Tag Archives: elementary

It’s okay to like things that I hate

I am continually surprised that I have to defend things I don’t like to people that do, or vice versa.

Here’s an example. A lot of my friends are really interested in the Dystopia Rising LARP. I’m sure it’s really awesome, but for a variety of reasons, I’m just not interested in it. I want people to enjoy their enthusiasm of new things, even if I occasionally need to mute email threads or posts on my social media feeds just so it stops popping up. And yet, once in a while I’ll get someone new who doesn’t realize I’m not interested, and I have to politely inform them.

This is where it gets awkward, because sometimes, people want to know why. And conceptually, I understand it — perhaps if there’s some misunderstanding I hold as to why I don’t like the game, it can be addressed. People want to share something they enjoy with people they like, and really enthusiastic fans want to remove barriers from people who could be fans. I understand all of these motivations, and I respect them, but sometimes it feels like I need to justify why I dislike something. I end up needing to articulate exactly why I hate it, and if that reason is not somehow sufficient, I am not “giving it a fair chance.”

Let’s try a different example. Something that will shock no one is that I like Elementary, but once in a while I’ll run into a rabid fan of BBC Sherlock who feels the need to explain in vitriolic terms why they hate the show. Again, aside from the irritating tendency to thread crap, if people want to hate something, feel free. But once in a while, I get put on the spot to justify liking the show, implying that somehow I cannot possibly like Sherlock if I like Elementary. (And let’s face it: I like Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. If liking bad Holmes media is a crime, consider me guilty.)

For a while, I chalked a lot of this up to misplaced enthusiasm. It’s natural to share things we like and find people who hate the things we hate, and the simple mantra of “we don’t have to like the same things” seemed sufficient. But over the years, my stance on this has gotten muddier. Let’s take, for example, Orson Scott Card. He is an influential science-fiction writer who has “highly polarizing viewpoints” (which is a nice way of saying he’s a bigot). Without getting into the various debates on Card himself, the result has been a lot of very conflicted people who sincerely liked Ender’s Game but feel uncomfortable supporting Card in any way because of those opinions. The same thing happened when it was discovered that Jack Kirby wasn’t getting anything from The Avengers or that buying Chick-Fil-A made you hate gay people. These days, something you like could send a message you don’t intend, and people end up justifying their position more or not even talking about things they like.

I generally believe that it’s okay to like problematic things. You aren’t required to defend something that you had no hand in creating simply because you like it. Neither are you required to defend hating something that everyone around you loves if it bothers you, upsets you, or simply bores you. Let’s face it — there’s so much cool stuff in the world to experience, and life’s too short to spend arguing about which bits of it are more awesome than other bits of it. Certainly, let’s spend some time talking about problematic bits and how those bits impact larger culture so we can all make it better — popular culture as a spark for social dialog is important and useful. However, let’s stop trying to force people to like something they don’t, or make them feel bad for enjoying something you hate. Because if you don’t like Doctor Who, we can still be friends, and maybe we’ll bond over a mutual love of The Transformers instead.

Elementary 206/207: “An Unnatural Arrangement” and “The Marchioness”

These two episodes are an interesting anomaly — they actually share elements of the same short story, “Silver Blaze.” The first, “An Unnatural Arrangement,” only have one noteworthy element (aside from being a long-needed episode digging into the character of Tommy Gregson), but it is a well-known one: a reframing of the infamous “curious incident of the dog in the night-time,” and particularly how the dog didn’t bark. The second episode, “The Marchioness,” picks up the rest of the threads, bringing in the eponymous Silver Blaze and also reframing the element of disguising one horse as another, as well as the attempt to sneak into the stable and attempt to harm the horse in question. Horse racing plays a part in a few Holmes stories, and it was nice to see that nod in Elementary.

Other elements between the episodes include:

  • In 206, Holmes trunk of cold cases could be a nod to Watson’s “tin dispatch box” that contains all of his unpublished adventures with Holmes.
  • In 207, Mycroft’s restaurant, Diogenes, is definitely a reference to the club canon Mycroft frequented, the Diogenes Club. The original Diogenes Club was a place where important men could meet and be social while conducting themselves in absolute silence — it will be interesting to see what elements of the original club come out in this restaurant.
  • Mycroft’s laziness is referenced here again, as well as in 201, which was also a trait that the canon Mycroft possessed.

As a bonus, I’ve reprinted the essay on “Silver Blaze” from my book, Watson is Not an Idiot, which is now on sale!

Silver Blaze (1892)

“Silver Blaze” is one of the most well-known stories in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, primarily due to the famous line about “the curious incident of the dog”:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

In fact, this quote is so popular that people often assume it actually shows up in completely different stories instead of this one — usually The Hound of the Baskervilles (another story involving dogs on the moors, but in a very different way).

