The Women of True Detective

So I was sent this link and asked whether I agree with the article. To summarize, for those not interested in jumping over there, the question is whether True Detective is trying to make a point in the way it portrays women.

Honestly, I don’t think so. Not intentionally. But the text can be read that way, if you’re looking for a reason to justify loving the show despite the fact that it treats female characters badly.

We’ve got Maggie, the long-suffering wife (now ex) of Marty. She nags and is angry a lot, though with good reason. And she’s the closest the show comes to a fully fleshed-out, realized female character. But even then she’s not really whole; she’s only seen through her connections to Marty and Rust. She is not her own person with her own story line.

And then there are all the others: prostitutes and baby killers and Marty’s deranged mistresses. They are all cogs in the writing machinery designed to move the plot along or else to give deeper development to Marty’s and Rust’s characters. I would and should howl about this, but when I look at my Peter Stoller stories I have to admit my women are—though in at least one instance more developed—equally marginal. My Miranda, like True Detective‘s Maggie, is seen only in relation to Peter and the others around her. But then again (in my defense), my stories are all told from Peter’s limited point of view, so how else can she be portrayed? This is not true of True Detective, the writers of which could easily have chosen to give Maggie or any other woman her own story arc. (And I, one supposes, could always go back and write a story from Miranda’s point of view. Hmm.)

Still, I won’t try to make excuses for myself or True Detective. I think it’s a fabulous show, even though it falls down on the gender front. For one thing, I’ve come to expect HBO shows will have a lot of naked, objectified women. (No, I don’t watch Girls.) I don’t like it, but the predominately male audience they’re out to capture does. The Slate article talks about perspective, and this is it: HBO and True Detective are told from the male perspective. And it’s shameful and sickening that this is how so many men see and treat women. But there it is.

But do I think the show’s writers are trying to say something about female power? Do I believe they’re being quietly subversive by giving us these flawed men and showing us “strong” women (if “strong” means: an angry, nagging wife willing to walk out; prostitutes that lecture cops; mistresses who go after men in one way or another)? Nah. That’s more incidental than intentional. When a young girl waits for a woman to nod before doing what a man’s told her to do . . . It won’t be impressive until a man is the one waiting for a woman’s permission.

Notes After a Second Viewing of “His Last Vow”

So I had missed Sherlock’s seeming pleasure at his drug habit turning up in the papers after John started a row with him at the drug den, which maybe explains this point from a previous post. Maybe. Since unless Sherlock was the one to drag Isaac into the den to begin with, he can’t have known John would be coming along . . . But perhaps John was just useful at the time in Sherlock getting what he wanted: his name in the papers. So that he could have a line on Magnuson.

Except. If he was already dating Janine, why did he need his name in the papers? Not quite seeing how being tabloid fodder was going to help his case, especially if his goal was to get Smallwood’s letters. How would Magnuson having something on Sherlock help in that? (And then again, Magnuson wouldn’t have anything on Sherlock if it was already common knowledge that Sherlock was an addict . . . so perhaps that was the goal? Not to give Magnuson any leverage?) Rather convoluted no matter which way one turns it.

I’m also not sure why Sherlock falls for the idea that the papers Magnuson gives him a glimpse of are the actual Smallwood letters. I like to think Sherlock is smarter than to assume. But perhaps his failing—human error—is that shared by so many: When one’s eye is on the prize, one leaps ahead without looking down. (Most accidents happen close to home for a reason, after all. One lets one’s guard down.)

I was wondering how Mary got into the office building. Seems unlikely she proposed to Janine too. I guess we’re supposed to assume her skills are just that good.

And I also didn’t quite understand how Mary killing Magnuson after shooting Sherlock would have implicated John (which is the reason given for why she didn’t just kill Magnuson there and then) . . . Aside from his simply being there . . . Sherlock would have been able to vouch for John (okay, yes, that would be suspect, and one supposes everyone would assume John had also shot Sherlock to cover up?), and ballistics would have borne out that John had not fired a gun, plus no gloves on the scene . . . In fact, no gun either, assuming Mary would have taken it with her . . . And there was nowhere for John to dispose of both a gun and gloves. Anyway, I’m not sure what Mary is worried about, exactly, since all Magnuson’s power comes from keeping his mouth shut. He wouldn’t give that away. Not unless there were a bigger prize, and if the goal was to “own” Mycroft, then keeping his mouth shut would be how he’d achieve that.

