Sherlock – The Great Game (S01E03) – Episode review

Moriarty finally reveals himself as the first ‘series’ of Sherlock wraps up. Well, can we really call three measly episodes a series?

The Great Game sees Moriarty – now known as a ‘consulting criminal’ – teasing Sherlock to solve a series of crimes in quick succession. His motivation? Members of the public were kidnapped, strapped to significant amounts of semtex and made to phone Sherlock, being Moriarty’s voice to keep some distance between them.

And Holmes fairly whizzes around London, mopping up crimes where previously none were thought to exist. A television presenter dead from a tetanus infection turns out to be a murder, committed by her brother’s jealous lover. A dead security guard whose body washes up on the shore of the Thames turns out to be a clue to an attempted art swindle.

Each time, Sherlock is given a vague clue and a deadline. But it’s his casual disregard for the terrified messengers, who are often alone with a bomb-filled jacket and a laser-sight focused on the explosive. Holmes is focused on the riddles in front of him. It may be right to say that he can do nothing for those people, but is he totally heartless or ruthlessly pragmatic?

And what does the fact that he’s stored a severed head in the fridge say about him?

Compared to last week’s relatively inexplicable The Blind Banker, the pace of The Great Game was much faster, but easier to keep up with. My one niggle was with the fake Vermeer – why would a painter have chosen to include signs of a supernova from an obscure period in history? If the painting was supposed to avoid suspicion, then why include that detail at all, unless the supernova was a feature of the painting, and then it would have been easily detected by any art historian exposed to the work.

I thought the entire episode did a great job of setting Sherlock up as untouchable. From his impromptu grammar lesson with a criminal at the beginning (demonstrating his mastery of language) to Watson and Lestrade patiently waiting for him to reveal the latest text from the killer, Sherlock is always ahead of his companions. Well, except where the solar system and light entertainment are concerned. There’s even that gloating scene where Sherlock wraps up another crime and walks away congratulating himself, “I am on fire!

Which leads us on nicely to Moriarty. Well, Sherlock’s nemesis, or his greatest match? The world’s only consultant detective meets the world’s only consultant criminal. The ying to his yang, blah blah blah.

For a brief, horrifying moment, we’re led to believe that Watson’s actually Moriarty. He arrives at the swimming pool venue where Holmes arranged to meet the killer/Moriarty. A brilliant moment, I spent the next few seconds wracking my brains – was Watson absent when those communications came through? Could it be? But then how would a second series play out. And just as I was dismissing the notion, I spotted the wiring and the flashing light.

The stand-off between Sherlock and the real Moriarty was rather enjoyable. OK, there was some comment on him being too Graham Norton, and he might have been a little hard to take seriously. There may be some weight in that accusation. But I loved how it turned out that Moriarty had been around Sherlock earlier in the episode without the detective realising.

Now, we have a cliff-hanger that involves Sherlock, Watson and Moriarty and a jacket made of explosives.

I’m looking forward to the resolution of that, whenever we finally see a second series. If I’m honest though, Sherlock Holmes never really appealed to me, and I’m finding myself cooling a little bit on the series. It’s difficult to say what the issue is. Maybe it’s the 21st Century setting. Maybe it’s the fact that the more complex the crimes become, the more chance there is that a plot hole will appear. Like the Blind Banker episode, with mysterious persons allowing Watson to glimpse symbols on a wall, then mischievously painting over the wall when his back is turned.

Maybe it’s just that I’m aware that Hugh Laurie currently plays the best Sherlock Holmes on TV, in a modern setting, with far better one-liners.

Am I being too picky? What have you thought of Sherlock’s first series?

