“…don’t waste your time and ours hooting at crap! Go after the good stuff, or leave it alone.”
— Daniel C. Dennet, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, “Sturgeon’s Law”
You’re not the only one depressed right now, Sherlock.
Because Sherlock is not (was not?) “crap,” I am compelled to share this review, even though I know it won’t make any difference in what is going to happen in Series 4 and 5. I feel in all fairness, though, I must warn you, that, in the words of the divine Miss Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
First, before I go any further, let me say that even though my comments on episodes 1 and 2 are brief, it’s not due to lack of appreciation. I have not had television reception for 13 years, but purchased both a wide-screen plasma TV and installed minimal cable just to watch the episodes, and then held rather elaborate Sherlock Series/Season 3 parties for the event. I do not regret a penny spent. Sherlock Series/Season 3 Episodes 1 and 2 were incomparably wonderful, nonpareil storytelling in an expanding Sahara of television.
We’ll get to episode 3.
SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO DON’T REALIZE A REVIEW WILL HAVE SPOILERS
“The Empty Hearse”
I thought “The Empty Hearse” was a brilliant send up of all the post-Reichenbach Fall hysteria, in the original meaning of the word, which was very reminiscent of the reaction of the reading public when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem.” (By the way, Holmes first fans had to wait 10 years for his return.) It was witty, thought provoking, and gave fans some much needed catharsis, as well as poking a bit of biting fun at the excesses it skewers. There was plenty of angst, but there was a great deal of good natured fun with the characters, and just enough mystery and deduction to make it an actual Sherlock Holmes story, and not simply an homage to fan fiction. (People forget that “The Empty House” also focused more on Holmes’ return then on the mystery.) Hearse, however, is not necessarily comfortable viewing for those who don’t like facing a bit of self-examination or non-traditional television. And not particularly satisfying, or undertandable, for “mundanes,” i.e., non-fans. But then freshness and originality is what made Sherlock such a success!
“Somebody loves you! If I had to punch that face, I’d avoid the nose and teeth too.”
—Irene Adler, Sherlock, “Scandal in Belgravia”
Fans of the series got John not just punching Sherlock in the face, but fans of the Canon got a nod to the John Watson originally fainting, when Sherlock reveals himself, in Freeman’s masterful performance of a man willing himself to stay standing and conscious. The acting was, if anything, even better than the previous episodes, and I was struggling for some decorum while inwardly bubbling at Benedict Cumberbatch getting to show off his comedic chops (little did I know then what was to come).
The following is a little (“Sarcasm?” “Yes.”) monograph on the philosophy of friendship. Apparently, I was channeling Sherlock Holmes (although my inner-Watson felt the need for a little levity). So I suppose I should put an academic warning on this…
Is the enduring appeal of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in their complete friendship?
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet it’s doubtful he realized that he was creating one of the most iconic relationships in literature. With adaptations of the characters appearing onscreen and in print at a near geometric pace, in everything period pastiches to openly labeled alternate universes, Holmes and Watson have replaced David and Jonathan in the 21st Century as a shorthand reference to an everlasting and extraordinarily close friendship. But what makes the friendship so appealing that a hundred years later we are still fascinated with them? How do they epitomize the philosophic ideal of friendship? And what, if anything, do the permutations of the relationship and the characters say about the culture in which they were created and re-created?
(Yes, Virginia, there is a Hogfather and yes, he has done a capture of the video, but he’s also good and isn’t going to post it because there’s no reason for all the good little boys and girls NOT to go to BBC One’s site to watch.)
Just in case you haven’t heard, BBC One is offering a Sherlock mini-epsiode on Christmas Day! Mini-episodes: a GREAT idea borrowed from Dr. Who. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue, and the rest of Team Sherlock!
Sherlock: Oh, thank goodness he doesn’t have that 1970’s mourn-stache crawling on his upper lip! I wonder if he’s figured out I’ve been drugging his coffee to make him think I’m dead?
