Why does Sherlock Holmes need to be a drug addict?
During my recent excursion to Southern Illinois Sherlockian climes, a paper was presented by my friend Bill Cochran on the most recent episode of CBS's Elementary. I shan't steal Bill's thunder, should he ever get his blog going and want to reprint it himself, but would like to just spin off one particular point he made, starting with: "I am incensed by the constant references to Holmes's addiction as if it were a prominent theme in the Canon." Bill then went on to explain while out of the sixty original stories of Sherlock Holmes, only two mention drug use. Not addiction. Just recreational use.
Elementary, on the other hand, plays upon its main character's addiction problem with every single episode. He shouldn't go to bars, because he might drink. He needs to push his old dealer friend, a decent-seeming enough fellow, out of his life, because he makes him think of drugs. During the end of the last episode he was seen gluing a phrenological bust back together -- shouldn't Joan Watson have been freaking out that he was sniffing glue during that process? It's how the show usually over-indulges its addiction focus.
Mr. Elementary has his Watson because of his addiction. He lives in New York because of his addiction. The death of Irene Adler was key to his addiction. Why does this show even have crimes every week, when it could just spend more time on Mr. Elementary's beloved addictions? It seems more important to his character than his detective skills, hunting down Moriarty (remember him?), or any of those other things that the real Sherlock Holmes was based around.
Heck, Elementary even gets the drug of choice wrong. Mr. Elementary is a heroin fan. An opiate. A numbing agent. The original Holmes is only ever seen to inject a mild solution of cocaine beneath the skin . . . not even into a vein. My friend Bill reminded us Friday night that Holmes's seven per cent solution of cocaine was actually half the amount they put in the original recipe for Coca-cola. And cocaine, of course, is a stimulant, which the real Holmes used when bored to death for lack of crimes to solve. (Yes, Watson mentions morphine when he calls Holmes out, but the good doctor was plainly pissed off at the time and tossing the additional drug in for effect. Holmes never speaks of, or is seen to use, morphine.) Sherlock's modern day version of Holmes with his liberal use of nicotine patches, is probably much closer to the true counterpart.
And we know Holmes liked his nicotine. That is an absolute fact.
Elementary is not the first to try to portray a drug-addicted Holmes. The Seven Per Cent Solution, from the 1970s was a very clever tour de force in that area, which kept enough of the original Holmes's traits intact to make it an enjoyable tale (and stuck with cocaine, of course). Less successful was a gawdawful TV movie called Case of Evil, where a young Sherlock Holmes who celebrates victories with three-way sex romps and is forced into heroin addiction by Professor Moriarty. And even in that movie, he didn't voluntarily start the heroin. Both movies, it must be admitted, played up the drugs to draw in the audience. Is that what Elementary's plan is?
If Elementary were as truly into the topic of addiction as it pretends to be, it would be a much grimmer, realistic show . . . and have no need of Sherlock Holmes. Its treatment of the subject is much like the way it tosses in serial killers and various naughty ladies . . . just one more cheap ploy to try to rouse the interest of sleepy viewers as they wind their way toward the evening news.
It used to be that Sherlock Holmes and his methods were enough to rouse our interest. In the last episode of Elementary, Mr. Elementary's friend Rhys suggests that Mr. Elementary was probably a better detective when he was on drugs, and from his performance on the case at hand, one wonders if Rhys was right. If that's the case, apparently the drugs were a part of this latest Holmes impersonator's methods.
Mr. Elementary might need to be a drug addict. But as over a century of addiction-free stories have proven, Sherlock Holmes doesn't need to be.