A Death in Disgrace: The Cleverest of All the Tricks-My Admiration of Sherlock 2
By Akiko Sato
If Sherlock dies an honourable death, as in Doyle’s original work (we always remember that Doyle has no intention whatsoever to resurrect his own heroic archenemy when he wrote the story), it may be sad but could be acceptable, as in all the traditional hero stories from Beowulf and King Arthur to Superman and Harry Potter. To most of us, however, even to us ordinary people, not heroes, disgrace could be the one thing that is far worse than simply to perish. Human nature will not accept this. Everyone, both fans and non-fans, should see the return, the resurrection of the protagonist, if only to clear his name. The notion that Moriarty was after all cleverer than Sherlock is awful enough, but that of our Sherlock totally disgraced in the end is simply intolerable.
The plot leading up to the tragic climax is superb. The more successful Sherlock becomes, the more effective the later developments. A shameful self-proclaimed consultant detective killed the only obstacle in his fabrication in despair, and then took his own life-a perfect scenario for the forthcoming triumphant resurrection as well as Moriarty’s seemingly most deliberate plan. How clever it is! Even great Arthur Conan Doyle might not think of this. He might be too proud himself just to imagine this. Above all, despite Sherlock’s own wish- Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist. If they did, I wouldn’t be one of them (The Great Game), he is nothing but a hero, however human he is, as John talked to the silent Sherlock in the final scene of the series. A hero should remain a hero.
The naming of the title of this last episode, The Reichenbach Fall appears to be a joke at first. Playing on words-that is what they have done but it does not stop there. Personally, in fact, I quite like the etymological bit of it (i.e. Richard Brook).
To be honest, I have almost no idea how the production team would resurrect our Sherlock, or explain it was possible for him to escape his own death. One thing, however, is sure, that is, they have to do that, in order to comply with our human nature.
Hints are abundant. Alone is what I have. Alone protects me. Say it all, do they not? You can do anything if no one is watching. Incidentally, John replied to these words of Sherlock’s as No, friends protect people. Rather ironically, however, the actual developments show that the case was quite the opposite. Sherlock had to die to protect his friends. (Thank God, Moriarty’s list did not include our capable Molly at Bart’s!) When? The opportunity arises when Sherlock asks Moriarty to give him one moment of privacy. Suggestive, is it not? Particularly after the above little altercation between Sherlock and John. Keep your eyes fixed on me-OK, though John could not do so when a bicycle hit him in the street just before he tried approaching the fallen body of his best friend. Moreover, the request (order?) made it impossible for John to have a look at anything else anywhere until that very moment of his staggering approach to the body. Suspicious? Maybe not. Unthinkable, perhaps, but Once you’ve ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true (The Hound of Baskerville)…. (Italics in this paragraph all from The Reichenbach unless otherwise stated).
Naturally, my culprits are dear old Molly Hooper as well as the guilt-ridden big brother Mycroft. Who else can manipulate the result of DNA tests? ( DNA tests are only as good as the records you keep (A Scandal in Belgravia)). Molly is the best and only possible confidante, working in the morgue of Bart’s, to help Sherlock fake the Suicide of the Fake Genius. We actually saw Sherlock asking her a favour, did we not? Surely his request for her should not be just to testify that he was not the kind of man the world tricked into believe, should it?
Conveniently enough, Sherlock threw himself from a rooftop, therefore, his head was crushed as a result, which made it difficult to identify the feature of the dead person-echoing the first death of Miss Alder in A Scandal?! Actually, we can never see dead Sherlock’s face particularly clearly in the last pavement scene, can we?
Mycroft, with his usual might, could arrange the rest. He is not a kind of man who would surrender himself as a betraying sibling and remain like that. He has to clear his name, too. It is highly suggestive that those two, who should have been grieving over Sherlock’s death, perhaps not more than John and Mrs Hudson, but as much as they were, were conveniently absent from the final scene and never being seen grieving for their loved one after Sherlock’s suicide. Well…, …let us see.
