I’ve been hearing this claim a lot lately, in various forms, and it’s a little bit unsettling. “Elementary is great, if you just forget that his name is Sherlock.” “He just seems like a clever guy whose name happens to be Sherlock.” “I’m just not feeling Sherlock Holmes from this character.”
There seems to be one “logical” justification that people tend to use, that there is too much changed from the canon to be called Sherlock Holmes (which I will probably address in a later post.)
Instead of the “logical” focus, I thought about the gut reaction portion of it for a bit I think and I figured out why people don’t ~*~feel~*~ Sherlock Holmes in Elementary. And that is that we as audience members of his crime solving adventures, the way he employs his deductions are different from the “Sherlocky” method that is usually employed. The thing is, I don’t think that the “deviation” in deduction style is either substantive or significant.
When Sherlockians think Shelock-style deductions, we usually think wild, rapid-fire conclusions that seem to come out of nowhere that are later explained by joining strenuous networks of circumstances that happen upon something true. What we’ve found over the course of Elementary is that our Sherlock deploys his deductions a bit differently.
Of course, he does have his spurts of “traditionally Sherlockian deductions.” He deduces that Joan is a former surgeon, that a patient died on her table, each of his deductions explained later. He finds Moran seemingly miraculously, and calculates the vehicle where thieves have gone with only set of tire tracks. Among other moments, he sounds and feels more like Holmes is traditionally portrayed.
Why? Because when he initially announces deductions, they stimulate the surprise and admiration in his audience because his conclusions seem impossible to come to. It’s only later when he explains how he comes to these conclusions that we feel quite silly after understanding the clever yet simple logical jumps that Sherlock is able to make. There is wonder from the audience (and Watson, famously, in the canon and other adaptions) in the ways of Sherlock’s enigma and independence of thought. He is mysterious and unreachable in his ability.
The original Sherlock Holmes explains it adeptly in A Study in Scarlet:
“I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjuror gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”
But our Sherlock in Elementary is different. The story was never about him. It was never about how he has a superior intellect or can blow everyone away with his deductions. The story was always about leading his spectators through his thinking process. It was always about working with Joan and Bell and Gregson as equally intelligent people to solve the crimes. It was always about relaying his thinking process out loud, so that everyone reaches the finish line of understanding at the same time instead of leaving his colleagues and his audience in the dust.
The story was always about our dear Watson learning by his side, about her working her way through the cases and receiving feedback from Sherlock as she improves as an investigator. We can see the very poignant message of the story in Snow Angels:
SHERLOCK: They came out of EROC with $33 million in small bills. They loaded their haul onto an ambulance American-made in the late nineties. They haven’t been gone more than an hour.
JOAN: The driver had a lazy eye, the other two men had basketball caps, and one has canine lupus. See how it feels?
If that isn’t a hit in the face I don’t know what is. The tradition of Sherlock Holmes expects us to be impressed with Sherlock’s deductions that come seemingly out of nowhere. We are supposed to applaud his talent and expect an explanation later. Not so in Elementary. From the get-go - the very first episode - Watson establishes that this behavior is patronizing, immature, and unacceptable. The showy shimmer of Sherlock’s deductions is soured once we realize that it actually makes more sense to be upset about Sherlock leaving us behind in the dust, rather than struck with wonder. It’s this arrogant, showy behavior that feels like Sherlock Holmes, but also manages to make everyone around Holmes feel inferior.
If that’s what it means for Sherlock to “feel like Sherlock Holmes” then I don’t want it.
I want our Sherlock, who is still incredibly intelligent and can make great logical leaps without pause, who has a vast knowledge of useful topics for crime-solving, who thinks and acts in such a peculiar way that is characteristic of the Sherlock Holmes from so long ago. There’s no question that Elementary’s Sherlock is Sherlock Holmes. The difference is that he is able to prove himself able to grow and develop as a person, willing to accommodate others. Sherlock Holmes from canon was afraid of being an ordinary man. Sherlock Holmes from Elementary has no qualms with helping make extraordinary of “ordinary” people. And that doesn’t subtract from the integrity of Sherlock Holmes at all.