« A lot of money | Main | culture and values »


Look. I wasn’t going to complain about this, but why didn’t Sherlock know that the plaster cast was fake?

I don’t mean that Sherlock, I mean this Sherlock, the twenty-first century updating that is largely enjoyable and quite clever. But the Sherlock Holmes in this series (as written by Mark Gatiss and created by Mr. Gatiss and Steven Moffatt) is the kind of hyper-observant detective—the Sherlock Holmes type, in fact—who not only notices that a grotty napkin somebody uses to blow his nose has a phone number on it, but that the phone number was written before the napkin was used to blot a coffee spill, and that the numbers were gone over in pen after the coffee spill to keep them legible. But when he looks at a plaster cast of the footprints of a gigantic hound, he doesn’t spot that it’s a fake.

Digression: it’s an enormous hound in the episode. In the original novel, the quote is “… the footprints of a gigantic hound”, not an enormous hound. I wonder if Basil Rathbone sees the footprints of an enormous hound, or if it gigantic in that one, too. I don’t think it’s one of the great nonexistent quotes (Play it again, Sam or Judy, Judy, Judy) but it’s odd that it seems to have come down in our cultural memory as enormous, rather than gigantic. That said, I am presumably the only one who would have found it incapacitatingly funny had our Henry combined them and said he had seen the footprints of a ginormous hound. End Digression.

The episode was bad in other ways as well. It would have been disappointing had the solution been that there really was a genetically-enhanced super-dog escaped from the secret government lab, but so it was disappointing that there was a chemically enhanced super-hallucinogen escaped from a different secret government lab. The focus on the security of the secret government lab was deflated by the news that one of the scientists had accidentally taken an experimental animal home; the later discovery that one of the other scientists had been wandering around with his super-hallucinogen for twenty years without attracting the attention of the security forces didn’t really come as a surprise. Nor did we bother asking why none of those security forces had done any investigating at all of a random critic turning up dead in the woods just outside the minefield, nor why the murderer didn’t seem worried about his employers possibly investigating another corpse in the same spot. We didn’t bother because at that point we already knew: evidence had been superseded by a chemically enhanced super-hallucinogen from the secret government lab. Nothing anybody saw needed to have actually happened, and nothing anybody did needed to have a sensible motivation, because, hey, chemically enhanced super-hallucinogen from the secret government lab.

But the conversation with the punter with the plaster cast was before all that. And it didn’t make sense to begin with. Why was he so reluctant to show the cast, which he was carrying around in a knapsack, presumably to show as part of his tour? If he just didn’t want to give it away for free, why didn’t he tell the out-of-town couple that they could see his proof on the tour? Or just hint that a fiver would open his knapsack? Why did he require the psychological pressure at all? I am also curious whether he knew it was a fake, either because he faked it (the most obvious reason) or because it was given to him by someone he assumed would fake the thing (the pub couple are the obvious culprits) or because he’s just the kind of person that assumes that everything is fake. Or does he think it’s real? Would he be disappointed to know that there isn’t a megadog in the woods? Given the super-hallucinogen and its plot-destroying properties, perhaps he thinks it’s real because he thinks he made it himself.

I haven’t watched the last one yet. I hope to enjoy it. I’ve enjoyed four of the previous five, some more than others, and even the Hound one had some good things in it. The fun of them is in the interaction of Holmes and Watson (and Lestrade, to a lesser extent, and in places Mycroft); the detection is less entertaining. But less entertaining shouldn’t be infuriating, and this was infuriating in a way that, for example, a timebombcrossbow or a jumbo jet full of corpses was not.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,