The Great Game is action packed from beginning to end with Sherlock and Watson solving five crimes in under 90 minutes and while these feats make me love watching it, I also feel the writer, co-creator Mark Gatiss, cheated a bit by taking bits from as many as ten different stories and weaving them together to serve his plot. I’m sure I didn’t catch them all, but we each have our favourite stories and I spotted an outtake from A Scandal In Bohemia as soon as Sherlock put nose to stationery. The fact is I’m perfectly all right with referencing the original work—I prefer it—but somehow it doesn’t seem fair to the other episodes that this one is so chock full of picked cherries. But this is nitpicking and really just a preamble to my admission that I adore this episode.
And what’s not to love? Someone blows up a building in order for the police to find a strong box among the debris containing an envelope addressed to Sherlock Holmes. And it’s a good thing too because Sherlock’s been so bored he’s been expressing himself artistically by installing bullet holes in the living room wall. Plus Lestrade is back—hellllooo Rupert Graves! What’s in the envelope? A cell phone made to look like the one in A Study In Pink, meaning, as Sherlock puts it to Watson, “Your blog has a far wider readership.” The bomber, as they call him, is giving Sherlock puzzles to solve by pointing him to as yet unsolved crimes.
But wait—before the bomber there’s Mycroft. Big brother is back and he has a case of national importance he’s insisting Sherlock take on. Sherlock is still bored, “I don’t know what’s got into the criminal classes. Good job I’m not one of them.” But he insists to Mycroft that he’s far too busy to do his bidding. “Don’t make me order you,” Mycroft says. This remark earns him a look and an, “I’d like to see you try.” After Mycroft leaves Watson asks Sherlock why he lied and receiving no real answer makes his own deduction, “Nice, sibling rivalry. Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Once the puzzle solving gets going Sherlock is back in the lab, the professional one at St. Bartholomew’s where Molly works. And Molly Hooper has a boyfriend, Jim from IT. Jim appears decidedly homosexual—an observation Sherlock of course makes aloud—and he seems to be even more taken with Sherlock than Molly is, literally falling all over himself once he meets him. As soon as Jim is gone Sherlock recites his observations to Molly, including the fact that Jim slipped Sherlock his number amidst all his bumbling. Molly runs away, Watson disapproves, and Sherlock claims he is being kind. And by Sherlock standards he is—he actually tried to cover the gay comment once it popped out and he waited until Jim had left before proving his point to Molly. If you try to think who else he would take these pains for you have to admit it’s really the sweetest thing you’ve seen him do.
Sherlock must solve his puzzles on the bomber’s timeline or else more bombs will go off. And the stakes have gone up a bit—for each crime the explosives are attached to some random person who has to call Sherlock on a burner phone and read out the bomber’s communiqués. Once Sherlock posts the solution on his website the bomber allows the caller to give Sherlock the details of his or her location so the bomb squad can send a rescue team. As Sherlock solves the crimes it becomes clear that this has all been painstakingly arranged for him. To what end? The answer concerns Watson and Lestrade, but appears not to bother Sherlock in the least.
“There are lives at stake, Sherlock. Actual human lives. Just so I know, do you care about that at all?” Watson asks.
“Will caring about them help save them?”
“Then I’ll continue to not make that mistake,” says Sherlock.
“And you find that easy, do you?”
“Yes. Very. Is that news to you?”
“No,” Watson admits. “No.”
“I’ve disappointed you,” Sherlock observes.
“That’s good,” Watson says, “That’s a good deduction. Yeah.”
“Don’t make people into heroes, John,” Sherlock says. “Heroes don’t exist and if they did I wouldn’t be one of them.”
Things start to get more interesting with the fourth crime. The body has been soaking in the Thames for nearly 24 hours and all identifiers have been stripped from the man’s clothes. Still Sherlock swiftly connects the dots between the dead man and a lost masterpiece soon to be unveiled at a London gallery. “That lost Vermeer painting’s a fake,” he announces, while Lestrade and Watson are still examining the body. Proving he’s right takes him on a wild goose chase that includes enlisting the homeless network, one of my favourites from the original Holmes’ bag of tricks, and chasing down a gargantuan assassin. This one takes him right down to the wire though and this time the voice on the other end of the line belongs to a small child. In the final moments, standing in front of the painting, he still hasn’t isolated the relevant detail…and then it hits him, the Van Buren Supernova.
What about it? That’s not really important. Nor is it that the fifth and final crime is the one Mycroft asked Sherlock to solve in the beginning of the episode. What is important is that Sherlock baits the bomber with that threat to national security and gets him to meet face to face. Because the gallery director confirmed what we’d all suspected, the bomber is Moriarty. What fun!
And what a Moriarty! This is perhaps the best update of Conan Doyle so far. Rather than a slightly creepy, somewhat repressed old man, we get a fresh young psychopath via the amazing Andrew Scott. Oh and by the way, it’s Jim Moriarty—yeah, Jim from IT Jim. And he is crackers! But also, as we have seen, quite dangerous. He shows up with another hostage strapped down with explosives, but this time it’s no random innocent, no, it’s Watson. So there they all are at the scene of the first crime, Sherlock armed with Watson’s gun, Watson a human grenade, and Moriarty flirting. Well he flirts at first and then he lays down the law.
“Do you know what happens if you don’t leave me alone, Sherlock? To you?” Moriarty asks.
“Oh let me guess, I get killed?”
“Kill you? No, don’t be obvious. I mean I’m going to kill you anyway, someday. I don’t want to rush it though. I’m saving it up for something special. No no no no no. If you don’t stop prying,” Moriarty says, “I will burn you. I will burn the heart out of you.”
“I have been reliably informed that I don’t have one,” Sherlock replies.
“But we both know that’s not quite true,” says Moriarty.
They banter some more before Moriarty just leaves, seemingly satisfied by the confrontation alone. And I’m left wondering what this was all about. As he told Sherlock he sacrificed the 30 million pounds tied up in that fake painting to play this game. Sherlock had thought he wanted the missile plans he’d recovered for Mycroft, but he threw the memory stick ostensibly carrying them into the pool. All that and an arms laden midnight rendezvous just to chat? I know he’s crazy, but he’s also an immensely successful underworld kingpin—at the end of the day some things have to add up.
And then…he walks right back in.
He’s changed his mind.
He’ll be killing them after all.
Cut to black.
Like I said, so much fun!