Matt Smith reviews episode 18 of Elementary…
Holmes as a character has a past. That statement can be meant in at least two ways. Either there’s the literal, the Sherlock Holmes you see to the right, who has a past. He has had drug problems and has met at least two women who’ve influenced his life greatly, along with the way he acts. And there’s the other way, in that Sherlock Holmes, the entity everyone knows as one of the greatest detectives in fiction, has a past. He’s been played so many ways, from the deerstalker, to the slightly cartoonish, to the parodies and beyond.
This episode’s all about the past. But it focuses more obviously on Watson, literally showing her past in the form of flashbacks. She has a group of close friends from college and they all see each other regularly. They’re all happy for her that she’s taken on the occupation of helping people in life, whether that’s as a doctor or a sober companion. She then gets a call informing her someone named Sherlock Holmes is about to enter her life.
As sober companion for Holmes, this Watson is given a more obvious reason to stay and help Holmes. It doesn’t start out as friendship, but develops. Holmes has never needed anyone, except his own Watson. And because of her, Holmes intentionally takes a back seat. We don’t see much from him, or at least as much as usual. What does this mean? Sherlock obviously doesn’t trust anyone enough to let them in, whether it’s Jonny Lee Miller’s version or any version. And we as the viewer are pushed away; shown Watson as she struggles along like us mere mortals would as Holmes does his magic in the background somewhere.
As I’ve said before, Holmes wouldn’t work as a character if we saw things from his point of view. Like a good noir, everything’s explained at the end. If we saw things from his point of view, if it wasn’t Watson’s narration, the case would be solved in half an hour and the rest of the episode would be us watching idiots stumble around.
That’s why we’re given Watson’s past, and how far she’s come. Or rather, how much she’s changed. Anyone who hangs around with Sherlock Holmes does change. He’s one of those characters that, if we met him in real life, we’d be unnerved, both by his behaviour and his control over people (see Batman, Doctor Who for other famous examples). But on the screen, it’s fun to watch as he pulls strings and figures things out, almost as a compulsion.
That’s why there can be constant updates and reboots of these characters. We’ll watch almost every version of this character and the others, because they have such a rich history that ‘creators’ can draw from. This is also why it’s difficult to show Sherlock Holmes’ past, because ultimately people may question whether it’s the real Holmes. The mystery is the thing with the character, along with his need to solve puzzles. Producers have to stay in line as much as the history is rich.
That’s why this cannot be the definitive Holmes, but it could also be why there is no definitive Holmes anymore. Just look back at everything and see if you can pick one. Not a favourite, but the one who is Holmes. With the seemingly constant stream of reboots and sticking famous names on characters to lend perhaps gravitas and certainly dollar signs, can any version of a character ever be free to be definitive?
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