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BBC Sherlock: Symbols and Surprises


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BBC Sherlock: Symbols and Surprises
Sherlock's season four came and went, solving the mystery of the final Holmes sibling. But was it clever or hackneyed? Which classic cases did it flip? And for that matter what about the Victorian episode The Abominable Bride? Come share your loves and hates and discover all the homages, references, and deeper literary significance. Where is Sherlock going? And do we approve? (Presented at Clockwork Alchemy, May 26, 2016, San Jose, CA)

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BBC Sherlock: Symbols and Surprises

  2. 2. The Abominable Bride: Concept • The title comes from the short story “The Musgrave Ritual” where Holmes is examining his box of old cases “done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me.” One is “a full account of Ricoletti of the club-foot, and his abominable wife.” No more information is given, though some later writers have tackled this one.
  3. 3. The Abominable Bride: Feminism •The show has been accused of sexism and this rather anachronistic show appears designed as a counter. • HOLMES: The invisible army hovering at our elbow, attending to our homes, raising our children, ignored, patronised, disregarded, not allowed so much as a vote ... but an army nonetheless, ready to rise up in the best of causes, to put right an injustice as old as humanity itself. So, you see, Watson, Mycroft was right. This is a war we must lose. •WATSON: Are you incapable of boiling an egg? The fires are rarely lit; there is dust everywhere; and you almost destroyed my boots scraping the mud off them. If it wasn’t my wife’s business to deal with the staff, I would talk to you myself. • Janine, Molly Hooper, and Jane the maid all appear among the women of the secret society. • In the sexist original, Mrs. Watson is eager for her husband to vanish for days on end traveling with Sherlock and suggests he have someone watch his medical practice. This time around, she’s frustrated as goes off on her own adventures. “I don’t mind you going, my darling. I mind you leaving me behind!” she insists, while Watson, true to his era, is perplexed why she’d want to go adventuring. He asks her to make dinner as he leaves her behind again, frustrating her. •This time, she has a double life as an agent for Mycroft. They call each other “Holmes” and “Watson.” •Lady Carmichael and Sir Eustace parallel Mary and oblivious John: “And what does your morning threaten, my dear? A vigorous round of embroidering? An exhausting appointment at the milliner’s?”
  4. 4. The Abominable Bride: Metafiction • Modern Sherlock dials back in time to the 1880s and leaves us there for half the episode before explaining the tie to modern times. This becomes an adaptation of its own adaptation. In the process, the episode deconstructs the false world, the original stories, and the modern television show, along with the nature of reality itself. • Holes in the 1880s setting as the characters comment on their own fictional realities. Mycroft calls the Reichenbach Falls story “Pure reason toppled by sheer melodrama.” He demands “Did you make a list?” from Sherlock, a plot point that will soon return. • The dilated pupil suggests narcotics.
  5. 5. The Abominable Bride: Metafiction • Victorian Mycroft’s term “virus in the data” sounds jarring, and is clearly intended to create a note of unease about historical accuracy • ‘Falls of the Reichenbach’ appears in Mycroft’s club • Mycroft is gaining noticeable weight between daily visits. • Watson stops a magazine seller to find out how his latest story, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is selling. Watson acts as if he’s written them, while Holmes suffers through the fame and sensationalism. The episode pushes this to extremes as Holmes and Watson seem to confuse themselves with their characters. • HOLMES: Well, there you are, you see? I’ve said it all before. WATSON: No, I wrote all that. You’re quoting yourself from The Strand Magazine. HOLMES: Well, exactly. WATSON: No, those are my words, not yours! That is the version of you that I present to the public: the brain without a heart; the calculating machine. I write all of that, Holmes, and the readers lap it up, but I do not believe it. HOLMES: Well, I’ve a good mind to write to your editor.
  6. 6. The Abominable Bride: Metafiction • Watson also insists on the deerstalker, saying, “You’re Sherlock Holmes. Wear the damn hat.” • Mrs. Hudson too has begun to imitate her character from the stories, to the point where her made-up status becomes humorous. “Well, I never say anything, do I? According to you, I just show people up the stairs and serve you breakfasts.” • MRS HUDSON (upset): And you make the room so drab and dingy. WATSON (tetchily): Oh, blame it on the illustrator. He’s out of control. I’ve had to grow this moustache just so people’ll recognise me.
