SHERLOCK 2.02 ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’

Sherlock and John investigate a decades spanning conspiracy that brings them face-to-face with an otherworldly hound.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "The Hounds of Baskerville"

Writer: Mark Gatiss

Director: Paul McGuigan

The greatest joy of "Sherlock" is simply watching Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) interact with each other. Cumberbatch and Freeman are in such command of their respective characters that even the most mundane scenes between them can be riveting. The first few minutes of "The Hounds of Baskerville" are dominated by an extended sequence in which Sherlock is desperate for a cigarette and he is alternately sniping at John for trying to help him quit or attempting to bribe John by predicting the next week's lotto numbers.

Sherlock even lashes out at poor Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) by deducing the man whom she is attracted to and by alerting her about the man's wife in another city. It's enough to send Mrs. Hudson running away in tears and yet Sherlock doesn't even realize or acknowledge that he's done something wrong. He simply needs his next fix, be it a nicotine hit or an especially juicy case.

Enter Henry Knight (Russell Tovey), a young man haunted by the death of his father at the claws of a monstrous hound two decades earlier. Sherlock's mesmerizing deduction of Henry's haste to meet with him and even his actions on the train ride to London also inform us how Sherlock and Watson's relationship has progressed. At this point, Watson is clearly tired of Sherlock showing off his keen abilities of observation… but Sherlock relishes every chance he gets to demonstrate that he is a genius. Later in the episode, Sherlock says words to the effect that Watson illuminates the ideas in his mind. But in reality, Sherlock just loves an audience.

And so begins the modern adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles;" which is one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The writer, Mark Gatiss wisely downplays the hints of a supernatural ghost story in favor of a more updated conspiracy tinged episode; possibly because the audience is far more likely to buy into the idea that a government research facility created a mutated dog than they would be willing to accept a giant hound that looks like it escaped from hell. 

The way that Sherlock manages to get John and himself inside the research facility was not only a brilliant use of Sherlock's tense relationship with his brother, Mycroft (portrayed once again by Gatiss), it gave the story an excuse to throw in Mycroft however briefly and keep some of the episodic elements of the season alive through the final moments of this episode. The cuts between Sherlock and John's investigation in the facility and the slow detection of their security breach was also extremely well edited. And if it wasn't for Doctor Robert Frankland (Clive Mantle) vouching for Sherlock as Mycroft than the story would have been over a lot sooner.

Which brings us to the heart of the episode. Sherlock and John accompany Henry out to the area where his father was killed late at night. And while John is distracted and attempting to catch up to them, both Sherlock and Henry see the great demonic hound themselves. Sherlock is so shaken by the beast that he instantly denies seeing it and he gets increasingly angry because he can't hide his fear or trust his own senses.

Sherlock even manages to alienate John by insisting that he has no friends; which later leads Sherlock to his most humanizing moment of the episode in which he reaffirms to John that he doesn't have "friends." Sherlock has only one. Sherlock even seems to go out of his way to apologize to John, but even his apology has a hidden agenda and he's lucky that John didn't punch him when the truth finally came out.

As in "A Scandal in Belgravia," the clues to the mystery of the hound are scattered throughout the episode and they come together like a well designed jigsaw puzzle by the end. "The Hound of the Baskervilles" also gives John a chance to stand on his own as an investigator even if his initial lead was a dead end. But we also get a glimpse of John as a more romantic lead as he flirts with a woman who may have critical information. John is also the focal point of a harrowing sequence in which he is trapped in a locked laboratory with the hound nearby.  

Just when the episode starts to drag slightly, Rupert Graves shows up as the ridiculously tanned Detective Inspector Lestrade; who insists that he's only there on holiday and not to spy on Sherlock for his brother. Regardless, Sherlock uses the Inspector's presence to his advantage and Lestrade seems to greatly enjoy himself as the defacto third partner for the remainder of the story. 

Another standout sequence comes late in the episode when Sherlock enters his "mind palace" to work through the clues in his head and come up with some answers about what the hound really is. Basically, Sherlock treats his brain like it's a computer and we see him juggle words and concepts in his minds eye until he reaches a potential solution. Sherlock's deduction of a computer password from the books in an office was another fun scene.

For the most part, "The Hounds of Baskerville" moved at a brisk pace and it never makes the viewer feel like all of the momentum has completely stopped before jumping to the next major scene.. Although Russell Tovey is pretty good as Henry, he becomes almost an afterthought to the story until he and Sherlock encounter the beast and later, when Henry suffers a pretty severe breakdown. But the Sherlock and John dynamic is so strong that you'll hardly miss Henry when he's not on the screen. Gatiss even manages to use Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) in the episode to show us how Sherlock feels about him and more importantly, how obsessed Moriarty has become with Sherlock himself.

Getting only three episodes of "Sherlock" every 18 months or so is almost a form of torture. It's so good that the absence of "Sherlock" is always felt and with only three episodes per season, it's over far too quickly.