The mini-episode is entitled “Many Happy Returns” (yes, there will be) and is a prequel to the official BBC Sherlock Series 3 launch on 1 January, 2014. According to the synopsis, it’s been two years since John saw Sherlock die (well, yes it has), but “someone isn’t quite convinced that’s he’s dead.”
I am assuming that, like the Dr. who specials and mini-episodes, the Sherlock Series 3 mini-episode will be posted on YouTube and/or available through iTunes the following day. (Of ocurse, it will be on YouTube, but I mean officially released.) Something else to look forward to on Boxing Day.
I am trapped in the Black Hole of projects but will escape the vortex by next week if I have to start drinking Cuban coffee while nibbling dark chocolate(a precursor to “energy drinks” and much tastier). So fresh fodder will be coming. Honest.
[Warning: This is a story about Einstein, quantum physics, and John “Three Continents” Watson in action. There’s an expletive not deleted and reference to the physical response of male anatomy. Apologies in advance to any physicists reading this for the liberties taken with the science. Hey, don’t blame me. You guys named it entanglement.]
by J. H. Watson
A chilly autumn rain started again. Umbrellas popped up; a business man raised a newspaper above his head; a young man in a pea coat shook like a dog and said, “Fuck.” Sherlock Holmes huddled deeper into a door frame, watching the entrance to an alley down the street. He sipped the hot coffee he’d just purchased at the cafe on the corner. He frowned. He forgot the sugar.
John Watson glanced around the room as he took a sip of his coffee. He made a face, looked to his right and said to the woman beside him, “I’m sorry. Apparently, I just drank your coffee. I’ll buy you another.”
She looked up from her phone screen, smiled and asked, “Are you flirting with me?”
John thought the woman had a lovely smile. He returned it. “No. But I’d be happy to flirt with you if you’d like.”
“What made you say that’s not your coffee?”
“Someone’s put sugar in it.” He wrinkled his face remembering the cloying taste, looked around for its possible owner.
“Yes. You did.”
“I saw you.”
John set the cup firmly on the counter and stared at it. A small dark stain spread slowly towards him where the coffee slopped over on impact. Rings of coffee waves rippled from the center.
“Is everything all right?” the woman asked.
John studied the cup as he replied, “Yeah. It’s just I don’t drink sugar in my coffee. I never drink sugar in my coffee.”
The woman beamed another smile at him. “Ah. Spooky action at a distance.”
“What?” John thought, Oh, great. A nutter. A pretty nutter, but still…
“Einstein’s comment on quantum entanglement. Oh. Right. You aren’t with the conference.” John took the opportunity to glance down at the woman’s chest. It was a nice chest. Presently it was adorned with a name badge declaring her to be Dr. Chris Cooke attending the International Conference on Quantum Implications and Intelligent Systems Engineering. Dr. Cooke asked, “Do you know anyone who drinks coffee with sugar?”
“I… used to.”
John looked up sharply. “How did you know that?”
“That’s what you put into your coffee.”
For a moment John felt weak. Dr. Cooke said, “Are you alright? You look a bit pale.”
“I’m… I’m fine.” John shoved the disturbing images from his mind. He concentrated on Dr. Cooke’s smile. “I guess I was just… spooked. Like Einstein.”
Dr. Cooke’s smile widened. “Ooh, I like that. You could say Einstein was spooked by quantum theory. I don’t suppose I could steal that for my lectures…”
“Thank you… You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
“Sorry. Dr. John Watson.”
“Please to meet you, Dr. Watson.” Dr. Cooke looked at John and smiled again.
John held her gaze, returned an even wider smile and replied, “John, please. So what’s quantum… What did you call it?”
“Quantum entanglement, right.”
“Well, you know how particles normally exist in their own state?”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Sometimes, two particles act on one another so that the pair can only be described as a single quantum state. We call that pair entangled.” As she spoke, Dr. Cooke’s eyes widened, and she leaned slightly forward.
John leaned in closer as she said, “When one particle spins right, the other spins left, even if they are millions of miles apart. The particles are always connected and they act on one another instantaneously, behaving as one. That’s why Einstein called it ‘spooky action at a distance.’” Their two heads were nearly touching now. John noticed the deeper blue-green flecks in her pale blue-grey eyes. Long dark lashes stroked creamy skin when she blinked. She continued in a sultry voice, “Einstein thought Quantum Mechanics flawed because the affect of one particle on the entangled partner appeared to be faster than the speed of light.”
