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Sherlock S3E3: His Last Vow and Series 3 Awards

The title was the usual pun on an original Conan Doyle story, ‘His Last Bow’, the very last in the storyline of the originals, though not the last to be published.  As usual, there was a mixture of references to Conan Doyle.  The meeting between Mary Morstan and Sherlock drew from ‘The Empty House’, in the kind of location , the use of a dummy Sherlock, and the subject of marksmanship.  The references to ‘the East Wind’ also come from a dialogue between Holmes and Watson at the end of ‘His Last Bow’, but the symbolic meaning of it has been altered to make it contemporary.  

I was interested to note that the missing ability in higher mathematics, which Conan Doyle attributed to Moriarty (Professor Moriarty, to be precise) turned up in connection with Sherlock and Mycroft’s mother.  I suppose that everybody knows by now that the parents were played by Benedict Cumberbatch’s real parents (and that Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington are partners in real life).  As soon as I realized during series 1 that this adaptation does not depict Moriarty as either a mathematician or a professor, I felt sure that it was going to be cutting-edge and contemporary.  The fact that the mathematical accomplishment has eventually turned up suggests how determined Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are to re-use as much of Conan Doyle’s material as possible.  They are, to paraphrase Eric Morecambe, playing all the right Conan  Doyle notes – just not necessarily in the right order.  It is significant that the mathematician is a lesser, boring character, rather than a cool, major character.  Gatiss and Moffat also seem to have a passion for pay-off and return, and so I think it likely that Mrs Holmes’s triple integrals may turn up in series 4.  Her textbook is entitled ‘The Dynamics of Combustion’, and so I predict she will be called upon when something is about to catch fire or explode, probably at a moment when she only has thirty-eight seconds left in which to do the calculations.  

Here are the Sherlock Series 3 iamhyperlexic awards.  As is customary, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) is excluded from all categories except his own. WARNING: contains what may be construed as spoilers.  

Best Villain: Alongside the two obvious nominations for Moriarty (Andrew Scott) and Charles Augustus Magnusson (Lars Mikkelsen) are two others: the photographer in S3E2 (Jalaal Hartley) and Mark Gatiss (Mycroft, for the way he treats young Sherlock).  The winner is, of course, Moriarty.  Even when he is not there, his presence is still felt.  Moriarty is the only one who could have beaten C.A.M.  The Charles Augustus Magnusson of Sherlock is even more stomach-turning than the Charles Augustus Milverton of the original.  But he under-estimated Sherlock and got shot, and so he loses.  

Word Cloud Most Harmful to Hyperlexia Sufferers: the one surrounding Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington) outside the restaurant in S3E1.  This returned in S3E3, where the word ‘Liar’ persisted.   I hope, if it ever returns, it is with adequate supporting explanation.   The lists which appear in S3E3 when C.A.M. has his spectacles on are also rather irritating, but yielded to the pause button.  

Funniest Word Cloud: (Actually a series of word clouds) the ones in S3E2 which appear at the crime scene when Sherlock is stumbling around, drunk.  

Best New Character: Archie (the page boy with the penchant for murder scene photographs in S3E2), Young Sherlock, Mary Morstan,  Mrs and Mrs Holmes, Bill Wiggins (Tom Brooke).  The winner is Bill Wiggins.  I am sure he has a bigger future in series 4.  

Best Re-use of Conan Doyle Material:  there are dozens of possible nominees.  My favourite is Sherlock’s mention of white supremacists when he sees the tattoo on the hand of the unconscious security guard in S3E3.  This is a reference to ‘The Five Orange Pips’, a story about the Ku Klux Klan.  

Best Don’t Try This At Home Moment: Drinking beer out of measuring cylinders.  Upon their first appearance, when Sherlock asks for two “beers”, they were clearly filthy, as laboratory glassware often is, and hence, probably, toxic.  

Sherlock’s Best Moment: When he drops the champagne glass in S3E2, having realised that Tessa, the nurse, had referred to John Watson by his middle name, and hence had seen one the wedding invitations.  Or using an engagement ring as an inducement to get into C.A.M.’s flat in S3E3.  The champagne glass narrowly wins it.  This is the essence of genius: bothering to regard something as important, even when it is manifestly unimportant to every-one else in the world.    

Best Moment By A Character Other Than Sherlock: John Watson’s escalating beatings of Sherlock in S3E1 when Sherlock reveals he is alive.  Molly Hooper’s (Louise Brealey) slapping Sherlock repeatedly in the face when his urine sample tests positive for controlled drugs.  Mrs Hudson’s uncontrollable laughter when she realised that Sherlock would have to read out the telegrams at the wedding.  The winner, just, is John Watson’s busting of Sherlock’s nose.  The fact that the eateries Sherlock, Watson, and Mary Morstan attended got less salubrious each time Watson made another attack was very funny.  Molly, while important to the story in this series, seemed to have a smaller part than she played in the last one.  I hope she moves back into the foreground in series 4.  