For all the popularity of this quote, the story isn’t the best representation of Holmes’ skill. To start, Holmes doesn’t dramatically uncover new evidence so much as sift through a large amount of existing evidence to draw the correct conclusion. Further, Holmes is uncharacteristically lucky in this case. He makes a number of guesses, and even he admits to being surprised when he is proven correct.

Many of these unusual quirks relate to “The Silver Blaze” being one of the few “fair play” mysteries in the canon. Fair play mysteries are when all the facts and characters are available to the reader as well as to the detective — something that’s very common in mysteries today, but fairly infrequent in the stories of Doyle’s time. It’s harder to dramatically pull out the key piece of evidence when you also have to give the reader the same chance to discover it as well.

This is not the first time that horse racing has come up in the canon. Betting on horse races was a part of “Blue Carbuncle,” and the allusion to Holmes’ knowledge of horse betting in that story is reinforced when he places a bet himself in this one. Further, there is some question as to whether Holmes’ bet was entirely ethical, as he bet on Silver Blaze when he clearly had inside information on the horse. It could be a case of Holmes being a bit naive about betting etiquette, but “Blue Carbuncle” seems to contradict that. Regardless, we learn that Holmes (and, in later stories, Watson) gambles, both with his money and with some of his deductions.

We also meet a new Scotland Yard inspector and one of the most talented, Inspector Gregory. Holmes considers Gregory to be an “extremely competent officer,” lacking only in imagination. Gregory does prove to be quite clever, as well as diligent about preserving evidence. Gregory is also very respectful of Holmes’ methods. As for the chronology of this case, Holmes and Watson are talking over breakfast at the start of the story in 221B which implies pre-marriage, since it’s more likely that they would be having dinner or supper if Watson was visiting. However, there’s a reference to Watson’s published memoirs, and we learn that Holmes has come to earn the respect of at least one Scotland Yard detective, so it’s probable that this is a late case in the pre-marriage period.

Holmes is uncommonly modest in this story. Not only does he admit to guessing, but he also admits to making a mistake in his deductions:

“Because I made a blunder, my dear Watson — which is, I am afraid, a more common occurrence than any one would think who only knew me through your memoirs.”

Some more threads that we’ve been watching pop up in this story:

• This is another one of the few appearances of the “ear-flapped traveling-cap” — only the second in four books.

• There’s a background reference to gypsies, similar to the one in “The Speckled Band.”

• There’s another example of Holmes’ sense of personal justice: “I follow my own methods, and tell as much or as little as I choose.”

• Watson again makes some good observations. He strikes upon a key point in the evidence (the stable-boy locking the door) and he notices the return tracks of the horse and man, saving them valuable time.

One of the better stories in the canon, and well worth reading.

Elementary 204/205: “Poison Pen” and “Ancient History”

The past couple of weeks have been light on explicit (or even subtle) canon references, but there are a few overall threads that tie into the existing canon that are worth pointing out.

204: Poison Pen

Boxing: Looks like I was a bit premature about mentioning boxing in my last post, since it comes up much more obviously here. To reinforce that yes, Sherlock Holmes really does box, there’s a second reference to boxing in “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist” (where get literally gets into a brawl in a bar):

“He had a fine flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous. He ended a string of abuse by a vicious backhander, which I failed to entirely avoid. The next few minutes were delicious. It was a straight left against a slogging ruffian. I emerged as you see me. Mr. Woodley went home in a cart.”

Watson: One thing I love about this episode is that Watson’s own observations about Holmes come out. This is something that comes up a few times in the canon — mostly around Holmes’ drug problems (most notably in “The Sign of the Four”). On the other hand, Joan Watson is able to tell when Holmes is lying to her, which is something John Watson isn’t able to do (most spectacularly in “The Dying Detective”).

Origin Story: While the details are completely different, the scene where Holmes explains how Abigail helped him to realize what his calling was fills the same role as Holmes telling Watson about Victor Trevor in “The Gloria Scott.”

205: Ancient History

Bees: This came up more in season one, but Holmes has expressed an interest in bees (in this episode, Holmes using the sounds of bees as background noise). There’s only one canon reference to this: in “His Last Bow,” where he claims that, in retirement, he has written the Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. Since then, this has become a major part of the character of Sherlock Holmes, most recently in the pastiche A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.

Single stick: In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes is mentioned as “an expert singlestick player,” which is the martial art Holmes is seen practicing at the end of this episode.

