I’ve been feeling progressively ickier since I got back from Wizard World St. Louis last weekend (where I got to meet Matt Smith! That’s vaguely relevant here, considering he’s the perfect physical manifestation of my Mycroft, as previously mentioned. David Tennant also walked within a foot of me and I got to see Billie Piper from afar. It was all lovely). Feeling kind of congested, my stomach’s not exactly happy, and there’s a general, overwhelming sense of exhaustion and blah. I’m hoping this is the extent of whatever this plague that’s settling in is and it will burn itself out quickly. I’ve had my epic crud of the year already. It happened in December and ended with pneumonia. I’m done. Did you hear me, Universe? Done!
Anyway, that is mostly the reason this week’s blog post is late (and is almost at risk of being next week’s blog post). The portion that I usually call the “thinky” part – the discussion of the week’s story – has been done in a notebook for a few days. It just takes energy to sit down at my computer and type it out. The accompanying story has also been a little lax in churning itself out. That’s been less about me feeling icky and more me waffling on decisions relative to the prequels here on the blog and events in the first book in the series. I think I’ve mostly worked those out with a little help from my friends. Ask me tomorrow, my mind might have changed, though.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled, if not very late, blog post.
Welcome to week ten! We’re in double digits now, and technically 19% of the way through this lovely challenge. Or, if you go by number of stories instead of weeks, we’re actually 18% done. Either way, we’re chugging along pretty steadily.
I am going to spare everyone listening to me rant again about continuity (and I could; there are issues, damn it!) and just dive right into something I think is a little more interesting and less likely to make my brain throb: the potential co-dependency of our favorite Victorian gentlemen. Actually, co-dependency may be too strong a word, or too loaded with unpleasant context. Canon Holmes isn’t exactly doing everything he can to interfere with Watson’s plan to move out or propose to his beloved, nor does he crash their honeymoon, like the Robert Downey Jr. version, but there is definitely the potential for a dependence of a sort there.
Here’s a question for you to ponder while we discuss “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” this week: can Sherlock Holmes, the unflappable and incomparable world’s only consulting detective, really exist without the presence of John Watson? Sure, he manages to solve crimes before he and the good doctor meet. Is known and utilized by Scotland Yard already in A Study in Scarlet, in fact. But would he have become the man who tumbles over a waterfall with Moriarty, who prevents multiple international incidents, and solves a case that flummoxes the law enforcement departments of three different countries without the influence of his friend and biographer? Or would he have stayed shut up in 221B, solving cases from his couch via consultation without actually diving fully into the world, as he seems to have been doing, mostly, at the time he and Watson meet? Is Holmes really Holmes without Watson?
We could base our answer on Holmes’ own behavior, I suppose, circa “The Crooked Man.” In this story, Holmes seeks out Watson while in the midst of a case he seems to be having difficulty cracking on his own. He shows up on Watson’s doorstep late one evening, seeking his friend’s counsel in the guise of borrowing his spare room for the night. Watson of course doesn’t spare a thought to asking his (interestingly nameless) wife if she minds his odd friend crashing with them for the evening, or even letting her know they’ve got company at all. Instead, he invites Holmes in, offers him a pipe, and grants him use of their guest room without a second thought.
(Let’s pause for a moment and ponder what it would be like to wake up to an unexpected Sherlock Holmes puttering about. Discovering an extra person in your house you didn’t know about it startling enough, but Unexpected Sherlock must be quite the experience, especially pre-coffee. Degree of shock might be dependent on which Sherlock it is, I suppose. Robert Downey Jr’s version would likely be experimenting on the dog. Jonny Lee Miller’s might be escorting a hooker out. Jeremy Brett’s might be making tea. Benedict Cumberbatch’s…sorry, I was just distracted by the thought of waking up to find Benedict Cumberbatch in my house. We should move on from there.)
Once Holmes settles in, Watson waits for him to get to the real reason for stopping by at half to midnight. As expected, there is a case, and while he doesn’t specifically come out and say “Help me, Obi-Watson Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” Holmes does sort of elude to it, if random and unrelated compliments to Watson’s artful skill at unraveling his mysteries and knowing what to reveal and when counts. And then he asks the doctor if he wouldn’t mind tagging along the next day while Holmes sees a man about a late night conversation with a recent widow. “If you could accompany me in that last step you might be of considerable service to me,” is how he puts it.
Simpler than recording a highly quotable message and hiding it in a droid, for sure.
The puzzle he’s flummoxed with and relates to Watson beneath a dual cloud of Arcadia tobacco smoke is a simple one for all that it has Holmes at a loss. Colonel James Barclay and his wife, Nancy, have uncharacteristically fought. The Colonel ended the altercation as a corpse. Nancy, who fainted and has yet to regain consciousness, is the prime suspect in the death, as she was the only one who had access to her husband at the time of his death. See, they were carrying on in a room that locked from the inside and had no other door. The Colonel has a history of a temper (that he’s never directed at his wife) and Nancy is less demonstrative in her affection towards her now late husband, but other than that, their marriage had seemed to be a happy and content one. Until one of them ended up dead, of course.
