Monday Musings: Invisible influences

Yesterday I was at a very special event. An event which, I guess, is very difficult to explain for non-fans, but I’ll try.

Once upon a time, there was an American children’s book series called “The Three Investigators”. It was reasonably successful and consisted of 46 books, in which three young boys solved mysteries. But that wasn’t seen as “cool” enough any longer. So the publisher decided to age the protagonists for a follow up series called “The Crimebusters”. Now teens the three investigators got more dangerous (but also less complex) cases. It didn’t work, the series was ended, end of story.

Well, not really. You see, said series was very popular in Germany. Partly because the German versions had really cool covers, but also because parallel to the book series, you could buy the stories as radio plays on tape. Back then, a lot of children owned a tape player, and kept hearing those plays – and everyone had The Three Investigators. So when the series ended in the US, the German publisher decided to hire German writers and the series was continued. And continued. The readers and hearer became older, a lot of them gave up on tapes and children’s books, but not on The Three Investigators. Partly because the series never really changed that much. German writers (sometimes fans themselves) added elements from the original series in the stories, repairing the damage the crime buster series did. The voice actors of the boys stayed the same. It’s like the series just grew up with the fans, but still has the element of nostalgia which is difficult to resist.

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Now, 34 years after the first radio play was published, the number of books is going towards 200, and the voice actors went on tour for the third time. Meaning, they go in front of a giant audience of fans and perform. Who would have thought back then that this would one day happen? As always it was a big event.

But why do I tell you that? Well, while I was waiting in the rain for more than an hour in order to get a decent seat, and then on my seat for two hours for the show to start, I kept thinking that this series was, though I didn’t know it back then, my first contact with Sherlock Holmes. Those who know the “classic” three investigator series might know what I am talking about. Looking back on it now, it is obvious where the original creator of the series, Robert Arthur, got his inspiration. Let’s summon it up:

There are three boys. Jupiter is the “Thinker” of the group, which does remind me of a certain other guy with an odd name. Like Sherlock Holmes he likes to experiment, and is tinkering with all kinds of stuff he finds on the junkyard of his aunt and uncle. Unlike Holmes he isn’t physically fit though, that is the “job” so to speak of Peter, the second one in the group. The third is Bob, responsible for research and archive. Or you could say he is Watson, the guy who writes down all the cases. When in danger, they tend to leave question marks written in chalk as messages for the others, because nobody, especially no adult would think much of some scribbles on a wall – a concept straight from the dancing man. There are also two cases which are nods to “The Six Napoleons”, a testament riddle which reminds me a little bit of “The Musgrave Ritual”, another case in which the fact that a dog didn’t react is an important clue (complete with nod to the original Sherlock Holmes case), and various quotes from the Sherlock Holmes stories. In short, the series is basically Sherlock Holmes for children. In the English original series, every case was even named “The Secret of” to mirror “The Adventure of….”.

It was more or less the first children books series I read, and it ruined me for pretty much all the others. The cases were often very complex, making the books way more challenging than other series of this kind in which one is usually able to identify the villain immediately because, well, he acts and looks like one. So even though I wasn’t aware of it, this series was the very beginning of me being a Sherlock Holmes fan. And I admit – even though there are still really good books in the series, it’s the classics I still like the most.

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Monday Musings: Fandomism

It’s sometimes frustrating to read what other people claim about Sherlock fans. No, I am not a “fanatic fangirl who doesn’t allow any criticism of her favourite show” or “just interested in the actors good looks”. Neither am I a misogynist, racist and whatever else one might get called based on the opinion that the show itself is misogynist and racist.

To clarify where I stand in the fandom: I like the show, but that doesn’t mean that it is perfect. I really dig the actors, but I don’t think that any of them look particularly attractive or are swoon-worthy. They have a lot of charisma, I think they are the best actors we currently get in TV (in the shows I watch), but they are not my type at all. I have read the original Sherlock Holmes stories (obviously, if I hadn’t, I couldn’t create reference lists), and I really couldn’t care less who uses which tag on twitter.