Let’s look. Magnuson has goods on Mary, who wants to keep these things (a) quiet from John, and (b) quiet from anyone else who might come looking for her. Since John is the one Sherlock cares most about (and since John cares for Mary, Sherlock does as well because he wants to see John happy), and Sherlock is the one Mycroft cares most about . . . It does Magnuson no good to reveal Mary. To do so means he loses [his power over] her, John, Sherlock, and Mycroft. So why is she worried? Aside from the general discomfort of being under someone’s thumb, of course. Was Magnuson going to ask her to kill people for him as part of his price for silence? Did Magnuson work for Moriarty? Isn’t Magnuson just another Irene Adler, only instead of an iPhone full of secrets, he just carries them in his brain?

Oh, and speaking of that. Appledore, it turns out, has no vaults. No storage of secrets. (And I have to say, the episode was a bit of a cheat with the false glasses thing, but that’s a bone to pick over another time.) So . . . We’re supposed to believe Magnuson just prints whatever in his papers, without substantiation. Okay, yeah, chalk it up to the nature of tabloids anyway. But then what? If an inquiry begins in earnest . . . I mean, does this mean Magnuson never even owned the Smallwood letters? He mentions as a throw away line that he “might send out for something” which suggests there is a repository of some kind, somewhere. But then just before shooting him, Sherlock confirms with Magnuson that there is no hard copy of the information, that it is all in Magnuson’s head. So which is it? (He must have read or seen the information somewhere, at some point, in order to photographically remember it, right? So where did Magnuson get all this intelligence?)

Whatever. Littler things: the mention of the cottage on Sussex Downs, John as the “dummy” (better than a waxwork at least). And why does Sherlock think that will be the last conversation he’ll ever have with John? If he has six months in Easter Europe, can’t he phone? (Well, okay, maybe not if he’s going to be undercover. Maybe he wouldn’t want to put John, Mary and the baby in potential jeopardy.)

And I sure hope they don’t name this baby Shirley.

And Finally . . .

Not to belabor my points or anything, and I will say “The Empty Hearse” played slightly better on a second viewing, but there are still a few things . . .

1. Surely Mary has seen pictures of Sherlock? So why did it take her so long to recognize him at the restaurant? Or was that an act?

2. I don’t get why the train enthusiast didn’t immediately know about and/or think of the siding where the bomb carriage (car) was parked.

3. No, Sherlock, bombs do not always have an off switch. Many terrorists aren’t all that concerned about finding themselves in trouble. Many would be more concerned that someone might switch off their bomb. So this is lazy writing, really. Better to have come up with a way to put the bomb in a vacuum; an ignitor needs oxygen to detonate.

A nice touch I noticed last night but had missed the first time was Sherlock’s startled moment when John says, “You love it.” For a second there, Sherlock was worried John had figured it out.

P.S. Interesting that Mary tells John he should have something on a t-shirt. Watch for that to come up again in “His Last Vow.” Is there a deeper link between Mary and Magnuson (that is, deeper than the one revealed in “His Last Vow”)? Or is this just an attempt at a running joke?

“The Empty Hearse”: An Observation on Sherlock‘s Response to Fans

You walk into a room full of people and realize they are all talking about you. Most of them are saying positive things about how much they like you. They think you’re fun, cute, that you dress well, that you make good conversation. Even so, a few of them admit there are things about you that annoy them. But on the whole it’s all good news.

And then, in one corner of the room is a very loud, drunk group of people going on and on about how wonderful you are. In their eyes you can do no wrong.

What do you do?

A smart person might stealthily circuit the room a make note of all that is being said. But then again, it’s said eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves, so the better part of valor might be simply to back out of the room entirely.

But if you’re the people who make Sherlock, you march over to the loud drunkards and begin to shout over them in an attempt to prove to them you really are as clever as they say. They are gratified by your presence and your acknowledgment of them; they lap it up, even as you tell them they are not as smart as you and slyly poke fun at them.

And the rest of the room has gone utterly quiet. While you put on your circus show for the ravers, the rest of the people are staring and wondering what the hell is wrong with you. They are no longer saying wonderful things about you, even kind things tempered by reservations. You have opted to have a conversation—to hold court, really, in a self-aggrandizing way—with one small, select group and have thus cut off the quieter majority. (Yes, the drunkards are loud, but that does not mean they are legion. At least not comparatively.)

