I watched the first episode, “A Study in Pink,” of the new Sherlock Holmes series Sherlock on the PBS website yesterday. The show is well-made, I like the technical quirks of updating it, I like the actors, and the cinematography is good. I look forward to seeing half-recognized actors from other British shows appearing in upcoming episodes.
I do love a good Holmes.
I was thinking about this, pondering it. Why on earth do I like this guy? I think the biggest part of it is that I really, truly met Holmes via Laurie King’s series of Holmes-Russell books. The first, Beekeeper’s Apprentice, introduces us to a retired Holmes in the early 1900s, and to the original and entirely captivating (to me) character of Mary Russell. The two form a partnership in detecting, and their adventures and relationship are the subject of the rest of the series.
In the Beekeeper series, Holmes is a cantakerous man, set in his ways, a genius who lacks a personal touch. Yet we see him through the eyes of an equally brilliant, equally awkward, equally damaged person, Mary. The books present Holmes as complex and flawed, with value beyond that of his intellect. Certainly, he is an ass, but he recognizes this and makes amends over time.
I think that this rendition of Holmes is always in the back of my mind when I read or see other versions. I think that I, as a viewer or reader, insert that humanity into him regardless of the presentation. So, there’s that. In my head he’s an ass, but he’s an ass with lots of hidden good qualities.
Yet Holmes is not the only ass I like in fiction. I also, for instance, Like Dr. Leitman on Lie To Me. And I think it’s for the same reasons. Both characters are right.
I don’t mean they are good, though they mostly work for law and order and justice. I mean they are Factually Correct. It is a geek social fallacy that social value can be purchased or gained by intellectual superiority. While I try to avoid this sort of thinking, there was a time in my youth when I pined for this to be true. (This was before I met people loads smarter than me.) Yet, though I recognize that Leitman and Holmes are jackasses I never want to meet, I still find them awesome as characters. I sorta wish I could be like them, only better at wielding the power I would have.
Because their gifts really are shown as superpowers, frankly. Leitman’s ability to read micro-expressions is based on a real ability, but the show treats it as telepathy. Ditto Holmes’s ability to detect physical evidence and deduce its meaning. Real skills, made magic. It all amounts to really really REALLY good cold reading. And I have always wished I was better at cold reading.
When I was a kid, a teenager, and a young adult, I was fairly poor at understanding social cues. I pined for someone to just explain to me what the hell was going on, and what I was supposed to do. Just TELL me, I would shriek in my head, instead of playing these stupid GAMES. As an adult, I recognize that the things I thought were games were, in fact, the purpose of the social exchange — assessing status, determining whether further intimacy was desired in the relationship, deciding whether this new person was wanted or unwanted in the social sphere. But I didn’t get that, and when I did get it I wasn’t very good at it.
When I saw people who were good at social interactions, it looked like magic. Normal social skills looked to then-me the way cold reading looks to me now. And I craved for those abilities.
Watching Holmes on Sherlock rekindles that desire on my part to be really really REALLY good at reading people. Except I would use the information better than Holmes, I tell myself in my head. There’s a moment on the show when a character calls Holmes a psychopath. Holmes snaps at the man, “High-functioning sociopath!” and returns to his existing conversation / ranting. I am not certain that high-functioning is a term that rightly applies to sociopathy. (Perhaps it does, I haven’t done research on this.) But if there is such a thing, I would believe that it looks like Holmes. A brilliant man who doesn’t see human emotions and relationships as real. And I wonder, watching the show, whether it is possible to possess the skills Holmes does (or Leitman) and not be an ass. Or a high-functioning sociopath.
Still, I watch the show and my geeky heart is with Holmes. He is right. He knows everything. He is incredibly confident, with an arrogance that is justified. (And how I would love for my own arrogance to be justified.) He can do things that no-one else can. He is special. (And how young-me ached to be Special, in that purple-eyed red-haired magic horse mutant powers Mary Sue way.) And I know (from the Beekeeper books) that Holmes has human thoughts and feelings hidden away, which he will show when the time is right, with the person he trusts, who will be Watson. (And on some level so many of us geeks yearn for the One Person Who Sees Our Value Despite Our Socially Inappropriate Manner and Can Be Trusted With Our Heart.) Sherlock Holmes really is, on some level, my personal geeky-teen wish fulfillment fantasy. No wonder I like it.
I’m looking forward to watching the rest of Sherlock. I think I’ll go order the dvds now.
Filed under: Analysis, Autobiography, MoviesTV | Tagged: bbc, cold reading, lie to me, sherlock, sherlock holmes | 4 Comments »