BINGE-R #9: Sherlock + Nobel
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All three episodes now streaming, plus S1, S2 and S3
Given that two of the three movie-length episodes that comprise the latest instalment of Sherlock are now available, I feel safe in saying that this season is failing. It remains whiplash fast, witty in parts, and come with the requisite big revelation for devotees, but nonetheless it’s failing. The best qualities of this celebrated British series, which has been the launching pad for Benedict Cumberbatch’s campaign of world domination, have been side-tracked by a belief that it has a chameleon-like quality to be any show it desires. The opposite is true: Sherlock works on a narrow, precise trajectory.
The show’s creators and writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, know this. It’s why the first episode of this season, “The Six Thatchers”, had to go through a sardonic reset to get back to a familiar starting point. Like a video game, the previous season’s ramifications are wiped clean, yet the cases subsequently featured in “The Six Thatchers” and then “The Lying Detective” were Trojan horses for rebuilding the relationship between Cumberbatch’s master detective and Martin Freeman’s Dr John Watson, his companion and chronicler.
The psychological building blocks of Sherlock are entertainingly astute – every impeccably dry exchanges between Cumberbatch and Freeman stem from them. But when the series reaches for more there’s a tendency to florid melodrama; I felt sorry for the actor who has to deliver a ludicrous death scene in the first episode, but that turned to annoyance when the second episode was essentially a lengthy journey towards reconciliation between the two friends. Watson can carry anguish, after all he arrived in the initial season as a traumatised war veteran, but Sherlock’s painful regret brings out the excess in Cumberbatch. Blithe superiority is one thing, scenery chewing is another.
Both episodes were defined by false starts, fake-outs, and lengthy diversions. Sherlock’s adversary in “The Lying Detective”, a wealthy celebrity played by Toby Jones with obvious intimations of the British TV presenter and predatory sex offender Jimmy Savile, is described as “a living, breathing coagulation of human evil”, but ultimately he’s little more than a creepy speedbump even for a down and out Sherlock indulging a self-destructive addiction. There are still winning moments, but the crux of Sherlock has been misjudged. As Watson’s wife Mary (Amanda Abbington) puts it: “Go and solve a crime together. Make him wear the hat.” Good advice.
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
In this tense Norwegian drama that examines the Scandinavian state’s involvement on differing fronts in Afghanistan, the initial military involvement has a frank self-acceptance. When Lieutenant Erling Riiser (Aksel Hennie) shoots a suicide bomber without warning in a town’s square he accepts what is unthinkable to some as his mission. It’s only as the first few episodes unfold, both in Afghanistan during his unit’s deployment and in Norway afterwards, that you begin to get a sense of what Erling is truly feeling, whether it’s weary regret or coiled anger, and you hear how he explains events in the field one way even though we see them unfold differently.
Hennie, last seen among the astronauts in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, plays the role not as someone who is cracking up, but as someone who is wondering why they haven’t yet. Erling is neither a dedicated hero nor a brutal anti-hero – his worst instincts may yet be right and his best come laced with deception. It’s a reflection of Norway’s links to Afghanistan, which are seen though the trade deals being engineered by Erling’s wife, Johanne (Tuva Novotny), at the country’s Foreign Affairs ministry, or a family member’s addiction which is linked to the faraway opium harvest.
The plotting in Nobel is thoughtfully extrapolated from minor moments, such as Erling unthinkingly touching an Afghan dignitary’s wife while trying to apologise after a confrontation. The camaraderie of Erling’s squad is detailed and offbeat, while the loss of life can be brutally sudden, and you get a sense of how governments do not understand what their soldiers are asked to do. The most complex relationship is between Erling and Johanne, who have a son together. When his response leads him to violence in Oslo he tells her what he has done and her reaction encompasses love for his pain, respect for his honesty, and fear for his capabilities. Nobel’ storytelling has momentum, but it doesn’t smooth over the complications.
>> Bonus Binge: Nobel creator Per-Olav Sorensen’s previous series, the tidy 2015 Norwegian WWII resistance drama The Heavy Water War, is also streaming on Netflix, while SBS On Demand has Headhunters, a pungent 2011 thriller about ego and self-preservation starring Aksel Hennie and Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
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