Russian Sherlock Review: Clowns

This post will contain mild spoilers for the third episode of the Russian Sherlock Holmes series but should keep most of the surprises intact.

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The third episode of the new Russian Holmes series (watch here; turn on English subs if needed) is an action-packed romp through director Andrei Kavun’s vision of Victorian London. Much like its predecessor, it’s very action-heavy, and it seems that the first episode is the only one that moves remotely slowly in that  way.

In many ways, “Clowns” is really the emblematic episode of this series, because it brings together each of the threads the creators chose as their emphases. The previous introduction of Irene Adler was not, we see, a one-off. She’s back, and her presence wreaks havoc with the lives of Holmes and Watson. Allusions to “A Scandal in Bohemia” are woven together skillfully with a politically-focused story reminiscent of “The Bruce-Partington Plans” and even snippets of “Charles Augustus Milverton.” Over all of these hangs the specter of what we are now shown is a series arc that relates back to Watson’s military career and continues to cast him as a tragic figure losing friend after friend.

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I would be remiss in not mentioning that “Clowns” contains the most magnificent plot twist of the series so far, a clever reversal I really didn’t see coming. Several criticisms I had while watching the episode were completely resolved by it, and I applaud whichever of the writers came up with the idea.

My major remaining critique is of the portrayal of female characters. The original introduction of Irene cast her as a powerful, self-directed woman. This episode gives her layers, but in so doing, it also diminishes her strength and throws her into the more traditional damsel in distress role. Ultimately, I am comfortable with the characterization of her complicated relationship with Holmes, but I wish she had been allowed to retain her confidence in the process. The episode’s other major female character is also shown to be weak and somewhat useless throughout.

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“Clowns” is a good episode, though I felt that its writing fell just shy of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Nevertheless, its truly clever plot made up for certain bumps along the road, and Petrenko and Panin really dug into their roles in a spectacular way. Panin’s Watson was still excellent, but it was Petrenko who had the difficult task this time around, to portray a Holmes made desperate by events beyond his control. His communication of the layers of frustration and deception the story demanded was exceptional.

In the end, one particular conversation from the episode remains in my mind. It’s just after a very climactic point in the action, and Holmes and Watson muse together on the futility of life in a way that reminded me powerfully of “Waiting for Godot” and many similarly philosophical Russian works. In my opinion, that emphasis on finding the meaning below the surface of the Sherlock Holmes stories is what makes this series sing. It’s not a particularly Western touch, where we like our stories fast and our characters brash, but it’s a truly beautiful one.

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(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

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