Friday, January 6, 2012

"The Blind Banker"

Penned by Steve Thompson, author of the now-infamous "pirate ship episode" of the Eleventh Doctor's Series 6 misadventures, "The Curse of the Black Spot", also known as "The Curse of the Brown Spot", this middle episode of the series is still good but not quite as engaging as the first. I found the use of a criminal Chinese "Tong" to be a little trite and unambitious after the rather unusual villain of the first episode. Overall the episode is a bit more by-the-numbers than the first or indeed the third. A couple of murders are accompanied by a cryptic cypher, which is to say a numerical Chinese dialect employed as a form of message. While I see the inspiration from "The Dancing Men", which I must say was never one of my favourite Holmes stories, and "The Valley of Fear", the villains of which were a group of American masonic miners rather than rather stereotyped Asian-Triad-type Chinese criminals, it's all a bit by the numbers and we don't get as many instances of Holmes using his marvellous powers of deduction. A lot of it is just spent constipating over what this code means.
The plot seems a little weak to me. One of two smugglers in the employ of the Tong has stolen a valuable antique, which turns out to be a three-million-pound hairpin, so for some reason the Tong follow them to London disguised as an unusual Chinese circus and assassinate them both. Why would you kill both "foot soldiers" when one was still perfectly reliable? What's more, this is all done by a rather generic "all Asian assassins are ninjas" style hitman. The situation really is rather overly elaborate, and as I've said the length is to a significant extent padded out by Sherlock struggling with the code for ages. Dramatic tension is also lessened due to an opening involving a Chinese "tea ceremony" which seems intent on injecting the episode with a rather misleading element of Oriental mystery. It really meanders all over the place. Holmes and Watson have to hunt down "Soo Lin Yao" who ends up getting killed, Holmes has elaborate fights with her brother the assassin, and John goes on a date with Alison from Absolute Power.
I don't think this episode really gave either Benedict Cumberbatch or Martin Freeman as much to work with as the other episodes did. Sherlock has a swordfight and John gets a job after shouting at an automatic pay machine at a shopping centre. There are some good moments such as when John photographs the wall of code before it's erased or takes the cheque from Sherlock's old uni friend but these moments were a little rare and overall it felt a tad unstructured or lacking in relevance at times. The most frustrating part in my opinion is the climax where John and Sarah his date are kidnapped and threatened by the Tong; General Shan mistakes John for Sherlock. That was really stupid, I thought, like something from a kid's show. They're getting help from Moriarty. How can they not tell Holmes from Watson? Their hideout is in an abandoned tube tunnel, upon capturing John they all dress up like they're in the Matrix and they threaten Sarah with a lethal version of one of the acts from their circus. All in all it's a little cliché in my opinion.
I really don't know what else to say about this episode. It's a bit of a nothing, to be honest. We aren't given enough to sink our teeth into and the entire thing is at best rather trite and at worst potentially a little bit racist. Solving codes doesn't make for amazingly good drama and while there were some interesting elements like everyone having an A to Z of London for reference it seemed occasionally to be overly elaborate and kind of unnecessary, like the criminals were being overly complicated just so that the situation would be confusing for viewers. It's worthwhile for some good character moments, especially from John, but I'd consider it the least interesting of the first series.

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