Thursday, June 18, 2015

Best and wisest, 2015.

One of those fab members of team Three Patch dropped a very telling tweet today:

We all know the quote from the original Canon and know it well, heartfelt words from Watson after the death of his friend in "The Final Problem":

" . . . if I have now been compelled to make a clear statement of his career, it is due to those injudicious champions who have endeavoured to clear his memory by attacks upon him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known."

And Sherlock Holmes was that best and wisest of men . . . once.

Caroline's focus is BBC Sherlock, who does have the occasional charmingly unwise moment. But if you were a person who didn't read, a person whose entire view of Sherlock Holmes came from Downey, Miller, and Cumberbatch, do those words still ring true?

Downey's Holmes has a wacky, impulsive side that really doesn't inspire "best and wisest."

Cumberbatch's Sherlock is pretty much there when he's on his game, but he definitely has some almost literally fatal flaws, like that compulsion to take the suicide pill at the end of "A Study in Pink."

And Miller's Mr. Elementary? Well, let's not even start on that one.

"Best and wisest" is pretty high praise, and one could put it down to Watson's grief causing a little hyperbole at his best friend's death. But for decade upon decade, Sherlockians have agreed with Watson on that point . . .  Holmes was the best and wisest, without doubt or asterisk.

Yet modern storytelling seems to demand Holmes be "humanized" with some personality defect or the other, for comedic effect if Watson isn't carrying that ball, for one added story element, or just maybe to make him more "relatable." It could be for many a reason.

Even with his little quirks, I still tend to give Cumberbatch's Holmes credit for being the closest to "best and wisest" of the current crop of English-speakers. But it would be a good challenge for future Holmes creators to start with that phrase as their central premise, at least from Watson's point of view, and see what they can build from there.


  1. Me and my sassy mouth made it to a blog post! ::blush::

    I did understand the ACD canon reference actually, but that's what I find slightly...clumsy, let's say. A bit forced. Of all the things I find Moftiss' Sherlock, wise, much less wisest, doesn't make the top ten. But then, I'm not John Watson.

    I grant that this Sherlock may be on his way to becoming much more the wise Sherlock Holmes that the canon John Watson knows, admires, and eulogizes in The Final Problem, but at this point in the adaptation? In The Empty Hearse? God, you know I'm still thinking of the utterly overcome/compromised Sherlock in The Great Game who paced around the pool and scratched his hair _with a loaded gun in his hand_ once Moriarty had left them alone. I'm thinking of Sherlock panicking at the restaurant where John is obviously about to propose and revealing himself with a jokey mustache. And yes, there's always the cabbie's pill game that Sherlock very unwisely played in A Study in Pink, explicitly _not_ under duress, for which John rightly called him an idiot. Honestly, has Sherlock never seen Princess Bride?!

    A couple people have responded to this particular tweet, saying that grief does odd things to a person. But FINA's Watson's writing for the Strand readers at this point, isn't he? Diagetically, he's reporting on the final adventure Holmes and he shared, the case that ended a great man's life. He's had time to digest and reflect. He's memorializing.

    But John already eulogized him once and he didn't use the term wisest. In The Reichenbach Fall, his words were, "You were the best man, the most human...human being that I have ever known, and no one will ever convince me that you told me a lie." In public, on his blog, what he did say was very simply, "He was my best friend and I'll always believe in him." (If you take the as canon to the show.)

    So maybe that's the disconnect between the words from FINA and the words that come out of John's mouth in TEH for me. What John's doing in TEH isn't eulogizing; this moment isn't meant to go beyond this subway car because presumably they're both about to die. No doubt, John's been grieving for last two years, but eulogizing, no. This John is repressed, "finds this stuff difficult." This John couldn't handle living at Baker Street and seeing Mrs. Hudson and talking to Ella about what Sherlock meant to him. This John, when he did eulogize Sherlock, did it before his grave, alone, after checking that Mrs. Hudson was out of earshot -- twice. So that he looks for a word, a quality, and lands on "wisest," to Sherlock's face, after the reveal, is a very sweet sort of forgiveness.

    Hence Sherlock's surprise. He didn't suspect that John would harbor this high opinion of him still, after all this time. There's somehow more of where John's unfiltered s1-2 praise came from, more of the compulsive "that's amazing" praise that Sherlock is distinctly blase about by the time Irene Adler offers up her own version of it ("I'd have you twice right here on this desk until you begged for mercy"). Wise doesn't line up with _my_ opinion of Sherlock at this point, despite the fact that supposedly series 1 and 2 were done in John POV. But John can't help what he thinks. It's little wonder that Sherlock memorializes him the way _he_ does in his best man speech next episode.

    1. Bravo! Surely, that was, appropriately, the best and longest comment this blog has ever received. Much appreciated!

  2. Just watch "Without A Clue" or the new Petrenko/Panin "Sherlock Holmes" series - they tell the truth - Watson embellished the stories, and Watson was the real brains (not that Holmes wasn't smart) and brawn, the real hero, but I'm sure you knew that already.