In the first episode of Sherlock, we’re introduced to the re-imagined world of Sherlock Holmes, as the characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original story are thrust into the modern world. And yet, so much of what has made Sherlock Holmes eternal still remains after such a drastic change. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Sherlock.
THAT’S RIGHT. IN YOUR FACES. Why can’t I have a surprise or two up my sleeve?
My friend Jessica got me to watch this show and I thought that it would be nice to throw in a brief detour into another series before I head straight into Avatar: The Last Airbender.
While I had zero idea of any sort of detail or characterization or plot-twist in this show, I did read a great deal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books and stories growing up. I might even say that my obsession with SHIT GETTING REAL or BEING UNPREPARED is based largely on my experience reading Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories. Actually having that background made for a far more entertaining experience as well, as Steven Moffat weaves so many references to Holmes cannon that those unfamiliar with the original material would never pick up.
But that’s not to say that any cursory examination of Doyle’s original work is needed, nor is the show an acquired taste in period dramas. And perhaps that’s truly what this new version does so brilliantly: It is decidedly modern, even painfully so at times, and there’s not a moment that it doesn’t seem to work.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, we are not worthy. :: bows ::
I love that this first episode, “A Study In Pink,” opens with Dr. John Watson. In many ways, what we’ll see over the course of the next 90 minutes is entirely through Watson’s eyes, and I find it to be an interesting choice for Moffat to take. It feels as if we are living through his perspective as we’re introduced to the frantic world of Sherlock Holmes. The parallels to the original canon start here, in these first scenes, as Watson is shown to be injured due to battle. In Sherlock, though, it’s because of the war in Afghanistan. We see him awake from terrifying dreams. We see him visit his therapist, who tells him to start a blog. (See? Painfully modern.)
“Nothing happens to me.”
As if spoken purely to goad his own future, that “nothing” becomes largely irrelevant for Watson quite quickly. We’re briefly introduced to what will be the large plot point for “A Study In Pink,” which is hard to understand at this point. A man who is clearly cheating on his wife nervously takes a pill and is later found to have committed suicide. This repeats, two more times, all under the same strange circumstances. When there’s a public announcement regarding the three suicides, Inspector Lestrade (HA!) insists that aside from the bizarre locations these people died in and the poison, there are no other connections between the cases.
The text goes ‘round the room in a stylistic choice that is used throughout this first episode. We see it on everyone’s phone, and as Lestrade continues to bullshit his way through the press conference, everyone’s phones gets the same message.
And then Lestrade gets a message of his own.
You know where to find me. SH
Sherlock Holmes. But we don’t meet him just yet. And while Benedict Cumberbatch can steal virtually any scene he is in, I find myself repeatedly drawn to Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Dr. John Watson. Maybe I’m biased because Freeman did such a fine job in the original The Office series, but he’s not at all the same character here. Before we ever meet Holmes, “A Study of Pink” focuses on the cynical, uncertain Watson, who is afraid that living on an Army pension isn’t going to keep him in London. After running into a friend from school who notices that Watson isn’t on top of his own game, chance steps in to force Watson’s path to cross with the infamous Sherlock Holmes.
And I say that not as one who is aware of what sort of weight this character has in popular culture, but in reference solely to the universe that Moffat and Gatiss have built here. Sherlock is infamous in the London law enforcement world, and when Standford takes Watson to meet someone else who needs a flatmate to save money, we are given one hell of an introduction to this new version of the iconic character.
Let’s start with something I need to say before we continue further: I don’t think there’s a man on earth who looks like Benedict Cumberbatch. Not a single one. Like…I can’t figure out his face. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT REALLY MEANS, BUT I FEEL VERY DEEPLY IN MY HEART THAT IT IS A TRUE STATEMENT. He’s perhaps the most perfect actor to play Sherlock Holmes, too, able to highlight his brilliance, his sociopathy, and his ability to be simultaneously charming and revolting at the exact same moment.
When we finally meet Sherlock, he’s beating a dead body with a riding crop, ignoring a woman who is obviously trying to hit on him. It establishes very early the idea that Sherlock Holmes has a limited amount of space in his brain. It seems like that space is larger than our brains, sure, but it’s because Sherlock operates in a manner where he prioritizes what goes into his mind. The woman hitting on him? Unimportant. Unnecessary, really. He’s trying to determine if an alibi is correct. What does romance matter?
Almost as if Watson and Holmes solely act as foils to one another, their first interaction in that morgue is one rife with the later results of the plot and so many of the show’s internal tropes and canon that will be spread out over the course of “A Study in Pink.” Sherlock’s incredible perception is acted out in a stunning bout of quick dialogue and posturing on his part, though it’s important to note that it’s not an act for Sherlock. He’s not trying to impress anyone. His presumption isn’t based on any sort of self-centered douchey egoism. I mean…well, Sherlock is egotistical, but I don’t feel as if it’s a malicious thing at all. He needs a flatmate. Watson needs one, too. It’s a logical progression from step one to step two for Sherlock. It’s that simple.
