Viewer’s Response–Sherlock: “A Study in Pink”

This was entertaining–a fun, high-energy modernizing of Holmes and Watson. Almost a romp, if you can leave aside the mayhem and murder. Others more capable than I can make the inevitable comparisons with Doctor Who, though some are obvious (the characterization of Holmes, particularly) and others are probably more subtle (production style, maybe, Cardiff for London perhaps?).

A plot summary is in order, not because I’m a great fan of them, but because my actual comments rely on the end of the story, so watch out. There is a wave of suicides in London. Four of them, anyway. But they’re connected somehow, which we know because they all used the same fast-acting poison and died in obscure locations. Then there’s a lot of running around, a lot of fast talking, some special effects to help the viewer feel like they share Holmes’s abilities, and then the big reveal where the killer shows up on Holmes’s front stoop, offering to give him a ride in a cab.

Here’s where things began to fall apart for me. I was cool with the part of the story where Holmes gets in the cab and goes to the obscure location with the killer. He doesn’t just want to know who the killer is, but also wants to know what the killer’s motivation is. Fine. Cool. Then they’re there, staring at each other across a table, and Holmes deconstructs the scenario. Then the killer tries to make Holmes play a round of ‘pick your poison.’ And Holmes plays the game! Of course there’s a gun involved, so that’s understandable. But wait! There’s not a gun involved! It’s a cigarette lighter in the shape of a gun! Holmes called the killer’s bluff! But wait some more! Holmes knew it was a lighter the whole time!

But then he plays the game. I mean, he actually plays the game. The game where the crazy person sits across the table from you and says, “here’s some poison, and here’s some nearly identical other stuff–stuff you can’t tell from the first stuff visually or by smell–and this other stuff is not poison. We’ll both take one dose, and you get to choose which one you take. Then one of us dies and the other one walks away. It’s a mental challenge, you see? Is it a bluff? A double bluff? Triple? More? You’ve been making judgments about me from the beginning, now’s the time to put your money, if you will, where your mouth is. Heh, heh. That’s a pun.” Then the crazy person puts one dose in front of you and the other one in front of himself.

Has Holmes never heard of The Princess Bride?

The guy’s a killer, Holmes! Even if his time is running out because of an aneurysm that, three years on, leaves him capable and spry, but liable to die at any moment, he’s still a crazy man who kills people with a stupid game. And you, you sucker, got baited into choosing a pill and taking it. You were saved from being a dead sucker only by the action of Watson at the last second. I know you knew Watson was there, in the next building, but you still got suckered. Even if the killer hadn’t spent the last three years building up a tolerance against the poison (no evidence that he had, of course), and he really had survived four instances of 50/50 odds against death, you still were going to eat a potentially deadly pill because you were teased into it by a loon.

Sure, Moriarty was behind the crazy person, his “sponsor” as Holmes put it. Or, more likely, Moriarty was giving the crazy person a couple of course corrections to bring him to a confrontation with Holmes. But we don’t need Moriarty in this story to see that Holmes let himself get suckered.

Also. Watson’s killing of the crazy person by shooting him through two windows and across a courtyard? Great shot. But, after a couple of days have passed since seeing the episode, I have to think: what? It only makes sense to kill the old man sitting in a chair if Watson could see the lighter gun resting on the table, was unaware that the lighter gun was a lighter, and believed that the old guy in the chair was going to use the gun. If Watson’s objective was to stop Holmes from taking the pill, why kill the guy? If the objective was to make sure the guy didn’t use the gun, wellll… OK, I suppose.

But, now that Watson has killed that guy, he has at least three problems he didn’t have before. Four, actually. And they’re all the same problem. He’s beholden to the good graces of four power centers not to to turn him in to stand trial for murder. Holmes knows Watson shot the crazy guy. Holmes told the cops all they need to know to suspect Watson, and once they pull the bullet from the crazy guy, they’ll have all they need to actually arrest him. Mycroft can plausibly intercept the police case, divert the investigation, and hide the whole thing away for his own ends–and there are least two layers there: to make sure someone who’s willing to kill is around to keep his brother safe, and to advance whatever his government job is. Finally, Moriarty can be expected to intercept the case from the police, though not necessarily to keep it buried, and then use the information for his own nefarious purposes.

Of course this problem adds to the narrative possibilities, so it’s a good problem. Nevertheless, I’m still pretty irritated that Holmes got suckered into almost killing himself by a crazy guy whose shtick, which Holmes knew, was to sucker people into killing themselves. So, except for the title character falling for a trick straight out of children’s literature, I’m quite impressed, and will be looking forward to how it all plays out.

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