Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Who's skewing who?

In the wake of the latest Sherlock finale, there has been a good amount of post-game analysis, mostly by those who think their favorite team lost. Blame has been cast a few directions -- Mary Watson, the fans, that "James Bond" business . . . but in pondering it this morning, one culprit seems to rise above all others. And he's pretty obvious.

Mycroft Holmes.

The same Mycroft Holmes who is played by an actor who is also helping create the show, down to putting words in the characters' mouths. We thought the show was about Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson, and maybe even some secret story about their relationship. But, no, the secret story was actually no secret: This was the Mycroft show all along.

From that first episode, when we catch a hint of Moriarty only to find out . . . . WHOOPS! . . . it's Mycroft.

Mycroft has a relationship with Dr. Watson from the start. Mycroft is at the heart of even Moriarty's puzzles at times. And in the end, it was Mycroft's failings that caused so much of what we saw.

Once could blame Mary Morstan Watson's character for stealing the show, but Mary Watson actually stole the show from off-stage in the original Canon, keeping Watson to herself for years at a time. Her intrusion into the partnership of Holmes and Watson has always been there.

But Mycroft?

Mycroft doesn't affect Sherlock and John in the original stories at all. Not at all.

But in BBC Sherlock land? It's all Mycroft. It's so much Mycroft's show that they had to give Mycroft his own Mycroft.

He could very well have his own spin-off series.

Oh, wait . . . he could.

If the two leads weren't so good, and so distracting from Mycroft standing over at the side the whole time, perhaps this would have been obviously his show from the start.

But sometimes we like a good Mycroft tale . . . which this certainly was, looking back.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Day three of the happy Holmes hog.

Upon seeing so many descriptions of what a "mess" Sherlock's season four closer was, I'm starting to feel like a hog in a mudhole on a sunny day. (Sorry, fellow Peorians, that metaphor will surely give distant friends more of that rural cornfield impression of the town we get sometimes. But, yee-haw, city folks, we got us a big ol' Bass Pro Shop here!) If "The Final Problem" was a mess, then I'm just rolling around in it like that aforementioned hog.

There is a certain perverse pleasure in loving that thing that the rest of the world disdains, and while there are goodly numbers of Sherlockians who did enjoy what might have been Cumberbatch and Freeman's last ride as the boys from Baker Street, the more mainstream media criticisms just make the piquant flavor of Sherlock, Mycroft, and Euros's story all the more delectable somehow.

Sherlock Holmes should never be a bland recipe concocted to appeal to the most massive audience, like "New Coke" or macaroni and cheese. There are other stories and other characters for that. I really enjoyed complaints about Sherlock and John running out of Rathbone Place at the end of TFP (Yes, I'm abbreviating "The Final Problem." It's a fan thing.), because it betrays a certain "not getting it." Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have always run, despite the doctor's limp. Across moors, away from their attempted burglaries, through this door and that, because what they do is exciting. It needs some running, just so their bodies can keep up with Holmes's brain.

While Sherlock Holmes has always had waves of popularity, necessary to keep the legend alive through generations, the long haul of being a fan isn't done because one likes what's popular. It comes from the point when you're finding meaning and substance in something that isn't the common taste. Fans are the people still standing around the parking lot at Arnold's when Fonzie is done jumping the shark. Because the shark jump is just there to hold the attention of the crowd for just a moment longer, when they might otherwise wander away, which they'll do after the moment's excitement is over anyway.

BBC's Sherlock has been more popular than any Sherlock Holmes since . . . well, I'd best not offend by skipping anyone who might have been more popular than I realized, but it's been a blessing upon Sherlockian culture. The mere proof-of-concept that Sherlock Holmes could comfortably leave the Victorian age from time to time would have been enough, but we've gotten so much more. Youth, conventions, new writers, art, video, audio, new friends, new adventures of our own.

And even if things die down a bit now, if the next hiatus goes on too long, or this last batch just was too much for some to take, Sherlock will still have its fans, many of us inside the more traditional Old Canon cult of Holmes.

And Sherlock Holmes will now have a sister named Euros. Don't think she's going away any time soon.  At least in this Sherlockian's head. Because on this master thief's king-sized bed covered in cash (giving up that hog and mud metaphor), I'm still rolling in the wealth of Sherlockian goodness we just got this weekend.