  7. 7. The Abominable Bride: Metafiction WATSON: No I wouldn’t. Time you woke up, Sherlock. I’m a storyteller. I know when I’m in one. HOLMES: Of course. Of course you do, John. WATSON: So what’s he like? The other me, in the other place? HOLMES: Smarter than he looks. • As John emphasizes that in every reality he stands at Sherlock’s side and shoves Moriarty, with the line “it’s my turn,” the moment suggests a multiverse – that there are many parallel universes where Sherlock and John always exist as partners. • Pretending he’s fictional helps solve cases. • The episode ends in Victorian times.
  8. 8. The Six Thatchers: Plot • Sherlock not knowing who Margaret Thatcher is reflects his startling lack of knowledge that the earth circles the sun in A Study in Scarlet…though he soon reveals he’s just messing around this time. • Six identical busts being tracked down, stolen, and smashed under a light because a small object is hidden in one is the plot of “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.” Inside is the black pearl of the Borgias. This time, the pearl is a red herring Mycroft wants Sherlock to find. Instead, he discovers the AGRA disk. In both stories there’s a murder at one of the smashings and Sherlock is the one to discover the treasure. “Thatcher’s like, I dunno, Napoleon now,” says Sherlock’s hacker friend in an extra spoof.
  9. 9. The Six Thatchers: Bait and Switch • Many of Sherlock’s quick cases are “the wrong thumb,” “twins,” and otherwise a twist of the expected. • Adding up all these, including the bait and switch of the AGRA disk appearing in the bust instead of the Borgia Pearl, and bait and switch – thinking it’s one thing but it’s really another – covers the entire plotline. • First Sherlock dismisses the boy’s murder as an accident he solves in moments and gets distracted by the shattered busts over the city. Then he spends the entire episode thinking this is a Moriarty story but it’s actually about Mary. Her final teasing “Miss Me?” letter emphasizes this too. More bait and switch will follow…
  10. 10. The Six Thatchers: Appointment at Samarra • Woven throughout the episode is the fable “Appointment at Samarra,” emphasizing that one can’t cheat fate. “The Final Problem” echoes this theme, which stretches through the season. • Mycroft reveals that as a boy Sherlock wrote his own version, called Appointment at Sumatra. This references the lost case of the giant rat of Sumatra, “a story for which the world is not yet prepared (“The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”). In series three, there was another quick nod with “Sumatra Road.” Sherlock’s rewrite of the tale also involved a pirate. More quick flashbacks of himself as a child and the dog Redbeard stress this mystery subplot.
  11. 11. The Lying Detective: Plot • From “The Adventure of the Dying Detective.” Holmes lays a trap and makes himself terribly ill so Culverton Smith will confess to murder while trying to kill the detective. • In “The Reigate Squires,” Holmes actually has a mental breakdown. Continuing to play with the storyline, Watson flat-out asks, “Are you faking?” Holmes replies that he’s “Not a malingerer.” In the story, he’s such a professional malingerer that he’s considering writing a monograph on the subject. In both, he babbles deliriously, though in the story it’s an act. Continuing to play with the story’s tropes, Sherlock actually goes to the hospital...for charity. This plot seems inspired by a single concept – the man who confesses to the drugged, dying, and dead. Ironically Smith loves confessing…a good thing since the electronics are inadmissible.
  12. 12. The Lying Detective: East Wind • Siân Brooke plays Eurus Holmes…named for the East wind. Of course, the concept of a threatening east wind (along with flashbacks to Sherlock’s childhood with his dog) featured in season three. The line of the scary east wind, repeated several times, is from “His Last Bow,” a story that takes place on the eve of World War I: “There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.” This metaphor means the war. • Eurus was said to bring bad luck and, more specifically, rain – which perhaps explains the wondered-at promo image of Sherlock and John’s flooded Baker Street flat for season four. The sheet music in the photo reads “Miss Me?” Eurus uses the “Miss Me?” taunt to Sherlock. • At the end of season finale “His Last Vow,” as Sherlock and John are saying goodbye for what could be the last time, the detective tells his friend “the east wind takes us all in the end.” Mary demands of Moriarty, “How can he be back?” to which John replies, “Well if he is, he'd better wrap up warm. There's an east wind coming.” • The client “Faith” notes, “Big Brother is watching you.”