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  1. chiles

    if i may, sir: your problem with the Vermeer may lie in what it means for a work of art to be a ‘fake’ Vermeer. the money in art fraud isn’t in making copies of existing paintings (which can too easily be proved fraudulent, simply by revealing the original; & anyway, to make a precise enough copy of an existing painting one would need to have the original anyway, & then, why bother making a fake?), but in creating ‘originals’ that can be ‘authenticated’ as having been painted by the painter being copied. so: a completely new painting is created using the exact same techniques, instruments, materials, even recurring images, themes, motifs, & whatnot used by the painter being copied.

    as for House: he is a version of Sherlock Holmes, but not the same character at all. House, i daresay, would likely have called Sherlock an idiot. Sherlock’s selective ‘genius’ makes him seem less of a, well, genius, strictly speaking (i.e., someone with extraordinary abilities) than an ordinary person with ordinary faculties but with a more intense & particular way of focusing said faculties. (as i understand he was in the original stories.)

    also: there’s the pulp adventure element of the original stories which makes this Sherlock particularly promising to my mind, even if the current series has, to me, been only *mostly* successful.

  2. Gerard McGarry

    Chiles, a sincere thanks for taking the time to explain the business end of art forgery! My problem was the side issue – why would a forger choose to paint in an obscure celestial event in making the forgery? Why not a normal night sky? OK, it wasn’t a glaringly obvious anomaly, but why put the anomaly there in the first place?

    I complain about this because for a storyline to work, the background and the resolution need to be somewhat plausible. In this instance – and the graffiti-covered wall that got painted over last week – it simply doesn’t make sense. I as a viewer don’t believe that an art forger would elect to paint a celestial event into a Vermeer forgery.

    On your third paragraph – I’m interested to hear how Sherlock ‘mostly worked’ for you. I agree that it wasn’t 100% satisfying, despite a fantastic first episode. But I’ll also jump in and say that I’ve never read the original Conan Doyle books, but was never attracted to them either – it was the combination of loving House, loving the Robert Downey Jr movie and a fair bit of respect for Steven Moffat that drew me to watching Sherlock.

  3. woody

    Just want to clarify your misconception. The problem with the painting was that a star was visible in the night sky he painted, but was NOT visible when the painting was supposed to have been painted. Therefore a fake!

    The artist was painting the current night sky – inadvertently painting in this star – the artist would have been completely unaware of this – he did not CHOOSE to paint some “obscure celestial event” – it was just in the current night sky.

    Hope that made sense


  4. chiles

    perfect sense, woody. but, let’s suppose the inclusion of the supernova was, in fact, deliberate. consider the artisan forger: such an artisan would need to be *at least* as skilled as the artist being copied. in fact, such an artisan might even be considered *more* skilled than the original artist, since creating a successful forgery requires more than ‘just painting’: the right materials need to be created, often from scratch, depending on factors such as how long ago the painter lived, & what materials are available at the time of the ‘forgery’; the painting needs to be convincingly aged, through techniques that often need to be invented on the spot; even the choice of how ‘well-kept/maintained/ the painting should be, what damage it should physically exhibit; &c. one might also consider the reason/s why such an artisan would consider going into forgery in the first place: when it comes to the art market, it’s the name that counts. i.e., a successful forgery can be worth exponentially more than ‘the real thing’, particularly if the latter cannot be properly authenticated & the former *can*; certainly more than an original by an artist without a famous name like ‘Vermeer’. consider, then, the frustration of having such ‘genius’ (as, perhaps, further suggested by the hypothetical artisan’s knowledge of ‘celestial events’), & yet not having that genius recognized. don’t you think maybe, just maybe, such an artisan might include such a detail as a kind of ‘signature’, a fatal act of ego, practically hoping to be caught in the act of creating such a convincing ‘imitation’ of a celebrated artist? personally, i prefer the deliberate inclusion idea, as it adds depth to the world this Sherlock inhabits.

    fyi: i don’t really talk like this. i’m purposefully pastiching Sherlock’s assinine/mannered way of speaking. just, y’know, for the heck of it. 😛

  5. jefft

    I said a while ago that I believed that Moriarty would be a woman.

    The denouement with ‘Jim’ from the hospital hasnt actually dissuaded me from that just yet.


    a) He is listed as just Jim in the credits

    b) The old woman said that the voice was ‘soft’

    c) Other references to Moriarty’s voice described conversations in whispers: there is little difference in a male and female voice when whispering

    d) The use of texts and emails instead of spoken discussions.

    So, I don’t think Jim is Moriarty. 

    Did anyone else think he was very  like John Simms’  ‘The Master’?

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