For the record though: If someone swoons over an actor or actress, it’s their right to do so. Thinks like that are simply a matter of taste. One doesn’t have to agree, but they might not agree concerning your own taste.

I admit, that I am guilty of fast judgement myself. I think that the fans of CW’s Beauty and the Beast are a loud and annoying lot. That’s because some fans over at spoiler TV are very set on promoting a show which, imho, had one of the worst pilots I have ever seen. It was cheesy and badly acted, and I just want to scream at those fans that they should finally shut up about their stupid show, because I won’t give it a second chance.  But I should remind myself that not all fans are like that, and those who are act most likely out of desperation, looking at the ratings of this show.

I also have sometimes a low opinion of the Supernatural Fandom, partly because some fans display a superior attitude regarding Grimm (hey, you don’t have to like it, but I enjoy it), partly because there is a large number of RPF’s in this fandom, which makes me wonder if the writers are watching for the show or for an opportunity to ogle the actors. It’s hard to argue with a show which has as many seasons like this one. It was never for me (yes, I gave it a try), but it seems to do something right.

As a general rule the smaller a fandom is, the better its reputation. Less trolls, less fanatics, and if some turn up, they are easy to control. With large fandoms, though, the minority is VERY loud. It’s just the nature of things. And we shouldn’t judge a whole fandom based on the few fans we encounter. A fandom is simply a group of individuals, who share the love for something. Their reasons for liking it and the way they display their affection depends  on the person. And just because one encounters annoying members in one fandom, it doesn’t mean that all fans are the same.

Monday Musings: A Pack of Liars

Watching Sherlock, there are always odd parallels to discover. For example Sherlock not contacting John during his long absence is mirrored by John avoiding Mrs. Hudson and Baker Street, too. But what really stood out to me were all the lies told during “His Last Vow” – and how they crippled the characters.

The most obvious liar is naturally Mary. She lies to John about her past. She lies to Janine to get access. She might lie to Sherlock when she tries to convince him that she would kill him if he doesn’t keep her secret. But above all she lies to herself that keeping all those secrets is for John’s benefit.

Next on the list is Sherlock, who lies to everyone to keep his plans concerning Janine secret, and naturally lies to Janine, too. He then proceeds to lie on Mary’s behalf to the police. But the biggest lie is the one he tells himself – that he took drugs for a case. He is Sherlock Holmes. He would certainly be able to fake a drug habit, if he really wanted to. He could also staged multiple other scandals. But he picked drugs, marking it (presumably) the first time he didn’t take drugs in place of a case, but on a case.

John seems to be the most honest of all of them, but that’s mostly because Sherlock sees immediately through all his lies, starting with the claim that a random addict sprained Bill Wiggens wrist and ending with John’s supposedly desire for a quiet live. Like Mary and Sherlock, John lies to himself, too.

Ironically it is Sherlock who finally stages an intervention to blow all of those lies open. Not surprisingly, he is the only one who still manages to hold onto his secrets.

But the list doesn’t end there. Mycroft claims that Magnussen is not of importance because he never bothers anyone truly powerful. But in fact Magnussen is just attacking Lady Smallwood (who apparently is a high level official), planning a move on Mycroft himself and claims that Mycroft tried to nail him for something for years. It seems like Mycroft warning Sherlock away from the case is mostly based on a desire to protect Sherlock, not Magnussen.

And then there is Janine, the only liar who has success. At least she makes a lot of money with her story. Interestingly though she claims that there was no need for Sherlock to lie. Who knows, perhaps she would have helped him on her own if he had just asked….considering that Magnussen apparently had something on her and loved flickering her face, she certainly had enough reasons to hate him, too.

The one who doesn’t lie is Magnussen. He is the master of misdirection and misrepresenting facts, but he doesn’t directly lie. There is always a little bit of truth in everything he prints. In fact he is living from other people’s need to conceal. In a way though it is the last truth – that he doesn’t have a vault – which costs him his life. But then, Sherlock is lying when he calls himself a psychopath, too.