Elementary 202/203: “Solve for X” and “We are Everyone”

We’re now moving into episodes that aren’t as densely packed with canon references, so I’ll be doubling up.

Episode 202: “Solve for X”

Not much in this episode to talk about.

Detective Bell: Since Detective Bell showed up a few times in this episode, I should mention something I’ve been wondering for a while: this may be a reference to Dr. Joseph Bell, the real-life teach to Arthur Conan Doyle that served as the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. He was able to deduce a lot of information about patients with a quick glance, leading to one of Holmes’ most iconic abilities. (This inspiration actually ended up leading to the creation of House, M.D., which is essentially what would happen if you merged Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes, and was one of the better Holmes pastiches until the current crop of adaptations came around.)

Holmes doing physical exercise: Something you see a lot of is Holmes doing physical exercise in the show. The canonical Holmes was actually in good physical shape. In fact, he was an excellent boxer (“Gloria Scott” mentions that he trained in boxing, and “the Yellow Face,” Watson mentions that “he was undoubtedly one of the finest boxers of his weight that I have ever seen.” Arthur Conan Doyle was obsessed with boxing, and even wrote a novel entirely about it (Rodney Stone).

Tattoos: This has nothing to do with the canon, but I just think it’s interesting. Most, if not all, of Sherlock’s tattoos are actually real tattoos that Jonny Miller has.

Episode 203: “We Are Everyone”

This episode has a few more interesting elements to consider.

Title Sequence: Something I keep meaning to mention: the smashing of the white bust during the Rube Goldberg-esque title sequence is likely a reference to “The Six Napoleons,” where Holmes smashed several plaster busts of Napoleon to find a stolen pearl.

Meeting With Clients: The meeting with “Mr. Mueller” in which he refuses to speak until Watson is present is an interesting inversion of the usual canonical trope: In a number of the early stories, Holmes refuses to see a client unless Watson is allowed to remain and listen to the case.

Damery: I was particularly pleased with this one, as it’s very subtle. “Muller” references “Damery Corporation” in the scene, saying that they “highly recommend” Holmes. “Damery” is likely a reference to Sir James Damery, who was a character in “The Illustrious Client,” another story about a man speaking on behalf of the government under false pretenses.

Clyde: I love Clyde. That is all.

Robert Moses: Not strictly canon-related, but it is interesting that Robert Moses, the urban planner referenced in the episode, really existed.

Captain Gregson: Holmes once mentions Gregson’s full name, “Thomas Gregson.” Gregson is likely a reference to Tobias Gregson, Lestrade’s counterpart in A Study in Scarlet as well as some other stories.

Interestingly, on CBS.com’s “About” page for Elementary, there’s this quote:

Sherlock’s police contact, Capt. Tobias “Toby” Gregson, knows from previous experience working with Scotland Yard that Sherlock is brilliant at closing cases, and welcomes him as part of the team.

Watson As Scribe: Watson debates writing down Holmes’ cases, which is the classic relationship they have. The title she briefly considers in the episode is “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes,” which is an actual book title (although it often has the more Victorian construction of “Case-Book”).

Moriarty: The name of Jamie Moriarty is very close to “James Moriarty” (and the same kind of gender-bent naming as “Joan Watson”). But there’s a funny story about the name “James Moriarty”: it’s actually the name of both Professor Moriarty and his older brother in “The Final Problem” (specifically, “… the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother…”). He also had a third, unnamed younger brother. Kim Newman played with this naming oddity to comedic effect in his story “The Greek Invertebrate,” part of his wonderful and hilarious novel Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’ubervilles.

I’ll likely get more into Moriarty in future episodes, since it seems we’ll see her again in this season.

Elementary 201: “Step Nine”

The first episode of season two was packed full of canon references — so many that I had to watch the episode three times to catch them all! I’ll hit the two big ones (Lestrade and Mycroft) in detail, and then break out the other small references you might not have caught.

G. Lestrade

Inspector Lestrade makes his first Elementary appearance in this episode. Before I get into this, I just have to say that I love Sean Pertwee’s performance here — he manages to present a Lestrade that is tenacious and not without merit, but ultimately flawed in different ways from Holmes and Watson. Most of what we know of G. Lestrade (he is never given a first name in the canon, although the episode calls him “Gareth”) comes from A Study In Scarlet, and it meshes quite a bit with the presentation here. For example, Holmes in the episode calls him “the best of a bad bunch,” which is very close to his quote in Scarlet describing him as “the best of a bad lot.” He’s also described as a “wiry bulldog” in Hound of the Baskervilles, which also maps well to this episode, both in his physical appearance and his personality. Also, Holmes did often let Scotland Yard take credit for his cases — in “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty,” Holmes admits that he has only taken credit in four of the last fifty-three cases he’s worked with the police on. There isn’t mention of Lestrade specifically taking credit, but it’s not a huge stretch.

