Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sherlock Season 3: A fan laments

Bollywood hardly makes masala films anymore. By masala, I don’t mean the films starring Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar, based on scripts originally written in the South that make astronomical amounts of money. I mean the masala films that are theoretically the pinnacle of entertainment forms. These have everything in just the right proportions-intrigue, action, humour, romance, films that can make you both laugh and cry within its three-hour runtime. The last Hindi film that did that for me was 3 Idiots (even though admittedly it was short of any action). The last and only television show that managed the same (and more) was Sherlock.
What did the show not have?

  • A charismatic hero? Check. (It had two).
  • Friendship, camaraderie and humour? Check.
  • A strong emotional core lined with familial conflict, love and sacrifice? Check.
  • Suspense, action? Check.
  • Romance? (Hmmm…I am going to say yes.)
  • A terrifying villain? Check.
  • Loved ones to be saved from the clutches of the villain? Check.
  • Unbelievable, twisted plots? Check.
In fact, with the intensely clever writing added to the mix, Sherlock was the greatest masala film that Bollywood never made.

What went wrong with this season then? For starters, it just wasn't that clever. More frustatingly, and at the risk of taking a metaphor too far, the writers got the proportioning of the ingredients wrong. I have seen bloggers elsewhere blaming the online fandom for this. But it’s really not the fandom at fault, as much as the writers’ willingness to tailor things to please the fans. Who I think got misread. Every review (or fan-girly blogpost) I read (or wrote) about the first two seasons talked positively about the titular character, the chemistry between the two male leads, the canonical references and the witty dialogue. The reason that that the actual plot may not have got adequate columnspace was that it was taken for granted. What is after all, Sherlock Holmes without an interesting case? 

Character development is of course important, but is no excuse for the mess the Sign of Three was. Character development does not require love to be explicitly professed periodically. The primary reason I loved the John-Sherlock friendship earlier was that so much of it was unsaid. You didn’t have to have John telling Sherlock that he was the “best and wisest man” he knew to his face. The trust he reposed during Reichenbach Fall was enough to tell the fans (and Sherlock) that this was true. Sherlock did not have to say he loved John for us to know that. His suicide “note” was proof enough. The fact that he had traveled to that point where he was ready to die to protect his friends, from the time he could hurt a dying man without flinching, was character development. Season three was not about character development. It was about showing us how Sherlock was just a big cuddly teddy bear (with the exception of his betrayal of Janine in the Last Vow, which was slightly redeeming).

PS: Lest you think I completely hated everything, here's a non-exhaustive list of things I did like:

  • Billy (!)
  • The mind palace when Mary shot Sherlock
  • Mary shooting Sherlock (though this was really not used as effectively, as it could have been)
  • The Elephant in the Room
  • "I am a high-functioning sociopath. With your number"
  • The female fan-club member's interpretation of how Sherlock faked his death
  • Tom
  • "Everybody's a critic"
  • "I am not lonely"                                                                                                                                -"How would you know?"
  • Most importantly, once a Cumberbitch, always a Cumberbitch.

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