Sherlock Binge Watch: The Great Game by Mark Gatiss: The Antagonist

00015-Sherlock As great antagonists go, Moriarty is right up there with Nemesis, almost as much a legend as Sherlock Holmes. What’s really interesting about Gatiss’s interpretation of him is that he’s the perfect doppelgänger antagonist.

That is, Moriarty is Sherlock Holmes’s double: both sociopaths, both pursuing superiority in the abstract, each confident that he’s the smartest guy in the room, disdainful of everyone else as inferior to him.
• Sherlock acknowledges the kinship when Lestrade asks him why the Moriarty is playing his games, and he says, “I can’t be the only person in London who gets bored.”
• Moriarty acknowledges it, too, when he says, “We were made for each other.”
• The first puzzle Moriarty gives Sherlock, the death of Carl Powers, Sherlock describes as his first effort at professional detection and it’s implied that it’s Moriarty’s first murder.
• Even their self-designations of “consulting detective” and “consulting criminal” are mirror images, so that when Sherlock describes Moriary with a gleam in his eye as “something new,” he’s paying his respects to the evildoer who finally deserves his talents.
• Moriarty is certifiable, and Sherlock is pretty close to that; he’d be locked up for observation if it weren’t for an understanding landlady who doesn’t call the cops when he shoots holes in her wall and an exasperated brother who pretty much runs Britain.


So Holmes and Moriarty really are the same person for most of this episode. Of course the only thing about that dynamic that’s interesting is if one of the players changes. John’s anger with Sherlock because of his lack of empathy for the hostages finally pays off at the end when Sherlock, face to face with Moriarty for the first time, says, “People died,” and Moriarty screams, “That’s what people do!”, an echo of Sherlock’s earlier assertion that people are in danger of dying all the time and he can’t be bothered by that. But Moriarty has gone too far, killing people for sport as part of his game, a line Sherlock won’t cross, and that makes Moriarty not Sherlock’s twin but his foil, the comparison that refutes Sally’s assertion that Sherlock is a psychopath. Moriarty is a psychopath; Sherlock just needs empathy lessons.

And he gets them at the end when he sees John wrapped in explosives. His emotions are triggered and he reacts with carefully controlled rage, not because Moriarty has out-smarted him but because he’s put John in mortal danger and Sherlock cares. Not only that, John demonstrates that he’s willing to die to save Sherlock, something that stuns Sherlock, blasts him out of his self-absorption into the real world. It’s an epiphany that only someone crazier than Sherlock could have brought about, in part because Sherlock can see himself in the monster that is Moriarty.


At the end, facing both Watson and Moriarty, Sherlock has to do what Mycroft told John to do: Pick a side. And he picks humanity over intelligence, real life over the game. It’s the end of the first season character arc for Sherlock, but only the set-up for the huge arc he’s going to be subjected to in the first episode of season two, and it fulfills one of the objectives of a great conflict: an antagonist who, through the crucible of the conflict, reshapes the protagonist’s self-concept and makes him new. (And if you think Moriarty was good at that, wait’ll you get a load of Irene Adler.)

The brilliance of the dynamic of the doppleganger protagonist and antagonist are only marred by the incredibly stupid beginning and ending of this episode. I don’t know what the hell Sherlock was doing in Minsk–showing off?–and that cliffhanger ending is just annoying. The series is brilliant, as viewers we’d definitely come back the following season, so leaving Moriarty and Sherlock staring each other down after Sherlock’s had his epiphany is just dumb, especially since it’s resolved in the next episode by Moriarty changing his mind. Because he’s, you know, crazy.

But he’s not, you know, stupid, so why the whole circus act? That’s why the Argh cut of this episode lops off Minsk and the point at the end where Moriarty comes back in. Really, it’s better that way.

So let’s forget the prologue and the cliffhanger and just enjoy the elegance of this story, especially the beautiful symmetry of two brilliant, insane minds in collision,

45 thoughts on “Sherlock Binge Watch: The Great Game by Mark Gatiss: The Antagonist

  1. I think we begin in Minsk to show just how far Sherlock is willing to travel, at this point in his life, to work an actual case. He expresses his disappointment to John in the shooting-up-the-wallpaper scene:

    SHERLOCK: …Open and shut domestic murder. Not worth my time.
    But a woman is dead, stabbed repeatedly by her husband.
    JOHN (sarcastically): Ah, shame.
    SHERLOCK (sulkily): Don’t know what’s got into the criminal classes. Good job I’m not one of them.

