Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Empty House" (Doyle, 1903)

“I am all right, but indeed, Holmes, I can hardly believe my eyes. Good heavens! to think that you – you of all men – should be standing in my study.”

--Dr. John Watson, “The Adventure of the Empty House”

Leigh: I don't mean to alarm you but Sherlock Holmes seems to have come back from the dead. This does indeed make him a zombie since he does not seem to have an affinity for blood or leather trench coats. I can only praise Moran for attempting to take out the zombie Holmes before he tried to kill poor, unsuspecting Watson. Really, when dealing with a zombie it is best not to follow them to a new location. Or is that a hippie? They really are the same things aren't they? Maybe that's why they're called Deadheads. This is all tangential because it is early and Leigh has had too much coffee and not enough food. 

"We need a cornetto."

Back to the story at hand.

Holmes seems to have returned from the dead and giving poor Watson a dead fright. We've seen this scene acted out in a few different films, where Holmes is disguised as someone else, meets up with Watson and then scares the living daylights out of him because I mean, who wouldn't be scared when they see someone who they thought was dead standing in front of him. 

This whole story is a bit different than normal. It starts off with Watson saying that he misses Holmes and that he's tried to fill in his shoes but it just hasn't worked out that well. There's a particular mystery that catches Watson's eye, of a man murdered in a locked room. This bit of the story gets dropped until later in the story when Holmes can explain everything to Watson. 

And boy does he explain everything. Once Watson wakes up, Holmes explains how he survived Moriarty's final attack, how he then survived Moran's attack, how he travelled all over the world and then how he's been trying to throw Moran off of the scent. Watson and Holmes then go across London in the most convoluted way possible to make sure no one was following them to find themselves across from 221b and hide while Moran attempts to kill the fake Wax Bust Holmes. And then the audience finds out that Moran was the one who killed the guy at the beginning of the story.

So we have an interesting re-introduction of a character that has been missing for three years, an intriguing bad guy and a humdinger of a mystery all wrapped up in a slightly differently formatted story. 

Austin: The X-Files started this idea in television called the "mythology" episodes. That's when they stopped having their alien-of-the-week and looked at the series wide conspiracy with their smoking man. Plenty of other shows do this too and when you realize that's happening, you sit on the edge of your seat. Whenever it was Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse writing an episode of LOST, big stuff were going to be revealed.

"According to these figures, he.......simply went down the other part of the mountain."

Doyle doesn't really play that way except for these "The Reichenbach Fall" and now this one. We learn about secret societies going on behind the scenes which put Sherlock and Watson as part of the crime, not investigating from afar. This made every page more exciting to read, at least for me.

That said, this story was crazy. It was a puzzle structure that was just silly. The bookends of the crime of that random card-playing dude felt so besides-the-point by the time it was over. We learned about his death first so I thought that was going to be the priority. Instead we get this very exciting and elaborate backstory of Sherlock Holmes who ties it back to the murder in the last page in a non-chalante fashion.

So that part didn't work for me (even though I love the idea that Watson was investigating crimes on his own. Fit very very well after reading about him in Hounds.). Then we have plenty of excitement. Just like how Doyle built up the image of Morarity with him on the sidelines, Moran is also seen as a very powerful threat. I hope we see him again but the way Holmes operates I doubt that'll happen.

Since this is not a plot heavy story (despite the shit-ton of backstory) let's talk about emotions. We have Sherlock Holmes return to a number of important people: Watson, Lestrade and his fans. How well did these reappearances work?

Leigh: To me, this story really did feel like the opening scene/act of a sequel movie, like Sherlock Holmes The Canon: Part 2. The characters are reintroduced and there's that whole, "The Boys are Back in Town" feel to it. Or the season premier of a second (or third?) season. At the end of the episode, Watson and Holmes would laugh and then the scene would freeze as the credits rolled over.

Cue Entourage theme song. OH YEAHHHHHHH

I think all of the characters reacted well to this big bomb being dropped on them. Watson fainted and then questioned basically why Holmes hadn't gotten in touch with him. I think in more modern times, there would be more anger shown here and maybe a, "Bitch! What the hell?!" thrown in there but for the time period and the characters, I think the reveal scene was really well done. And Holmes shows how little he's changed by his attempt at a compliment to Lestrade when he shows up to arrest Moran. 

And for the audience, I think that this is a great story to have Holmes return from the dead and basically say that he needed a break/ACD needed a break. Holmes had his reasons for staying away and for keeping Watson in the dark. I think it was incredibly difficult for Doyle to be so famous for the Holmes stories and then when he made the decision to stop writing them and work on other things, all the public wanted was more Holmes. As a creator, that has to be a difficult choice between giving your audience what it wants and doing what you want to do. This story does a great job of hiding this. Not once in the story does it feel like ACD is just doing it to make that fat cash or get his adoring fans to stop bothering him, but it genuinely felt like he was coming back to a character and a world that he cared about enough to continue his stories.

But sure, Sherlock Holmes had his reasons for faking his own death, I mean, who doesn't, but do you buy it? Were the excuses believable or were you expecting more from Holmes/ACD?

Austin: I found myself very amused by Sherlock's reintroduction. Of the three I mentioned, I think his return to the fans was top-notch. He was racing around the world avoiding detection from various scoundrels with help from his brilliant brother. All of that is what we like to imagine superheroes are doing when we're not watching them. Nobody wants to imagine Spider-Man surfing Netflix. (Yet now that's all I can picture...)

Thank you internet...

I was ready to be disappointed with how he and Watson hooked back up. (Take that as you will.) Yet it worked for me thanks to Watson's viewpoint. He had come to terms with Sherlock's death but still recognized that his friendship was one of the most important things in his life. He tried to honor that by using his techniques to still try to be part of the greater good. He saw Sherlock in such a heroic light that when he returned he was relived more than annoyed that his best friend didn't speak to him for three years.

It reminded me a lot of Jesus. So Jesus died (Spoiler alert) and most of his disciples sat around feeling sad. They were hoping that logic would not play out and that Jesus would still be alive. When He came back after a long weekend, there were overjoyed instead of confused. Like Watson, they rather be in a world where the one they idolize was around than anything else.

Meanwhile, Lestrade just seemed grateful to have the help again. In many ways, this is looking at Sherlock Holmes more a symbol or a tool than a friend or a man. Perhaps, that's okay. These stories are case-oriented instead of character-oriented. We needed our hero and he came back. Now let's have some more fun.

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


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