Martin Freeman’s fine performance shines all through this last episode in particular. John’s final confession to his best friend by his grave is one of his best in the series, as impressive as Sherlock’s quiet agony performed by ever-amazing Cumberbatch. What a reassuring relief and joy to have those people who always know exactly what they are doing! I must add that these they so brilliantly represent here epitomise a good old English stiff upper lip. No wonder Sherlock Holmes is extremely popular in Japan, where the same attitude has long been called the Samurai spirit.
Although I appreciate and admire the cleverness of the last episode as above, the disgraced but extraordinarily self-contained Sherlock is rather too painful for me to watch, even to see. It is far too disturbing. Even if I know it is an act (or maybe the double act-Cumberbatch acting as Sherlock and Sherlock acting to commit a fictional suicide), it breaks my heart beyond words. Therefore, this cannot be my most favourite episode in the series.
My favourite in Series 2 is The Hound. The balance of the components very faithful to the canon and that of quite modern interpretation is superb. All these howls of a hound and the mysterious Morse code (The Red Circle), and a brilliant scene of the bet with a race-loving tour guide in the back garden of The Cross Keys (The Blue Carbuncle), are so nostalgically familiar to us, the purists. And of course, I love this subtle reference to The Devil’s Foot in the episode, rather thana less subtle reference to The Illustrious Client in the first one. A chemical substance in the air which arouses extreme fear in human mind, even leading to insanity by prolonged exposure and consequent inevitable death in horror-well done!
Witty satire, even self-pity, on today’s advanced technology is there as well. Sherlock uses innocent John for his totally scientific experiment as usual. He offended John by saying he had no friends and wanted to apologise him later, but could not do that well. Fantastic!! Freeman’s John is as convincing as ever. Funny doesn’t suit you. Let’s stick to ice-oh, dear. Even when he is not happy with Sherlock’s attitude, however, he cannot resist following his order. He is rather good at chatting to a woman, though remains a textbook doctor whatever the occasion is. These are exactly what we expect from our dear old John Watson. (Italics in this paragraph all from The Hound).
The only one thing difficult for me to approve of in this magnificent series is that Sherlock throws a tantrum. In The Hound when he tested the sugar from Henry Knight’s kitchen and found out that it was not the cause of the hallucination, he got on his feet and threw the object of his examination into the air irritatingly, shouting. This looks rather irrelevant, even in the modern interpretation as more human Sherlock, not to mention to the calm, emotionless, ice-cold detective we have made accustomed to.
In the same episode, in front of the fire in the Dartmoor inn, he shouted emotionally to John to leave him alone, but in this case it is totally explicable. He has just been drugged, still in shock, not the shock of seeing a glowing gigantic hound but the shock of possible betrayal of his own senses for the first time in his life-the fact that ehe could not believe it, but he saw it. (I’ve always been able to trust my senses, the evidence of my own eyes, until last night…. No, I can’t believe that. But I did see it ( The Hound)).
It might also be acceptable, in The Hound, when he was shouting at Mrs Hudson after complaining there was no case for him, pacing nervously up and down the sitting room of 221B. The original Sherlock Holmes was actually described by the original Watson pacing up and down the room like this when he lacks any interesting cases, though I am not sure he would shout. I am not sure either if it is right that Sherlock Holmes could ever be so rude to Mrs Hudson. Nevertheless, I must admit the scene shows apparent childishness hidden behind Sherlock’s usual cool facade, which is rather adorable to us females, certainly appealing to our maternal instinct, I think.
As for A Scandal, to be honest, I thought it was awful when I first watched it at the BFI preview. It seemed rather too fanciful to me. Naked-well, only with his sheet wrapped around his body-Sherlock in Buckingham Palace, complete nudity of Irene Adler, and perhaps this whole plot of the flight of the dead. The last Karachi business sounded even more novel. She was captured by a terrorist cell…and beheaded -it was too much! Most of all, it was inconceivable to me to depict The Woman as a dominatrix.