    Detective fiction begins with a disordered society—usually a murder to solve. It ends with order, usually in the form of the murderer discovered and justice restored, although how permanent or absolute this restoration will vary enormously from one narrative to the next.

    The obvious disorder at the beginning of “The Great Game” is Moriarty’s turning people into bombs for sport. Here we have a chilling call-out to the disorder of our own society, beyond the boundaries of the fiction, to the almost unimaginable weapon known as the suicide bomber.

    A parallel disorder is personal and domestic: Sherlock’s sociopathic sulk, because non-banal, genius-level criminality is the only thing that is worthy of his attention, leads him to domestic violence—he shoots up his (and John’s and Mrs. Hudson’s) house. Not long after, the entire front of the house is blown in.

    Lopping off Minsk means that this domestic disorder lacks a set-up beyond Sherlock’s own household, unless he relates this futile trip (which would be infodump or flashback, I think).

    If you lop off Moriarty’s final entrance at the very end of the swimming pool scene, we are left with the resolution of the domestic—Sherlock’s emotional response to John’s near-death and John’s willingness to die for him—and with the implication that Moriarty is somehow gone.

    Domestic disorder, first signaled in Minsk, has taken a huge step toward resolution. But the societal disorder that Moriarty represents is unresolved. That’s why Gatiss brings him back.

    1. See, I think this is where authors shoot themselves in the foot. I can give you very similar reasons for the first scene in Faking It, all very logical about how I needed that scene to set up this deep idea or start that plot thread, but the truth is, the story doesn’t start until Tilda is back in Columbus. And “The Great Game” doesn’t start until Sherlock is back in London. As a storyteller, you can’t justify a scene that is never referred to again, never has any impact on the rest of the plot, by saying, “Yes, but it does this at a deep level” because the reader isn’t reading at that deep level, she’s reading for story. I’ve seen “The Great Game” probably half a dozen times, and I’m still annoyed by that scene even though it’s a great scene and even though it sets up Sherlock’s boredom because whatever promises it makes as a first scene are never fulfilled: this isn’t going to be a story about Sherlock in Minsk, it isn’t going to be a story about domestic violence, grammar is not going to be a running joke, and so on. There is nothing in this scene that tells the reader, “Here’s your party,” and that makes it a false start. I thin a good storyteller always starts where the story begins, not where themes begin.
      Not that I’m rabid about that or anything.

      1. I’ve never watched Sherlock, so I can’t comment about the Minsk scene… But Faking It… Oh my! That was the first of your books I read. I bought it based on the great cover, a thing I never do, and started reading very sceptically. The cover was so wonderful, I was sure the book couldn’t live up to its promise. By the end of that first scene, I was completely and permanently captivated. It tells us everything we need to know about Tilda, without infodump. By the end of the scene, we understand her sense of responsibility, her feeling of being the only adult in a family of fruitcakes, her hopelessness of ever solving her problems, but her determination to keep trying anyway. The party may not have started, but we know that when it does, we’ll be there with her. I LOVE that scene. Without that scene, I would never have discovered the rest of your books.

        1. He’s actually the reason that scene is in there. I couldn’t figure out another way to get him in. Which was a DUMB reason to keep the scene.
          Actually in the early stages, I’d started the book when Tilda was breaking into the house. I still kind of like that. This is not something I think about much, though, since that book is done.

  2. I thought the opening scene in Minsk was un-necessary and obnoxious. I got the feeling that Mark Gatiss had fun writing Sherlock belittling an ill-educated man and that he invited his audience to become complicit in that enjoyment. Inviting us better-educated folks to share Sherlock’s feeling of superiority. It made me squirm. Maybe that was the intention.