There are a few “features of interest,” however, that take the case from open and shut to curious. In their thirty years of marriage, the couple has never been known to fight like they did that night. That they did is an anomaly, as is the fact Nancy Barclay came home from a charity meeting in an agitated state and sought her husband out for the fight. Also, Holmes discovers two sets of footprints outside a window left open in the room, only one of them human. The other Holmes is unable to identify, though “animal” seems to be a safe bet. House staff told police that they overheard Mrs. Barclay shout “David” at one point in the conversation but have no idea who David would be. Holmes manages to get the neighbor Nancy was out with that night to admit to the fact they ran into a disfigured man on the road on the way home who recognized Mrs. Barclay and pulled her aside for an upsetting conversation that precipitated her agitated state. Holmes is sure a conversation with this unnamed stranger will shine a light on everything. This is who he wants Watson to accompany him to see the next day.
So let’s think about this a second. Is Holmes really that perplexed by the case? He has the usual collection of data in need of being sorted into an order that illuminates the facts. He even has the source of the final clue – one of his Irregulars has found the man and is surveilling him until Holmes can come and interrogate him in the morning. The solution to the whole puzzle is likely a single conversation away. So why does he need Watson? It’s not for concerns for his own safety – Holmes has wandered, and will continue to wander, into much more dangerous situations alone. He also has backup on hand in the form of the friend of Colonel Barclay’s that hired him and the Irregular standing by if he’s truly worried. He’s not asking Watson to look at the body or participate in the coroner’s inquest or even go to the scene of the crime. He’s not in need of Watson’s medical opinion or his gun at all.
What he is in need of, though, is something much simpler, so simple it doesn’t even take Sherlock bloody Holmes to solve it: he needs his friend. His best mate. His partner-in-crime solving. It’s not that Holmes is incapable of being Holmes without Watson; he’d just rather not be if he doesn’t have to be. He can still solve the case, right the wrongs, and save the day on his own and likely does on a frequent basis that Watson never tells us about because he’s not there. That doesn’t mean he enjoys that scenario, though. Who among us wouldn’t much rather have our good friend along with us on an interesting adventure? Or even just a mildly intriguing night out? Watson’s absence doesn’t stop Holmes from being Holmes, but it’s obviously more fun if he’s along. As we know, Holmes needs an audience after all.
A tinge of narcissism instead of co-dependency, then.
Of course, Watson doesn’t exactly play hard to get, does he? Just like Martin Freeman’s Watson, who has seen so much death and torment and horror in war, but jumps at the offer to see a bit more with an enthusiastic “Yes, please,” canon Watson is in need of the thrill that comes with being along for the ride. No matter how much he adores his quiet practice and his quaint home and his domestic bliss, there is still part of him that misses running out into the night with Sherlock Holmes, seeking curious adventure. Watson obviously needs Holmes, too. And that’s the answer to the question posed earlier. No, they aren’t co-dependent. Life is just more fun when they’re running into insanity together.
I made a couple other notes while reading “The Crooked Man” as well, about things like the fact Watson never uses his wife’s name (“my wife” is his general choice, and convenient for a writer whose continuity makes people wonder how many times your narrator has been married) and the “David” red herring also mentioned before. That gets a last minute, fairly hand-wavy solution at the tail end of the story and I’m not really sure if I believe that’s where Doyle originally intended it to go. The answer it gets sounds very much like “Damn! I forgot to tie up that loose end, here’s a biblical reference I can explain it away with and no one will be the wiser.” I think I’ll save diving too deep into David for a later story, though. And we’ll hand-wave the “my wife” business away with Watson’s era-appropriate misogyny. If Mrs. Hudson can’t even get a speaking role (shout out to “The Abominable Bride”), it’s no surprise Watson can’t remember his wife’s name. Or possibly how many he’s had.
It’s really best to leave it that way. I can’t rant about continuity anymore. My poor brain can’t take it.
I am fully aware that having characters dive into deep and meaningful relationship conversations during moments of danger has become a bit cliche anymore. I stand by this not being so, however, because there is no actual direct danger involved, and I’m slightly harking back to a moment in the aforementioned “Abominable Bride” with this setup, and if Moffat can do it, it must still be okay.
“I think next time we should definitely take your aunt up on her offer of a thermos of tea,” Watson says, crouched as he is beside me behind an abandoned cart, watching the dosshouse across the street. We’ve been at it for a good three hours at this point. It’s cold, dark, and a noticeable dampness lingers in the air that must be generally unpleasant for the poor doctor. I’m aware of the potential for his discomfort; I’m possibly vaguely disinterested in it. It’s not a trait I’m proud of, that sense of vindictive glee that comes when someone that’s hurt me finds themselves inconvenienced, but I’ve never claimed ever to be an entirely good person.
