TV Review: Sherlock, His Last Vow

sherlock_final_5277816_5277806

So that’s it, our winter fling with Sherlock is over! But what a finale, “His Last Vow” has everything; intrigue, misdirection, revelations and mystery. After last week’s episode which received mixed reactions from fans, Episode 3 sees Sherlock back at the height of its powers.

We finally venture inside Sherlock’s mind palace in this episode in a dream sequence to rival David Lynch, the place where Sherlock keeps all his memories and knowledge stored away in rooms is not always the sanest of places. Here we not only encounter his younger self, but his childhood dog, a much more malevolent version of his brother Mycroft and most disturbingly Moriarty enclosed in a padded cell but very much alive and as mad as ever. This whole sequence takes place in the 3 seconds of consciousness Sherlock has after being shot, it is a brilliant mixture of science, humor and Sherlock brilliance. Stylistically it is great with Molly appearing as the scientific version of his psyche and Mycroft popping up to remind him how stupid he is being, all this is done with an effortless cinematography that reflects the erratic nature of Sherlock’s mind. His descent down the staircase of his mind palace intersperses these scenes and it is only when in the hospital, when agonizing each step back the winding Parisian flight of stairs corresponds with a heartbeat, that you can appreciate how hard Sherlock is willing to fight to save his friend John Watson.

To the biggest reveal of the episode and even the series … look away now if you have yet to watch it!

sherlock-303-his-last-vow-1

There’s something about Mary. Mary Watson nee. Morstan is not what she seems; the clues were always there, she recognized the skip code, she has no family, and she can rival Sherlock keeping up with his weirdness. Even so, this was one mystery the audience was not really trying to solve. The writers have so cleverly introduced Mary into our hearts, she was perfect for John and a brilliant witty rival to Sherlock that it almost feels like she has betrayed us as we see her standing there gun to the head of Magnussen. We still don’t really know who or what she was, assassin seems the most logical profession given what Magnussen sees in his file but nothing is spelled out. The knowing and not knowing is used brilliantly to maintain and even increase our respect for Mary as she runs from this dangerous past life, had the facts been spelled out plainly it would lend her character a more controversial edge that wouldn’t really suit the tone of the program.

Magnussen is perhaps the biggest red herring the program has ever attempted to slip by us, and it worked! Built up as a Moriarty type figure, brooding in the background and controlling the attacks on Sherlock and John, but as it turns out he was simply fodder to bring out the amazing truth about Mary. While he is certainly important to the plot, he is mainly there as a distraction and a conduit for action. Clearly set up as a Rupert Murdoch figure, he is designed to be hated. With files on every important person in the country, Magnussen even has Mycroft running scared. It is with Magnussen that the shows real twists and turns manifest themselves, with          Sherlock gambling his freedom and the security of the state on Magnussen’s “vaults”.

While this episode was certainly high in drama, it didn’t lack comedy. Curve balls including Sherlock having a girlfriend, and perhaps less shockingly being found in crack den serve to lighten the tone of the show. The introduction of Sherlock’s thoroughly ordinary parents was a stroke of genius and Christmas at the Holmes’ is quite a treat.

“His Last Vow” has been known to fans for a while as “His Last Bow”, leading internet theorists to conclude this would be the final series but happily they were mistaken. With the reappearance of Moriarty on every TV screen in the country Mycroft his forced to call Sherlock back from his exile after the events surrounding Magnussen’s “vaults” setting us up nicely for another series.

This third series of the show came back with a bang, faltered slightly in the second third but then came through for a triumphant finish in a finale to rival “The Reichenbach Fall”. As usual every episode was brimming with English acting talent, comedy and drama and even Episode 2 which was commonly held to be a little below standard was brilliant compared to other trudging crime dramas. Just a year wait this time, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a long year with the mystery of Moriarty hanging over us!

 

TV Review: Sherlock, The Sign of Three

20140106-152537.jpg

The second episode of Sherlock focused more on comedy and the building of characters and character relationships than any episode thus far. Based around the wedding of Watson and Mary, the show has chosen to shake up its format slightly; rather than the linear storyline that we usually enjoy The Sign of Three is formatted around a series of flashbacks to previous cases all presented by Sherlock during his best man speech. While it is admirable that Stephen Thompson has the courage to try something new with a TV show that has such militant fans, he unfortunately fell a little short this week.

Somehow the flashback sequences weren’t strong enough to carry an audiences attention in the same way the usual story-arc can; the use of multiple short stories is definitely strong in the history of Conan-Doyle’s detective but these stories just didn’t come together in a clever enough way to countenance such a radical change in formula.

