Diane Duane ist seit 30 Jahren eine erfolgreiche Roman-Autorin, die u.a. die populäre “Young Wizards”-Reihe und diverse Star Trek-Romane geschrieben hat. In den 80er und 90er Jahren war sie außerdem an diversen legendären Zeichentrick-Serien (“He-Man”, “Batman”) beteiligt. Auf Science Fiction-Conventions ist sie ein beliebter Gast. Auf ihr Konto gehen außerdem Drehbücher wie “Der Ring der Nibelungen” (Miniserie) und “Lost Future” (mit Sean Bean). Sie kocht leidenschaftlich gerne und betreibt ein Blog über europäische Küche. Mit ihrem Mann Peter Morwood ist sie seit 25 Jahren verheiratet. “Home base” von Diane und Peter ist Irland. Beide reisen viel durch die ganze Welt – und lieben TV-Serien. Aus diesem Grund hat sie auch einen Beitrag über das schockierende Ende der zweiten Staffel “Sherlock” geschrieben. Massive Spoiler voraus!
After the Fall
There it is: right now, possibly one of the most familiar images in the TV-fannish regions of the Intarwebz, one which is routinely greeted by many of those who recognize it with miserable sighs, in some cases with weeping and wailing, and (in many forums and online havens) with the gnashing of teeth and anguished cries of “MOFFAAAAAT!!”
And in retrospect, the reaction is just a touch surprising. Sherlock Holmes fans are possibly the oldest ongoing literary fandom in the English language – maybe even the oldest still-running one worldwide — and as such they tend to have a broad conservative streak (being after all spiritually anchored in a place “where it is always eighteen ninety-five”). They therefore tend to distrust the new and different somewhat. This is part of what makes it interesting how warmly and wholeheartedly the newest reshaping of the Canon, in the BBC’s series Sherlock, has been received by the rank and file of Baker Street Irregulars everywhere. (Disclaimer: I’m an old fan of the stories myself, having come across them when I was in my teens. I was never part of any organized group of Sherlockians, but I know many of them and have had numerous friendships with the like-minded over the years.)
The new version, under the productorial management of Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue, has been both boldly innovative and surprisingly conservative about its handling of the Consulting Detective and his world. The innovation’s visible all over the landscape from the teaser of the very first episode, “A Study in Pink” (referring straightforwardly back to the first Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet”). It’s soft-pedaled at first, with a wounded Afghanistan vet being encouraged to blog about his recovery – and then the titles straightforwardly telegraph what’s to come in the handsome time-lapse / jitter / grunge of the cinematography. Immediately after comes a police press conference abruptly littered with in-the-air graphics of mocking SMS messages. Minutes later, after Holmes and Watson first meet, Holmes’s impossibly swift understanding of some of the basics of Dr. Watson’s life is explained with a deductive chain that in original Canon involved an expensive and beat-up pocket watch, and now centers on an expensive and beat-up mobile / MP3 player. The thinking Holmes fan — this one, anyway – would gather immediately that he or she was in good hands, even though chances are being taken, and sit back to enjoy watching it unfold. And those who wouldn’t have known Holmes already are in the perfect position to be sucked in by something old made seamlessly new.
It might have seemed that the riskiest move Gatiss and Moffat made was to cast two young men in roles that had traditionally been the reservation of the middle-aged. But this has turned out better than anyone could have imagined, especially with two actors so gifted and so good-looking (though in entirely different ways), and between whom the chemistry’s so perfect. Now, after only six ninety-minute episodes, it’s become impossible to think of anyone but Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the roles. Because of them, Una Stubbs is able to play her Mrs. Hudson more as a no-nonsense surrogate Mum than as a housekeeper. And other changes were laid in at the same time. Rupert Graves’s Inspector Lestrade is no longer a small, dim and occasionally weaselly-looking police functionary, but a tall, handsome, savvy character with an archetypal London Cop accent (he’s grown his own fandom, too – they call him “The Silver Fox”). We also have a couple of more junior police characters, Anderson and Donovan (Vinette Robinson and Jonathan Aris), who are absolutely eaten up with loathing for Sherlock and his abrasive expertise, and do everything they can to get in his way (not much at first, but their hour will come). There’s Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), the endlessly helpful forensic pathologist at St. Bart’s, borne down not by hate for Sherlock but by painfully unrequited love. Finally, and possibly best of all, we have Mark Gatiss himself as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, no longer gigantically, Canonically fat and permanently immobile at the Diogenes Club, but tall, dapper, and elegantly (if benevolently) sinister as a sort of Government wild card able to step in and intervene (or interfere) without warning.