I suppose it depends on what you value in your audience.

A smart person doesn’t answer his critics. Good or bad. He listens, but he doesn’t respond, at least not directly. He chooses what is valuable, incorporates the information as necessary, chucks the rest. He does not jump in and manhandle the conversation. To do so only makes him appear ridiculous (except to those who adore him, and he already has those people on his side, so why—except that he cannot get enough of the praises, that he cannot resist the idea he is giving these fans a “treat” even if the treat is bittersweet and backhanded). In this instance, the “answer” to these fans is to tell them that they have become laughable in their obsessive interest in figuring out how Sherlock survived his fall, and that in the end it doesn’t matter. On with the show.

Except it does matter to these viewers, and to discount that is to undercut them. “You’re all correct, you all win!” is the same as “You’re all wrong, you all lose!” Because a point in every direction is the same as no point at all.* And the tone in “The Empty Hearse” is definitely one of a smug Sherlock Co. attempting to feel superior to its audience.

Maybe they figure Sherlock is smug by nature. Maybe they think it’s cute that he tries to tell John how he did it and John is the one who dismisses the explanation as the least of his concerns. Is John in this instance the stand-in for the silent majority of viewers while Anderson and his “fan club” are the vocal demanders of truth?

Sherlock does tell Anderson a version of what happened, but the audience is made to wonder how truthful his account is. “Why would you tell me?” Anderson asks. Indeed. Though maybe Sherlock is just frustrated that John didn’t care as much as one might expect.

But the bottom line is: subverting Anderson’s character and tossing in a tribute to your loud, drunken gaggle is not, perhaps, the best way to win the room. Listen to what is said and bask, if you like, in the glow of the gushing praise. But do not insert yourself into the conversation. To do so only detracts from the work itself.

*I love that movie.

“His Last Vow”: Another Thing

As cute as the post-credit sequence in the drug den was (and yes, it feels weird to write “cute” and “drug den”)—and this was lifted from Doyle, too; note that the best of the program adheres mostly to Doyle’s original work—I feel Sherlock would have known that by addressing John he was inviting having his cover blown. He knows John and so should be able to reasonably predict John’s reaction, which would certainly involve Sherlock’s name being shouted. So . . . Are we supposed to believe Sherlock had a momentary lapse in judgement in drawing John’s attention (maybe couldn’t help himself because he so misses having John’s attention, though the delivery of “Did you come to fetch me too?” doesn’t quite give that impression), or that he really wanted to have his cover blown, or that he wasn’t actually undercover at all?

Sherlock: “His Last Vow” (Initial Thoughts)

This was better than the first two. There’s that at least.

An adaptation of “Charles Augustus Milverton,” here changed to Magnuson—a most reviled blackmailer in the Doyle story and equally nastily portrayed in this take. In the original tale, Sherlock Holmes’s revulsion and frustration are palpable, and this did a decent job of pulling that through. And yes, Doyle’s Holmes does court a member of Milverton’s staff in order to gain access to his home, so I saw that bit coming.

There were little things, like the fact that if Sherlock is holding John’s coat he should be able to tell John’s gun is in it without having to ask. Stuff like that.

I enjoyed the passing reference to Sherriford. And the way Billy was introduced. I liked Sherlock’s sincere affection for John, which came through quite nicely this episode. I realize it was the through line of the plot, but really there were just lovely moments that highlighted this aspect, particularly at the end when Sherlock is on the plane and so heartbroken (as much as ever Sherlock can be) to have to leave.

I don’t know if I’m sold on the whole “three amigos” aspect of bringing Mary into things as an ex government assassin. Though I’m sure they’ll try and make her useful. (And oooh, her last initial is “A.” Could she be an Adler? Or is that stretching?)

And are we sure Moriarty’s actually alive? Just about anyone can throw an animated image together. Just curious. (Though I’ve been told Molly telegraphs that Moriarty IS alive with her “not like in the movies” bit. Are we supposed to then believe Sherlock was taken in? That he was in enough of a state that he didn’t notice it was all staged . . . Because he was too busy staging his own? Hmm. I don’t entirely buy it. Unless the gimmick is that Sherlock secretly doesn’t want Moriarty to be dead because that means he loses a playmate. But seems like if he spent two years clearing Moriarty’s network, he’d have heard something about Moriarty still being alive.)

