For once I’d like to be able to start the year and say writing on television is better than it used to be. Less lazy, less predictable, better structured. This hasn’t happened. I was impressed with the first episode of Sherlock, the insane high-concept plotting, the characterisation – all of it came together brilliantly. So, I was quite excited about the idea of the same team putting out a modernised Hound of the Baskervilles, now retitled, Hounds of Baskerville. How disappointed I was to discover that it had all fallen apart in the ending.
For the purposes of explaining what didn’t work in this episode, I will be spoiling quite a few things. So that’s a warning to all those who haven’t yet seen the episode. I will also be referring to Raymond Chandler’s brilliant rules of a mystery story. We are playing with the writing of a detective story so it stands to reason that it should stand up with the best.
The plot as it stands. A young boy witnesses his father’s murder and twenty years later returns to the spot. He believes a giant hound killed his father and has now returned to kill him. All he remembers is two words, ‘Liberty, In’ The local town have made a living from this myth over the years and Sherlock and Watson show up to solve the case. Fair enough, nice interest premise. Things start to get complicated for the writers when they introduce footprints in the forest. Sherlock and the man go to the spot his father was killed and both see a hound, Watson hears one instead. They investigate the local army base and discover animal experiments. They meet a scientist who offers them his cell number for further information. It doesn’t sound so bad right now, and it’s not. There are a few moments of brilliance and the characterisation is spot on. However it all falls apart in the final reel.
In the end, character’s are at a loose end. They know that the hounds are a result of a shared hallucination brought on by poison. They don’t know how or why. They break back into the lab and Sherlock thinks for a few minutes. Then he suddenly remembers that somewhere in Liberty, Indiana there was a science experiment codenamed H.O.U.N.D. That’s your big mystery solution. SHERLOCK THINKS FOR A FEW MINUTES. I say this with all honesty, suddenly remembering something that we as an audience have no prior knowledge of at all, is not smart writing. It is the equivelent of ‘it was all a dream’ endings.
I refer to Chandler, “The solution must seem inevitable once revealed. This is the least often emphasized element of a good mystery, but it is one of the important elements of all fiction. It is not enough merely to fool or elude or sidestep the reader; you must make him feel that he ought not to have been fooled and that the fooling was honorable.”
Lest we mention the fact that there was a dog, or dogs (never really explained how many, what dog, why or where it came from) loose in the woods and a completely bizarre scene in which Moriarty is released from prison at the end (with no knowledge of him being incarcerated in the first place).
Overall, badly thought out, and poorly constructed. Let’s hope the finale picks the quality back up to the standards of the first episode.