Despite the shifts and additions to the traditional ensemble, and the rest of the widespread innovation, the conservatism runs deep – as might be expected when two of the three producers are men who got into this whole scenario after discovering on many long joint train trips between London and Cardiff (secondary to Dr. Who duty) that they were both dyed-in-the-wool Holmes fans. Tiny details and love letters to the Canon are scattered all over the place; in dialogue – often imported verbatim from the stories — in characterization, and right down into such seemingly minor matters (or they would be minor in other series) such as set decoration. Visually and verbally witty back-references are all over: gunshots in the sitting room walls, the nicotine patches (“It’s a three-patch problem”), the chemistry experiments always ongoing on the kitchen table… (and in Sherlock’s case, the clued-in fan is left wondering whether he’s actually engaged in something detection-oriented there, or is creating designer drugs, then putting them away and never using them to test his own resolve: for references to previous addictions, also right in line with the Canon, keep popping up). But the basic skeleton of the flat that Holmes and Watson inhabit is much the same as it has been in film and TV for the last four or five decades, which is probably wise. 221B has over all these years become something of a character in its own right, the way Star Trek’s USS Enterprise is: meddling with its structure too much would be dangerous. Now, though, it looks more than ever like a place where two young men distracted by a common passion might actually live.
After a year of getting the basics of characterization and the handling of the storytelling settled, when their second- and third-season commission came through, Moffat and Gatiss seemingly decided it had come time to start dealing with what has always been the core of the Holmes stories, the greatest challenge ever to face the main character, and the breaking point for both Holmes and his creator: the Reichenbach Falls storyline, and the criminal mastermind Moriarty. In Sherlock Moriarty’s always been in the frame – since the very first episode, in fact, during which Sherlock stomps his name out of the dying serial-killer cabbie who’s just tried to manipulate him into poisoning himself – and his presence has constantly hovered over the proceedings in later episodes, unseen and unnerving. At the end of the third episode of Sherlock’s first season Moriarty presents himself on screen in his proper person for the first time, not as some elderly professorial presence, but (as played by Irish actor Andrew Scott, strangely the first Irish Moriarty ever), a slick, youthful, unpredictable, oddly lizardlike genius, intelligently and viciously malevolent, and just batshit-insane enough to be an even bigger worry than he would have been otherwise. In the second season he is much more obviously behind almost everything that happens to Sherlock, and as the tension ratcheted up, even fans not familiar with the Canon must have started feeling nervous about what was coming. For a seasoned Sherlockian, the tension became damn near unbearable.
“Oh, I may be on the side of the angels…
but don’t think for one second
that I am one of them.”
(Yet the lighting suggests otherwise)
And finally along came the night that “The Reichenbach Fall” aired, and the British power grid spiked demonstrably at the end of the broadcast as people who’d been glued to their couches got up to boil the kettle and get themselves some Kleenex. The basic Canonical story, in which Sherlock and Watson make their way to Switzerland for a final confrontation with their old antagonist, was twisted into an entirely new shape while keeping useful elements of the original. Sherlock’s archfoe has decided that it’s not nearly enough to kill Sherlock off: he must be utterly discredited as well, and Moriarty constructs such a complex web of media pressure and police distrust around Sherlock that escape becomes impossible. Worse, he lets Sherlock know that unless he (in response to his being discredited) puts the final touch to the picture by killing himself, the three people closest to him will die in his stead.
