What reduces a viewer to anxiety? Is it bloody and sadistic violence? Is it villains who lay out their elaborate plan on how they’re going to upstage the protagonist? Is it watching a loved character perish? Or, like it is for me personally, is it watching a murderous character follow out a plan with such nonchalance, such calculated precision, as if it was any other day job that gets eaten up by daily routine.
We’re introduced to M. with a struggling victim tied up, mouth duck-taped, as he with quiet certainty sets up a tripod and a pulley while watching a soccer game intently. He continues on with this level of calculated madness as he hangs the victim from his feet, and cuts his throat.
It’s done in such a frank, in your face way and it instantly grabs your attention. It was stressful and something as simple as a twinge of anxiety when watching characters onscreen has the capability of launching a successful episode. Keep the audience interested, keep them involved and keep them attached to the characters. If one of the three objectives isn’t met the episode has yet to meet its fullest potential and this episode made two of the three in the first three minutes.
This episode, to say the least, had a weighty bit of expectation lying on the showrunners’ shoulders.
M. It’s one letter and yet when fans saw that the episode was titled as such there was instant excitement. The letter itself has the ability to spark an ominous tone. This episode was one that was very much anticipated because M is a loaded letter for those of whom who are well read in Sherlock Holmes lore. M to fans implies Sherlock’s greatest challenges, his most daring feats and a very probable fall. M stands for adventure, a web of lies and deceit, danger and some fantastic storytelling opportunities in every telling and re-telling of the character.
Who is M? Is it Moriarty, Sherlock’s one true adversary? Or is it simply a smoke screen, perhaps a red herring to the true perpetrator of the crimes? In the original series, Moriarty wasn’t one to get his hands dirty but instead controlled a carefully woven web on thieves, murderers and villains to do his bidding however he see fit. However, showrunner Robert Doherty has gone out of his way to portray these stories of Sherlock and Watson with a subverted tone, rather than straight from the adapted pages. He has instead televised Sherlock in how he’d appear if he were a real individual today. So perhaps, none of the fans or my own theories will be correct.
What is true is not only does the opening of the episode promise something great, it delivers.
This was the episode when the best of the little things and the best of the bigger things merged. Rather than simply trotting out yet another “baddie of the week” the show has planted the seeds for an upcoming story arc. The episode created a thrilling narrative all the while keeping the heart of the story with Joan and Sherlock and making their dynamic more compelling than ever before. This was a true light bulb, “voila” moment for the show when finally, what makes the show great was at its best and its weakest element (the mysteries) was bettered and utilized in the right fashion.
It begins with bees.
It begins with bees, and Sherlock telling Watson that her empty room will turn into their new home once she leaves, finally giving the room a purpose. Watson dismisses the slight tantrum as she so often does and it’s soon into the episode that the two are called to the crime scene.
It’s apparent early on that Sherlock’s mind is amiss when they step foot into the room where only an obscene amount of blood from the victim remains. He grows quiet and tells them that he recognizes the technique as one who comes from the hands of a man called M.
After a briefing with the police on the case, Joan confronts him. She asks what’s going on because he appears chipper. He dismisses her this time. She tells him before she leaves that she’s going to miss him, miss this, the solving cases with him.
That is until they walk into their apartment only for Sherlock to realize that their home has been broken into.
The police come and investigate and Captain Gregson comes to the conclusion that M has followed Sherlock to New York after their troubled past back in London where Sherlock worked tirelessly at bringing M to justice. There’s a nice, but brief scene where Gregson pacifies Sherlock from blaming himself.
Once the police leave Sherlock tells Watson everything. M is the one who killed Irene, who lead him to his spiral into drugs. And now, he wishes to take his revenge.
As he says quite deadpan, he wishes to torture and kill M for what he did to him. Needless to say, Watson doesn’t approve and threatens to go to Gregson. Sherlock doesn’t care.
The scene that transpires is wonderfully dark and wonderfully shot, all hidden in shadows with the only light shining on Sherlock’s face. I’ll get to Jonny Lee Miller;s acting in a moment.