“Fascinating. May I buy you a drink?”
“I don’t really think I need any more coffee. I’m stimulated enough.”
“There’s a very nice restaurant in this hotel and I’m sure it has a bar.”
“I suspect you’re right. There’s also a mini-bar in my room.”
John stood up and tossed some money on the counter as Dr. Cooke collected her bag. One of the bills landed in the spilled coffee, soaking it up, marking it.
Sherlock dropped the offending shopping bag on the sales counter. “Excuse me. You apparently gave me someone elses purchase.”
He glowered at the scrawny 26-year old sales clerk from Surrey who clearly had no medical need for those glasses nor the large quantity of alcohol, in unfortunate combinations, consumed the night before in a South London basement and on an East London rooftop, where she wound up cleaning the vomit off her shoes of someone male, judging by the aroma impregnating her sweater, who’d also consumed too much alcohol mixed with MMDA and West Indian soup made with an excess cumin. As she attempted to casually slip her phone under the counter, Sherlock observed she was looking for a new flat — and a new boyfriend.
The girl peered over her plastic frames at Sherlock for a moment before opening the bag and pulling out the sweater inside. “No. This is yours. It’s what you bought. I remember.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Do I look like someone who would wear…” Here words did not so much fail Sherlock as get censored by the filter of his former roommate. He waved an accusing and dismissive hand at the repugnant garment. “…That?”
The sweater was a deep red with black and white geometrics spreading from the neckline down to the shoulders and chest. Leather patches were stitched at the elbows on the sleeves. The yarn was a machine-washable blend. The sales clerk tilted her head and replied, “I thought you were trying to make an ironic statement.” Sherlock merely stared at her. She looked at the receipt and pushed it towards him. “Is that your signature?”
Sherlock glanced at the “Sigerson” scrawled in his writing. The strangled silence tightened between them as the sales clerk waited. “Yes,” he finally conceded.
“So I got it right and you’re returning it?”
“It was a sale item.”
Sherlock waited this time, an eyebrow raised in question, until the clerk flicked a strand of her dark hair off her face, sighed in resignation, and added, “So I can only give you an exchange or in-store credit.”
“Fine. Where are your dress shirts? Perhaps a dark purple. Aubergine.”
The sale clerk sneered. “So you are wanting something ironic?”
“I like your shirt. I like a man who’s well-dressed but not boring.” Dr. Cooke said as she handed John a glass of scotch from the mini-bar and settled beside him on the sofa. She opened her laptop and turned it on.
“Oh, uh, thanks.”
She slid the laptop where he could see it as well and shifted beside him. “It’s a very good color for you. What do you call it? Thistle or heliotrope?”
“I call it purple.” John could feel the heat where their thighs touched. He took a sip of his drink. “You know, I went in to buy a sweater. I don’t know how I ended up with this shirt.”
“More spooky action. Maybe you’d be interested in seeing my abstract for the conference.” Dr. Cooke looked at John over the rim of her glass and arched an eyebrow.
John smiled, leaned towards her and said, “I’d love to see your abstract.”
Sherlock awoke in the small hours of the morning from a disconcerting dream about a school exam he’d forgotten to prepare for involving calculations for momentum and thrust. Under the covers he had an erection.
I’m not dead, John. It was all a hoax. You were right. The hoax was a hoax.
John Watson felt a chill slither down his collar. He shivered, someone walking upon his grave. Heavy wet drops slid down his cheeks like the cool caress of dead fingers.
An explosion of thunder slapped John awake. The bench on which he sat shuddered. People in the park ran, fleeing for shelter from the storm. Behind John a muffled foomph, foomph, foomph sound, like the blades of an army helicopter starting, approached. Dazed and disoriented, John turned slowly to look.
A large black bird landed and stared at him.
