Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2
And then we came to the end. As finales go, “The Great Game” is one great way to go out: with a bang, or rather, the possibility of a big one. Ending with an unnerving cliffhanger, Mark Gatiss’s script is no “Victory of the Daleks.” With a polish that that “Doctor Who” gimcrack lacked, “Game” almost rivals Steven Moffat’s brilliant opening episode, “A Study in Pink.”
In the closer, Sherlock has to solve four crimes in succession, all under a set amount of time, and with the lives of hostages on the line. Literally on the line: Under duress, the hostages call Sherlock to relay messages fed to them by this great game’s mastermind, whom we’ve known from the start to be the ever elusive Moriarty. Some of the hostages live while some die, which is just as well to Sherlock, to whom they are of only secondary importance. He is unconcerned with performing any heroic resucing; he’s in this just for the thrill and to stave off boredom. In this regard, he is very similar to Moriarty, who finds perverse entertainment in playing games with the lives of people, with Sherlock as his chess opponent. We find out Moriarty’s not just some mastermind: He’s a “consulting criminal”–a nice counterpoise to Sherlock’s “consulting detective.” He sends Sherlock and Watson all about London to interrogate adulterous conspirators to a murder, take unnecessary photographs of a deceased makeover queen’s dog, and engage in one of the most ludicrous and messiest fight scenes ever at a planetarium, with 6-foot Sherlock trying to fisticuff the seemingly 12-foot criminal, “Golem,” and Watson bumblingly trying to help. Only after all that hullaballoo does Moriarty finally appear, and–gasp!–he turns out to be the seemingly innocuous gay IT guy from earlier in the episode who’d hit on Sherlock! Having wired Watson up to a bomb, he warns the duo not to overstep, before eventually letting them go. This turns out to merely be a fake-out as he returns to do away with our protagonists once and for all. With their lives at stake, Sherlock eyes the bomb Watson had just taken off, and…we’re cliffhung, or cliffhanged!
Every minute of “Game” left me unnerved in a good way. When the show had only ten minutes left and there was still a relative calm, I had an uneasy feeling that something abrupt was about to happen. And of course something did. The use of a big cliffhanger was of course strategic and a brilliant survivalist move by Moffat and Gatiss, as it ensures a recommissioning of the show. But damn it, the frustration of cliffhangers is magnified tenfold here because any new episodes–and any resolution to this cliffhanger–will be a year at least in the making.
I must say I thought gay Jim being sociopath Moriarty was rather predictable. The IT guy’s insertion early on was so glaring (flamboyant, if you will) that it almost felt like the eventual twist was being broadcasted to us. (On a related note, I also saw Watson’s being taken hostage coming). I actually would have preferred to keep Moriarty’s identity hidden for much, much longer. There’s almost a sense of deflation with discovering his identity so early on in the game (though technically we are three episodes in out of three). But then, Moffat and Gatiss didn’t know coming in the lifespan of their creation, so there must have been a sense of “Pull out all the stops, as this may be our only chance at this!” mentality.
Kudos yet again to Benedict Cumberbatch. This is the most vulnerable his steely Sherlock has been in the series. Sherlock’s human-ness shows through early on when, after engaging in a bit of a row with Martin Freeman’s straight man Watson, he starts moping like a little kid or a spurned lover. But this peep we get is short-lived, as Sherlock reverts to his usual clinically efficient and adorably insensitive anti-hero persona.
I like the echoes in “Game” back to the first episode of the series, with Holmes blogging about their first adventure, titling that entry “A Study in Pink.” I also like the return of social media–the texting, the blogging–which we saw prominently in the first episode. (I’ve read that the texting bits are an homage to the PS3 video game “Heavy Rain,” though I somehow can’t imagine Moffat being the video gaming type). “Game” works because it moves the series story arc along, as opposed to last week’s stand-alone episode. (I dislike filler episodes generally, as they serve only a dilatory purpose, stalling so as to stretch out a season/series). Now if that story arc can just keep on going.
It’s been a short life for “Sherlock’s” first series. Fruit flies from Hoppledom-6 have longer lifespans than the three episodes that comprise the show’s short run (well, actually no they don’t, but it sure feels like it). It would be a crying shame if the BBC decides to call it “Game” over for this gem of a show. Recommission! Recommission! Recommission!