. And that’s not to say that the movies are bad; quite the contrary, there’s plenty of fun to be had with them. But the television series is that much better. Where the movies rely too heavily on explosions, slo-mo camera work and desperately clever lines for Robert Downey Jr., BBC’s version of Sherlock uses the time allowed in a television series to develop much more intricate mysteries, and to sculpt more than one-note characters. The movie-length episodes almost offer the best of both worlds, and the result of the first season was something far more polished and finely crafted than what television normally delivers. Granted, leaning on the inspiration of Doyle’s original stories certainly doesn’t put you at a disadvantage.

“A Scandal In Belgravia” picks up where Season One left off, although the resolution to the previous cliffhanger seems to have been an afterthought. Things are quickly maneuvered to get the dynamic duo back to their next case, which involves a lady of the evening whose rendezvous history with powerful men has gained her a treasure trove of compromising information and pictures. She keeps them all as insurance for her protection, but her trustworthiness to not use the information as straight-out blackmail is highly suspect. The writers unfortunately made this one a little too convoluted, both in editing and story. And while it contains the requisite amount of intrigue and spare bits for Sherlock to piece together, it does so at the expense of coherence. It’s not as problematic as “The Blind Banker” from the first season; it’s more a slight miss from experimenting with pace and structure and then not quite being able to pull it off.

As if they learned a lesson from “Scandal”, the next episode flies in the opposite direction. “The Hounds of Baskerville” is downright procedural in comparison to the opener. Sherlock and Watson accept a case involving a young man who is haunted by memories of his father’s unusual death. But the murder itself seems to have some odd supernatural elements to it. It would be easy to think of this one as the light entertainment of the season if it weren’t for what was also happening underneath the surface. Both “Scandal” and this episode dig quite a bit deeper into Sherlock’s personality, and the examination of him as a character is as much a focus as the cases themselves. Sherlock is much more of a conflicted, wounded and sometimes evolving protagonist than he was portrayed in the first season. And it brings some genuine dramatic heft to the series, beyond just clever mysteries.

Which brings us to “The Reichenbach Fall.” The less said about this one the better, in deference to those who have not yet seen it. But suffice it to say that Moriarty is back in spades to try and trap and undo Sherlock. It’s a dark and phrenetic episode, and leaves this second season ending with a noticeable and game-changing bang. It’s one of the most suspenseful and daring mystery finales to come on television, and signals a definite shift in future direction.

Video/Audio

The perpetually overcast look of Sherlock‘s London is ably presented in this Blu-ray release. The color palette leans toward cool blue, but there is a surprising amount of color used for thematic accent, and all are given excellent balance. Detail is strong, and although shot with a somewhat digital look, motion and blur are hardly ever an issue. This is a strong encode and presents the episodes exceptionally well.

Audio is still presented with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It’s a disappointment, but it’s also not a bad track. The audio is well-balanced, and while not filled with ear candy, the producers have used surround elements judiciously. The track overall lacks some punch when compared to most DTS-HD examples, but it manages pretty well.

Bonus Material

There are two group commentary tracks: one for “A Scandel in Belgravia”, and another for “The Hounds of Baskerville.” The first is, unfortunately, almost unlistenable. There are two many people talking over each other, and even when the discussion is more focused there is little of importance shared. It’s best to simply watch that episode on its own. The track for “Hounds” is much better, and while it still has a few of those issues, the particular participants regroup their focus often enough to dispense some interesting facts about the story and the filming experience.

The other main supplemental item is “Sherlock Uncovered” (HD, 19:06), a pleasantly effective behind-the-scenes look at developing the second season. Most of the footage used is from the first episode, and the talk is kept spoiler-free, so it’s safe to watch this item even if you haven’t finished all of the episodes. The creators and actors discuss their approach to the world of Sherlock, the success of the first season, and the process for filming the episodes.

Conclusion

After the success of the first season, it seems like the creators redoubled their efforts to make the series more focused on the longer narrative arc. The three episodes presented here are much more rich with character development and growing the world of Baker Street. The mysteries of each episode can be graded on their own merits, but each also serves a bigger purpose that reveals itself as the series unfolds. This season is simply fantastic on all levels. Even its smaller issues, such as those in the first episode, are minor and relative to the excellence surrounding it. The second season of Sherlock embodies supurbly crafted mysteries, is given first-rate performances, and now has the mother of all cliffhangers to resolve.

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About David R Perry