Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Study in Pink

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes (left) and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson. The London Eye is in the background: this is a clever rendering of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories in the present day.
There are just a few random notes from Episode 1.1 of the BBC's wonderful production of Sherlock, which is available on Netflix.

Scotland Yard holds a press conference to announce they are investigating three suicides that are apparently linked, so they're calling them "serial suicides."

PRESS: You can't have serial suicides.
POLICE: Apparently you can.
SHERLOCK (somehow simultaneously texting everyone in the room and publicly embarrassing the police): Wrong.
SHERLOCK (last text): You know where to find me. —SH

This was funny, and it sets up the rivalry between the police and Holmes. It's definitely a burr to the cops that they need him as much as they dislike him. The police woman Sally Donovan (Vinette Robinson) tries to warn Watson off of Holmes because she thinks that Holmes does these investigations because crime turns him on and, she predicts, one day he will be the person who put the body there. That brings us to one of the interesting things about Holmes: since this is all he does, and he doesn't get money for doing it, he must be independently wealthy. But the more interesting thing is that there appears to be an element of truth about Holmes deriving a perverse pleasure from his work.

The displays of deduction are fantastic. Early on, in the scene in the cab with John Watson, Sherlock spreads his deductive abilities like a peacock spreads his tail-feathers, and this establishes his powers for later on. I like it that Watson wasn't yet associated with Holmes when the story begins. With a few deftly drawn strokes—the combat flashback nightmare, the scene with the therapist—we get a thumbnail of Watson's characters. Sherlock is of course able to deduce much more about him. It's an interesting coincidence how both men have brothers from whom they're not quite estranged but certainly alienated. Yet they share something else in common that Mycroft brings out: Mycroft talks so poetically about how Sherlock sees the city as a battlefield, and that, with Sherlock, Watson can see the battlefield as well. Mycroft deduces from the steadiness of Watson's hands after the violence of the evening, that Watson isn't just some PTSD-afflicted soldier trying to forget the war but, rather, he is trying to get back to it. So we see Holmes and Watson leaping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of the taxi and enjoying it. Watson, significantly, forgets his crutch for his psychosomatic limp (which Holmes had deduced earlier and which Watson has no inadvertently proved correct). Watson's suitability as a sidekick seems more rooted in his perversely morbid humor than in his technical capabilities, which are icing on the cake.

Holmes contentedly sets himself apart from the people around him, and he sometimes wonders aloud out how dull the average person's life, as a stream of consciousness, must be. Sally Donovan radios to her colleagues that "freak" is here—their codename for Holmes, apparently, and that is in character as a Philistine label for "an egghead." There's a scene in a restaurant where there is some misunderstanding, and Holmes assures Watson that he's flattered but not interested—meaning, in other words, that if Watson is gay, that's nice, but it's not his cup of tea. But, no, neither of them are gay, nor do they seem particularly interested in the fairer sex—if anything, they're both, though in different ways, leading asexual monk-like existences. There's a pathologist at the morgue who has obviously put on lipstick for Holmes, and he remarks that it doesn't look good, so she takes it off for him because "It wasn't getting the results I wanted" (i.e. Holmes), but then Holmes says that her mouth is too small. She's doing her best to get his attention, and he's pushing her away every time. So we have a curious asexuality in Holmes and Watson that, in this sex-obsesssed age, might strain credibility. In the 19th century people spoke of a "confirmed bachelor," i.e. a man who never married. Revisionists have come to assume this means that the confirmed bachelor was very discreetly gay, but I'm not convinced. Some gay men may have used the "confirmed bachelor" label as a cover, but I think marriages of convenience (like that between Paul and Jane Bowles, who were both gay) were more common. (There are other varieties of this: there's the Boston marriage between two spinsters who basically serve as life partners to each other; they can be gay; or they can have an asexual but romantic relationship; or one or both can be in complete denial about the nature of their relationship. The important thing to remember is that life partnerships form in many ways besides the romantic and sexual heterosexual couple.)

Yet just as Holmes is asexual, he might also be amoral. He doesn't solve a crime because it's the right thing to do or because good people have been offended by bad people who must be punished. He solves crimes like puzzles, and he's truly happy when "the game's afoot!" The lead detective remarks about Holmes and his amorality that he is "a great man. And one day, if we're lucky, he'll be a good one." Sherlock is one who finds such difficulty believing humans because of their limitations that he can never feel a full member of humanity, and, as such, he does not feel bound by humanity's mores, including its moral system.

These notes are drawn from watching only the first episode of the first series. It's a wonderful program, and I'm looking forward to all the others. Each episode is about 90 minutes long—just shy of a full-length feature film. Each season (which the British call a series) comprises three episodes, and there have been three seasons plus a stand-alone episode. So, in all, ten episodes. I'm looking forward to them, and I'm sure I will blog more about them when something particularly exciting happens.