I couldn’t recall what The Red Circle was about until I’d started the episode. Then it came flooding back. Could this have a stronger impact than the written version? The answer is yes!
Opening with a murder on the doorstep and a red circle painted on a nearby column, I remembered that Doyle had a thing about the Mafia. Holmes’s assistance is requested because he had once helped bring “light into the darkness” for another Italian. I think that sums up one of the things I thoroughly appreciate about this character: he’s a man who helps turn the bizarre into the ordinary!
When a lodger arrives but remains unseen for days, the landlord and his wife begin to get worried. Something is amiss with their tenant. The man is never seen, paces around all day and night, and only leaves single word requests on a chair outside the door. Why this should really bother a landlord is beyond me but you know… 1800’s and all that.
What is the crime? There’s a particularly easy tenant to take care of? Actually no! The reality is the man who rented the flat is not the tenant at all. There is a young lady in hiding. Holmes rapidly deduces that there was a substitution, but why? That has to do with Light from Doctor Who, or more specifically John Hallam as Gorgiano who is terribly in love with Emilia Luca (played by the lovely Sophia Diaz, who reminded me heavily of Jenna Coleman, from Doctor Who.) He is stalking her and is determined to take her for his own, even as she tries to escape with her husband Gennaro Luca.
This is a rare change from the standard motives of greed that seem to permeate most of the Holmes stories. This time it’s about love… well, lust, if we’re being honest. Gorgiano wants a woman he can’t have so he puts his dear friend Gennaro in a bad predicament so he can be rid of the man and have his wife.
Typically being a lustful monster is mistake #1. However, going against Holmes is a pretty big one as well. But add one more element to it: Duggan…. I mean Inspector Hawkins played by Tom Chadbon (see Doctor Who: City of Death for more on the great Duggan!”)
However, some of the mistakes fall to Holmes himself. He effectively leads the villain to the prey. Watching him walk around the rooftop without seeing the fairly massive form of Gorgiano seems highly unlikely. Alas, that’s exactly what he does!
“Watson – cope!” There are a lot of over-the-top moments with Holmes being a prima dona throughout the series, but this one offers a few good laughs. Holmes is stressing over the initial explanation of events and demands Watson’s ability to cope with it.
Whether planned or not, there is a moment in this story that really creates an internal logic to both the written word and the visual. Holmes does manage to help, but in the end Gorgiano gets to Gennaro and neither Holmes nor Hawkins is there to prevent a crime, but that crime ends up being the death of the villain Gorgiano. Hawkins arrives and arrests Gennaro and makes a comment to Holmes that had he not been there, he’s sure he would have found something different – namely, the absence of the murderer. This gives a lot of power to Watson’s written accounts of what has happened throughout the series: Holmes is notorious for letting the criminal go when he feels the cause was just. Hawkins knows Holmes would have released Genarro before he got there.
Holmes: “The law is what we live with, inspector. Justice is sometimes harder to achieve!”
It’s a moment where I nearly leapt out of my chair, punching the air. The law arrested the murderer, but was it entirely the right call? Was justice actually served?
A thoroughly outstanding episode made better by Watson’s ending narration, explaining that Gennaro was released when the circumstances came out. I realize I love a good antihero, but it’s less about that then the clear understanding of Holmes’s words: law is a written thing created by man. We need it, but it needs to serve justice, not be a blind series of written words people follow. A man driving through a red light is in violation of the law, but when he does so to get to the hospital because he has an injured person in the car… does that warrant the law, or justice? I love a good moral quandary, even if I hope never to need to encounter them in my day-to-day life.
Sherlock Holmes is nearly always fun, with some exception. Unfortunately, I know what’s coming and next week doesn’t have as much luck with keeping the momentum going. But let’s enjoy this victory while we can! ML
I think about moral quandaries a lot of the time. So it’s always interesting to encounter them in our mystery and crime dramas. Although the ones that end sadly I prefer to avoid on re-watches. Most interesting for a sleuth of Sherlock Holmes’ quite firm distinction. To quote a character on a show I recently watched, “Badge or no badge, at the end of the day, we’re all just people doing the best that we can.” Thanks, ML, for your review.
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