All About Movies, Lighting a Writer's Toolkit

Smartest Man in the Room…Really?

ed-it verb. to prepare (text) for publication by checking and improving its accuracy, clarity, etc. Whether you edit in words or edit them out, the point of going over your work is to improve each element of your story. Editing is like a muscle: the more you examine the problems in other works the easier it is to diagnose troubled areas in your own work. Writing Diagnostic is a monthly post where I explore weak points in a specific work and suggest solutions to strengthen the story as a whole.

Writing Diagnostic #2:  let’s explore how a little creativity adds the smartest man in the room back into the action hero Sherlock Holmes.

I made a good case for shifting Irene Adler out and scooting in the gypsy Simza here. Instead lets allow Adler to have one high impact moment right at the start of A Game of Shadows. We’d open with Adler and Moriarty at the tea room. She orders new tea, sips it and then everyone gets up and leaves at Moriarty’s command. She’s carried away. By starting the movie in this way we know that Holmes and Adler’s relationship has changed – she’s in distress and nothing will stop him from rescuing her. This even sets up the idea of a third movie and gives writers a core plot.

Then we flip to a china-man ushering an older gentleman swiftly through a china-town warren of shops and people. It’s not until we arrive at Holmes bolt-hole, their destination, that we realize it’s Sherlock Holmes, the smartest man in the room. He sends a Chinese boy off to get his brother, Mycroft, and in his verbal “note” we learn the man is a politico he managed to save from Moriarty’s schemes. Enter Watson stage left to play a dressed up decoy of the politico. Holmes as the china-man and the disguised Watson lead the goons meant to make the politico’s death look like a mugging on a merry chase. They can spend the whole time arguing about Mary, weddings and bachelorhood and how each lacks merit in the other’s eyes.

When one of the men splits off to report their failure is when the bait and switch tactic bears fruit. The leader, a disguised Moran, sends off another compatriot to pass off a package to a woman. A woman dressed in a similar navy blue dress and hat as when Holmes followed Adler in Sherlock Holmes. He believes it’s Adler partially because Moriarty has gone to pains to make her appear so and partially because he wants it to be her. It is really the gypsy Simza off to deliver the bomb to the doctor. Holmes flips her around confident he’ll find Adler and he finds a stranger instead. We see a shocked/disappointed expression on Holmes’ face, reminiscent of what we saw in the restaurant when Adler didn’t appear.

First, we introduce Mycroft and why he becomes embroiled in the case. Second, we include Watson in the chase scene and the whole marriage debate introduced in a less boring manner than an argument at Holmes’ place. Third, we include Simza earlier, better and more cleverly. And it makes more sense how Moriarty was using Simza – he needed a Adler replacement.

The whole “saving the politico” could be a fake out by Moriarty as well. The man could really have never been in danger at all. Moriarty made it appear he was going after the man to lure out Holmes. This is all so Moriarty could lead Holmes to Moran and the bomb package. The best plans lead to multiple loose ends being tied up at once and Moriarty would love that fact. We got to see Holmes use a different tactic other than “follow Irene Adler” and while he was out foxed it was done in an elegant and clever way. It never made sense that either Moriarty or Adler thought a couple of thugs could take out this version of Holmes and Moriarty’s motivation would be to kill the pesky fly not swat it away.

Instead of the mad map on the wall and that sadly contrived conversation with Watson, Sherlock is lazing about with Mycroft – a distraction from Watson’s wedding distraction. Sherlock can even be playing his violin here. We see the map unfold in his head as he explains all the connections that lead him to the politico, hopefully with little inset flashbacks of him looking at dead bodies. They can both agree that the politico was a trap for Sherlock that ended up paying off with a lead. Mycroft can tut-tut his younger brother for putting himself in danger only to be tut-tutted back for never putting himself in danger. We can also get a contribution from Mycroft here, who routinely helped his brother with sticking points that would pull the case together for Sherlock. Then off they go to the bachelor’s party and chasing down his one lead.

