When Sherlock debuted several years ago, I was dazzled. I’m still dazzled by a “A Scandal in Belgravia.” Then somebody on here (can’t remember who) said, “Oh, try Elementary,” and I did, and I thought it was fine but it wasn’t Sherlock. Which I’m now thinking is a good thing. I’ve just finished watching all of Elementary in a two-week binge, and I think it’s just as good as the British Holmes and in some ways better. Some of this is, of course, tinged by Season Three of Sherlock because it was terrible, bad enough that I’m not terribly interested in a Season Four. But I’m also coming over to Elementary because seeing all the episodes together emphasized that this show has what Sherlock lacks: characters I care deeply about who change over time. Continue reading
Talk about a Hail Mary pass . . . Continue reading
And Moffat saves the day at the end. I’ll never watch those first two garbage episodes again, but this one definitely will be replayed more than once, if only to see the structure behind the insanity. Plus, outstanding antagonist, terrific reversals, and really good gotchas, completely set up within the story including a coda for which I was about to throw something at my screen when it suddenly turned amazing. For all my quarrels with Moffat as a show runner, the man can write like nobody else.
I used to love this show so much, but two awful episodes in a row would have driven me away if the third hadn’t saved it. The actors are still superb, but this episode wasn’t even a hot mess. It was a cold mess. Here’s my live blog (well, it was live at the time) of the episode, followed by my notes: Continue reading
I’m fairly bitter about this episode, so you may want to skip my post next week. I took notes as I watched this the second time and then talked about the problems, but there’s no focus on a craft topic because there was just too much wrong with it. I’d say if “His Last Vow” is this bad, I won’t watch the show again, but I’d be lying. I’ll come back just to watch Cumberbatch and Freeman and Stubbs and Graves and Brealey and Gatiss, not to mention Abbington and Pulver. They’re all so damn good, even in a cold mess like this. But I’m gonna bitch about it . . .
The topic for today is The Dickhead Protagonist. Continue reading
I’ve been putting the craft topic in the headings of these, but the only thing I could think of this time was “The Dickhead Protagonist” which isn’t really a craft term. Lots of wonderful stuff in this episode, but sitting smugly in the middle of it is Sherlock, the Rat Bastard, who has evidently lost every iota of humanity Irene beat into him last year. Bring back the riding crop.
There are several reasons Moriarty’s one of the best antagonist’s of all time. He’s up against one of the great protagonists of all time, he’s a doppelgänger for that protagonist, and–in this version–he’s so insane that he’s more powerful than the protagonist. (There are lines that Sherlock won’t cross that Moriarty can’t even see.) Because of that symbiotic relationship that Moriarty has with Holmes, this plot of transference of guilt is brilliant; Moriarty could and does argue that everything he has done could just as easily be the work of Holmes, and it’s so logical that the entire country buys it. So in a sense, the conflict in this story is over Sherlock’s identity, who’s going to control it, who’s going to profit from it, who’s going to die over it. It isn’t just that Moriarty wants to bring Sherlock down, de-fang him, it’s that he wants to become one with him, so that Sherlock isn’t just fighting for his physical life, he’s fighting for his reputation, his legacy, with a foe who will die to take it from him. Much as Aristophanes theorized that people in love were once the same person, and their search to be re-unified fuels their passion, so Moriarty’s recognition of Sherlock as his opposite number fuels his passionate pursuit and ultimate consumption of him. On a thematic level, it really is brilliant conflict, creating not only great scenes as the plot escalates, but roiling the subtext beneath.
But while the episode does a great job of making me furious at Moriarty and sympathetic with Holmes, forever playing catch-up with a faster foe, and while the conflict is clear and strong and drives the story, the story is also smug in the way it plays its secrets and above all in the way it keeps Watson and the viewer in the dark for what appears to be no reason. (And having seen “The Empty Hearse,” I repeat, “for no reason.”) The best Sherlock episodes leave me enthralled and delighted, the worst leave me disappointed and frustrated. This was one of the latter, even though it was a brilliant concept, brilliantly acted. In the end, I think the concept overwhelmed the human element, shot the central relationship in the knee, and privileged more secrets from the viewer over viewer satisfaction.
But I could be wrong. What do you think?
Every time I watch this, I’m astounded all over again at how beautifully this is constructed. (It’s also beautifully directed and acted, but let’s stick to writing.) Rewatching it this time, I was struck by how damn funny the first half is, how light and snarky the dialog and plot are. And then it grows darker, heartbreaking things happen, there’s a magnificent climax and then . . . This is SUCH A GOOD STORY. We could talk about the doppelgänger antagonist again, about writing relationships and not just romantic ones, about characterization and arc, but one of the things this story is especially brilliant at is metaphor, the meaning in the subtext. Metaphor and its stepbrother, motif, sound too grad-school to be any fun, and they too often become heavy-weight story-killers, but handled deftly they can add layers to a story, set up echoes, and generally pull everything together into a unified whole. And Steven Moffat is nothing if not deft. So lets talk about motif and metaphor and the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes. Continue reading