Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Report: The Resident Patient (Doyle, 1893)

“Who are these two men, Mr. Blessington, and why do they wish to molest you?”
“Well, well,” said the resident patient in a nervous fashion, “of course it is hard to say that. You can hardly expect me to answer that, Mr. Holmes.”
“Do you mean that you don’t know?”
--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Resident Patient”

Leigh: First, I am amused by the fact that one of the bad guys is named Moffat.

Second, SHERLOCK HOLMES CAN READ MINDS. Most of the time when we come across something a bit unbelievable in this series, I just go with it because everything else is so good. BUT THIS? Sherlock Holmes can read minds. Maybe it's just Watson since he has lived with him for so long and maybe Watson's train of thought was pretty simple to follow but still, how on earth can someone follow someone else's train of thought when they aren't saying a word but simply looking at pictures on a wall? I know there are those "psychics" out there who claim to be able to speak to dead people but really they're just saying broad enough statements to cover anyone. This isn't the case. Holmes was naming exact details about what Watson was thinking about. Am I looking into this too much or is this completely plausible? Maybe I'm just having a hard time because my train of thought is never that linear, especially to the outside viewer. 

"Who do you think taught John Edwards?"

Now to the meat of the story. We have another one with a longer introduction and an even longer exposition but I still enjoyed it. Maybe because Holmes actually got to get up and walk around or maybe because we actually got to see him examine a crime scene again instead of having the story be resolved by reading a newspaper article. The audience didn't get ALL of the clues that Holmes did but I still feel that the conclusion was relatively easy to get to and not completely outrageous. But I am dissatisfied with the ending. It seems that there are too many stories where the bad guys get away but fate would have it that they all die on a ship that capsized and they just so happened to be on it. This seems a bit too convenient to me. I understand them escaping the law but the universe still serving justice but I want a bit more variety in the fatal vengeance. Surely boats can't have been that dangerous to travel on. 

What say you, Lugar?

Austin: Ha. Is Sherlock Holmes psychic? No, I don't think so. Yes, after living with someone that often and being a crazy deductive genius, you can probably guess some of Watson's actions and thoughts. But I took that amusing moment like in the first episode of BBC's Sherlock where he knows that he's throwing out an educated guess and he could be 97%. There are probably countless moments when Sherlock did that at Baker Street and failed, but when he did guess the right card Watson is delighted. Watson has always been portrayed by Doyle as a magician's biggest fan. He's never bored of Sherlock's tricks and reveals. He wants to know how he figured out all of the secrets of the hat and that's endearing. I've never been bored by those reveals either so Watson succeeds as an audience conduit.

If you're amused by the bad guy named Moffat, I was way more entertained by the character named Trevelyan because like so many in the 90s, I was obsessed with Goldeneye--movie and the game. If he would have said, "For England Holmes" I would have declared this the greatest story in the history of everything.

"I"ll give you six minutes James, just like you gave me." "Jesus Christ, Trevelyan get over it! How can you be so angry about a technicality on a mission where you STRAIGHT UP BETRAYED ME?"

Anywho, with the mystery. I felt this was one where too many clues were left out. Especially in regard to the reputation of the bank robbing gang. That's a major rule of mysteries; you can't omit things like that from the audience. Yet then again, isn't that the basis of Sherlock's discoveries. Watson sees a coat; Sherlock sees threads from India. Is that just like keeping out the news of that time or is there something worse when it's a major part of the plot?

Leigh: It's really hard to get a good balance of someone who is in awe of someone else's abilities and someone who is dumbfounded by everything they to that seems to be brilliant. A great example of this is Watson from our John Cleese movie. He was in awe of everything that Holmes did even if it was state the bleeding obvious. Moffat does a great job of writing Watson being impressed by Holmes' intelligence but knows that he is still human and understands the logic behind the deductions even if he doesn't always arrive to the same conclusions.

I feel that Doyle is usually really good at giving the audience the same clues as Holmes but because Watson is the narrator, we see the clues from Watson's point of view so that coat is just a coat until Holmes explains the significance of it. I think sometimes it works well because it shows the great example of seeing but not observing. Sometimes it's a cheat though. There is no way that the audience could've guessed that the people who were after Blessington were bank robbers who he ratted on. The audience could guess that they knew him and there was some sort of bad blood between them but you could never learn their real relationship from the clues in the story. I think that the fun of having all of the same clues as Holmes is to see where you make a mistake in your line of thinking or when you didn't observe. There's not as much fun when a huge clue is excluded from the narrative. And the worst part is that it could've been fixed easily. Watson was reading a paper at the beginning of the story, it could've been an older paper and he could've seen an article about the men released from prison early. We then would have all of the same clues as Holmes and would've had the means to come to a similar conclusion as Holmes. 

Does this exclusion question Holmes' brilliance though? Sure he's smarter than the audience when the audience doesn't have all of the clues but does that make him smarter in general? Is it alright if he is average or does Sherlock Holmes have to have something extraordinary about him?

Austin: I think the presentation of cleverness is trickier in prose. In the short stories, it's only the words of Watson to paint the picture of what's going on. With a film, it's easier because the camera can create a wider frame. The audience has the choice of what to look at within the shot. They can notice the dirt on the hat if their focus is strong enough. When it's just Watson describing the room, he can't over describe it or the reveal becomes too obvious. It has to be an ignorant but human observation of the room.

I want Sherlock Holmes to be cleverer than me when he is analyzing something hidden in plain sight. Yet I also find a lot of entertainment is the backlog of knowledge that he knows. To know every spice in China, every leaf in London and every fiber of every cloth is incredible. He didn't hack into any government secret book; he's just reading the encyclopedias that nobody else would bother with. From a storytelling standpoint, that could appear as cheating but I like how much it adds to the character and his brilliance. (Much how The Doctor knows the history of every planet from memory.)

When it does become a bit questionable is when it is too vital to the plot. The bank robbers element did annoy me because it could have easily been mentioned as a side note during the beginning of the story when Watson was bored. He could have read a few headlines and that could hinted more about this activity. Perhaps it's because this is such a big deal in the town and all over the news, it's not as random as a tiny bug not where it was supposed to be. New rule! If it's something Lestrade already knows; the audience should know it from early on in the story.

"At least you didn't say Gregson.....This blog has pretty much forgotten about this show, hasn't it?"

And here is Leigh Motano with the final words....

Leigh: Good lord!

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