  13. 13. The Lying Detective: Miss Holmes? • The words describing the last sibling like “the other one” are so carefully vague that it’s not completely a shock that the last sibling is a sister. It’s odd Watson makes this assumption as this is the very deduction Sherlock gets wrong about him in “A Study in Pink.” • The Enola Holmes Mysteries YA book series from Nancy Springer star Sherlock’s teenage sister who wants to follow in her big brother’s footsteps. • Also, the Young Sherlock Holmes novels by Andrew Lane mention Charlotte Holmes, Sherlock and Mycroft’s sickly sister. Other series have a gifted female protégé with Sherlock’s skills. • Sian Brooke played Ophelia opposite Cumberbatch as Hamlet in his recent stage run.
  14. 14. The Final Problem: Plot • This episode references other episodes far more than it does the original stories, as it wraps up many dangling ends. • “The Final Problem” in the book features Sherlock’s facing off with his greatest nemesis, Moriarty, who invades his rooms and plays tricks on him and his friends. This is a reimagining, with a new, greater nemesis. • Eurus’s cruel game is very similar to the one Moriarty plays with Sherlock in “The Great Game” – cold cases with hostages and a ticking clock. She even plays tapes of Moriarty to enhance the connection. There’s some evidence it was his plan.
  15. 15. The Final Problem: Plot • The Musgrave ancestral home with bad grave dates and a rhyme that goes unsolved for decades (one even called “her little ritual”) certainly references “The Musgrave Ritual.” This story deals with a rhyme passed down through generations concealing a hidden treasure and a treasure hunt to find it around the estate. On the show, it goes unsolved for decades. The line of “Sixteen by sixteen” appears in both and in both the hero digs under a tree. • A crashing plane with everyone asleep references “A Scandal in Belgravia.” • 221B Baker Street is burned in the short story “The Final Problem.” • At last, the audience discovers what made this Sherlock cut off emotion. Several films have attempted to solve the puzzle.
  16. 16. The Final Problem: Reflections • Sherlock stages a horror film to make Mycroft confess…then they find themselves playing Saw in Arkham Asylum. • Facing death, the men banter about The Importance of Being Ernest...Mycroft played Lady Bracknell. In fact, this is a story about a long-lost brother and Lady Bracknell is keeping all the secrets. • Mycroft said John has to leave because they’re discussing family matters. “That’s why he stays!” Sherlock yells. • Mycroft has manipulated Sherlock as well as Eurus - he’s more “Big Brother” than actual brother. As Eurus challenges Sherlock to shoot either him or John, she stresses how Sherlock has found a new, better family than his birth one. Mycroft goads him, sensing this. • The trigger words he kept throwing at Sherlock over the years served as a way of checking on his little brother’s mental health
  17. 17. The Final Problem: Sherlock’s Ticks • The coffin lid puzzle references the coffin mystery seen in “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax.” A more important plot point is furthering the Sherlock-Molly relationship, though Sherlock is furious at how his sister makes him hurt her. There’s also an Irene reference. • Sherlock’s childhood best friend “redbeard” was Trevor – also his best friend in “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott.” • Flash of Eurus notes that “Deep water” is always an issue for Sherlock as flashes appear of the swimming pool from “The Great Game” and the Reichenbach Falls from “The Abominable Bride.” • Sherlock goes to rescue and support his sister when she’s exiled…much as he did with Irene.
  18. 18. The Final Problem: Plane • The girl on the plane is echoed in Moriarty’s terrified young hostages, as well as the plane of dead people in “A Scandal in Belgravia.” • The girl sees they’re coming up on a river, echoing the well where Sherlock lost his innocent friend. Sherlock decides to direct her to fly the plane and help her save herself, as he did for Molly and wants to do for his family. Mycroft, the manipulator, insists they have to make the girl crash, abandoning her (like Eurus) for the big picture.
  19. 19. The Final Problem: Plane • Meanwhile, he discovers Watson is also in danger of drowning. • He realizes the song is actually a cry for help — the girl on the plane is Eurus’ self- image, certain she’ll be sacrificed and uncertain how to return to earth and normalcy. Under the icy manipulator, she’s a frightened child. Sherlock finds her and hugs her. Together, they free Watson and Mycroft.
  20. 20. Check out Valerie Estelle Frankel’s take on Seasons 1-3