After I watched it on air, for the second time, however, I was beginning to understand the intention of Moffat/Gatiss gradually. These might be shocking compared to Doyle’s original, but we should remember that it was in Victorian time that the canon was written. We are in the 21st century, and the episode still looks rather shocking. It must have been quite outrageous, as we see this modern interpretation now, when the original readers read A Scandal in Bohemia when it was first published in 1891. In other words, the story has to be like that to give us, the present viewers, a similar kind of shock the Victorians should have felt then.
Once I reached this theory, everything started to look cleverer and cleverer. After all, this is the principle of the whole series. The exposure of a King’s love affair with a singer and the existence of a compromising photograph in Victorian society could match the terrorist attempt to bomb a passenger jet in the present day. A woman as independent and assertive as Irene Adler could only be represented as a dominatrix in today’s Britain.
Same is true to the plot of The Hound. The deadly hound in a legend and the suspense of a fugitive in the bleak moor must have given similar chilling effects to Victorian readers to that of modern day genetic experiments and a secret military base give you now. -A masterpiece!
Forbidden love is always sad, even if the rule is a self-imposed one, or sadder, probably, because of that. If the person is a lonely, naïve man who is determined never to let his heart rule his head, but was somehow made feel special by one woman in his life, the story really breaks your heart. It is clever to put the sweet little scene on Christmas day at 221B between Molly and Sherlock as a foretaste of unrequited love. The only consolation is that the modern author part the fateful two by death instead of keeping both alive separately, as the original author inclined to do after the case was over, apparently. A separation feels a little more acceptable when you know it is due to the ultimate human destiny. Nevertheless, A Scandal is too heart-breaking to be my most favourite, though there are a lot of fantastic lines in the episode. I particularly love the one uttered by John: I always hear “punch me” when you speak but it’s usually sub-text. Good! The following exchange between John and Sherlock is a treat, too: I’ll be next door if you need me. Why would I need you? No reason at all. Hilarious! A witty note on the front door of 221B is also much appreciated: CRIME IN PROGRESS. PLEASE DISTURB. Clever people who made this! (Italics all from A Scandal).
After all, considering the series was produced by the two men who are more than thoroughly acquainted with the canon as well as the masters of ultra-modern fantasies, this may be quite a natural outcome.
In Series 1, each work tries mainly to tell you how smart Sherlock is, introducing the viewers to the way his science of deduction works, and more importantly, how it still most effectively stands in the 21st century situations. In this second series, on the other hand, they challenge to offer you something more complex, referring to more sensitive issues in our lives, protesting their view and giving you the chance to contemplate on more modern but certainly universal, fundamental themes in human nature. A lie that’s preferable to the truth ( The Reichenbach)-sounds guiltily familiar, for instance?
Over all, Series 2 holds multiple meanings everywhere, thanks partly to fine rhetoric and partly to all the skilful twists, and it definitely has much more depth than Series 1, which itself is a masterpiece. Showy and sensational-yes, but it has to be. To be modern. Remarkable! Incidentally, I appreciate the way they use music as much as their usual original score which I adore.
Last but not least, Benedict Cumberbatch is as impeccable Sherlock as ever. He excelled himself (again!) when Sherlock first saw Moriarty’s incredible plan of creating an entirely false identity for himself at Kitty Riley’s home. Here, the actor Cumberbatch is at his best. I must add that Andrew Scott is excellent in the scene, too. In A Scandal, the drugged (by Irene Adler) Sherlock is skilfully performed. It reminded me of that lovely pilot piece. I shall also give him a top score for his handling of violin play, considering that he cannot play it in actual life. The aforementioned emotional Sherlock in front of the fireplace in The Hound is another example that Cumberbatch shows himself as one of his usual best. I love his interpretation of the mind palace in the same episode as well. Not to mention every possible state of human mind he displays as fateful Sherlock in The Reichenbach Fall. Apart from his obvious talent and tremendous skills in acting, the eccentricity of his feature, which is a far cry from ordinary handsome-only idol actors somewhere, is more than suitable to our beloved Sherlock. His effortless brilliance in performance never fails to amaze me giving me a greatest of pleasure in life.
Bravo! (The Reichenbach).
(20th January, 2012)
About the Writer
Akiko Sato has been in London for 17 years, during which time she has been one of the keenest members of the Society.