Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In-Class Movie: "A Study in Pink" (Sherlock, 2010)

“Tell me,” said Holmes—and I could see by his eyes that he was much excited—“was this a mere addition to the first or did it appear to be entirely separate?”

--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”

Austin: Obviously, it has been well established that we are a massively successful blog that is highly acclaimed not only in the English language but also in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. This has been well reported on and it's not egotistical to ponder that I think millions--nay, tens of millions--have been waiting for us to finally review the hit BBC series Sherlock


Just a few weeks away from our one-year anniversary we're reviewing the show that arguably makes us such active Sherlock Holmes fans today. We have been fans of the stories for years but what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss created, at least for me, renewed that love in a major way.

So this week when I revisited the pilot, "A Study in Pink" for the umpteenth time it was that canonical love that felt very apparent throughout every minute. The idea of updating the Victorian hero to the modern day sounds like a gimmick but putting a story into a new setting really allows for them to make their homage/appreciation into a dramatic setting without it just being a repetitive wink.

The original story of "A Study in Scarlet" is just a jumping off point in structure. Using modern dramatics they are able to re-examine what it would be like for Watson to meet Sherlock for the first time, how Sherlock would interact with modern police/technology and who really are these famous characters. There is a rich psychological examination going on with the two leads (with Watson literally seeing a shrink before the opening credits). 

It's a look at Doyle's original stories made by true fans. There are plenty of little Easter eggs with my favorite being the fact that one of the detectives reads RACHE on the floor and assumes it's German for "revenge" which was Sherlock deduced in the original story. When we first see Sherlock's apartment, it's just a treasure trove of odds and ends that are designed with a loving care that encourages exploration. This world is a playground for them to make adventures and this episode is just oozing with potential.

"Sherlock where are my keys?" "Ask the skull." "I did; he was looking guilty in your direction."

So what about this episode's giddiness resonates with you the most? The banter, their mystery, the characters, the tributes or just the fact that Mrs. Hudson sometimes gets high?

Leigh: Gather 'round kids for I have a yarn to spin (GET IT?! IT'S A PUN BECAUSE I JUST GOT A SPINNING WHEEL FOR MY BIRTHDAY BECAUSE I CAN'T GET ANY NERDIER!). Once upon a summer steamy, as I pondered weak and weary (that's all I remember of The Raven so I can't parody it anymore) I was bored. It was yet another summer that I had nothing to do. No job to be found, no classes that were offered that I needed, no air conditioning to soak in. All I had that summer to entertain me was my knitting and my Netflix. I was bored and had just watched the first season of Downton Abbey and then a few not as good period dramas and needed something to entertain me when what pops up in my "Recommended for You" column but Sherlock. There was that guy from The Office that I enjoyed and another guy who, wait, really? His name is Benedict Cumberbatch? Surely that's a stage name like Engelbert Humperdinck. I decided to give it a go because, again, I had nothing to do. I was doubtful, I'll admit The opening scenes being about Watson's PTSD, while a nice way to modernize it, was a bit cheesy. And then there was this Beezlebub Cumbersplat who just didn't look like how I pictured Sherlock Holmes and we all know that if the casting doesn't fit EXACTLY what I had pictured then it is obviously wrong. 

But I'll tell ya, they won me over. I was skeptical up to the scene where Sherlock and Watson meet and then when Holmes walks out the lab door, I was hooked. I thought the script, while not a direct adaptation, was a great way to modernize and pay homage to a great series. The little references to various stories, not just A Study in Scarlet, throughout the whole episode were also nice. This episode is much like other movies we've talked about and discussed. It wasn't a direct adaptation, thankfully, but it had enough references and nods to Sherlock Holmes that it was able to capture the feel of the mysteries and the characters without feeling like it had to hit every plot point to remain faithful to the canon and was still a successful modernization. 

The characters to me also had a fantastic chemistry. Even the tertiary characters like Anderson, don't feel useless or in the way of the story. This is one of those shows that to understand every scene, you need to have your eyes looking at the screen the whole time. I tried watching Sherlock with my mom but she thinks that the TV is something you have on in the background while doing something else. There were numerous times that I told her she needed to see what was going on to get what was happening. Even after watching this episode multiple times, I still felt the need to be physically looking at the TV screen the whole time because of the nuanced acting and the little Easter eggs like you said. This is a show that has so much thought put into every little thing that even the coffee cups that Watson and his friend at the beginning of the episode are drinking out of are a nod to the canon.

I completely agree that this show was made by people who not only loved the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories but also respected it. That respect is how you get such throw away details that most people won't notice but the hard core fans will like the coffee cups.  