Best Editorial Decision: Giving Mary Morstan a substantial and mysterious back story.  In the originals, she has “Victim” written across her forehead from the first moment she appears.  Or preparing for series 4.  Preparing for series 4 wins by a mile.    

And please, Mr Freeman, no more messing about with dragons this time.  It’s redundant, all that stuff.


How did Sherlock survive the fall? Part 2

My attempt on 20 January 2012 to cover all the possibilities has been vindicated.  The answer, according to the numbering of my earlier list, is: “Option 5”, but with an inflatable rather than cardboard boxes.  My hunch that Molly was part of the plan was also correct.  Many people correctly surmised the use of a ball under Sherlock’s armpit to stop the pulse in his arm while Watson attempted to take it.

Once again, I notice Mark Gatiss’s penchant for making puns out of the titles of the original stories (‘The Empty Hearse’ instead of Empty House) and his wanton propensity for using plots from the originals as mere ornaments, rather than episodes in their own right.  This happened in S3E1 with ‘A Case of Identity’ (the tearful woman, accompanied by an older man with whom she was lodging, bemoaning the fact that her on-line companion had apparently disappeared).

The reason why Sherlock’s name appears so frequently in this blog is that, while fictional, he is outstandingly the most famous fellow sufferer of hyperlexia.  (I wonder if Mark Gatiss was playing Mycroft or speaking for himself when he utters line, “I live in a world of goldfish.”)  My attacks always get worse immediately before, during, and for a while after each programme.  I deplore the harmful and insensitive ways the word clouds are used.  The fact that they are on screen for too short a time even for some-one like me to assimilate them is one thing, and that can be offset by using the pause button.  However, the content of these word clouds is infuriating.  Take the scene in S3E1 when Sherlock, Watson and Mary are standing outside the restaurant, after Watson has tried to sublimate the shock of seeing Sherlock again by attacking him.  The word cloud which appears contains some terms which make it obvious how they arose: ‘cat lover’, for example.  However, another one was ‘Lib Dem’, which is infuriating.  Unless it was something as obvious as the bit of metal on Jabez Wilson’s watch-chain in ‘The Red-headed League’ which indicated that he was a freemason, I do not see how you can tell that some-one supports the Liberal Democrats merely by looking at him or her.   If the writers have a practical hypothesis of how all the terms in the word cloud arose, they should show it.  If they do not, then they are not only belittling their own artistic creation, but they are scoundrels.

How did Sherlock survive the fall?

One of my close literary friends has asked me to account for my theory that Sherlock, in the recent BBC adaptation, survived the fall from the building at the end of episode 2/3.  This arose from a conversation on Facebook, in which I used the phrase “some mechanical means” to describe Sherlock’s descent. 

The main reason why I said, “some mechanical means” is because I used to work at an engineering establishment, where any given problem would usually prompt more than one solution.  Hence, I perceive this not as the answer to the question, “How could he have done it?” but rather, “How could he best have done it?” 

These are the possibilities as I see them.

  1. String or wire.  He jumped off, but his descent was slowed by friction with a piece of string or wire.  Why didn’t we see the wire?  Because it was thin.  How did he manage the jolt of kinetic energy at the end of such a descent?  A piece of metal folded into a concertina, which unfolded and absorbed the energy at the bottom of the descent. 
  2. Induction.  Sherlock had previously arranged for an electric circuit carrying a large current (possibly including low-temperature super-conductors) to be set up in the building.  Before he jumped off, he made sure he was wearing a jacket lined with coils of copper wire.  The comparatively large eddy currents resulting from this arrangement set up a magnetic interaction which slowed Sherlock’s descent considerably.
  3. He jumped onto the top of the passing double-decker bus.
  4. He jumped into the back of the passing dump truck. 
  5. Free fall, with impact buffer.  He jumped, but landed on top of cardboard boxes or something.  Whatever it was must have been taken away immediately after by some pre-arranged agent, because it was not evident after the apparent death.
  6. Parachute.  This would have had to open very high up for no-one to have noticed it.  Something creating drag or upward force above Sherlock’s body is physically equivalent to item 1 in this list. 
  7. Updraught.  Sherlock had previously hired somebody to drive past with a set of equipment which blew air upwards with considerable force.  (The dump truck, perhaps?) 
  8. Gravity.  As the egregious Mr Dickens, my ‘A’ level Applied Maths teacher once said, “if you had a Cox’s Orange Pippin of tremendous   density…”  Sherlock had obtained a sample of neutron matter which exerted such a strong gravitational field in opposition to the Earth’s field that he could fall unharmed. 
  9. Moral superiority.   He internalised the teachings of Nietzsche, and came to the conclusion: “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, even if it does kill me”. 

Whichever way you slice it, Molly Hooper comes into it somehow.