I rub my hands together, despite my gloves, and nod. “Perhaps. I certainly wouldn’t mind something assisting with the thaw.”
“We’re absolutely sure the man in question will return here this evening?”
“He does every other night, so I’m not sure why he’d skip this one. It’s not my fault criminals are an inconvenient breed, Watson. Take your complaint up with their union representative.”
Watson snorts. Under warmer circumstances – meteorologically and personally – it may have been a laugh. “There’s a thought. Criminals organizing and applying for membership in the Trades Union Congress.” He shifts in place, taking weight off one leg, letting it settle onto the other. “We could have passed this tip along to the Yard, you know. Let them handle it.”
I snort in response, and not because it’s too cold to manage a laugh. “I’m not doing all the work, then letting them revel in the payoff. They get to claim all the credit as it is. I’m not going to let them have all the fun, too.”
“Only you would find waiting outside the decrepit abode of a purported murderer fun, Holmes.”
It’s been the basis of part of the current argument for the past three days – my unladylike glee at the case at hand. I’ve never had the opportunity to look into an actual murder before and my excitement was perhaps a tad unseemly. “Indecent,” as Anne put it. Watson may have settled for “insane.” I only became involved because a friend of the accused sought me out after the gentlemen of the Yard refused to listen to her assurances that Mrs. Barclay couldn’t have possibly killed her husband. How could I refuse to help potentially free an innocent woman? Is that really indecent or insane?
Half of Watson’s insistence of the questionability of my sanity laid in the danger of the situation, but that came about later.
“You could have excused yourself from the proceedings. Still can, in fact.”
“And leave you alone to take on a murderer? I stand by my earlier declaration.”
I gesture down the road to another similar cart where a pair of neighborhood roustabouts I’ve placed on my payroll wait and watch as well. “You know as well as I that I’ve backup near at hand. Should be enough to absolve you of your perceived responsibility.”
“Perceived responsib…” Watson’s words sputter to a stop and he stares at me with wide, incongruous eyes. I only see the expression because of the faint gaslight fighting to shine through the soot-encrusted globe overhead. “I swear to God, Holmes, you are the most infuriating woman I’ve ever known.”
“Then you haven’t known nearly enough women. Mycroft says I’m bested by at least two.”
“Mycroft has a much different perspective, I’m sure, coming at it as your brother instead of your…”
My head cants at a sharp angle and my attention wholly leaves the building ahead for the first time all evening. “Instead of my what? Physician? This falls outside your purview in that capacity. Flat mate? Still not a responsibility indicative therein. And you’ve chosen to refuse any other potential titles, so I’m not sure why you chose to care.”
Watson shifts noisily in place, not to free up one leg or the other, but so that he’s facing me squarely. I feel the well-known shape of his revolver bite into my left shoulder as his hands take up position on both without thought of setting the gun aside first. “You truly are a little idiot sometimes, Charlotte.” I’m not expecting the kiss. It lacks the shy clumsiness of mine that evening in his office, the halting timidity of a first, unrehearsed kiss. His lips are cold and taste of late winter’s chill; this kiss itself is scorching. I honestly think I feel weak flame licking through my veins. Who needs tea to thaw themselves out when they can rely on heat like this?
He pulls back too soon, just far enough his forehead can rest heavily against mine. His breath fans my cheek and chases off the cold there, too. “I didn’t refuse anything. I only wondered why I deserved to be considered at all, and whether you really had any idea what you were really after.”
I chuckle. I’m still ignoring his gun. (That is in no way meant as euphemism or metaphor.) “I have read a book or two on the subject, you know. Well aware how human anatomy and biology tend to work.” Watson chuckles, too. His empty hand reaches up to brush hair from my cheek.
“I’m not sure I want to know what books you’ve been reading. Or maybe I should ask so I’ve an idea what’s floating about in that head of yours.” I open my mouth to answer, but the sound of a bird call draws both our attention. Ahead, the man Mrs. Barclay’s neighbors had seen fleeing the house the night of the murder, shuffling limp and all, approaches the dosshouse. “We’ll have to discuss your knowledge of anatomy later, I’m afraid, Holmes. More your knowledge of criminals that’s needed at the moment.”
I nod, a reluctant bob of my head, and pull myself together as best I can. With another nod as signal, we both rise from behind the cart. “Henry Wood! Your presence is requested at a discussion about your whereabouts the night of Colonel James Barclay’s murder!” As Wood turns to sprint as best he can in the opposite direction, our friends down the street leap out to detain him. I clasp my hands giddily behind my back as I stride across the street to join them.
A most productive night all around, I decide.