While the format was clunky there were some stand out sequences, particularly the stag night. Sherlock . . . on a stag night – it’s better than you could ever imagine. What starts out as a night driven by a mathematically worked out alcohol intake ends with Sherlock and Watson drunkenly out on the case of a ghostly boyfriend. Cumberbatch and Freeman are hilariously accurate as a drunken duo, their bleary eyed concentration matched only by the brilliant composition of the shots with half the screen often out of focus, fading in and out in line with the duos drunkenness.

Despite his self proclaimed “high functioning sociopath” status Sherlock rises to the challenge of being best man admirably: YouTubing napkin designs, arranging seating plans and interviewing (and intimidating) ex boyfriends. All of which is done which the usual Sherlock awkward brilliance.
The Sign of Three is one of the funniest episodes of Sherlock so far, so it’s a shame that the dramatic elements fell so flat with a frankly weak murder plot made even weaker by the fact that 40% of the people I watched it with got it way before Sherlock!

Mary Marston, however, really came into her own in this episode, Abbington’s flawless (and unsurprising) chemistry with real-life partner Freeman made the episode for me – perhaps overtaken by Mary’s effortless manipulation of both Sherlock and Watson, always in their best interests of course! Her easy charm and unflappable nature make her a more that welcome addition to the team.

Though episode two was more patchy than usual, a strong comic stream runs through the whole episode and the style of the whole piece is as innovation and intriguing as ever but the flashback formula just didn’t gel. While the seemingly inconsequential anecdotes Sherlock throws out in his best man speech do come together to form a bigger picture, the writer has perhaps not been clever enough neglecting to lay the breadcrumbs for the audience to follow. While the bigger, more obvious murder plot is playing on the audiences mind the less interesting ones fall away leaving the big reveal with a feeling of unwelcome familiarity – none of the information is entirely new. The whole episode was very much like having a McDonalds meal – thoroughly enjoyable while eating but twinged with a sense of disappointment after you’ve finished. While the episode was very entertaining, the unraveled murder plot left more than a few questions unanswered when looking back.

Film Review: The Returned to Return to DVD

20130711-125756 PM.jpg

The new hit drama from channel 4, The Returned, originates from the 2004 French film of the same name; a film which is set to be rereleased on the 22nd July 2013.
Many may approach this release with trepidation, fearful of the dreaded spoiler, but rest assured as far as I can tell, being only 3 episodes into the series, the film is completely free of spoilers taking a more wide reaching and logistical view on the phenomenon. The phenomenon, for people unfamiliar with the show, is that people have inexplicably returned from the grave in a small French town.
Set in a sleepy town, but with a global view, The Returned gives an emotional, logistical and medical view on the dead returning from the grave.

The Returned is set for rerelease in the UK on 22nd July 2013.

Read more at TQS magazine

Captivating New Drama From The BBC

Anderson

The BBC’s The Fall is one of the most instantly engaging dramas I have seen in a long time. The sometimes troublesome conceit that the audience knows the killer from the off does nothing to slow the build up of suspense through the first episode and the total immersion in ALL the characters.

We enter the action with DSI Stella Gibon (Gillian Anderson) called from the Met. to carry out a 28 day review on the unsolved murder of a young professional woman. As the episode progresses we meet her killer and watch as he puts the pieces in place for his next murder. All the while Gibon is busy trying to figure out where the case went wrong and what they missed, not so easy when faced with the highly political world of Irish policing.

Written by Alan Cubitt (Murphy’s Law) and set in Belfast The Fall taps into something very raw about the Irish cityscape that suits perfectly this kind of gritty, dark drama.

The visuals are innovative and fresh; adding something new to what is a particularly well-worn genre. With long tracking shots, and brilliant point-of-view camera work The Fall is simple captivating.

Definitely something to watch from the beginning, but for those of you who missed last nights, Episode 1 of 5 is available on BBC iPlayer.

BBC One’s Victorian Cop Drama Surprises

mm-ripper-street-newstill3

The first episode of Ripper Street left much to be desired, the plodding script, Sherlock-esque music and clichéd opening sequence marked it out as unoriginal and dated. But it just got better and better, becoming an essential part of the Sunday night schedule.

What at first appeared to be one-dimensional characters pull straight out of a bin the BBC’s creative department become fully-fledged personalities with complex backgrounds and tortured lives. Each episode revealed more and more of the main figures; the American’s Pinkerton past, the Sargent’s loving heart and the Detective’s lost child. While these may not necessarily seem like the most original facets but performances like that of Matthew Macfadyen (Mr Reid) with his sympathetic portrayal of loss and its all-consuming power gave the whole series a distinctively ‘tender’ feeling. As the series progresses the other characters also reveal their pasts and vices, which were once hidden under a veneer of Victorian propriety at first.