In the end though…if Mary hadn’t been too afraid that John would leave her and had asked Sherlock for help. If John had told her that he planed to take on Magnussen with Sherlock instead of pretending to be happy with a mundane life. If Sherlock had tried to convince Mycroft that Magnussen is a way bigger threat than Mycroft (presumably) perceived. Than Magnussen would have had a much harder time to seize control.

TV vs Reality or The Anatomy of a Shooting

Currently the Fandom is full of medical experts, discussing every aspect of the shooting, but especially the question if Mary really didn’t want to kill Sherlock. I guess a lot of fans learned more about anatomy than they will need ever again in their life. The specific location of the wound and the question if it might have nicked the lung or not is the topic of hot debates, and everyone is set on proving his view on Mary based on medical facts.

In the end though – does it really matter?

Sherlock is not a documentary. It is at the end of the day a TV show. And while it is grounded in reality, it does allow itself, like every other fictional work, some freedoms. Some small ones, like the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers having been John’s regiment, even though it has been long disbanded and he as a doctor should be attached to RAMC either way (and certainly not at the front lines…it’s not the policy of the army to send their medical personal into battle. They teach soldiers to act as medics, not doctors to do the job of a soldier). Or him carrying around a weapon in London despite the strict weapon law. Most of the time, the claims do have a connection to reality, but are adjusted to whatever the writers need. Yes, there are abandoned underground stations, but none of them is located directly under Westminster Abbey (and if there were one, I bet that it would be thoroughly guarded). Yes, there are experiments with jellyfish genes in rabbits, though I doubt that they glow in the dark like that. Yes, there have been cases of people just letting sensitive information lying around, though I really don’t see why someone who is working in a minor capacity on a project should take a memory stick full of them into a bar. And yes, there are bombs with off-switches, in fact an off-switch makes much more sense than a bomber helpfully color-coding the wires, it’s combining it with a timer instead of just activating it from afar which is overkill added to supply a dramatic moment.

Sherlock is also prone to feature characters with exceptional abilities. John is able to do a precise shot with a handgun through a window after not being able to train his skills for months and recovering from a shoulder injury. Mycroft learns a foreign language is a couple of hours. Magnussen is able to recall a whole library of files on different persons, including connecting the information.

So if the show tells us that it is possible to shoot someone in a way that he would most likely survive the injury, it is pretty mood to discuss if this is even possible. If the show tells us that it is possible, we are suppose to believe it. The question is if this is what the show is trying to do, or if Sherlock’s deduction is framed in a way which encourages us to doubt it. Arguments which speak against the “surgery” are the following:

1. Sherlock’s heart stopped
2. There is the possibility that Magnussen called 999 shortly before he was knocked out.
3. Mary never verbally confirms Sherlock’s version of the events.

I will be honest: In the context of the show I think that none of those arguments hold up close examination, for the following reasons:

1. Sherlock survived. How high is the likelihood of someone surviving a close range shot done by a professional assassin? To quote TBB: “What does it tell you when an assassin cannot shoot straight? It tells you that they are not really trying.”
2. I examined the footage thoroughly. Yes, there is a phone on the floor beside Magnussen. Yes, he leans in its direction while Mary turns her back to him. But, to be honest, if you pay attention it is obvious that there are multiple shots cut together. At one point you can see him lowering his hands, but when the camera cuts back to him, he suddenly holds his hands high again. That is all not deliberate enough for my taste. There is also the little fact that when Sherlock enters the room, you can see Magnussen to Mary’s left, while the phone is too Mary’s right – that’s quite a distance, I honestly don’t see Magnussen reaching it without falling over, never mind being back in his old position in seconds. Then there is the fact that if we are able to see him leaning to the side in the mirror behind Sherlock, Mary, who is a trained operative, would see it too. And last but not least, phones make sounds. If not while being activated, then the moment someone answers at the other end of the line.
There is also the question why Magnussen should even call 999. For him it makes much more sense to call immediate help for himself, and considering his position, he should have his own security on speed dial. (Yes, I am aware that this is a speculation, but so is the idea that he did something in the background which was deliberately not shown to us).
So why showing the phone in the first place? The easiest answer is: So that we can later see Mary picking it up, thus explaining how she was able to make the call without using her own phone.
3. There are a couple of reasons why Sherlock is the one who tells John (and the audience) that Mary didn’t want to kill him. The first one being that we would never believe her, but we are trained to believe him (despite the fact that he tends to play roles). This is not The Reichenbach Fall, which was designed to make the audience question everything they saw. This is a standard deduction. And as a general rule, Sherlock might miss some details (like the drug being in the air and not in the sugar) – after all, there is always something. But he is never outright wrong. Even the conclusion of that the Mayfly Man is an adulterer is not Sherlock’s theory – it’s John’s, which Sherlock accepts because he has no better one at this point.