Sherlock: psychoanalysis


What I am doing now is the literary equivalent of hiding carrots under a pile of chicken nuggets.  I want people to read my serialised novel, The Companion, and to comment constructively upon it, but I can see from the blog statistics that all anybody is interested in at the moment is posts about Sherlock.  I can cope with that.  I am interested in Sherlock, too. 

I envy this contemporary Sherlock many things. 

First of all, I envy him his name.  I used to think that my name, William, was rare.  I went through the whole of my education being the only William in the whole school, except for a brief overlap with a pupil at Roundhay who was expelled for pelting the head boy with rotten pears.  Now, I can hardly walk past a row of shops without hearing a mother shouting at her recalcitrant toddler who is my namesake.  I have never heard of anybody, alive, dead, or fictional, called Sherlock, other than the great detective himself.

More than that, I envy him for his ability to get his own way.  People expect him to do weird things, and mostly they put up with it.  He tells some-one to shut up, and relative silence, not recriminations, is forthcoming.  Some of what little human interaction he participates in, he gets to hide by acting (as evidenced by the door intercom scene in ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’).    I envy him his ability to be regarded as a special case, relatively free from being psychologised and pathologised.  Only once in the programmes so far do I recall somebody referring to Sherlock as having Asperger’s syndrome (in ‘The Hound of Baskerville’, as they were coming out of the Cross Keys). 

The outstanding, but, in the long run, insignificant, exception to this is the scene in ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ in which Sherlock wants Watson to hit him, finds Watson uncomprehending, and tries to precipitate the outcome by punching Watson.  There is a brilliant cut away and cut back to Sherlock with his face a few inches off the floor with Watson on his back and with his arm round Sherlock’s throat.  That is possibly the best scene in all six programmes so far.  You would scour the works of Conan Doyle in vain to find it, and yet it is made entirely with authentic ingredients. 

Sherlock is a hunter.  He prefers to work alone, but relies on others when it suits him.  He never knows the final outcome of what he undertakes, but he presses it home with conviction because he knows that to do otherwise would mean certain disaster.  He makes (and re-makes) everything up as he goes along, except his method for making things up as he goes along.  This is why most human beings find him so unsatisfactory: because they greatly prefer a predictable mediocrity to an unpredictable genius.  It is also why two of the people most interested in Sherlock are Irene Adler and Jim Moriarty: the only two people as much afraid of dying of boredom as Sherlock is. 

Anthropologists have shown that, historically, hunting is virtually a waste of time.  In terms of calories, it expends more than it captures.  It may from time to time result in an increase in protein and mineral intake for the tribe that it serves, but its unpredictability means that it would never compete with agriculture as a means of subsistence, once the latter had been discovered.  The thing that Sherlock is hunting for is the relief of boredom.  It is the chase itself which sustains him.  As soon as he finds his quarry, he is instantly transported back to starvation and the hunger for another case begins again.  Meanwhile, those who have been trying to keep up with him wonder, quite understandably, why they set off in the first place.  

The feminine side of human existence is represented in the story by the original character of Watson and the new character of Molly Hooper. 

Watson in the present adaptation is the personification of the desire of the human race to be treated with civility and respect.  It is perhaps ironic that Watson himself is in therapy (presumably for post-traumatic stress disorder suffered while serving in Afghanistan) because he behaves like a therapist to Sherlock.  He draws boundaries.  He tried to get Sherlock to recognise his own limitations.  He has no hesitation in pointing out Sherlock’s faults to him, and in withdrawing from Sherlock if he misbehaves. 

Molly represents that section of the human race which has partially resigned itself to being treated with an absence of respect, but which believes that Sherlock can eventually be saved from himself, even if that requires the playing of a very, very long game.  The character of Molly Hooper, played so exquisitely by Louise Brealey, works because Molly is perceptive enough to see what is happening and articulate enough to give voice to it.  The line “I don’t count,” so poignantly uttered in ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, actually means, “I don’t count to you yet, you narrow-minded, arrogant, selfish bastard, but I will one day.”  To that extent, Molly reminds me of my own creation, Violet.  Sherlock might be compared to Kelvin, the other main character in ‘The Companion’, but the roles reverse from time to time. 

The conclusion is that Sherlock, who hates being in the same room with this person or that person, is entirely dependent on humanity in general, because humanity, with its endless shortcomings, provides him with the one thing he craves above all else: more than the historical Holmes craved cocaine, or the contemporary Sherlock desires tobacco, they both crave data.  The mass of humanity provides data.  If Sherlock woke up one morning to find that alien abduction had de-populated the entire planet, he would not rejoice in being able to talk uninterrupted, because there would be no-one to show off to.  There would be no-one whose sleeves, or collar, or calluses, or ink-stains, or mannerisms, or handwriting, or speech he could analyse.  There would be no affairs, divorces, frauds, thefts, extortions, murders, blackmails, threats, suicides, or other forms of tension that he could detect and analyse.  Without the mass of humanity, there would be nothing to laugh at, at all.