Again, I’ll probably have to think about it some more, but . . . I’m mostly relieved it wasn’t as awful as the previous ones. Well, when you set the bar low, it isn’t difficult to jump over. That was the difficulty coming off the first series; how does one maintain such quality? Nothing is perfect, nor is perfection a sustainable state of being. Perfection is something that comes only in brief moments. Still, one should strive for it, or at least to do as best as one can.

But that’s another lecture for another time.

I’ll sleep on it. And come up with more thoughts. Or not. ::shrug:: ::yawn::

ETA: Another thought here.

Additional Thoughts on “The Sign of Three”

The way they shot the uniforms/belts, and then later the photographer, gave the game away a bit. The key is to shoot it all like none of it matters. Because it doesn’t until the moment Sherlock realizes it does. And if the audience is ahead of Sherlock, that defeats the purpose of the show.

Speaking of being ahead, why did it take so long for Sherlock to zero in on Sholto? When the rest of us are sitting there going, “Um, what about the recluse everyone wants to kill?” In fact, all the personal drama seems to be turning Sherlock into a bit of a slowtop; in “The Empty Hearse” my first question after hearing about the train was, “Well, was there any time lost between the stations?” But Sherlock didn’t get around to that until much later. What’s that about?

And how coincidental that the unsolved Bainbridge case is the one Sherlock decides to mention in The World’s Longest Best Man Speech, and then just happens to be the key to figuring out the Sholto case? What do we say to coincidences? “Not today!” Or any day, really, so this is just terrible plotting.

More clumsy writing: having Tessa throw out John’s middle name for no apparent reason. Though of course John and Sherlock were too drunk to notice. But the audience did.

Where was Harry, btw? Or maybe she was there and I totally missed it.

Also, did we just set up a “Dancing Man” episode? (Maybe “The Dancing Detective” . . .)

And btw, Happy [traditionally celebrated] Birthday to Mr. Holmes. Though I see him more as a Capricorn-Aquarius cusper myself.

Sherlock: “The Sign of Three” (Initial Thoughts)

We have devolved into self-parody and fan fiction. Not that it much matters; if you feed ravenous dogs only three times every two years, they’ll eat whatever you give them and nevermind the taste.

I hoped “The Empty Hearse” had been meant as a nod to the fans and then we would get on with the show, as they say. And there was a promising enough start in which Lestrade was about to arrest the Waters (no connection to Brook? is it a theme or merely a lack of imagination?) band but was drawn away by a text from Sherlock begging for help. Anyone who had heard about the episode knew Sherlock’s plea would be about the best man speech for John’s wedding, but whatever. Even if a show can no longer surprise viewers it can still sometimes delight.

Still, when I see three writers listed in the credits, I know something is very wrong.

Were there good moments and good lines? Of course. But the episode felt interminable; I could practically hear the guests (extras, rather, or based on recent [lack of] casting, probably just the cast’s friends and family) at the wedding groan, “Oh, God, we’ve become a frame story.”

Where do I, personally, draw the line? Oh . . . Putting Sherlock with a kid (how precious, and not in a good way), Sherlock and John drunk and then attempting to take a case, fart jokes. And the need to have Benedict vault over set pieces in every episode. (Also, if we could refrain from standing on rooftops. I know that was last week, but still . . . Sherlock Holmes does not equal Batman.)

Yes it did all eventually come together, which tells me there was a good story in there somewhere that got crowded out by . . . Whatever the fuck the rest of it was. More fan service, I guess.

Look, leave fan service to the Internet and keep the show the show.

Of course, we all know Mary dies at some point. So is all this angst (Sherlock mourning John’s defection—funny when one considers Sherlock defected first) really just akin to yanking our chains? Actually, I almost want Mary to have been planted by Mycroft so as to get John out of the way. But that’s probably going a bit far.

And of course they set up—in quite clumsy, obvious fashion—the final episode of the series (“season” if you’re American; don’t panic there is supposed to be more at some point): “His Last Vow” . . . Let’s hope this series ends better than it’s begun.

Do remember this is merely my first impression, walking away after only one viewing. If I bother to watch again, I may feel differently. But I do find it interesting that I’ve re-watched the first series a number of times and yet have not even taken the plastic off my Series 2 DVD. Hrm. I’d say, based on my feelings about these past couple episodes, the trend is not a good one.

ETA: I had additional thoughts about this episode the following day. They are here.