This is not Canonical material, but it absolutely works because this is, at the end of the day, a relationship show: a tale of interlocking loves and hatreds, but mostly loves – some requited, some not, some teetering on the edge. At its heart, the show turns on Sherlock’s relationship with John. These two men care profoundly about each other, though the expression only rarely spills over into the physical, and very rarely indeed (again in line with the Canon) into the verbal. Even at the end of the episode it veers away from this level of intimacy as Sherlock tries desperately to protect John from the further attentions of Moriarty’s surviving organization by getting him to believe that his genius is a fake. Though John refuses to believe him, Sherlock cannot allow this to stop what he must do – or seem to be doing. Having gone through a series of exchanges with Moriarty that vary from the near-irrational to the heartrending to the goosebump-raising, Sherlock plunges from the building, and John seems to see him die. The assassins who’re targeting John, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson stand down. Sherlock may not precisely have won, but he’s wrested the situation to the advantage of those he cares about — though at terrible cost – and his sacrifice has turned him into the hero he’s been claiming all along he never was.
In a final coup de grace, here once again Moffat and Gatiss twist the Canon neatly to their purposes (and possibly mitigate the anguish of the audience reaction a little) by fairly quickly showing us what Doyle would not show his own shocked readership more than a hundred years ago. After the grieving John says his final farewell to Sherlock at his graveside — in several minutes of performance that will probably be key in winning Martin Freeman another BAFTA — we see, standing off at a safe distance, hidden, watching, Sherlock Holmes himself. His eyes follow John briefly: then flick back to the grave. Finally he turns away, vanishes. And all over Sherlock fandom one can sense a great disturbance, like millions of voices that suddenly cry out and will not be silenced for maybe another nine months or so: “MOFFAAAAAAT!”
…Partly because it’s going to take at least that long to get everybody back onto the set again (both Cumberbatch and Freeman have obligations to Peter Jackson on The Hobbit, and Cumberbatch is presently up to his elegant eyebrows in Star Trek 2). But also because the resolution of this problem is going to have to be way, way more involved and far-reaching than it ever was in the Canon. (And also because, even though Sherlock is alive, John is now going to spend the next God-knows-how-long suffering, just as the Sherlock fans are… though we’re doing it on a different and more inclusive level.)
Once Arthur Conan Doyle finally agreed (however reluctantly) to resuscitate his beloved but infuriatingly overpowering creation after killing him off, it was simply a matter of writing the story that explains how John’s assumptions about what had happened at the Reichenbach Falls – for there was no eyewitness data — were wrong. To Dr. Watson’s cry of “How did you get out of that awful abyss?” Holmes’s response was merely “I didn’t have to get out of it, my dear Watson, because I was never in it!” — and after a long explanation of What Really Happened (i.e., “We wrestled, I won, Moriarty went down the Falls, I got the hell out of there because the place was crawling with Moriarty’s confederates, and then I went to Tibet and I visited the Khalifa and I went to Norway and did research under the name of Sigerson. And now I’m home…”), we get on with business, specifically the dismantling of the (remaining) upper tiers of Moriarty’s organization in England. By the end of Doyle’s “Adventure of the Empty House”, nearly everything is back to normal.
Here and now, however, with Sherlock, right from the git-go things are going to be way more complex.
The most pressing question for many people is how someone who we (with John) saw lying apparently quite dead on the pavement in front of St. Bart’s is now in fact alive-and-breathing enough to stand there watching John stiffen his spine and stride away from his friend’s putative gravesite. Those last twenty minutes or so of “The Reichenbach Fall” are probably now the most ruthlessly scrutinized and re-scrutinized video on the planet. Endless theories abound of how the Fall was survived and whose body is really in that grave. There is endless attention paid to The Mysterious Rubber Ball, to the unquestionably pivotal and affecting scenes with Molly (who as a woman with access to lots of dead bodies is understandably important to this scenario, but who as a character here truly comes into her own), to Why The Little Kidnapped Girl Screamed At Sherlock, and to many other details major and minor. Steven Moffat himself wandered through Twitter and various online forums a couple of weeks after the British showing and said straightforwardly that none of the explanations he’d seen were the right one: that we were all missing something key, something Sherlock does that’s “very out of character”. Cue another immediate search while the fandom tries to work out what that might be. (It must be noted that Moffat has been silent on the subject since: which makes sense. If someone has in the meantime stumbled across even part of the right answer, it would seem less than constructive to admit it.)