Sherlock Holmes observed the bird study him from just inside the desolate shed. The bird eyed Sherlock warily but did not flee, cautiously sharing the space. The bird had obvious trust issues. Gently Sherlock tossed it a crumb. The bird pulled back, feathers ruffled. Slowly it hobbled towards the morsel, casting one last suspicious glance before hungrily feasting.
The rain beat rapidly on the shed roof. A drop fell on Sherlock’s face. He slid deeper into the shadows. The bird tilted it’s head, keeping one eye on the man and one on the rain.
Sherlock broke off another bit of sandwich and tossed it to the bird saying, “It won’t be much longer, John. The storm is already breaking. Soon we’ll be able to go home.”
You were only waiting for this moment to arise. — Lennon & McCartney
## End ##
For the Sherlock Seattle Convention, I created a mini-poster handout with this flash fiction on the back. The .png version of front and back is below. They’re designed to be printed 2-up on 8.5″ x 11″ paper.
There’d been times when I’d thought I’d go mad if he didn’t stop talking, talking, talking. He would talk for hours, for days; once he talked for three days straight, at least I assumed he’d continued when I’d fallen asleep, or gone to the loo, or even went out to get the shopping. I know he’d continued to talk when I’d gone to Dublin, missing nothing except my absence.
Now I missed his voice. I can still hear it in my head. Don’t tell my therapist I said that, she would misunderstand. But I do hear it in my head. Those rich, plummy, public school tones; that caustic, snide, superior note. I could read his mind with just a word. John, he would say, and I’d know whether to draw out a suspect or a gun. He could play me like his violin, and treat me as cavalierly — wanting me to hand, but setting me aside at a moment’s distraction. He once said he thought better when he talked out load — so he talked to me.
Then the talking would stop and a silence would begin.
And now I miss the silence. There wasn’t one silence, he had a quiver full of them that he’d fired at me. There was the cold, hard silence of his displeasure. The brittle, bright silence of his injured ego. A silence so taut the air seemed to vibrate around me when his mind was fully engaged, and I knew he would shortly release a brilliant string of deductions. He had an ominous, suffocating silence that seemed to hang like a sodden cloud when he was bored. I miss the cacophony of his silences. But now the deafening silence doesn’t stop, will never stop, there is no end to this dead silence.
So I talk to a skull named Billy to keep from being buried in the silence.
I thought I’d miss the quiet satisfaction I got from John’s listening. He listened actively; not in that fatuous way that therapist do when they “actively listen,” parroting your last remarks, twisting them into question like one of John’s insecure dates trying to appear interested and caring. He listened with his whole being, striving to catch the flow of my quicksilver thoughts, not knowing his efforts caused mine to split and tumble about like beads of mercury prodded with a rod until they suddenly coalesced into a single, bright pool of insight.
But what I miss is the sound of him.
His comings and goings in his solid shoes, his maddening two-finger typing that never found a consistent rhythm, his crap telly braying in the background, his giggling with his gaggle of girlfriends, then the shushing and murmuring before the predictable rhythm of his creaking bed and muffled exclamations as he had sex upstairs. In the morning would be tiptoeing down the stairs, the whispering and kiss at the door, followed by the unconscious humming as he made coffee. Even when he was quiet, he wasn’t still. I find myself waiting and realize I’m waiting for the sound of John’s shifting in his chair; leaning forward and back, his weight sliding from his left hip to his right — there and back again, his limbs moving with a restlessness that told me in the first moments of meeting that he was a man who craved action as much as I craved mental stimulation.
I hear him in my head sometimes, an admonishing “Sherlock.” Or that tight, strained rumble as he erupts into a verbally violent rage pouring forth some pent up frustration because he cannot keep up with my reasoning. He yells well.
The other day a waiter set a cup of tea upon my table and I said, “Thank you, John.” The waiter stopped, startled, and asked, “How did you know my name?” I told him I’d seen it on the seating roster. I lied. The cup and saucer had rattled exactly the way they would when John set tea beside me when I was working. Lost in thought, I’d spoken automatically.
In this well-built room, the sounds of the city and its inhabitants fall deadened. I cannot sleep in peace.
# End #