    For me the empathy lesson for Sherlock comes earlier, when the old lady is shot and killed. That’s when the deaths become real for him – he’s on the phone, telling her not to describe Moriarty, and then it’s too late. Until that point you get the feeling he’s enjoying being tested and enjoying playing Moriarty’s game. Showing off. He solves the puzzles, but even when he has hours in hand he makes no attempt to change the game or wrest the initiative from Moriarty, because he doesn’t want it to stop. After the old lady’s death, he tries to call a halt, but he’s too late and then John’s life is on the line.

    I hated the final scene in the swimming pool. It’s stupid for so many reasons I don’t know where to start. Sherlock calls Moriarty to meet him but doesn’t seem to have a plan. John’s not stupid and if he was willing to die to save Sherlock he’d have let them shoot him before he put the explosive vest on. Guns pointing in all directions. If the objective was to show Sherlock’s epiphany and Moriarty being smarter, stronger, crazier, and unwilling to give up the game, there must have been better ways to do it.

    1. I suspect Sherlock was belittling the man because he was wasting his time with a straight-forward murder. I don’t think it was because he was uneducated. It was because the man was trying to make it out to be something it wasn’t, and Sherlock was bored enough to take it out on the man’s speech.

      1. I thought the fact that he harps on grammar with a sneer on his face pretty much said he’s dismissive of the man because of class and because of the ineptitude and tawdriness of his crime. But then later on he’s fine with the homeless woman, and he never corrected the grammar of the guy who owned the restaurant in “Pink,” so on reflection, I think you’re right. I think he’s more contemptuous of how stupid the man is, not his class or education.

    2. I think the opening does show what a tick Sherlock can be in that he shows no anger with the murderer for his brutal attack, only boredom with how ignorant he is and then enjoyment with is last hung/hanged quip. He’s not likable, and you’re right, there’s a real class issue there, but I think it’s deliberate: Sherlock is a snot. But then he’s always been a snot and he continues to be a snot, as you pointed out, so that scene wasn’t necessary to set that up. I think that scene is really well done, it’s just unnecessary.
      I agree that it’s the old woman’s death that jars Sherlock out of his detachment. I love that moment at the end when he says, “People died” because it’s the first time he’s cared, the first time any of this has been anything other than an academic exercise; he was talking to her when Moriarty killed her.
      I do think the swimming pool scene is necessary; for one thing, it pulls all of the plot threads (except for Minsk) together when Sherlock holds up the thumb drive and says, “This is what this was all about, distracting me from this.” We also need that last pip, and if you look at the five victims, they become more vulnerable in sequence: a woman who looks like she lives in comfortable circumstances sitting in a car; a young man standing in the rain for hours; a very old, blind and bedridden woman, a child, and then Watson, the only friend Sherlock has. Sherlock is detached from the first three, the child and the very short deadline make him race, and then seeing Watson, understanding who Watson is, not only to him as that only friend but also because Watson tries to sacrifice himself to save Sherlock, all of that makes him show emotion at the end, starts that character arc of (admittedly limited) empathy.
      I think the problem is that he can’t defeat Moriarty, they need that character for the next season. But he and Moriarty really do have to meet; in the previous two stories, Moriary was working behind the scenes, but he’s the antagonist here. So you get to the end and you have nowhere to go. You can’t defeat him, he has to be back. You’ve got nothing to bookend with because you started in Minsk.
      I think the way to go was to play the first scene of “A Scandal In Belgravia” as the last scene here. The story is over, Moriary decides to spare Sherlock because he has something pressing, told to him on the phone by a woman with blood-red fingernails, and he walks out and doesn’t come back. I’d buy it that Moriarty doesn’t kill Sherlock because I think it’s psychologically true: Sherlock is his only real equal so the world is more entertaining place with him in it. That’s big for a guy who complains about boredom so much.

  3. The Sherlock/Moriarty relationship brings in the imagery for – Janus, two sides of the same coin and magnetic opposites attracting. That it is simplistic to a degree is the saving grace – each acts on different sides of the law to “see what will happen.”

    Sherlock’s correcting the language use in the opening scene tells me more than just how superior he is or *know* he is. It tells me that he has a need for order and rules. As much as he breaks them in the pursuit of his answers – witness what he does to John in Hound of Baskervilles – he yearns to set things to rights as *he* sees “rights.” Moriarty’s tendency for disorder is such that he needs to create it.

