Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

"I'm not a psychopath, Anderson. I'm a high functioning sociopath. Do your research." - Sherlock
I. Want. That. Coat.
I recently saw the last episode of the BBC Sherlock series, and I am so full of delight that it naturally spills over into boring everyone to death with my enthusiasm.  Sometimes you encounter a work of art (I guess some folks would not call a TV show a work of art, but I will) and it makes you all giddy and happy and astounded at the immense creativity of everyone involved. It reminds me that when I was younger I would sometimes literally tremble while reading a particularly wonderful book or watching a movie that had entranced me. Tremble. I don’t do that so much anymore, and perhaps it’s a shame. But I still get a rush from such encounters, and boy did I get a rush watching Sherlock.

If you haven’t been lucky enough to catch the series, you can still view it on PBS Masterpiece - just go here. Sherlock has been re-imagined into the 21st century. He was already making use of forensics in the Victorian era, and now he has at his disposal more sophisticated forensic analysis and access to the latest technology. John Watson is back from the war in Afghanistan, assigned by his shrink to blog about his traumatic experience, but his real problem is sheer boredom. They meet and immediately begin to weave that wonderful symbiotic bond that is so quintessentially Holmes and Watson.

The actors playing Sherlock and Watson OWNED those roles. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is brilliant, abrasive, manipulative, socially oblivious one moment and calculating the next, sometimes predatory and a bit scary. (As an aside, the moment he walked on screen, Dear Husband exclaimed, “He’s cute!” That’s the first time he’s ever beaten me to the punch in that regard. He is very cute, with his floppy, curly dark hair. Cumberbatch is not what I would call conventionally handsome, but he looks smashing). Freeman’s Watson is just adorable. And by adorable I mean hot. Really hot. You might not think so at first, but, um, give it time. He has such an expressive face, such wonderful comedic presence. He makes it believable that an average self-respecting man would put up with a sociopath like Sherlock. He’s never overshadowed. Best. Watson. Ever. And Moriarty – well, I think I watched him with my jaw hanging open. Not everyone liked the actor’s take on him, but I thought it was original and definitely frightening. What some found over the top, I found eerie and creepy.  It seemed clear that Moriarty’s performance was deliberately pitched to freak out everyone. Usually he takes pains to blend in, but in revealing himself to Sherlock he unleashes all his mockery and venom. 

Everyone thinks the other guy's the hot one.

Why do you think Sherlock Holmes remains such a favorite character? I know I’m not the first to ask that question. I’ve never read much on the subject, and I’m sure there’s lots of speculation. Perhaps he was just one of the first detectives, and the detective genre has never fallen out of favor, lucky for Doyle. Among the Victorians, detectives must have stood as an example of the scientific method – science seemed to alternately enthrall and horrify them. The worship of reason remains strongly embedded in Western culture, so Holmes remains fresh and contemporary, and therefore so amenable to being transferred to the 21st century, as the writers have done in Sherlock.

And Sherlock, why is he so appealing? He’s not very nice. He’s cold and aloof. He’s often condescending and unappreciative. Cases are puzzles; he’s oblivious to the human element. He uses everyone around him. What exactly keeps him from jumping the wall and becoming a Moriarty isn’t really clear. A good English upbringing? A whim? The Sherlock series highlights the similarities between the two – Moriarty is Sherlock’s doppelganger. Both are brilliant, cold, calculating, and manipulative and both harbor an abhorrence of boredom and a craving for distraction, mental challenges, and a worthy opponent. A police officer warns Watson that she wouldn’t be surprised if Sherlock one day showed up as the criminal rather than the detective. There but for the grace of Watson goes Sherlock. Sherlock is the mind and Watson is the heart and moral center.  Pure, cold science is made fit (or at least tolerable) for civilization, harnessed for good rather than evil.

There has been some speculation around the Sherlock series that Watson and Sherlock are gay, because everyone seems to speculate about such matters these days. Have we ever lived in a time more focused on gayness? Who is, who isn’t, how can you tell, is it good, is it bad, what do they do in bed and can we watch? Maybe it’s the final frontier. The writers and actors have stated that Watson and Holmes aren’t a couple, although in a contemporary setting the characters surrounding them would be bound to speculate or assume, so that is written in. Cumberbatch has called the relationship a bromance, which is as good a description as any, I suppose. As you watch, though, you’ll find the writers are pretty damn playful. When a restaurant owner mistakes Watson for Holmes’s date, Watson tries to correct him and Sherlock … does nothing. Maybe he doesn’t care enough to correct the mistake. Maybe it amuses him. Maybe he rather likes it. Maybe he didn’t even notice. Moriarty, in contrast, is deliberately campy – “Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?” His snaky flirtation is a goad, as if he were saying: Admit it, Sherlock, you find my villainy irresistibly attractive. Resistance is futile; I will seduce you to the dark side. Mwaahaahaa.