The most important aspect in all of this is: Sherlock has no reason to lie. I really don’t see the writers trying to sell to the audience next season that he encouraged John so stay in a relationship with the woman who tried to kill him. We might have a problem with the concept of a “surgery shot”, but believing that Sherlock would manipulate John (who, being an army doctor would certainly call BS on a “surgery gun shot” if the wound hadn’t been at a location which makes it believable, of if the ambulance had been on place later than Sherlock claims) into staying with a woman who was trying to kill him or that John would willingly partake in this kind of manipulation is in my eyes not only far-fetched, but also a much worse scenario.

In the end, we might have a problem with the concept of shooting someone as acceptable reaction in this situation. We might have a problem with Sherlock and John forgiving Mary. And there is certainly nothing wrong with discussing if the storyline is a good one (considering how heated it’s discussed the writers did something right, though) or if it was sold it convincingly. But when it comes to the question if Mary tried to kill Sherlock or not – then it is not a question of science but a question of storytelling. And this story ends with Mary in tears because John considers her future his privilege and Sherlock calling her affectionately “my girl”. No scientific study will change this.

 

Monday Musings: The Making of a Hero

Something which strikes me as remarkable about “Sherlock” is how the show plays with the concept of a hero. We tend to expect anyone who fights crime to be one. But is Sherlock one? He himself certainly doesn’t think so. For him heroes don’t exist, and if they were, he wouldn’t be one of them. That’s the sentiment he utters during the finale of season one, which he affirms during the climax of season two “I might be on the side of the angels, but don’t believe for one second that I am one of them.”) and season three (“I am not a hero. I am a high functioning sociopath. Merry Christmas!”) just as he is about to fulfil a prediction Sally uttered during A Study in Pink.

“One day we’ll be standing around a body and Sherlock Holmes will be the one who put it there.”

Back then, nobody ever expected this to come true. In fact at the end of the episode the joke was on her, because the police was standing around a body and John was the one who put it there (not that she ever realized as far as we know). But now it did come true – kind of. Sally was naturally sure that Sherlock would become a crazy murderer, but when he finally did kill someone, his motivation was to protect someone else.

So why does Sherlock keep insisting that he is no hero? Are we supposed to disagree with him? Or are we invited to think about who the true hero in this show is? Is John a hero, being soldier and doctor in one person? Is Lestrade one for being an honest and underpaid detective? Molly for being there for Sherlock and pulling long shifts in the morgue? Or is there really no hero at all? And what exactly is a hero?

Hercules was considered a hero because he choose to be one. Because he rather wanted to be remembered for his deeds than having a happy life. He was a hero for the fame – a motivation we would nowadays consider beneath a true her. King Arthur was a hero because he fought for a just society, putting the needs of all above his personal needs. Superman is one because he is more than human, because he protects the ones in need, setting an example we all strive to follow (at least he did until the last movie, but that’s another topic). In the last years, though, we moved away from this impossible ideal. A hero no longer has to be uber-human. Our current heroes do struggle with what is right and wrong, and they are allowed to fail as long as they keep finding the way back to the right path. Being a hero is no longer just about succeeding, it is about the willingness to try. And in that, it doesn’t make a difference what the weapons of choice are – especially in the real world the right words speaking at the right time and the right place are often more effective than a messy fight.