    This episode was/is (?) A Great Game.

    Please note I use asterisk in lieu of italics, I don’t want to break anything.

    1. Yes, but we already know he has a need for order and rules, his rules. There is nothing in that scene in Minsk that hasn’t been or won’t be set up. This isn’t just the third episode in a series which means the character is pretty well established, this is probably the episode in this first series that really concentrates on showing who Sherlock is as a person beyond “brilliant and obnoxious.” This entire episode is about Sherlock finally beginning to care about people. It’s about him being blown out of his self-satisfaction into the messy world of human emotion. So that first scene, while fitting in beautifully from a thematic viewpoint, is entirely unnecessary from a storytelling standpoint, plus it starts the story in the wrong place in the wrong mood with the wrong characters talking about the wrong thing. ARGH.

  4. What’s interesting to me about Moriarty is that he’s mythologized far more by virtually all other writers and adaptors of Holmes than he ever was by Doyle in the original stories. His name appears for the first time ever in the same story where he’s killed off, when Doyle was trying to get out of writing more Holmes by (also) killing off Sherlock, “The Final Problem.”

    Until then, Moriarty was never mentioned or alluded to in any Holmes story, in what was already a long and popular series. And in “The Final Problem,” Holmes suddenly places so much intense emphasis on Moriarty that he comes across as a little insane, since even Watson has never before heard of Moriarty–and keeps asking Sherlock: What do you MEAN you’ve been working day-and-night for months on bringing him down? I’m your partner and had no idea. What do you MEAN he’s behind all that is evil and criminal around here? I’ve worked with you for years and you’ve never even mentioned him before. Etc.

    I’ve always found Doyle’s “Final Problem” lopsided. It’s a climax without a story. As it opens, Holmes is reaching the culmination of months of intense and demanding work we never see or experience, to bring down a villain we’ve never heard of, which will be the lifetime achievement we never knew our protagonist was aiming for.

    Doyle used Moriarty in one more Holmes story (set earlier but written later), though they don’t meet in that one. And in the stories that took place after “The Final Problem,” Holmes or Watson sometimes mentions him.

    But overall, it’s interesting to see how unimportant Moriarty was in Doyle’s works (and apparently only invented as a tool for killing off Sherlock, whom Doyle wanted to stop writing), compared to how central he is to Sherlock mythology and storytelling ever since. I think it’s because one of the things people most enjoy is seeing this extraordinarily brilliant detective meet his face, face an equal foe, encounter a criminal who is equally brilliant–and, in his way, equally famous in Sherlock’s world. We knows (and so does Sherlock) that he’s going to catch and bring down the usual suspects. But is he going to bring down or overtake Moriarty? There’s always more dramatic tension and risk in that.

    1. I agree. You know, he does the same thing with Irene Adler: one story, never mentions her again. And yet, if you asked people who the major characters in the canon are, it would be Holmes, Watson, Adler, and Moriarty. I think you’re right, it’s the idea that Holmes has met his match in both cases. A good antagonist is always stronger and smarter than the protagonist, but when you start with Sherlock Holmes, you’re kind of screwed unless you invent a Moriarty or an Adler. I can see why he invented Moriarty to kill off Holmes, but Adler’s an interesting departure from the norm: female, sexually unconventional (in the original, she’s the mistress of a king), his equal in intellect but very emotional (she does what she does for love and revenge). Why Doyle suddenly brought in The Woman is much less clear to me than why he dragged in Moriarty for his big finish. But definitely, more dramatic tension and risk with Moriarty and Adler than with any other antagonist in the first two seasons. Maybe that’s another reason I don’t like the Baskervilles story: lousy antagonist.

      1. I love The Hound of the Baskervilles–it’s my favorite Holmes… but that’s because I’m an enthustiast for black dog folklore, and I also love the atmosphere of that story: spooky old house on the Devon moors, with a supernatural hound baying by night and an aicnet curse haunting the family, etc. My kind of story!

        Though as Holmes stories go… the structure is very annoying. Why send Watson to Dartmoor and pretend to stay in London on another case? (As if the villain wouldn’t know that Watson’s presence there certainly means Holmes is involved.) Why have Watson send letters to London–which then get sent straight back to Devon so Holmes can read them? And that whole final scene where Holmes’ reckless plan nearly collapses because it hadn’t occurred to him there might be FOG on the boggy MOOR at NIGHT–uh, seriously, dude?