Perhaps obnoxiously so. Sorry about that.

Roll, roll, roll . . . .

Monday, January 16, 2017

Playing with Euros is a beautiful thing.

Tonight, I got to see Sherlock's "The Final Problem" the way it should be seen.

In a theater, with the lights low and one's complete attention to the big actors on the big screen. And, as with the best movies, just giving one's self over to its spell.

Before the movie, and it was a movie, there was a featurette with Amanda Abbington surveying her time as Mary Morstan Watson. The BBC and Fathom Events weren't playing fair with that one, really, as a getting a few tears in before the feature attraction was quite a warm-up. But it also gave a nice contrast -- the grounded nature of Watson's Mary, child-bearing, sensible, deadly Mary played against the lead female of the main feature, the ethereal Euros -- perfect.

With no delivery pizza, early BBC start, household distractions, and all that comes with a television viewing, there was so much to be gained from an accepting, no-expectations theater watch. Without the lens of "not a proper Canon mystery" or "Hey, this is kinda like Saw!" and just letting the movie be what it is . . . ahhhh, magic.

Moffat, Gatiss, their lovely cast . . . the production itself could be seen within the story, as they played their violin to try to communicate with that mind that resonated with their tune.

Embodying the isolation of intellect, little Euros created a game she thought her brother would enjoy, something that might make him the friend she lacked, for a time. But he wasn't clever enough then, and the conclusion to the adventure didn't come out as the bonding experience she planned. So she decides to play the game again, hoping this time that Sherlock will see the context.

The result is tightly focussed on character, relationship, family. Not, perhaps, the client-strangers or official police matter some would argue a Sherlock Holmes story could be . . . but something that some Sherlockians have wanted to see from Sherlock for a very long time. (The Childhood of Sherlock Holmes by Mona Morstein comes to mind as the last time I enjoyed a story involving Sherlock as a boy, and it was a fine thing to do so.) As a group, we tend to want more of Sherlock Holmes than the original sixty stories we were given, but do love to bitch when we get it.

Tonight, however, I've got no bitching to do. Sure, "The Final Problem" wasn't as perfect as perfect could be. And, yes, the whole season left so many threads hanging loose. What did that note say? How much of Moriarty was Euros? Did Sherlock have sex? But how flawed was the original Doyle Canon? And how many loose threads did that leave us to play with for a hundred years and change?

If you were around before the latest Sherlock boom, you know how incredibly few Sherlockians there actually are compared to the full population . . . the ones who took the whole Doyle Canon to heart, warts and all. And what we'll see in the years to come will be much the same with BBC Sherlock, smaller numbers who take the whole thing to their hearts than were in that initial surge of popularity, but they're good Sherlockians. And like Euros, Moffat and Gatiss, and the rest of us, really, we're all just hoping somebody gets the context of what we're up to and wants to be our friend.

But a smart friend, like Sherlock. Or else we're gonna have to start . . .

. . . just kidding! Didn't get into Euros quite that far. But she's growing on me.

Or else she just reprogrammed by brain during tonight's cinema viewing of our new "Final Problem." You can come up with your own script there. But once the dust has all settled from this latest East wind blowing, I think we're all going to be stronger for it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It's all warm fuzzies in Sherlock Peoria.

Before diving into the post-Sherlock finale reactions on the web, I have to ask myself this question: While everyone seems to know a James Bond thing or two, how many of those commenting are going to recognize a Batman story when they see it?

The Joker locks Batman, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon in Arkham Asylum and puts them through a series of puzzles that will inevitably tie somehow to the secret origin of the Batman.

That, of course, is not a specific Batman tale, but one close to so many told over the years. And tonight, it felt like Moffat and Gatiss were giving Sherlock Holmes both his Joker and his origin story. Of course, Moriarty had to come back to be wacky-insane, because we couldn't have two of those. And somehow I felt like Holmes's Joker being female was Moffat and Gatiss somehow metaphorically portraying their trials at the hands of a largely female fandom. (Something we might have seen a touch of in "Abominable Bride," as well.)

My own loyal companion, the good Carter, hasn't read as many Batman tales as I, and is not the sort of person to have seen a truck-with-tentacles movie in the afternoon prior, as I am. Those factors might have been why she didn't care for any of tonight's offering except the final, fabulous tribute montage. Me?