Sherlock: “The Empty Hearse” (Initial Thoughts)

For all my coverage of Series 2, click here. It’s a bit of a rabbit’s hole to fall down, but . . .

It’s a terrible thing when a good show becomes too aware of its fans. It’s a worse thing when the show makes fun of its fans.

Remember the good ol’ days when Anderson was kind of an asshole? He’s now been reduced to pseudo David Duchovny, running a fan club conspiracy group called “The Empty Hearse” that theorizes that Sherlock Holmes is not really dead. Members gather and come up with increasingly complicated ways that Sherlock might have survived the fall from St. Bart’s. Lestrade figures Anderson is motivated by guilt, that he doesn’t want Sherlock to be dead because it would mean Anderson (and the rest of the police) was part of the reason Sherlock jumped. And that’s a valid psychological argument, but here it has been reduced to a poke at the audience, many of whom have spent the show’s hiatus coming up with the same kinds of scenarios as Anderson’s club.

(And no, I’m not angry on my own behalf. It’s not difficult to figure out how it was done—and he knew John would go that way because John is left handed—and I have better ways to spend my time than on Tumblr and Reddit. But I am angry on the behalf of Anderson’s character, which has been butchered here on the altar of fan service.)

As for the question of whether Mycroft was working for or against Sherlock, the answer appears to be somewhere in the middle. The rivalry continues, and Mycroft goes to the trouble of saving Sherlock in Serbia, but there’s still a sinister undercurrent. It seems Sherlock is Mycroft’s pet sociology/psychology project, and Mycroft puts his brother to the test by abducting John and putting him in danger—namely a bonfire. Is Mary trustworthy, btw? She sure jumped on that skip code quickly enough.

We got a glimpse of the Holmes parents as well. “Ordinary,” they are called. I’d say ordinary is one thing and prosaic another, given the parents’ dialogue. It was an odd moment and didn’t seem to fit. Was it just more for the fans, to answer some lingering Internet speculation? What a waste of scripting. Unless it comes back later?

As for the paper thin plot, something to do with a terrorist threat in London (which is why Mycroft went to the trouble to fetch his brother back) . . . I realize they mean to set up something bigger, of course. And is it possible Moriarty’s syndicate is not yet completely exterminated? Or that Mycroft is testing Sherlock on ever grander levels? But the bulk of the episode really went to all these interactions—Mycroft and Sherlock playing Operation—and while I understand the the character development, such as it is (and Mycroft is the one who is not changing; he is the bulwark), some of it was muddled here. Anderson, as I’ve mentioned, and the bizarre relationship between Sherlock and Molly, and finally the joke on John in the bomb carriage. It didn’t work for me. I mean, I like to think Molly has moved on, but the Almost Sherlock (aka Tom) merely puts Molly right back at the bottom . . . And then cutting the legs out from under John’s heartfelt words by having Sherlock trick him . . . I know Sherlock can be a dick, but he still needs to be likable, at least a little. Toying with Molly’s affections (is she really the one who “matters most”?) and laughing at John doesn’t play. It seems like one step too far in every direction. And for once, you know, it would be nice to see Molly and/or John get an upper hand.

Then again, maybe they have the upper hand and don’t realize it. If emotions make Sherlock uncomfortable, he’s going to hide them in order to keep his vulnerabilities hidden. And the best defense is a great offense.

So then we’re back to Mycroft’s curiosity about how his little brother would react to John being in mortal peril. Hmm.

I don’t mean to be down on all of it. Some of it did work quite well. I enjoyed John repeatedly choking Sherlock. And even Sherlock’s attempt to be playful by masquerading as the waiter. That was cute. I liked that Sherlock has John’s voice in his head when he’s working. But it was so obvious those basement skeletons were fake; I knew the minute I saw them, how could Sherlock not have done? (Well, it was either that they were fake or the art department had done an abysmal job.)

This is all just off the top of my head having just watched the episode. Maybe I’ll have more to say once I’ve slept on it. Maybe not.

Oh, and I know you’re going to ask about the Moriarty moment on the rooftop. More fan service, yes. The rule is to give the audience what it wants—or thinks it wants—without ever actually giving it what it wants. Right? (It’s the reason my “Martlets” script begins with Sherlock and John lookalikes in bed together. See? I did the lookalike thing already, back before Series 2. Get with it, boys. You’re behind the times.)