        As a Holmes story, it’s chock full problems. But I love the atmosphere and the theme.

      2. I assume Irene Adler would have attracted attention when Doyle’s stories were being published in the 19c, since it portrays a woman of unconventional morality who lives happily ever after (!), as well as besting a brilliant man in a battle of wits (!). However, Doyle did write other strong/intelligent women, such as the heroine of “The Solitary Bicyclist,” a dignified and strong-minded and attractive young music teacher who’s engaged, pursued by other men, holds her own, and badgers Sherlock Holmes into taking her case. And the heroine of “The Copper Beeches” takes risks in a dangerous situation to figure out what’s going on and get information that Holmes wants. Holmes’ housekeeper in one of the last stories who works as a spy in a German officer’s household, or something like that, and Mrs. Hudson confers with him on a case or two.

        Though Holmes disliked women, I think Doyle portrayed a progressive attitude to women for his era, so although Irene Adler stands out and is mythologized (typically as the one woman Holmes falls for or could fall for, because, like Moriarty, she is his match), I think she was in keeping with the overall portrayal of women in the stories, which was varied and sometimes unconventional (ex. there’s also a female circus acrobat who doubles as a successful cat burglar in one of the stories, and a sympathetic portrayal of a fallen woman in “The Illustrious Client”).

        1. Yes, but Irene is the only one who beats him. The others are admirable, but she’s his equal or, in this story, his better since the story ends with her letter and his acknowledgement and appreciation that she’s won. But I think you’re right, it’s because this is as close as Holmes ever gets to falling for a woman, and really he’s falling for her brains, not her physical being. Until you get to Robert Downey Jr’s sexulaized Sherlock. I think Moffat’s Sherlock in “A Scandal in Belgravia” is a good compromise; he’s not trying to get her into bed and is ignoring her attempts to get him there, but he’s very aware of her physical presence and it knocks off his intellectual distance.
          I know, that’s next week. Ignore me. I’m an Irene Adler fan.

  5. “if you asked people who the major characters in the canon are, it would be Holmes, Watson, Adler, and Moriarty.”

    Also Mycroft–someone who, again, is actually very minor in the Doyle stories. I can’t remember how many he appears in (2?), and he’s mentioned in only 2-3 others. Out of some 50 stories. But he appears often in adapatations, spin-offs, reinterpretations. I think it’s partly because having a BROTHER anchors Holmes more as a character (otherwise, it seems as if he sprang fully-formed from the head of Zeus, or something), and partly because–like Moriarty and Irene Adler–Mycroft is Sherlock’s match, usually portrayed as his intellectual superior, which makes Sherlock more engaging or accessible (suddenly he’s someone’s frustrated younger brother instead of just a massive intellect who’s always 6 steps ahead of everyone else).

    1. I think one of the great things about Sherlock, the series, is what they’ve done with Mycroft (and what Gatiss has done with his interpretation which I think is brilliant). I really don’t think if you asked most people about the Sherlock canon, that Mycroft would be a major name, the way everybody knows that Moriarty is Holmes’s nemesis or that Adler is The Woman.

  6. Let me preface this by saying that I don’t in any way want one moment less of Benedict Cumberbatch/Sherlock in general. But 5 pips seemed to be too many. With each additional puzzle, I thought we were farther along. I don’t recall reading Doyle’s “The Five Orange Pips”–were there 5 puzzles in that as well? Carl Powers has to stay; he’s the first case/murder for Sherlock and Moriarty draws us into the game, although the woman in the car means nothing to Sherlock. And Connie Price/the old blind woman are essential for all the reasons already touched on. Same goes for the missile plans that tie everything together and John. And OK, the kid really lights a fire under Sherlock, plus it shows how far back and how deep Moriarty has been putting everything in motion. But what did the Janus puzzle piece add to the story? The man on the street didn’t mean any more to Sherlock than the woman in the car did.

