Sherlock in Retrospect: The Great Game
By David Selby.
“Sorry boys – I’m so changeable! It is a weakness with me. But to be fair to myself, it is my only weakness. You can’t be allowed to continue. You just can’t. I would try to convince you, but… everything I have to say has already crossed your mind.”
At its heart, The Great Game is a subtle reminder that the world is divided into two people – the (philosophical) literati and the ‘ordinary people’. Mark Gatiss explores both varieties in depth, showing both the good and the bad. Sherlock’s brainpower – hitherto a mere ‘facet’ of the character – is explored in further depth. He states that “ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish”, implying that he sets himself above others – whilst his ignorance towards the Solar System is a crafty reference to A Study in Scarlet. In the Series Two finale, Moriarty also adopts the term ‘ordinary people’, suggesting another similarity between the two opposing characters.
Sherlock and Moriarty are shown as both contrasting and analogous personalities. Both are portrayed to be highly intellectual – and, often, stunningly arrogant. The narrative highlights the alternate uses of this intelligence – a prevailing desire to help and protect those who are ‘inferior’ (the protagonist) and a vindictive, twisted game-player who uses his mind to damage a society he feels disconnected to. Indeed, it could also be said that Sherlock himself is ‘detached’ from the world, but the character credits this as an advantage, asking if “caring about them [will] help save them”. Despite his spectacular arrogance, Sherlock places the interest of others at heart. Whilst he is frustrating, the viewer in many ways is able to feel sorry for the eponymous protagonist – he is attempting to what is best, yet is being pestered by people’s emotional expectations of him.
Sherlock’s wisdom is shown as the narrative progresses. He handles numerous cases, including a stolen painting, a Botox-murder and a Thames-side assassination. The overreaching arc, meanwhile, portrays the individual cases as stages to a ‘game’, accompanied by harrowing scenes of innocent people being used as an ‘interface’ between the two masterminds (representing how the intellectuals ‘use’ ordinary people to carry out their work). As tensions rise in the game, the real-life situations get more severe. When Moriarty uses a blind woman to communicate with Sherlock, he apologises stating that “this one’s a bit defective”. Moriarty’s murder of the old woman, coupled by his unconcealed indifference towards her life and her tangible fear, makes for the darkest moment in the entire series.
The episode’s dénouement arguably makes it a masterpiece. Moriarty continually pesters Sherlock about a train-line suicide, which turns out to in fact be a murder, completely unrelated to Moriarty’s initial suspicious. When Moriarty initially uses John as a ‘puppet’, there is a moment where both Sherlock and the viewer begin to wonder if Sherlock has been manipulated by his own best friend.
Andrew Scott gives an impressive and utterly unique performance as the criminal mastermind; one so divergent from Conan Doyle’s classic that it begins to build the series’ own identity up. I was also thrilled to see one of my favourite lines from the series of books (“I would try to convince you, but everything I have to say has already crossed your mind”/”I’m sure my answer has crossed yours”) used in a way I’d never expected. Gatiss doesn’t neglect the source of his material, but at the same time, he helps to build a series which, by the end, stands truly alone.