I'm addicted to the sensational. And this was sensational.

With as many complaints as I've heard about the last two seasons of Sherlock, I will take any one of those six episodes (and the Christmas special) any day in place of "The Blind Banker" from season one. It was cute, a satisfactory mystery is so hard to pull off. And there are so many mediocre ones out there. I'd much rather see someone explore the character of Sherlock Holmes, even if they don't quite get it exactly aligned to my perfect view of the man.

I mean, does Sherlock Holmes need an origin story? No. A man with talent pushing his gifts as far as he can with all educational means available is origin enough. But a sister whose name means "the East wind" who is smarter than either Holmes we've met before? I'll give that a go, to see how it plays out. It's entertaining enough, and why do I sit down in front of the television set?

Well, not to get any exercise, that's for sure.

The lovely ending tribute to Holmes and Watson ending this episode spoke to the eternal spirits of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and it was a warm assurance that even if this series does not go any further, we will still have another Sherlock and another John and a familiar address on Baker Street where those in trouble will head for help. It may not be Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, but that's okay. The men they played have been with us, and will be with us, for a long time to come.

There will be good, there will be bad. We will clap with delight and groan in eye-rolling disdain.

But, hey, Sherlock Holmes!

And I for one, am glad to have had three more of these. And will be taking a trip to the theater to see this one again on the big screen tomorrow night.

The Elementary alternative.

With all the sturm und drang around the new season of BBC Sherlock, a few loyal souls who remember CBS's Elementary exists have piped up and suggested that ongoing procedural as a comfy alternative to the more controversial and star-powered offering.

And while, in a lucky bit of timing, the January 8th episode of Elementary happened to be one of the show's more engaging episodes -- focusing on a single case without as much meandering -- it's still Elementary. What does that mean?

Well, it means that Elementary is never going to have the demands placed upon it that Sherlock does. Nobody is leaking episodes in advance, doing entire podcasts trying to decipher set photos and filming rumors, or reviewing every single episode with passionate comparisons to either the original Canon or its own. And no one, absolutely no one, is devoted to the thought that Holmes and Watson are really in love despite what the showrunners claim.

If Elementary was subject to such scrutiny? Well, if you thought Mycroft and Moriarty showed up too much in Sherlock, how about a whole season devoted to Shinwell Johnson in which Watson tries to teach him the skills that Mr. Elementary taught her, like picking padlocks off his padlock rack? Not sure if whipping things with a stick has come in this season, but it's an Elementary classic training bit as well. Shinwell was not really on any Sherlockian's list of Canonical characters we were dying to see more of, and like so many of the show's characters, is basically a name from Doyle tacked on to a standard TV role.

Jonny Lee Miller's wardrobe has become less mentally-challenged looking this season, but seeing him as Sherlock Holmes visually is still not easy, unless you're just a sucker for an English accent. And Lucy Liu as Joan Watson, despite its diversity points, is a completely different character than John H. Watson of the original Canon, and the show's efforts to keep her relationship with Holmes sterile and platonic also keep a full-on Holmes-Watson dynamic from evolving.

If Sherlock is guilty of being too "James Bond" of late, Elementary has been guilty of being too "CBS procedural" from day one, so  it's not really a Canonical safe haven for the Sherlockian purist. More just a comfy watch for those who don't mind standard network fare. Former fans of Sherlock who were driven off by the latest developments aren't going to find it a good replacement. Those who enjoyed Jeremy Brett's Victorian Holmes aren't going to find any more Canonical ties here. The best thing that Elementary might do for either camp is just be so far from actual Sherlock Holmes that it doesn't invite enough comparison to offend.

Going in with no Sherlockian expectations, the cast are lovely to look at, and the January 8th episode "Be My Guest" was written by Jason Tracey, who is probably the show's best writer.  If Sherlock is freaking you out all that much, the calm procedural plot to rescue a kidnapped girl might be a pleasant cup of tea.

Just don't hold a magnifying glass up to the series, or expect the weekly high that many a Sherlock fan gets during its all-too-brief seasons.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Forgiveness and patience.

