Saturday 2nd January 2016

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Well, I liked it. Sherlock, like its stablemate Doctor Who (the connective tissue being Steven Moffat) can often be frustrating, but this Christmas special was a lot more delightful and confection than I was expecting. Actually, I expected the whole thing to be really disappointing, and it certainly wasn’t that. In all honesty, I had hoped that the whole twisty turny timey wimey aspect to be entirely unexplained – that the Christmas (alright, New Years Day) special was simply a giftwrapped, one-off bit of nonsense, that any attempt to cram into an actual narrative would be pale and uninteresting.

In the end, the logic was – well, logical. The fact that (spoilers ahoy) was a journey inside Sherlock’s mind palace made absolute sense, and meant that fans could have their cake and eat it. It was supremely cheeky at times (I’m pretty sure that I heard a riff on the Jeremey Brett / Granada theme at one point), while fanserving to the point of indulgence (getting to see the actual Reinbach Falls). It was, rarely for Sherlock, an actual mystery for the audience to solve. I don’t mean the titular investigation of The Abominable Bride, which was as frustrating and cheating as we’ve come to expect (of which more in a moment), but the mystery that the audience were presented with – namely, why was Sherlock suddenly in the Victorian era? Fairly uniquely, the script played fair with the clues, from Sherlock apparently misgendering someone in the morgue, to a couple of bouts of turbulence at 221b Baker Street, and the whole episode had the feel of a overstuffed Advent calendar where you’ve been allowed to eat all the chocolates at once. Much of the hate on twitter centred on it being a confusing episode, an opinion that I don’t agree with, or even have much time for.

I enjoyed it immensely and watched it beaming (once you work out that the narrative development of the episode consists of Sherlock getting out of one mode of transport, into another, and nothing else, you’re allowed to relax and just enjoy it), but it remains that there are things very wrong with the writing. I appreciated the gag about the women not having anything to say outside of their narrative function, and if the joke had been allowed to remain meta and self-involved, it would have been a lot more successful. But since an early Suffragette movement was modelled on the KKK and in disarray until that nice man Sherlock helped them out, it was a bit more of a bitter pill to swallow – even if you know your Conan Doyle (orange pips), or that there were indeed early (American) women’s rights activist groups that shared some DNA with the Klan. The really lazy/needlessy superior line was smuggled in earlier, however, with Mycroft’s line about ‘a fight we must lose’. It sounds very noble and self-sacrificing, until you read it as the men ‘letting’ the girls win, which isn’t even remotely how women fought – and died – for equality.

My other quibble is minor in comparison, but probably more serious for the show. In this and Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is often displaying that he’s far more interested in the journey than the destination. In both shows, there are repeated promises of ‘look til you see what we’ve got for you NEXT year!’. In a show like Doctor Who, where – in theory – there is never an actual narrative closure, it’s a particular problem, since a showrunner might feel no compulsion to end a story or tie up lose ends, but it’s also true that – particularly with Sherlock – you need to see the case being solved. By all means, have ambiguity and teasing misleads, but it can’t all be about the exciting foreplay. Sometimes you have to finish what you started. Luckily, Moffat is excellent at smoke and mirrors, and so he gets a free pass a lot of the time, but there’s only so often that he can promise exciting things for the future in one breath, and then get distracted by a shiny new thing with the next. He’s a writer, for God’s sake. He shouldn’t have the attention of an overly excited kitten. In other words, Steven: finish your greens.

All that said, I genuinely adored all shades of hell out of Sherlock. Frustrating, annoying, and a gorgeous mess of wit and fun. You certainly couldn’t accuse it of being complacent.

Cast Iron Theatre is curating a gender-flipped evening of iconic male roles for International Women’s Day:https://www.facebook.com/NotJustTheCompanion/?fref=ts

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4 thoughts on “Saturday 2nd January 2016

  1. Adrian

    An interesting and well put together post, but I cannot say that I agree with your point on Mycroft’s line. While superficially it may appear to cheapen the hard battle fought by the suffragettes during the early twentieth century, that is not (at least, I believe it is not) the message that should have been taken.

    The suffragettes fought hard and suffered dearly to achieve their goals; some more nobly than others. No one should suggest that they did not deserve the eventual victory. Nevertheless, there are two points that must be considered. I would submit that they are both connected to each other, and to the line uttered by Mycroft. The first is that in the clash that was seen between two ideologies–equality and the male monopoly of power–the suffragettes were clearly morally right. The second is that the men in control did eventually let them win, in the sense that there are only two ways that ‘constitutional’ power can be transferred to those who don’t already have any; by violent revolution or the voluntary surrender of power. Thankfully we never saw a violent revolution, but a slow fight that culminated in the realisation that the monopoly of power was wrong (or at the least unsustainable).

    I think that this is what the line ‘we must lose, for they are right’ is supposed to allude to. Mycroft is, after all, of incredible intelligence. He would see that the status quo was wrong, and that the right thing to do would be to accede to the demand for equality. Nevertheless, he would also know that the majority of the aristocracy that made up his class would not want to relinquish their power. I suppose what I am saying is that it is possible to realise that you sit on the wrong side of history without publicly fighting for the right side.

    Merely my interpretation of it though. In the end words can always be read in different ways, and most viewers aren’t going to spend the time I have this morning mulling it over.

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    • thisisandrewallen

      You’re right, of course. It’s just in the silly confection of a Christmas special (where it might just fall apart if you look too closely), it potentially jars slightly – you’re correct in that the only people to have the power to change the status quo is those with the power in the first place (otherwise, there will have been ever more violent events as time continued), but it’s slightly niggling that the women aren’t (really) given true agency (even if Mary is highly praised at every turn).

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      • Adrian

        I suppose it largely comes down (as an overall episode) to how you view the use of the suffragettes. I took the view that they were merely being used as a plot device to tell a somewhat different story. The women that belonged to the ‘cult type’ suffragettes pictured were largely hollow. I guess I accepted that as being because Sherlock was deducing the events from snippets that he had presumably read in the past; in that case he does not know anything about the people in the shadows of the official story. Consequently they are depicted as anonymous shells, without dialogue or character. Sherlock’s purpose is, after all, to solve the Moriarty case by solving one that he has more information for. He cares more about the mechanism than the outcome per se. In that sense I think it works.

        On the other hand, if it is actually supposed to tell a serious story about the early suffragette movement, it fails horrendously. Dramatic works are more your forte, so I will differ to your opinion on what the correct interpretation should be.

        In the end, you are right that it probably shouldn’t be subject to too close a scrutiny, being a stand-alone Christmas special. But then again, Steven Moffat wants to be clever and abstract, so it feels somewhat natural to take analyse it. Perhaps he’s the wrong person to be writing a standalone episode? He’s usually best when he’s given a few episodes within which he can play out his game of ‘what’s in the mystery box’.

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      • thisisandrewallen

        No need for you to defer to me; you’re saying everything that I’d want to, but more elegantly.

        It’s interesting that you mention that Sherlock is more interested in the mechanism than the outcome, Obviously, that’s a critique I’d throw at Moffat himself ..

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