It’s also the first time we watch Sherlock’s power of deduction. Power. That’s a damn fine word to describe this…thing that Sherlock does. “Yes, he is always like that,” Davenport tells Watson. His lack of the social grace many people seem to follow is actually kind of appealing to me, to be honest. It’s unexpected. It keeps me on my toes as I watch Sherlock interact with the world around him. Part of me is fascinated by Sherlock’s unbelievable power of deduction. (That word again.) Part of me is also wildly entertained by it. And part of me is just….how does someone do that. Seriously, how does he do that.
If I turned this review into something resembling anything I’d done in the past, in terms of analyzing the chronological narrative points of “A Study in Pink,” I could probably write at least five thousand words. Steven Moffat’s script is ridiculously dense and complicated, many times in a way that’s hard to follow. I didn’t ever lose my interest, though, because the social and personal dynamic between Freeman and Cumberbatch is so unique and genuine. And while the story is seriously fantastic (it really is), the characters really do draw this story along.
But about that story. What I enjoyed about Sherlock Holmes stories as a kid was that it became a task to figure out the ending, to determine Doyle’s endgame for each novel or story. While Moffat and Gatiss work from the original source material in a way, they certainly honor Sherlock’s obsession with deduction and Doyle’s tendency for outlandish, complex, and ridiculously intense plots. The strange suicides honestly do seem unconnected and, much like I felt back during the beginning of my experience with the original books, I was completely confused. Of course, Sherlock was twenty steps ahead of me. How could there be serial suicides? By nature of the act itself, it seems impossible. But Sherlock isn’t ready to accept an easy answer. And isn’t that what this is really about? Not accepting the easiest answer. Sometimes, Occam’s razor isn’t always the best option.
As Inspector Lestrade reluctantly consults Sherlock on the case, we watch as Sherlock continues to show up the law enforcement team because they are not him. I know I just simplified that, but I love this first crime scene with the lady in pink because it’s an even better look at how Sherlock operates. Within seconds, he deduces that this woman has been having an affair. For a long time. And that she was from out of town, based solely on the splashes of mud on one of her legs. And that she has a suitcase that is missing.
God, I love it. IT’S SO ENTHRALLING TO WATCH SHERLOCK WORK.
And maybe this is going to be something explored over the course of this series (or perhaps the next one), but it’s not long before Watson meets one of Sherlock’s “enemies.” After getting a call on a public phone and witnessing a demonstration of how he’s being watched, John gets into a black sedan and is taken to a warehouse, where he meets a seedy man who literally identifies himself as the enemy of Sherlock. Which…that’s an interesting technique and rather unorthodox. But this is Sherlock Holmes! Villains are over the top and absurd! I didn’t get the sense that this man was the one behind the ritual suicides; perhaps this is part of a series-long arc? That’s my guess.
But back to the main story. I like that Moffat has continued the idea that Sherlock will not eat while he’s working a case, and I also imagine that Watson has to eventually find this unbearably uncomfortable. I mean…I don’t like eating when I’m the only one with food. I was taught it was rude! But if I’m eating with Sherlock, does that mean I can never eat? IT’S A NEVERENDING FOOD LOOP OF SOCIAL ANXIETY. Anyway, this is a point I brought up because it’s during the scene that I noticed this where the plot ramps up in terms of tension and pacing. What I enjoy about what Moffat and the entire crew has done with Sherlock is that even just in this first 90-minute episode, it’s clear that the city of London is just as much of a character as any living person. When Sherlock realizes that the killer must have been in a taxi with each of the victims, the chase scene that follows is as much absurd comedy as it is a brilliant display of London and the way filmmakers can use a live set to build drama. I’m reminded of movies that use cities as characters, such as Michael Mann’s Collateral, which is one fantastic love letter to Los Angeles when you think about it, or Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing is so indicative of Brooklyn during that time period.
As fantastical as it might seem, too, to watch Sherlock act out the impulses and brilliant bouts of logical deduction on screen, I get the distinct sense that this version of the characters is still heavily grounded in reality. When Watson and Sherlock realize their killer has probably escaped from them, they return home to Baker Street to discover a drug bust at Sherlock’s house. It’s nice to see that they’re not ignoring the drug use that was prevalent in the original stories, though it’s all in a different context here. Sherlock uses nicotine patches instead of a pipe, and there’s no drug use at all in this modern adaptation, though the drug bust seems like an obvious reference to Sherlock’s original use of heroin. (It was heroin, right? Or was it cocaine? I can’t remember; it’s been a long time since I read any Sherlock Holmes material.)
I will be interested to see how exactly Moffat, Gatiss, and any other writers deal with Sherlock’s epiphanies without making them seem repetitive and stale over the next couple episodes, but that’s not to say that they feel that way at all here in “A Study In Pink.” In rapid succession, Sherlock deducts that the last victim, that lady in pink, planted her mobile phone ON PURPOSE and was sharing her password on the floor (the RACHE scrawled into the floor) in order to help track the murderer. At that point, I believed this was a murderer, too, despite that others weren’t so sure. And when they turn on the GPS signal and it says that it’s coming from 221B Baker Street, my brain exploded. Sherlock had a cab waiting for him. It wasn’t a cab passenger. The murderer was the cabbie himself.