Finally, an interesting note of pronunciation — most pastiches go with the French “Leh-strah-d” pronunciation, and Elementary keeps this. However, the 80s Granada series (one of the most influential television pastiches) went with the less common “Les-stray-d” pronunciation. Every time he’s introduced in a new pastiche, I’m always curious with version of the name they’ll go with, and I was pleased they went with the more commonly-accepted on here.

Mycroft Holmes

If Lestrade’s presentation was fairly close to the canon, Mycroft’s was about as far as it could be. In the canon, the two brothers largely got along. Mycroft’s corpulence was a large factor in his character, but he is thin here (although, to be fair, “thin Mycroft” was also an element of the BBC Sherlock series, and it actually the first direct connection to that show I’ve seen thus far). Mycroft has no visible connection to the government, and instead appears to be a restaurant owner. They are both lazy, however, and while Elementary Mycroft doesn’t display any real deductive skill, he does appear to be intelligent. However, canon Mycroft is explicitly more intelligent than Holmes, and that fact doesn’t appear anywhere here.

That isn’t to say that this interpretation of Mycroft is bad. Much like the first season’s interpretation of Moriarty, it’s a radical one, and while it strays from the traditional core of the character as a hyper-intelligent counterpart to Holmes, it does focus on the actual familial relationship, which the canon glosses over. In fact, Holmes’ cryptic comment of “art in the blood” at the end of the episode does have a canonical grounding — in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter,” we learn that Holmes’ grandmother was the sister of the French artist Vernet. If they kept a similar French artistry for Elementary, it not only explains the comment, but also Mycroft’s command of French.

Finally, I want to note that Mycroft did once keep Holmes’ rooms at 221b in the canon — during his “Great Hiatus” between 1891 and 1894, which was mentioned in “The Empty House.”

Other References

  • Joan, in the first scene, is wearing a shirt with a gigantic dog on it — likely a reference to Hound. (Thanks to Gareth Skarka for pointing this one out to me.)
  • DCI Hopkins is a reference to Inspector Hopkins, who was referenced in three stories (“The Golden Pince-Nez”, “Black Peter”, and “Abbey Grange”).
  • As Holmes and Watson ascend to 221b, Holmes mentions keeping “trophies from old cases.” This is something canon Holmes did as well, perhaps most famously in “A Scandal in Bohemia”.
  • Holmes mentions that he worked with Lestrade on “the case of the Norwood Builder” together, which is a reference to a canon story (and yes, Lestrade does appear in that story).
  • During that same scene, Holmes mentions that he keeps five caches of emergency supplies around London, including passports. In “Black Peter,” Holmes tells Watson that he has five “small refuges” around London that he used to store disguises in case of emergency.
  • Langdale Pike, as brief as he is in this episode, actually is referenced in two canon stories: “The Creeping Man” and “The Three Gables.” In both, he is a part of Holmes’ organization in the late post-Watson years, whose specialty was as a “human book of reference upon all matters of social scandal.”

Tour de Elementary (Season Two)

My book, Watson Is Not An Idiot, will drop on October 30th in a wide variety of places (although you can get it on Kindle now!). I’ve been trying to think of a way to get people excited about the book. Then, watching the first episode of Elementary this season, I got the idea of commenting on each episode of the season through the lens of the original canon.

So I’ve decided to do a new tour, a “Tour de Elementary.” It won’t be as rigorous as my tour through the canon — not every episode is likely to have something interesting to talk about, I might combine episodes here and there, and since I’m watching through purchased iTunes episodes, I might lag a little behind people watching it on broadcast television. Plus, I can’t guarantee any consistent schedule, given that I have a lot of other writing engagements right now and a surgery coming up soon. But I think, if you like the kind of commentary I’m making on the show, you’ll like what I have in the book.

My next blog will be about the episode “Step Nine,” which is just packed with interesting canon references. Welcome aboard the new tour!

Elementary Addendum

At 221b Con, I was on a panel to discuss Elementary, and a few things came out of that discussion that tie into my original post on the topic. So, consider this an addendum.

  • The show is very much based in New York. Rather than being a general analog of London, the show veers into being explicitly a show that is part of the culture of New York. Again, I think this ties into the heart of the original Canon: Holmes was originally a creature of London, and now he is a creature of New York. Being originally British, this allows other characters (such as Gregson) to act as “native guide,” but New York is very much a character in this show.
  • Continue reading Elementary Addendum