This in mind Sherlock’s flawed personality is no argument against him being hero. And in fact, in His Last Vow he is framed like an hero from a Greek tragedy following the theories of Aristotle. According to him in an ideal tragedy the hero is set up to fail. Through no fault of his own he faces a situation in which he has the choice between ignoring the suffering of the ones around him or taking the fall in order to protect them. This is exactly what happens to Sherlock. He can either allow Magnussen to win, leaving everyone, including John, Mary and Mycroft to his mercy, or he can take the shot, looking to the world like a murderer. And like a true hero, he takes the fall.

Was Sherlock a hero during the first two seasons, when he was playing his game with Moriarty? I don’t think so. The first “fall” he took was a fake after all. And perhaps that’s the point. In the first episode Mycroft assesses that John Watson might be the making of his brother. Perhaps “Sherlock” is not a show about the deeds of a hero, but the making of one, about a selfish man on the brink to self-destruction becomes someone who does deserve our admiration.

Monday Musings: The danger of expectation

Watching Sherlock is different from watching any other TV-Show. A new season is not just something to fill time or something to look forward too, it is an event. An event connected with high expectations.

The first season of Sherlock was something new, different and exciting. When I watched it, it was more by accident. I knew nothing about this show, but I was bored and searched for something new to watch. Sherlock only had three episodes and I though “oh, great, in this case I can catch up easily”. I naturally had no idea that those three episodes where a whole season. Or what the wait for season two would do to me.

Most likely is this the reason why “A Study in Pink” is still my favourite episode of the whole show. It was the only one I could watch with any premade notions about how “it should be” and it was therefore able to surprise me at every turn. I wish I could still watch the show in this mind set.

On the other hand though, it is fun to speculate, it is fun to dramatically complain to fellow fans about withdrawal symptoms, it is fun to experience a TV show instead of just watching it. It stops to be fun, though, if one allows himself to be too hyped up about a new season, expecting more from the show than it can fulfil realistically. So far none of the seasons has been perfect, and I doubt that there will ever be this perfect season or even perfect episode.

We are “the Fandom which waited” and we are again in for a long wait. But we shouldn’t forget what we are waiting for, and remind ourselves not to be disappointed when we get something different from what we expected – or exactly what we predicted. If the result is different, it might be different in a good way. If the result is something fans already thought up, it’s not because the writers lack creativity, but because million of people had a lot of time to think about it.  Setting impossible high standard which none of the seasons so far was able to meet will just ruin the experience. After all, nothing is perfect. And some parts of the fandom would do well to remember that.

Monday Musings: Nepotism behind the Scenes

Sometimes it seems like everyone working at Sherlock is somehow related to each other. That’s naturally a gross exaggeration, but still, one of the head-writers is married to the producer, his mother-in-law is also working on the show, his son just had a little role in the last episode. Sherlock parents are also the actor’s real-life parents and Watson just married the actor’s real life-partner on screen. If someone accuses the show runner of nepotism – then they are totally right. But is this really a bad thing?

Usually the word is used in a very negative context, as if giving a job to someone you already know is something dirty. At the same time, though, family business advertise with the fact that they have been owned (and lead) by the same family for generations. This is nepotism, too, but there is this believe that someone who works in the company the own family owns is more connected to the business than “just an employee”.  In reality, the son of the boss can just as well a menace than a worthy heir.

In it’s core, nepotism is neither good or bad, like every system it has its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that there might be other people more suited for the job – in the worst case someone gets a position he is not suited for at all just because he happens to know the right people. The advantage is that you know and trust the people you picked. And I for my part would prefer to work side on side with someone who will have my back for sure than with some random person.

Benedict Cumberbatch parents are not just his parents. They are also both actors in their own right and certainly uniquely qualified to play those roles simply because they look the part. There might be better actors out there, but how often do we get to see “TV-Families” in which the members bear no resemblance at all? So why not taking the ones who do have the most convincing looks? Amanda Abbington is likewise an experienced actress, who naturally has chemistry with Martin Freeman, but also fits into the cast perfectly.

In addition the casting of family members is a smart thing to do for a show, which sometimes needs two years for a new season due to two busy main-actors. After all, who knows when you might need one of those actors again – which will be way more ready to make time for the project of a relative than for money alone. So, for all I care, the writers can involve their whole family and all their friends in their project – as long as they have the competences for the job in question.