While attempting a second attack, Sherlock captures M and brings him to an abandoned location. It’s there he confronts him about Irene and what he did to her. He gets a few good punches in before M tells him that he wasn’t the one who killed Irene because he was in prison for six months during the time it happened. Sherlock isn’t convinced, not because it doesn’t make sense, but because he doesn’t want it to. For once he’s pushing away analytical deduction and using emotional, gut reactions instead. He’s blinded by hatred for this man instead of seeing reason. So he continues on until M admits that he didn’t even know that it had been Sherlock’s apartment he’d broken into. He tells him he’s an assassin, not a serial killer and that he kills people based on whoever his boss tells him to.
His bosses name? Moriarty. The M in question? Sebastian Moran, a hired hitman. (Book fans may remember that Moran is also Moriarty’s right hand man.) Moriarty is the puppeteer in the shadows who bends people to their wills.
It’s here that Sherlock is adequately broken and when he turns around, unwilling to face his crimes and his mask of rage collapses, we realize the sorrow this character has endured for only the briefest of moments. Jonny Lee Miller is astounding, and is for the entire episode, showcasing his best work thus far. He’s levelheaded and an example of practiced serenity in one scene, and a ticking time bomb in another. He’s chilling and frightening as well as vulnerable. He manages to balance the feelings of lack of control and sanity of Sherlock with expertise and it makes the character that much more enjoyable to watch. He’s finally been stripped down.
M, angry that Moriarty has sacrificed him all as a ploy to get to Sherlock, tries to tell him that Moriarty is the biggest puzzle he’s going to solve and he can’t do it without a key piece, him.
So as Gregson and Watson turn up to the site, they get a call saying that Sherlock and M have both showed up at the police station. M covers for Sherlock, admits to the thirty seven other murders he’s committed, but says that Sherlock was provoked, all so that Sherlock can find Moriarty.
We then find Watson confronting Sherlock in a nearby room, the latter perfectly still, the former trying to get him to open up.
It’s when Sherlock echoes Watson’s earlier sentiments that this episode is truly driven into its best of season status. Here is a man who’s been thoroughly beat down and broken into shambles in the past two years, who finally believed he was going to meet his solace and instead was left with more questions and more empty spaces. He sits on the couch and tells Watson that he’s sorry that their last few days together had to go so poorly. Realizing she’s witnessing such a human moment from him she gravitates his way to comfort, naturally. But with Sherlock it’s a tentative reach of her hand, simply human contact, and that’s enough, the bridge has been built.
Joan and Sherlock. Watson and Holmes. The tension between the two for the entirety of the episode, and I mean tension about a forthcoming friendship, has been long awaited and well played out. No moment was too hasty or too contrived. Throughout the episode there were subtle hints to where their friendship may be going. Their general growing attachment to each other, the statement of “I think what you do is amazing” spoken on both sides, to the cautious movements into a more tender relationship. It wasn’t overwrought, the emotions weren’t played for manipulation’s sake and it never felt saccharine to the point of sappy. The two already shared a mutual respect; they had simply progressed and finally acknowledged how the other benefitted them both personally and professionally.
So when Watson makes the text to Sherlock’s father, asking for more time with him not because he’s fallen into a descent of drug addiction but because he’s been emotionally compromised, it’s truly effective. And when her question is answered with a no, and when she lies to Sherlock to protect his ego and his spirit as well as her own, it’s even more so because it’s both a selfish and selfless move.
It’s the two damaged individuals we met in the first episode finally progressing in the right direction, albeit battered and bruised along the way.
It ends with Sherlock cleaning up his wall of mysteries and cases of violence and destruction to hang a singular name on the wall: Moriarty. And here, we have the beginning of the web Moriarty weaves, beginning with the core of it all, the man himself. Who will the character be? I’m sure there are already multiple scenarios floating online. No matter, it’s sure to be a strong character who completely throws our two protagonists into plenty of sticky situations.
This was a fantastic episode that solidified it as an hour long, weekly must-see. It was everything I’d want in a television show: it kept my interest; it kept me involved, and it most importantly it kept me emotionally attached.
More than anything it left me annoyed that we have to wait until January 31st for the next new one.
I can’t wait, what about you?