We use Mycroft in a better, more canon way while also showing how Watson HAS been gone more. Sherlock really is feeling his absence – he had to go to his older brother for a sounding board. And we instantly get the brothers’ relationship from this scene while utilizing the missing canon details that makes Holmes, Holmes.

He plucks a letter from Simza at the auction, who carried it as a reminder of why she was doing all this, her brother was in danger. So while Holmes loses the gypsy at the auction (just like he did in the Adler version) he locates her again through the sister/letter angle during Watson’s bachelor party. Not as the place the letter was to be delivered but as the place the letter had already been delivered to, which is why she had the letter, she was the recipient. He can even recount in flashback or show Watson right before they leave for the “bachelor party” how he recovered the address. Obscured in some way so as to be untraceable, but which, he, due to his knowledge of science, was able to recover.

It never made sense the Doctor gave Adler a letter to deliver to Moriarty when Moriarty had her deliver the bomb. If he did it as a trap it still doesn’t make sense as it led Holmes to Simza whom Moriarty was already going to kill because she was a loose thread with information to impart. In my rendition, since Holmes saved Simza from the bomb package, it’s really logical there is an assassin waiting to kill her at her place of business. Since she had completed the tasks Moriarty needed done with the absence of Adler her blackmailing was done and he needed her killed. Moriarty wouldn’t anticipate a family letter that would connect Holmes to Simza. This is exactly the type of plot point that used to lead Holmes to gaining a clue on the super clever and shadowy Moriarty.

I can even see some dialogue to add to the Adler/Simza comparison. “I was born under a lucky star.” It gives Holmes a pang because he always thought Adler had been too (a little bit of the supernatural here). I can see Holmes tucking away in his breast pocket a tarot card from the chase at her place of business that we realize later lead him to the gypsy camp, so we know he let her escape. “You won’t be rid of me that easily.” Holmes can even try to leave Simza out at the end to protect her – he doesn’t want another Adler. We can use it to show her motivation better. “I have someone I care about too. I won’t give up on him.”

On the ship I suggested “drug use” to pass the time for Holmes instead of staring at the ocean. This is where I suggest adding in more Irene Adler. As a reminder she’s distracting Holmes by being on his mind but also showing that she’s a motivation for Holmes (as setup in Sherlock Holmes). He could flashback to some new scene where he and Adler spoke between the time at the end of Sherlock Holmes and her death/kidnapping. So we still get Holmes and Adler by-play dialogue and chemistry that everyone loves but not the contrived, overused, follow scene that makes everyone, not only the smartest man in the room, appear stupid.

By taking out Adler and utilizing Simza it allows the writers to start fresh with new secondary characters and new techniques for Holmes to garner clues. It makes the audience anticipate the end to see if Holmes will be able to do anything about the Adler situation. It also creates a reason for Holmes to be distracted – his whole point about women is that they distract him from solving cases. This “fixes” the misstep in the canon from Sherlock Holmes that made it appear Holmes is a ladies man. And Watson still fulfills his role in the bromance that was one of the few story points that worked so well in A Game of Shadows.

Either way the ‘Holmes following Adler’ scene as it is doesn’t work, and it made Sherlock Holmes look naive on top of it. It’s a great example of the flaws in A Game of Shadows and how to easily fix those same flaws with a bit of added Holmes flavor. Done as suggested the inference is that Moriarty could very well be more clever than Holmes. And when the quintessential detective beats the master villain at his own game we’d know it’s because he’s the smartest man in the room, not because he’s a modern action hero.

Growing up at the knee of the smartest man in the room and the best portrayal of said quintessential detective you get to know his character well. I explored how modernizing added to Sherlock Holmes canon and how it created great gaping losses in the character. Now I’ve shared how a little creativity would improve A Game of Shadows into a stellar modern story of Sherlock Holmes.


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