I want to add here that, despite all the casual talk about Sherlock/Moriarty bodyswitching that’s been going on, and despite the engineered confusion about Irene Adler’s body in “A Scandal in Belgravia”, it’s really not all that easy to manage in the long term: there’s way too much security in morgues these days, and so much paperwork… though I suppose if you have Mycroft-level connections around you to do the tidying up afterwards, it’s probably doable. In the short term, though, that’s a whole different story, and I can speak to this issue personally. When I was in nursing school, it happened surprisingly often that we’d take the opportunity to vanish an in-morgue body into some closet or storage area for short periods, and swap one of our classmates onto the gurney: this person would then without warning sit up at a late hour and scare the living hell out of a fellow nursing student. (Once you’re in a body bag or under a sheet, it’s quite rare that anyone takes a second look to see if there’s any breathing going on.) This said, doubtless something elegant and (retrospectively) obvious will be finessed, making us all slap our foreheads and go “Now why didn’t I see that months ago…”.
Anyway, the simple How Did He Fake It issue fades a little, to me at least, in the face of all the other problems that remain to be dealt with. In the Canon, there was no particular “official” response to Holmes’s return from the “dead” except “Thank God you’re back!”, and matters quickly returned to normal. But that can’t happen in Sherlock. Consider just some of the fallout left in the wake of “The Reichenbach Fall”:
The major protagonist has profoundly antagonized the Metropolitan Police as a whole and numerous influential people specifically. Any return to “business as usual” is going to require a whole lot more than just Mycroft stepping in to mend matters in some obscure way. To put things right in a hurry, Sherlock would practically have to rescue the Queen or Prime Minister from terrorists or kidnappers single-handed to get the kind of power exerted on the police that would result in them cooperating with him again. Doubtless the situation will be sorted out eventually, but it’s going to be fascinating to watch this knot get untangled (or cut). And some things will never be quite the same. Police commissioners have been punched in the nose. Illegally held handguns have been dropped in the streets. There are dead foreign snipers lying around all over the place. Also: Lestrade and his people are going to be in disgrace as well, for letting events unfold as shambolically as they did. There will be investigations. People may lose their jobs. In short: no one’s going to be running up the steps in 221B and breathlessly asking Sherlock “Will you come?” for a while yet.
The major protagonist has also faked his own death. While (to the best of my knowledge) there’s no law against this unless some other crime can be proven to be in progress — such as the fraud in the UK some years back where the scammer pretended to have been lost at sea while kayaking in order to relocate and collect a tranche of his life insurance money — any attempt by Sherlock to put his head back up over the parapet in public is going to create all kinds of trouble. Specifically from:
The media, now on the warpath. Now that they’ve turned on Sherlock (as John predicted they would), they’ll be all over him like a cheap suit the second he reappears. The “red-top” tabloids (the Sun,the Daily Mail, etc.) will go crazy enough when he reappears: though you could almost wish for the News of the World still to be around, as there’d surely be headlines suggesting that Sherlock had been resurrected by aliens. (“DID HE SEE ELVIS?”) Yes, this would die down as soon as it stopped selling papers. But there would be much work to be done before Sherlock’s reputation could be mended. And any little excuse would have them on his tail again.
And let’s not forget: Absence issues. How long exactly is Sherlock going to be missing? Granted, until now the Sherlock timeline has been proceeding in a very compressed manner. In the Canon he was gone for three years. Even if he was only gone for a year or so, that allows time for things to happen that the Sherlock showrunners have said they were thinking about dealing with: like John’s marriage, and how he continues his association with Sherlock when he’s got a wife in the picture as well. By the time Sherlock’s ready to move back into 221B, he may find that matters have shifted significantly at John’s end. Who knows what month or year it’ll be, in Sherlock continuity, when the new season starts?
So there is plenty to be concerned about besides the simple business of whether or not Sherlock had a rubber ball in his armpit to stop his pulse. And there is one issue which has been on my mind for a while now, and which will by some be considered heretical… but what the heck. This is quite personal, a dive into sheer wish-fulfillment, and your mileage may certainly vary.
I think it could be really wonderful if somehow Moriarty wasn’t actually dead.