For my part, looking back to the original stories, I’ve always thought that Holmes was in love with Watson, within his limited understanding of love. Watson seemed to regard Holmes with something like hero worship and feel a responsibility to take care of him. Whatever. It doesn’t matter, because the Internet is littered with fanfic shipping Sherlock and Watson. The people have spoken and taken matters into their own hands. I can’t read fan fiction; it makes me feel squirmy. Some things really don’t need to be spelled out. Subtext, folks, learn to appreciate it.

And really, friendship is a big enough challenge for Sherlock. It’s lovely to see that develop in the series. At one point, in response to Watson’s criticism, Sherlock says, “You’re disappointed in me…Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did I wouldn’t be one of them.” The ending of the last episode is particularly sweet, when Sherlock struggles to express his admiration for Watson’s heroic actions. I think Sherlock is so used to thinking of himself as a sociopath that he is rather surprised to find himself caring about anyone. And alarmed. After all, it will be used against him, as Moriarty insinuates.

Jim Moriarty: "I will burn the heart out of you."
Sherlock: "I have been reliably informed that I don't have one."
Jim Moriarty: "Oh, but we both know that's not quite true."

Sherlock, your gun is so big!

We’ve been left on a cliff-hanger. Well, of course Sherlock and Watson have to survive, but still. Is this the Reichenbach Falls? So soon? In fact, the final scene was so excellent– the resolution withheld in a moment of supreme tension – you almost want to preserve it forever. Almost. I wish I could link to just that final scene, but I can’t. It might spoil your fun, anyway. If you insist, you can go here to play the Great Game episode and select the last scene in the scrolling menu below the main screen to experience the full awesomeness. 

ooooo, I found out how to embed this portion of the video. Thank you PBS:

Watch the full episode. See more Masterpiece.

A final comment:  that coat Sherlock is wearing – I want one.


  1. I didn't even know about this updated series with Sherlock. I must watch it. And thanks for your comment about the Japanese maples--at least you live where they can grow!

  2. I've managed to watch some of them and each time i think..need to watch all of them...hopefully they'll be on dvd soon.
    thanks for the birthday wishes..

  3. You wrote..."Sometimes you encounter a work of art (I guess some folks would not call a TV show a work of art, but I will) and it makes you all giddy and happy and astounded at the immense creativity of everyone involved."

    I TOTALLY and whole-heartedly agree...and I would absolutely call a t.v. show a work of art. That's the way I felt when Iwanski & I watched "Arrested Development" on DVD. SUCH a great show...I couldn't believe that we hadn't watched it when it was first on...and I totally became an Arrested Development missionary for a while. :)

    Maybe I will have to check out this Sherlock show...

  4. Jan: The maples here finally started to go really red. I thought we were going to have a dud fall. Much better now.

    Yellow: I trust you will have many more wonderful birthdays. Definitely check them out on DVD - there are only 3 episodes until the next set are produced.

    Miss H: I must check out Arrested Development. I've heard good things about it from others, as well. I'm a missionary for my favorite shows as well - and books and movies...

  5. "I'm not a psychopath, Anderson. I'm a high functioning sociopath. Do your research." - Sherlock

    I loved this show. I hope they make more. TV that makes you smile and treats you like you have the intelligence of more than a 4 year old.

    I don't really do TV much- I prefer film. Programmes like this however make me want to watch more TV.

    Good writing by you as well!

  6. Graham: I've heard they are definitely making more. You British have a fine grasp of wit and it's wonderful to see it in its full splendor. And, of course, there's the coat. Thanks for the compliment, too.

  7. What an excellent television series, cannot wait for more. I really didn't think it would work but it has updated extremely well.

    One minor point, the L9A1 is the British Army 9mm Browning Hi Power, Dr Watson'd side arm is infact a SIG Sauer P226!

    James, Melbourne Australia.

  8. I love Sherlock!
    I agree with your blog so much, and although I find Benedict simply gorgeous, I must agree that Martin is a cutie :D
    As soon as I spotted the DVD of the series I just had to get it!
    I can't wait for the next episode, the cliffhanger for the last one was absolutely incredible!