After yesterday's trip through five seasons of two Sherlock Holmes TV adaptations and one procedural that uses the name, it seemed time for a new visit back to one of those Sherlock Holmes productions that makes you wish the "How Did This Get Made?" podcast did TV shows. Yes, I'm going to return to that old favorite topic of Sherlock Peoria readers . . . at least if you go by number of comments . . . CBS's Elementary. And specifically, Elementary's own version of A Study in Scarlet, the first meeting of "Sherlock Holmes" and "Dr. Watson."
As the DVD case implies with the headline "NEW HOLMES. NEW WATSON. NEW YORK." Elementary takes its own road for bringing a Holmes and Watson together, which seemed to be made necessary by the fact that CBS originally tried to get rights to do an American Sherlock, the BBC show which had used the original Doyle version as its base. Abandoning that thought, CBS was left with coming up with something so completely different that there would be no room for accusations of copying the British show with their own adaptation of Holmes in the modern day. And that point is where things start to get interesting when you compare Elementary to the original Doyle novel.
John H. Watson, M.D., was a recovering war veteran when we first meet him, weak and wounded. Joan Watson, M.D., was a healthy jogger who gets up at 7 A.M. for a run in the morning and is mildly psychic enough to stop jogging just before her cell phone rings. While one might be distracted by the gender swap, there is more than one contrast at work here.
John H. Watson was killing time in a bar when he runs into an old acquaintance. Joan Watson is called by a rehab center who tells her the patient she was hired as sober companion to has escaped. Like the illness/health contrast, the morning drink versus addiction treatment aspect adds another layer of difference.
While their morning contacts take both Watsons to meet Sherlock Holmes for the first time, the Sherlocks they meet are opposing elements as well. John gets some warning as to the person is is about to encounter, Joan does not. John is introduced to a man who has been hard at work in the lab on a ground-breaking discovery in forensic science. Joan must introduce herself to a man who just finished a paid sexual liaison and is stimulating himself with multiple television channels at once.
Interestingly, both Sherlocks start their conversation with a non sequitur that requires later explanation. John's Sherlock is a reasoned observation about his Watson's past. Joan's Sherlock is a misleading re-enactment of a soap opera romantic monologue. (Joan's Sherlock's first "deduction" comes much later, as he observes she doesn't use drugs or alcohol without saying why.)
John's Sherlock finishes explaining the experiment he's been working on and then starts telling John what the downsides to having him for a room-mate might be, to see if John finds them objectionable. Joan's Sherlock tells her to not get comfortable and leads her off into the city, explaining why he must accept Joan's presence and complains of his boredom, even though he's fresh off of dominatrix sex and watching at least six TV channels at once.
John's Sherlock sets up an appointment with him to look at the Baker Street rooms they'll share rent on the next day. Joan's Sherlock explains that the brownstone she has met him in is "the shoddiest and least renovated" of the five residences his father owns in New York, that he can only live in if he accepts Joan's company.
John's Sherlock lets John wonder about his profession for a week or so before telling him what it is, and lets John accompany him on a case that very day. Joan was told of her Sherlock's previous avocation by his father, and then finds herself at the police department learning from her Sherlock that he has resumed that past-time in New York.
John's Sherlock doesn't introduce John to Gregson when they arrive for their first case, as Gregson is eager to have Holmes on the case and just seems to accept anyone Holmes brought with him isn't a problem. Joan's Sherlock introduces Joan to Gregson as his "valet" and Gregson doesn't want to allow Joan on to the crime scene. (Perhaps a modern necessity, like the latex gloves that the later pair put on.)
John's Sherlock had "established a considerable, though not very lucrative, connection" with Scotland Yard when John first met him. Joan's Sherlock worked with Gregson alongside Scotland Yard ten years before in London, taking no pay.
The crime scene and crimes investigated differ quite a bit. We already saw bits of Joan's first crime being committed at the start of the show, as is the procedural's typical format, and know it involved a woman in something flimsy being chased about her apartment. John's first case with Sherlock is the original-original Canon of Sherlock Holmes, of course. Joan's first case with her Sherlock is a complete pastiche. Both Watsons find some horror in observing their first corpse, John with the comment that death was never more fearsome, even with his war experience, than what he saw at the crime scene, and Joan with a gasp and turning away when the blood-pooled corpse is revealed.
John's Sherlock won't be keeping bees until his retirement decades later. Joan's Sherlock is already keeping bees on the roof of their brownstone, and the hive somehow drips honey into the hall below.
John's Sherlock immediately takes John from the crime scene to his first witness interview. Joan's Sherlock tells her he has no use for her, takes the batteries out of her alarm clock so she doesn't wake up (ironic, given how many times he will later try to take the place of that alarm clock), and heads off to investigate the case without her.
John's Sherlock makes himself welcomed by their first witness interviewed together by playing with a gold coin the witness hopes to gain. Joan's Sherlock badgers their first witness interviewed together until Joan orders him out of the room, then claims it was a ploy to make the witness more cooperative, which Joan doesn't quite believe (and she's right).
John's Sherlock goes off to a Norman-Neruda violin concert by himself mid-way through the investigation, possibly because Watson is too worn out from the morning's business to attend. Joan purchases opera tickets to celebrate what she thinks is the finish of their case, as her Sherlock's father mentioned he liked opera, but Sherlock refuses to go and Watson goes alone, later to have Sherlock embarassingly barge into the performance to discuss the case.
John's Sherlock, at a later time, will make painful deductions about a death in Watson's life from a watch, the death of his brother who died an alcoholic. Joan's Sherlock, during their first case, will make painful deductions about a death in Watson's life from a parking ticket, the death of her last surgery patient who died at her hands.
A pill container winds up as the key clue in both cases, and a ring and a ring-box parallel each other at one point as well. One would ascribe both more to happenstance coincidence rather than cunning intent, given the lack of more direct parallels.
John and Sherlock meet at a hospital, Joan and Sherlock seem to have a very sudden break-up at a hospital.
John's first murderer crashes through the window at Baker Street. Joan's first murderer has his car crashed into by her Sherlock driving Joan's car.
John's Sherlock has his Baker Street Irregulars do a little work for him. Joan's Sherlock winds up with Joan doing a little work for him while he's in jail.
And the murderer is caught with Gregson present in both cases.
During the Elementary premiere's initial run, I found it repulsive enough to be unable to be completely objective about it, but the passing of the years have dulled that impact. Tonight's analysis, which I think was a little more unemotionally done, reveals part of what struck me so wrong during that initial viewing years ago: Point by point, Elementary seemed to be trying so hard to be different from an adaptation of A Study in Scarlet that it very nearly creates an anti-Canon of Sherlock Holmes.
That said, one can never deal with Sherlock Holmes without looking dead-on at the character of Sherlock Holmes himself. His whole world revolves around him like the sun, as many a pasticheur who has tried to write a non-Holmes story has learned. Sherlock Holmes is a character whose entire being I have enjoyed and was attracted to read more about, every step of the way. On the other hand, Elementary's "Mr. Elementary" (as I took to calling him way back when, unable to reconcile this person on the screen with the Sherlock Holmes I knew) is an unlikeable, fairly awful human being whom I've wanted to avoid from the start. Even when trying hard not to be a hater, that guy just gets under my skin, especially during his early, pain-in-the-ass-to-Joan days.
But hey, if he's your guy, look at all the parallels above and enjoy the lining up . . . even if there is a touch of anti-Canon there. These days, that's Canon to fans as well.
Just not this one. Enjoy!
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