Yes, I know what we all think we saw. Yet in the framing of this whole episode, Moffat and Gatiss have already raised the bar significantly by actually (apparently) killing Sherlock in our full view (sort of…) instead of shoving him and his archfoe off some impressive height to an off-camera fate. But still… what if that bar could be raised a bit further, somehow sparing the archenemy as well as the hero?
In fiction writing there’s an old saying: “To every cat a fine rat.” That is to say, if you have a superb protagonist, you must have a suitably superb antagonist to offset him — to foil him (or be foiled by him) and to pose some kind of real threat. There’s no question that Moriarty is Holmes’s “fine rat”: a Napoleon of crime, the spider at the heart of a web of international evildoing, aware of that network’s every twitch, and a worthy match – as the world’s only consulting criminal mastermind – for its only consulting detective. In “The Reichenbach Fall”, Moriarty himself veers near to expressing this sentiment when he says that every fairy tale “needs a good old-fashioned villain…” (And in this vein, other sentiments, from writers such as C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, suggest that a good villain in this mode is one who can be seen to be “soundly killed.”) And so he is… or so it seems.
But killing the Fine Rat is as big a deal as killing your protagonist. They’re the devil to set up, and they’re not to be thrown away lightly. Once you’ve killed one, you have to build a new one… and they’re never as good as the original, somehow. It’s such a nuisance. You always find yourself harking back to your original master villain, and thinking how great it would be to have him or her back.
Some readers may be familiar with the end of E. R. Eddison’s great heroic fantasy The Worm Ourobouros, in which the heroes – having with huge sacrifice and difficulty finally vanquished their terrible traditional foes – afterwards come down with a colossal case of the sads for them. They miss their enemies’ dogged courage and never-ending plots and wars and invasions, even though these were mostly driven by near-unreasoning enmity; and finally they wish out loud, in front of someone who can make it happen, that the clock could be turned back and their mighty but now very dead antagonists could be brought back to fight them all again. Bizarrely, I now find myself echoing this sentiment (possibly in chorus with that sweet-natured but serially treasonous Ouroboros character Lord Gro, who “ever perversely affecteth the losing side of a quarrel”). Give us back Sherlock, yes. Let’s have the sun shining in Baker Street again, and the sound of violin music floating out the first-floor flat’s window once more in good weather, while the world’s only Consulting Detective tries to think; and (most of all) let’s have a heart-healed John Watson restored to enjoyment of the life where, in one man’s company and fellowship, things finally happen to him.
But also, give us back Moriarty! Hissing, bizarre, staring and dark-eyed as a shark, wicked in Westwood, goofy but deadly, with that Dublin 4-ish accent hanging out and one more thing always up his sleeve: the only man who could ever really throw Sherlock Holmes off his stroke, now back in London with more reason than ever to plot and hate. It shouldn’t happen instantly: we’ll all need some halcyon time to recover from the waiting of the next year or so. And don’t ask me how Moffat and Gatiss could possibly make this outcome work out. But until we know what body is in Sherlock’s grave, and where Moriarty’s is buried… I’m not quite giving up on this one.
Meanwhile, we wait for whatever month of early 2013 will reveal the truth about what happened between the roof of St. Bart’s and the sidewalk outside — the explication of the sacrifice, the beginning of the redemption, and the resumption of some of the best TV in living memory. UK Sherlock fandom, for the moment, seems to be working its way through the grieving stages and is heading gradually into Acceptance (well, like they have a whole lot of choice). The discussions of How’d He Do It will obviously continue for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, the first green shoots of renewal are pushing up, with the appearance of fanart (and even preliminary pencil tests for some animation) dealing with with what the Return might look like. One thing that seems certain is that John Watson will not simply keel over in a dead faint as the Canonical Dr. Watson does when Holmes slips out of disguise and reveals himself in his consulting room. There seems to be a consensus that punches will be thrown: the main question seems to be, before or after the two friends grab each other in a colossal hug of anguish, relief and joy…?
I’m willing enough to let Gatiss and Moffat call that one. In the meantime: maybe over the weekend I’ll take out the season 2 DVD and have one more look at the last twenty minutes of “The Reichenbach Fall.” Just to see if anything jumps out at me…