As we roll into the last episode of BBC Sherlock season four, which I have been completely enjoying, it occurs to me that there is a reason I'm enjoying television so much of late. Just look at the culprits:

Steven Moffat, born in 1961, currently fifty-five years old.

Mark Gatiss, born in 1966, currently fifty years old.

And me, born in 1957, but always a bit developmentally delayed, currently fifty-nine years old.

These are my guys, writing from a place I'm all too familiar with. They've come up through the same eras I did, they're male, share certain caucasian ancestral traits, and they're Sherlock Holmes fans.

Now, if you don't fall in that particular demographic, I can understand an immediate reaction of "Well, fine for you, old white guy!" But wait . . .

If you are a twenty-five-year-old, multi-racial woman now, there's a good likelihood that by the time thirty-four years have passed, you will see a Sherlock Holmes written by someone who is not male and not white, and written from a perspective that's very much like your own. You've got time.

Impatience is natural. In my twenties I was completely pissed off at the old man Irregulars of the 1980s for not seeing a modern perspective well enough to allow women into their little club. Change would eventually come, but at that time the old guys were still playing out the point of view they had built up in their younger days. It seems to be the natural pattern of things . . . those who have finally attained a position to control or produce are often doing it from a mindset built in a time a few decade past.

And it works the opposite direction, as well. There are those Sherlockians whose mindset skews older than mine for whom the Granada Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett will always be the peak of Sherlockian television. It was of its generation, painstakingly faithful in parts, yes, but in the Reagan-Thatcher conservative era, would we expect any other approach?

Personally, I never was too satisfied with Brett's Sherlock, as I was waiting for a Cumberbatch Holmes, even before I knew such a thing could exist. But given time, and a couple of fellows whose time on Earth corresponded closer to my own, I got a Sherlock I really loved.

So my point here is this: We all have our path, and as hard as it is to forgive someone for not seeing things from your perspective sometimes, there is always a chance that someone a little closer to seeing things your way will come along eventually. (Or already did.) None of us gets what we want for an entire lifetime, but you've got to trust that your time will come. And when it does come, make the most of it, because it's not going to last forever.

Patience before that time and forgiveness after that time (and before, too, really) are some great virtues to have.

On to Sunday night.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Whose last vow?

With the plotting of BBC's Sherlock revolving hard around a vow Sherlock Holmes makes, so important that it's even featured in the title "His Last Vow," it made me wonder if the Original Canon Sherlock Holmes ever made any sort of vows.

A quick word search with the ever-handy Mr. Moon's Moonfind revealed a lot of vows being made in those stories, of course . . . from vows of vengeance to criminal allegiances to the always-popular vows of love and fidelity. Vows are lovely, passionate things and perfect for a tale of drama. But would Sherlock Holmes, the man of cool analyses and objective observation, make such a statement?

The answer, to cut to the heart of it, is "no."

Sherlock Holmes, as he was first written, made no vows as such.

John H. Watson, however? Ah, here's the man to make a vow. To Mary, of course, right?

Well, no, as we never hear the particulars of his wedding to Miss Morstan, just the engagement, that moment of proposal and acceptance. No vows there.

No, the one vow we read of John Watson wanting to make is this:

"Again and again I had registered a vow that I should deliver my soul upon the subject; but there was that in the cool nonchalant air of my companion which made him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching a liberty."

Yes, John Watson's one vow is with a mind to protect Mr. Sherlock Holmes from himself.

It comes early, in the first paragraphs of The Sign of Four. Watson seems to be passionate enough about the subject to make that vow again and again, but is also intimidated by the man he shares rooms with, and doesn't follow through . . . at that time. We know Watson makes good on his vow at many a later date, as familiarity brings enough contempt to break through Holmes's "masterly manner," but at that time, Watson is just moved to keep making vows in silence.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes of BBC Sherlock, forever to be haunted by the "Norbury" pride which broke his vow, John H. Watson of the original Canon keeps his vow. Sherlock Holmes lives long enough and strong enough to involve himself in the first World War, thanks in part or in whole, to the efforts of his friend John.

And the kind of man Watson was? That guy probably didn't stop making vows with that first one. And you can bet he strove to be as successful in every other vow he made as well.

Probably why John didn't ever title any of his stories "His Last Vow." But then, BBC John isn't putting titles on those episodes . . . .