    And in a world where removing a scene means replacing it with Benedict/Sherlock doing something else, I’d have to agree that the Minsk scene has to go. When the episode started, I didn’t remember this scene and couldn’t figure out what Sherlock was doing there or how it related to the Moriarty plot.

    And thanks for the character map, Jenny!

    1. Me too, on the 5 is too many issue. I will happily listen to Cumberbatch/Sherlock read his laundry list, but I did think that this narrative had a saggy middle.

    2. Me too, on the 5 is too many issue. I will happily listen to Cumberbatch/Sherlock read his laundry list, but I did think that this narrative had a saggy middle.

      1. They were playing off The Five Orange Pips, but that’s no excuse. I think it’s more a failure to maintain a strong through line; it feels like five short episodes instead of five acts.

  7. Some very bad words were said when I first saw that cliffhanger at the end of ‘The Great Game’ but I don’t disagree with that ending. I’m guessing ‘the Great Game’ was supposed to end with the conclusion of the pool scene and didn’t feel right to Gatniss.

    This whole scene has so many layers in it both in the dialog and the way it’s played.
    “No one ever gets to me, and no one ever will.” Moriarty says this after looking at John trussed up in the bomb vest and then at Sherlock, clearly agitated and pointing a gun at him. It’s a defining moment for both Sherlock and Moriarty. If the situation were reversed Moriarty wouldn’t hesitate to kill his henchman (it could never be a friend) in order to gain the upper hand. Sherlock can be controlled by threatening those close to him. It gives Moriarty the seeds for his solution to “the final problem”.

    A lot of revelations happen in this scene. Sherlock believes that he’s worked out what Moriarty’s game really was, but he’s wrong, the missing plans had nothing to do with Moriarty. Moriarty reveals he’s been well ahead of Sherlock, telling him he even gave him his phone number hoping he’d call but Sherlock missed the clue. He asks, “Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket are you just pleased to see me?” showing he knew Sherlock was armed and that it’s Watson’s gun. When Watson tries to save Sherlock by grabbing Moriarty the sniper that targets Sherlock shows that Moriarty was ahead of them here as well. Finally, when Moriarty warns them off and walks out he’s still a step ahead, waiting just long enough for Sherlock to get the bomb off of Watson so he can walk back in and have them killed. He didn’t change his mind. He always meant it to end that way, as evidenced by his signal to call off the snipers when the pool scene finally concludes in ‘Scandal’.

    Moriarty has them beaten and Sherlock knows it. Until Sherlock points his gun at the bomb.

    And that moment before Sherlock aims at the bomb, when he looks at John and John answers with a single nod, they communicate the plan and their willingness to die to stop Moriarty without a word, and that’s a powerful moment. Moriarty’s expression clearly shows he didn’t see that one coming, and then he smiles a little, as if Sherlock has gone up in his estimation. His new playmate was more of a challenge after all.

    So if the next moment is the scene where Moriarty’s cell rings with a Beegees ringtone and the “Do you mind if I take this?” exchange it would kill all that beautiful tension. It also washes over the revelations we just got. Sherlock isn’t always right. Moriarty will destroy anyone getting in his way and is possibly even smarter than Sherlock.

    And you’d still end with a cliff hanger, although not as strong a cliff hanger. It’s more interesting to wonder how someone escapes a deadly situation than who was on the phone.

    Moving those final moments in the pool to the beginning of ‘Scandal’ also introduces a key theme for the second season, staying alive. And it suits the tone of that episode better. It’s an episode full of awkward moments, many of which I’m looking forward to discussing next Sunday 😉

    1. That’s a great analysis, but a cliffhanger is still a cheap trick. You don’t want to leave your reader swearing and saying, “WTF?” The ending of a story is the story, it’s the reason the story is told, to get to that point, the reveal. Not to reveal, then, or to leave the reader/viewer without a sense of completion is a failure. An episode is not a chapter in a book (where, I would argue, cliffhangers are just fine, because the reader can keep reading to find catharsis), it’s a story in itself. If it doesn’t end, the way this episode doesn’t end, you haven’t finished the story which is a violation of the promise you make the reader at the beginning. Then the viewer waits months to hear Moriarty say, “Never mind,” which is a cop-out on its own. If he really meant to kill Holmes and Watson at the end, Irene Adler’s news wouldn’t have made him spare them. It’s all a writer playing “Gotcha.” I hate writers playing “Gotcha.”