The dialogue effortlessly combines Victorian slag with modern vernacular, creating a warm mix of genres which interests and involves the audience. The endearing characters get in and out of trouble as crimes are committed and solved, again it doesn’t sound too inspiring, but the basis in history adds a new element to a well worn genre. The docker’s strikes, the opening of the underground and, of course, Jack the Ripper are all happening as the individual stories and crimes whisk the audience through Victorian Whitechapel.

ripper-street-ay_100205898

The visuals are brilliant; the costumes mix Victoriana with a slight modern element while Whitechapel is recreated in all its grimy glory. The smoggy streets and slums create a perfect background to the stories; we see evicted families, houses knocked down in the name of progress, streetwalkers and urchins all giving a sense of the tumultuous and uncertain times to which we are being transported.

The long thread of revealed secrets which runs through the series turns what could have been a clichéd period-detective-drama, into a truly engaging and unmissable human drama with many twists and turns that’ll keep you guessing all along the journey.

All episodes available on BBC iplayer

Utopia, Channel 4’s dystopian drama concludes

20130221-115410.jpg

So this series of utopia has come to an end, and we’re left with a distinct ‘WHAT THE HELL!’ feeling. The truly original channel 4 drama, concluded in a brilliant finale on Tuesday.

The original British drama, written by Dennis Kelly, has been slowly building in a classic example of great British screen writing. The slow release of information has at times been frustrating, but they always left you with enough to keep you counting down the days until the next episode. The dystopian reality the plot inhabits is brilliantly studied taking queues from 1984 and Brazil, but with a distinctly fresh flavour. The nods to the classics only emphasise what’s is new, the violence is perhaps more graphically shown and more prevalent, which did make for some uncomfortable moments. Especially as a large part of the plot revolved around children, but lets be honest they give as good as they get in the end, in true comic book style.

The cinematography and style is breath taking, the graphic novel-esque framing is a brilliant counterpoint to the down to earth dialogue. The static wide angle shot is used with fantastic results, slowing down the action and adding a sense of scale to the imagery. The continued use of yellow through out gives a whole new association to this usually happy colour as it becomes more and more associated with death and persecution. Without this distinctive style Utopia would still have had a great story, but the visuals give it a whole other dimension and creates a truly riveting experience.

****Mild Spoiler Warning*****

The finale provided a fast moving conclusion to the 6-part series, friendships are broken, people die, loyalty is lost and most importantly identities are revealed.
The shocking final moments clearly set Utopia up for a second series, something which prompts mix emotions. On one hand “YEY more Utopia”, on the other “HUMP more questions?!”. I suppose it was to be expected, and the conclusion does give answers to some of the more perplexing questions and tidies up the majority of the plot. Still there’s that heart sinking moment when the final 15 minutes pose yet more infuriating puzzles.
Saying that the series is hands down one of the best original dramas of recent times, and the second series (if commissioned) is sure to be as unmissable as the first.

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror

402463974_640

The things that crawl from the twisted imagination of Charlie Brooker will never cease to amaze me. The latest series of Black Mirror being no exception; the brilliantly crafted episodes are works of sheer genius.

Set in a universe that takes the most obvious facets of our society and twists them just enough to appear extreme, the stories are a comment on the state of the modern world. Something Brooker succeeds in doing without appearing condescending or trite. You sit there criticizing the seemingly inhuman aspects of the characters; then, once the 60 minutes have elapsed, you find yourself thinking that maybe you would have done them same. That self-analysis is exactly what Brooker is pushing for.

That is not to say the programme is a difficult watch, they are extremely well written with intrigue and suspense woven brilliantly into the stand-alone
stories. Rather than being off-putting, the twisted reality is the driving force behind the fear/repulsion/confusion (delete where applicable). While the similarities keep you fascinated.

Many people will have seen the last series (broadcast last year on Channel 4) and so far, 2 episodes in, this series stands up to, if not surpasses, the brilliance of the last. In the first episode we see a grieving woman turn to technology to ‘reconnect’ with her dead partner. A storyline that escalates beyond any normal imagination.

The episode 2 starts with a woman waking up from a possible suicide attempt to a world where people are merely spectators. They passively filming her on their phones as murderous ‘hunters’ chase her down, transfixed by the excitement.

A twisted imagination, yes; but a fantastic one. Black Mirror is unmissable; the genius of Charlie Brooker’s dark brilliance adds a sharp flavour to Monday night viewing. Something that is much needed and will be much missed after next week.

Black-Mirror-Charlie-Brooker

Epsiode 3 Airs: Monday 25th Feb, 10pm, Channel 4.

All episodes available on 4OD.