So we both admit that we love this show and this episode and it's part of the reason why we're writing this blog right now. But what are some of the problems with it? Surely you've found some? How about that mystery?

Austin: I actually think this mystery works rather well. It's an original concept that manages to make sense of the idea of serial suicides. ("How can we protect ourselves?" "Don't commit suicide.") That oddball crime is something that is purely fitting with Doyle stories especially some of the really goofy ones from Adventures. The creators didn't just want to play with the Sherlock characters; they wanted to evoke the plots of those stories as well. That is the part that is often forgotten in recent adaptations.

Solving the crime made sense to me on a beat to beat level. Analyzing the pink woman and discovering she was an adulterer from her jewelry and where she was based on what articles of clothing were wet was top-notch Sherlock observation. The audience is not able to pick up the ring, but before Sherlock solves it we are given the clues (Dirty/clean). By the way that Sherlock was able to deduce things from her body and how he was able to learn about Watson proved immediately we're dealing with a very smartly written character.

Because he's that smart, it's disappointing that I solved the mystery before he did. During the fun chase scene of the cab, the whole time I figured they were chasing the cab driver. So when Sherlock looks at the passenger and gives I found it problematic that he didn't look at everyone in the car. It's another 20 minutes or so before he figures out it's the cab driver and really he just solves that because the cabbie literally goes to 221B Baker Street.

Then there's the really unfortunate element of the plot. The fact that The Princess Bride exists. On a purely thematic level it's fantastic. The idea that the two poisons are identical and it tests the arrogance of Sherlock Holmes to the point where he's on the verge of killing himself just to prove he's smart enough. Excellent stuff. Yet a really famous movie did this entire thing as a joke. Not everything needs to be 100% original. I'm sure there are astute mystery fans who can point to random novels through the years that had cab drivers as the murderer or a moment when a detective realized there was after work collaborations through knee bruises. The problem with this episode is that The Princess Bride is so famous that even though I've seen "A Study in Pink" more times than that movie I can't help but watch that scene and not think of the original inconceivable trick to the death. Especially when the cab driver is especially like Wallace Shawn when he's screaming MORRRIATTYYYYY.

But like I said I still really like the scene because the direction is top-notch and it is a wonderful character moment for Sherlock that shows how far he risks his own life and why he needs someone like Watson to keep him safe/sane. Just cut the Moffat-y dialog that says "Here's the really clever bit...." 

How about you? Do you have problems with the episode at all? Are they able to be done in service of examining characters or are they just straight-up mistakes?

Leigh: I honestly don't remember if I had thought it was the cabbie after the chase scene. I did think it was a neat idea to bring up though because there are just some people we inherently trust because they're not supposed to be serial killers or sociopaths. Cabbies, nurses/doctors, policemen, teachers, and it takes us aback as an audience when these people who have some level of control over our lives, abuse that control and power. Having the cabbie be the serial killer/serial suicide convincer? was interesting, I thought. I do remember thinking after watching this episode for the first time that it was a neat move that I hadn't seen too much of.

The Princess Bride bit though... I love The Princess Bride. It's one of the movies I quote relatively frequently, like the rest of the world. I instantly thought of that scene when watching Sherlock and the cabbie battle over who is smarter. Some of the dialog seemed incredibly reminiscent and while I know that it would be hard to write any scene like that without accidentally quoting The Princess Bride, I just wish that it was a bit different, add almost a different level of logic behind the move to try to outsmart Sherlock, something so that it wasn't SO familiar. 

As an episode as a whole, I can't think of any moments that are mistakes. There was a lot of thought put into each scene and each reference and each of the modern aspects. Things that are clumsy are meant to be like Watson attempting to hit on a woman who is definitely not interested. We see why characters do what they do and their actions make sense. Watson is challenged as to why he has become so loyal to Sherlock Holmes so quickly and yet it makes sense as to why he stays. Watson is enamoured and impressed by Sherlock Holmes and sees helping him as a way to not be stuck into a predictable after-war life. Lestrade's desperation on not knowing what to do about cases is blatant, especially when he just comes out and says it. He doesn't go to Sherlock for help because that's what the canon says, he goes to him for help because he is out of ideas as to how there could be serial suicides.

"Damn twerking..."

And the mystery is complex enough that I don't think TV cops could figure it out. Maybe a CSI team or one of the more specialized shows but then those detectives are just a Sherlock Holmes-type device. The episode might not be flawless, but there is a reason why it is one of the most talked about shows on TV right now.

Next time, Sherlock Holmes finds looo-oooveeee! (But not really).

And here is Austin Lugar with the last word…


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