      1. See, that in a nutshell is my problem. I can get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture.

        1. That’s why I collage. I get tangled in the details and need a touchstone to remind me that the story is a single unit, a whole, and not just a lot of great moments.

  8. Jenny already said everything about doppelgangers, so I don’t really have more to add, I’ll just say I agree with all of it. Sherlock’s arc toward empathy is great here, and I think it’s really pay off from set-up they did with “Study in Pink.” The beginning of his arc is bonding with John, and dealing with Moriarty pushes it even further. All this talk of doppelgangers makes me want to watch season 3 of Buffy again.

    I do agree that the scene in Minsk is unnecessary; I forgot it was there. And there is no such thing as a good cliff hanger. That didn’t just weaken “The Great Game,” it also makes the beginning of “Scandal” feel tacked on somehow, even though it is technically our first exposure to Irene. That didn’t feel like the beginning of another episode, that was the end of the last one, THEN “Scandal” starts after the titles.

    TV writers always seem to feel justified about cliff hangers, as though because the show will be back in three months, the story hasn’t really ended. That attitude seems to have changed a little lately (see Veronica Mars, Person of Interest, Arrow), but it’s still there and it’s still annoying. It is especially irritating in “The Great Game” because no other episode of Sherlock has one – “Reichenbach” does leave some unanswered questions, but [SPOILER] it doesn’t end with Sherlock standing on the ledge about to jump. No idea what they were thinking with the end of this one.

    1. Joss Whedon always completed the story with each season of Buffy, too.
      Cliffhangers are almost as bad as those stories that start in media res and then the next card says, “Twenty-four hours earlier.” It’s the same problem, writers who don’t have enough faith in their story to just tell it without screwing with the reader/viewer.

      1. I HATE the “24 hours earlier” device. It feels like cheating to me. When I see a tv show use it, the first scene feels like it is trying to mislead the viewer, making me think the two friends are really about to shoot each other, the radiation exposure is fatal… When the true story is something completely different. They are really aiming at the antagonists just past their friend. The radiation was just enough to set off the alarm, not hurt anyone.

        But in Faking It, the scene wasn’t about the annoying customer, it was about Tilda being the grownup in the family. And Steve. I love Steve.

        1. Remember when Battlestar started two episodes in a row like that? It’s a cheat to do when your story starts slow “but we have to pump up the action.” It annoys the crap out of me too.

          Ditto prologues, for the same reason.

          1. BSG was strongest in its first season, “33” in particular. It starts right in the middle and you’re on the edge of your seat the entire episode. One of the highlights of a series that faltered far too quickly…

      2. Ugh, the time jump. That’s unforgivable. Even Leverage did it once, and that was just beneath them.

          1. I remember it in two other than the series finale. I don’t think they did it for the first two years though; that might be some kind of record. Although with the series finale I think they were trying for something else, with all the flashbacks that weren’t quite how it really happened, so I was willing to give them that one.

  9. Doggone it. I’ve forgotten what I was going to say…

    I agree that the first scene can go, there is no there there. Although in the back of my mind I’m thinking that there is a reference to that scene or at least to Sherlock being there later in the next season. Not that we need a scene for that. It’s enough to know he was there.

    I’ve never liked the pool scene. It seemed like a cheap trick to me. Of course I never wanted to admit that Moriarty was smarter than Sherlock, either. And maybe he’s not. After all (spoiler alert)

    Sherlock is still alive and Moriarty is not. Why at a pool? Indoor pool rooms are echoy and uncomfortable. They are usually too hot, but occasionally too cold. (We have a lovely pool 30 minutes from here that used to be lovely and warm – and the water was lovely too. Now its all cold and clammy. No fun to sit and watch the kids in the snowy weather anymore. It’s more comfortable out side.) Got a little off track there.

    The pool. The hidden snipers. It’s a trap and why didn’t Sherlock anticipate that it would be? Did he think he could talk himself out of any situation? I love this show with a hot passion, but it irritates me when Sherlock does stupid stuff. Also, cheap trick, the phone call that frees them. I would have prefered the bomb going off and John and Sherlock staying alive because they are clever. (Under water maybe?)

