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"would you be afraid to sleep in the same room with a lunatic?" [VALL]

Viewers in the UK were treated last night to the latest episode of BBC Sherlock's second season, arguably the most anticipated Sherlockian adaptation in years and certainly one of television's most popular dramas. The well-received "Hounds of Baskerville," with a clever--occasionally frenetically clever--script by Mark Gatiss, followed in "A Scandal in Belgravia's" footsteps with cunning modern twists to the traditional canon.

Henry Knight, as played by Russell Tovey, is one of the series' most affecting clients to date, playing a young man whose father was murdered before his eyes upon the moors--slain by, he believes, a gigantic hound. Is the monster, now a thriving local tourist attraction, the mutant product of a nearby secret military lab by the name of Baskerville? Or is Knight the victim of a series of hallucinogenic delusions? Sherlock and John travel to Dartmoor to discover the truth, and experience a number of terrifying impediments in their quest.

Benedict Cumberbatch, who was just named by the Telegraph as the greatest Sherlock Holmes of all time, begins the episode manic and off-balanced--wielding a harpoon and covered in blood, having just taken the tube home, in a satisfying nod to BLAC and the benefits of exercise before breakfast. He is desperate for brainwork and for cigarettes, chewing the wallpaper in ways that called to my mind Brett's animated interpretation rather than the very still, contained Sherlock of season one. But he soon settles into the case, with John--whose opportunity to pull rank at a military base is gut-deep satisfying--at his side, pursuing an elusive horror that in every way tests each man's mettle.

Gatiss's sly references to canon are interwoven effortlessly; a village scene in which Sherlock attempts to draw out the local hound expert by telling John he's lost a bet is a perfect replica of the exchange with the goose vendor in BLUE, right down to the "pink 'un" in his back pocket. Sherlock's reference to John as a "conductor of light" will not go unnoticed by a single enthusiast, to my mind, and the arc of the story as regards Sherlock adapting to the unnatural (for him) sensations of both fear and friendship is deftly executed.

Martin Freeman's John Watson strikes a phenomenal balance between loyalty and an unwillingness to deal with weapons-grade Sherlock snark. "Oh, please," he sighs after a Holmesian deduction, "can we not do this, this time? You being all mysterious with your...cheekbones, and turning your coat collar up so you look cool?" His grounded, wry John is a phenomenal counterpart to our hero, and in some ways this episode is laying the groundwork for the next installment; with a title like "The Reichenbach Fall," Sherlockian hearts will doubtless crack worldwide come this time next Sunday.

There is a transcript of the thoughtful Q&A on the episode with Gatiss, Cumberbatch, and Sue Vertue, though spoiler warnings do apply here.

For Europeans, pre-ordering season two is as simple as the click of a button. As for season one, if you haven't yet obtained it, then what are you doing here?

Image credit: andiezoe (Flickr)