In an extraordinary moment of homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Sherlock” star Benedict Cumberbatch dons the classic Holmes deerstalker hat early on in the premiere episode of the show’s second season on PBS. The irony is that Cumberbatch’s modern-day Holmes is using the hat as an attempt to thwart the paparazzi but, like his predecessors, the image of him wearing the hat becomes shorthand for the iconic — almost superheroic — Holmes.
In “A Scandal in Belgravia,” we see a sensitive side of the detective with sociopathic tendencies. We knew it was there anyway. Holmes has a soft spot for right-hand man John Watson (Martin Freeman) and for his housekeeper/landlord, Mrs. Hudson. (“Mrs. Hudson leave Baker Street?,” he utters reverently. “England would fall.”) But, in “Belgravia,” Holmes does the unthinkable — falls for a woman.
The woman — dominatrix Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) is a women whose unique talents give her access to secrets that could ruin marriages or bring down empires. She gets Sherlock’s attention by making her first impression on him naked. She, too, is a mistress of technology — using it to promote her spanking good business. (In fact, Sherlock mentions her Twitter handle, @TheWhipHand. And, of course, an account truly exists — though whether it was created by the show or an avid fan remains a mystery.)
What follows is a delightfully complex game of cat and mouse as Sherlock simultaneously tries to outwit Adler and save her — though it turns out that the master detective and Irene are into role-playing because they keep trading the upper hand back and forth like a hot potato — or hot cell phone — throughout the 90-minute episode.
Also back is Freeman as Dr. Watson — who is usually a step behind Holmes in deduction, but a step ahead in common sense. Watson also gets to indulge a fantasy of his own: Punching Sherlock in the face, even though it is at Holmes’ request.
“Punch me in the face,” says Holmes.
“What?” replies Watson.
“Punch me in the face,” he repeats.
“I always hear punch me in the face when you’re speaking, but it’s usually subtext,” says Watson.
The episode itself is a welcome face-punch and one we’ve been waiting for for some time, while we jealously watched British viewers react when it aired on the BBC this winter. From the moment the action opens — improbably, but perfectly, to the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” to the final twist, we are imminently entertained by one of the greatest minds of our time. Thank you, Steven Moffat.
Did you watch? Share your thought about “Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia” below.