  10. I just watched it again and want to know why Dr Watson doesn’t leap I to the pool and wreck the bomb.

      1. And this is why I’m a security person and you all are story-tellers. Said with appreciation.

    1. There’s no guarantee that jumping into water will destroy it. It could actually set it off–depending on the explosives used, and the mechanism controlling it, neither of which he’s in a position to know, I would think.

  11. I Remembered what I was going to say!!!!! (Yay me.)

    It just goes to show that a story doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable. I completely and utterly love SHERLOCK and never once thought about any of the flaws until we discussed them here. And that’s okay. I’ve learned a thing or two – and despite that I’m still madly in love with the series and don’t care that it is flawed.

    After all, all the best things in life have flaws. It also lets me enjoy my own stories more. Jeez if the writers of Sherlock aren’t perfect then I guess I should give myself a pass. Also it validates readers of all things flawed that they still love!

  12. Dammit! I was supposed to stop “internetting” at 11 and get some sh*t done, but then I figured I’ll just check Crusie “really quick”… and I’m still here. I should’ve known better. ;p

    Ok, The Great Game. Love this one. Mostly. Agree with everyone else to lob off Minsk and the cliffhanger (HATE cliffhangers… they make me ragey)… was about to agree to lob off the Janus sequence, but they get a *teeny* bit in there about “two faced/two sided” which sets up Moriarty (if you don’t miss the line) as Sherlock’s foil, but I think this is the one where Sherlock exits with, “I am on FIRE!” THAT is important because the next case is Connie Britton/the old blind lady and Sherlock’s hubris basically gets her killed – if he hadn’t stalled and used the time to try and figure out his opponent, then she wouldn’t have spent all that extra time being tortured, basically, and might have been more capable of “hearing” Sherlock when he tells her to NOT describe the man on the phone and, if he were more empathetic, he’d have been able to hear her terror, etc. Moriarty, too, screwed this one up by picking a blind person, someone who communicates with ALL their other senses… unless he wanted this one to go south and picked a blind person on purpose, which in that case, well played, psycho. Whew. Ok, Janus works for me. ;p Moving on!

    Someone (I think Jenny?) mentioned she’d have preferred the pool scene to end with Irene’s call to Moriarty. I, too, think this would have been a MUCH stronger way to end the episode/series, especially with the parting shot of her ass before she closes the door. It would have set up Scandal beautifully. As it is, the end of Game and the beginning of Scandal get me ragey (HATE cliffhangers) so I actually tend to skip them both.

    To be frank, I think the government plans on a jump drive is the weakest section in Game. It feels fairly contrived, mostly serves as a set up to get interaction between Sherlock and Mycroft and watch them try to out do each other, and Sherlock’s assumption that the jump drive is Moriarty’s main game? Yeah, no. Was he *not* paying attention to the types of games M likes to play? Ugh.

    Also, I’m going to say it, even at the risk of getting rotten fruit tossed at my head: I don’t like this version Moriarty. I’m not sure if it’s the actor, the way it’s written, or the way it’s played/directed. (This, btw, is also my problem with Doctor Who’s Rose/Billie Piper.) I buy Sherlock as a wunderkind – young, brilliant, aggressive, egotistical. Alone. He’s mostly wandering around, poking into stuff because he’s bored with no friends and he solves crimes instead of playing Xbox. Moriarty… I can buy a young, brilliant, aggressive, egotistical version, too, but in order for him to do what he’s doing he needs to be a CEO and not a lone wolf. There’s no sense of sanity to ground him and make me feel like he had the capacity to set up the kingdom he has for himself. Even hardened criminals get leery with a friggin loon at the helm…. or so I assume. 🙂 Irene is a CEO. Moriarty is a nutcase hopped up on the Dew. Meh.

    So that’s my 2 (or 60) cents. ;p On a related note, I’ve seen all of series 3 – NO SPOILERS, I promise! – and SQUEE! It’s good. Ok a *teenytiny* spoiler: no cliffhanger! I think Mof’tiss figured they’d get lynched if they pulled that crap again – lol!

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