AND GOOD GOD, DO I LOVE WHERE THIS EPISODE GOES. Instead of having a simple “A-HA!” moment and resolving the case, Moffat truly understands what Sherlock’s personality is like: He isn’t just satisfied with “solving” a case. He needs to fully understand it. So Sherlock gets into the cab with the man he knows to be the murderer because to him, justice is pointless if it doesn’t come with all the answers. (Is this a slight commentary on closure? I wouldn’t be surprised.)
I mean, I seriously would never have guessed the ending to “A Study in Pink” in a million years. We all saw that the people who died took the pills themselves, so the question then becomes: What did this man say to them to make them take a pill of poison willingly?
Two bottles. One pill is harmless, the other is a deadly poison. One gun. Two choices. Get shot on the spot, or play this man’s dying game. Which pill is correct? Does the cabbie know which pill is actually the poisoned one or is he bluffing as well? And Sherlock doesn’t fear asking the murderer about his motives or the consequences of such a disturbing game either, but he is intrigued. He’s intrigued by the game. In fact, isn’t this game uniquely designed for someone like Sherlock Holmes? It’s an extreme act of deduction, isn’t it?
Unexpected through all of this, though is Dr. John Watson. Following the GPS signal (and with the understated motivation of caring for Sherlock, which I will expand on when I am ready and NOW IS NOT THE TIME), it’s Watson who might have saved Sherlock’s life. It’s a brilliant shot, really, that Watson takes that fatally wounds the cab driver. And Sherlock, always wanting to be the one who know everything, can’t resist asking: Did he pick the right pill? I was surprised, though, that he quickly reverted to a more important line of questioning, realizing his time with this man was running out. I hadn’t addressed it earlier in the review because, at that point in the episode, it seemed inconsequential to me. But Sherlock has a “fan” that inherently caused all of this to happen, and right here, in this moment, Sherlock digs his foot into the wound, telling the man to give him a name.
FUCK. YES. Oh god, they’re already introducing Sherlock’s arch-enemy this early? MOST EXCITE.
But Moffat ain’t done. We meet that “enemy” of Sherlock again outside of the crime scene. After Sherlock properly deduces that it was John who shot the cabbie and then immediately acts in a manner to protect him, Watson and Sherlock see that man who told Watson to choose a side.
MYCROFT HOLMES. OH SHIT, Y’ALL. I have no idea how he’s going to play into this show in the future, but man, DID NOT EXPECT THAT. But it’s a good note to end the first episode on: Both Sherlock and Watson, in just a day or two of meeting each other, are already protecting one another. There’s a beautiful thing to the way they interact, an almost loving sense of brotherhood, that is a testament to the talent of these actors and the writers. It’s only the first episode, and yet I feel these two have known each other for years. I like that.
- Ok, to prove to you how long I have been planning this three-day mini review trip, look back to my review of “The Eleventh Hour,” the first episode of the fifth series of Doctor Who. If you read that first real paragraph that starts, “The show looks absolutely gorgeous…” you’ll notice I mention that there are so many “new-ish camera angles or technical devices being used for the first time.” What it used to say right after that, and which I took out right after I published it because someone figured it out in like the first five minutes of the review, was, “And I really want to talk about how this relates to something else Moffat has done, but we’ll have to wait later for that.” So, true story: This review and the next two were actually written almost a month ago during the momentary break between series four and series five of Doctor Who. I’m only going back over them now to add in stuff like this and correct some things I’ve gotten wrong.
- “Anderson, don’t talk out loud. You lower the IQ of the entire street.”
- “Shut up.” “I didn’t say anything.” “You were thinking. It’s annoying.”
- I love how lovable Sherlock Holmes is despite that in any other circumstance and possibly played by any other actor, he’d be a raging asshole.
- Also, the scene where Watson asks Sherlock if he has a girlfriend or a boyfriend (“Which is fine, by the way”) might be my favorite of the entire episode. DRIPPING WITH SUBTEXT.
- “Are these human eyes?” “Put those back.” “But they were in the microwave.” “It’s an experiment.”
- “Look at you lot, you’re all so vacant. Is it nice not being me? It must be so relaxing.”
- “Ah, breathing. Breathing’s boring.” And I believe he means this with 100% sincerity.
- “I’m in shock! Look, I’ve got a blanket.”
- “In real life. People don’t have archenemies.” “That sounds a bit dull. So what do people have in their real lives?” “Friends, people they like, people they don’t like, boyfriends, girlfriends…” “Like I said, dull.” LOVE YOU FOREVER, SHERLOCK HOLMES.
- Just to be clear about the schedule, we have a classic Doctor Who post on Monday, and then Mark Watches Avatar: The Last Airbender will start on Tuesday! PARTY!