Something caught my eye this morning at CNN–a link over to their sister site Entertainment Weekly about the recent end of the BBC’s Sherlock.
Now, if you’re a Sherlock watcher but haven’t seen this most recent season finale, then please hit your back button immediately as we are about to cross into spoilery territory.
Apparently, Jeff Jensen (how cool is that name?) of EW is upset. It seems that in the recent episode, the newest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes has–duh duh dum–killed someone, something he never did in the canonical stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Now, I don’t watch this show, but naturally, being the arrogant ass I am I feel qualified to comment on this controversy.
You see, Jensen broadened the issue by relating it to the recent reimagining of the Superman lore. In case you missed it, fanboys freaked out over this summer’s Man of Steel because in it, Supes snaps the neck of General Zod to prevent him from melting a nice family in Metropolis (I’m totally not warning you about spoilers for movies that have been out for more than six months; too bad!).
Now, I’m mystified by the complaints about Superman’s conduct. There are a lot of things I can find fault with in the Man of Steel movie. Superman allows his dad to get eaten by an F5 twister (when he could have just run over at normal speed and held his pops safely on the ground behind a car where nobody could see) and trashes about a third of Metropolis in his big (and oh, so long) fisticuffs session with Zod instead of flying away and luring the Kryptonian baddy out of town (like in the original script, Zack Snyder!). Those actions leave me scratching my head, but killing Zod was absolutely a no brainer. And do the geeks who complain even remember the original Superman movies from the 80s? In Man of Steel, Superman has to kill Zod to protect human life and he moans (gloriously done, Henry Cavill!) with anguish at the horrible weight of this necessity. (Again, well done scene. One of the best in the movie.)
In Superman II from the 80s, though, Superman killed Zod callously and for NO GOOD REASON! Seriously, have the fanboys forgotten this? Superman tricks Zod into a situation that deprives him of all his powers and then THROWS HIM TO HIS ICY DEATH. He was normal and mortal–as weak as a human at this point–and the supposed pinnacle of Boy Scout goodness just chucks him into the polar abyss. Hello!?!
Therein lies one difference between Sherlock Holmes and Superman. Superman never was a singular character with a coherent identity. He has always been a pop culture pastiche of many different artists’ contributions. Originally, he couldn’t fly. Then once he blew out a sun. Yeah, it happened.
Holmes, though, was the product of the lonely mind of a man–a true classic.
Should he have killed this maniacal power-hungry fiend he faced off against in the BBC series? Was it beneath his dignity? Should he have outsmarted him instead? Here’s where I have to admit I just can’t say anything too intelligent, since I haven’t even seen the episode in question. But I’ll try anyway!
As I understand it, this baddy had blackmail material and leverage on just about everyone powerful in London. So maybe Sherlock just walking up and shooting him IS outsmarting the guy. “Oh, you think that you have covered all your bases by entangling all of England in your web? Well, you forgot that sometimes the world is brutish and that no one lives forever.”
But it’s not really about whether Holmes had a choice or not. That (and my rant about Superman) is beside the point. The real issue is the integrity of a character that doesn’t really belong to the producers of the current series on the BBC at all. Both Sherlock Holmes and Superman belong to the ages now.
Jensen’s complaint, then, is a legitimate one. In an age of entertainment that constantly recycles well-worn characters and reimagines them, what precisely is sacred in the interpretations of these icons? Who gets to decide what they will and will not do? Who gets to pass judgement on what interpretations are and are not legitimate?
There’s no objective answer to these questions and as long as the age of the reboot and sequel continues, we’ll have to ask them and, at the same time, be disappointed in the impossibility of answering them.
In the end, we have two choices: Just live with the fact that Hollywood (and the BBC, apparently) have discovered our weakness for the familiar and are going to continue to bank on it ad absurdum. Or (and I think this sounds like a grand idea) stop watching this derivative stuff, no matter how slick and well-made it is, until the producers start bankrolling only original programming.