Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Canonical View of Elementary

All other considerations of its merits aside, for the traditional Sherlock Holmes fan, a Canonical  analysis of the CBS TV show Elementary is a bit of a puzzlement. As the series is more of a total rewrite than an actual modern adaptation, certain familiar touch-stones seem to be missing and possibly going to stay that way.

Take Reichenbach, for example. Downey faced a literal, if exaggerated, Reichenbach. Cumberbatch faced a more metaphoric Reichenbach, but still, plainly, Reichenbach. And Miller?

In the Bizarro Sherlockian world of Elementary, I would have to argue that Reichenbach took place before the show even began. We like to use Watson as our main marker for the beginning and end of the story-cycle of the Sherlockian Canon, but in this case, it would seem we have to let that one go. Because in Elementary world, the Holmes character meets Moriarty long before he meets Watson.

He meets Moriarty. He grapples with Moriarty (in the sheets, yes, but it's still grappling). Moriarty "dies."

Elementary, then, seems to take place during the hiatus, when Mr. Elementary has left London behind following the death of his greatest challenge.

In old school Sherlockian terminology, that post-hiatus place in his career would make Mr. Elementary the Deutero-Holmes, the Holmes who comes back after Reichenbach not quite the same. As he was described by one Sherlockian writer in 1993, Deutero-Holmes "doesn't care for the violin, isn't addicted to cocaine, and breaks the law whenever he feels like it." Sounds like Mr. Elementary to me.

Deutero-Holmes, however, is one of the first theoretical spin-offs of the Canon, a "He's not the real Sherlock Holmes!" who came back from Reichenbach and was called out by Ronald Knox in 1920. So we can't give him any more Canonical status despite those similarities that Rex Stout's theoretical spin-off Watson from his 1941 essay, "Watson Was A Woman." Hmmm . . . .

But where a Canonical analysis of Elementary is concerned, one does quickly find one's self in a theoretical area that seems to be in need of quantum physics and a few other higher disciplines.

In the Canon of old, Holmes meets Mrs. Hudson, then Dr. Watson, then Professor Moriarty, in that order. In the first season of Elementary, we learned Mr. Elementary met Miss Moriarty, then Miss Watson, then Miss Hudson. Time itself runs backwards where the female gender is concerned, even queen bees, a young Mr. Elementary takes up a hobby eventually gotten to by an older, retired Sherlock Holmes.

But then ones looks at Inspector Gregson, whom Sherlock Holmes obviously knew before the Canon began. In Elementary, Captain Gregson was also on board before the stories take place. Does that make Gregson a paradox? His traditional role as the smartest of a group of stupid men (in Holmes's eyes) is slightly paradoxical.

At some point in such considerations, it almost begins to seem that Elementary is a Canonical adaptation for the Stephen Hawkings among us, or possibly the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred.

That is all strictly theoretical, too, of course.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a thoughtful analysis of the show. This is Sherlockian scholarship and is appreciated.
    Your big picture of a story arch that is non-Canonical is good. But I believe we need to see it play out since I expect more plot twists.
    I enjoy the individual episodes that follow the formula of cozy, case presentation, gathering clues, deduction and resolution.