Sherlock vs. Elementary: Madness Behind the Method


by Noor Alnaqeeb (@nooralnaqeeb)

If on a spoiler scale of one to ten, one being “Chuck flashed in an episode of Chuck” and ten being “Bruce Willis is a ghost,” this article rates at about a two for both Elementary and Sherlock episodes.

Sherlock Holmes versus Sherlock Holmes. Same name. Different method. Both are irrefutably certifiable enough to support their mad methods, but where exactly do their processes differ?

Apart from noticing that Miller smells furniture a lot more than Cumberbatch does while investigating murders, another phenomenon revealed this week in Elementary was The Attic Theory. The theory defines the ability to store copious amounts of knowledge in your head without feeble unnecessary emotions crowding your mind. As this theory has come from Sir Conan Arthur Doyle’s very own ingenious attic, Sherlockians would be proud of the tribute. BBC’s Sherlock, however, had something a little more lavish in mind in “The Hounds of Baskerville” when Sherlock made use of his “Mind Palace.” With the same concept in mind, literally, a mind palace is a map of memorized spatial relationships where you can recollect any information. This map can be anywhere of anything and shadows the blueprints of the attic theory. Because Sherlock’s mind holds more information than the MI6, CIA and FBI databases put together, I’m sure we can all understand why it’s been upgraded to a palace.

While trying to catch up with Sherlock Holmes’ theories, we usually find ourselves desperately trying to up the speed of the cogs in our mind. Fortunately, Elementary does seem to cater to those who want more of the visual aspect of his extreme crime-fighting skills. If Miller tells us there are drag marks, we see drag marks. There’s a wardrobe in there, you say? We’re shown the wardrobe. Everything is exposed in real time as he explains his theories. There are no shocking discoveries after a long spiel of “mind palace”-ing. Instead, there is the standard CSI zoom-in-on-my-discovery camera angle we are all so very accustomed with.

In Sherlock, however, the method is faster paced, more word-based. Words spoken, words projected, words illustrated. As Cumberbatch scours through thousands of theories in the space of a millisecond, key words are thrown onto our screens to help our inferior minds catch up. Sure, there are moments where Holmes infuriatingly and inexplicably runs out of the room having just solved the murder. But not before staring at Watson for mentioning something that had set off a string of scenarios that finally did make sense and do solve the crime. When this happens, we are thankfully taken on the journey of discovery. We can feel Sherlock’s adrenaline pumping through our veins as his theories jump from a simple word to the killer’s name. A single word uttered in passing links to the final result in an endless map of words. Ah, if only our minds worked like his, essays sure would be a whole lot easier to write.

Elementary’s Holmes hints that he has to unclutter his mind in order to kick his attic theory into action; apparently “lack of emotion” is a great antibacterial to clean the attic with. It gets rid of the grease of sympathy and the stains of concern. Hello, Sherlock Holmes – the unsympathetic genius. He looks like a caring person, yet he says things that make people think, “Hey look: a psychopath.” In Sherlock, this absence of compassion seems to exclude his trusty companion Dr. John Watson, but Dr. Joan Watson of Elementary isn’t so lucky. Miller explains that emotions and “sob stories,” including those of which he blocks out at support group meetings, are like water. If Sherlock’s solid facts are oil, the only thing water does is fill the cup that is his mind and drive the oil out. Now, before you start visualizing an amalgamation of water and oil dripping out of Miller’s skull, let’s carry on about how that might affect Joan and Sherlock’s budding friendship. In their eyes, it doesn’t because there is no friendship to bud.

Joan is the most authoritative Watson we have ever seen encounter Holmes. At one point Miller explains that “friendship is not a requirement” in their addict-companion-slash-roommate acquaintanceship. When she hands Sherlock his old violin (a reminder of his past) in order to ease his stress, he retaliates by first: setting it on fire, and second: asking her ex-boyfriend Ty over for dinner without her knowledge or permission. Social no-no, Sherlock. Joan and Sherlock’s relationship has yet to be properly defined in Elementary. At times they seem like an old married couple, other times the not-so-innocent bickering seems like flirtation, but could just as easily be interpreted as a deep-seeded annoyance towards each other’s conflicting agendas. Joan’s is getting Sherlock to support groups and Sherlock’s is to avoid aforementioned support groups to solve engaging homicides instead. Naturally.

Sherlock’s Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes were far more suited far more quickly. In the 90-minute premiere, Watson had met Holmes, been kidnapped by his brother, moved in to 221B with him, been asked by numerous strangers if he was Sherlock’s life partner, helped Sherlock and Scotland Yard solve serial homicides and saved Mr. Holmes’ life. By the end of the episode, they seemed more like blood brothers than roommates.

Another distinction between the depictions of the detectives is the differences in drug addiction. [Alliteration anyone?] Throughout both seasons, Sherlock had mentioned Holmes’ addiction all of two times, and very briefly. Elementary has mentioned it repeatedly throughout both episodes, and it is the base of Watson and Holmes’ “friendship.” Miller’s only compassionate moments stem from his apparent struggle with substance abuse. Having said that, the complicated love-hate relationship between Watson and Sherlock could be a projection of the difficulties both face with their newfound lives. One as a recovering Londoner relocated to New York, and the other as a doctor reborn as a sober companion.

Fans were pleasantly surprised when, after spotting the signs of an addict, Elementary‘s Miller suggested to the man, “When you’re ready to get your life back on track; Hemdale Rehabilitation Facility gets my very strongest recommendation.” Sherlock Holmes? Recommending rehab? Never thought I’d see the day. Well, it is now clear that Sherlock’s involvement in drugs is going to play a major part in the development of Elementary. And I think people will be okay with it. It makes him more human, definitely more relatable. More commercial? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

A word from Sherlockian bloggers: Elementary fans. Have we just been introduced to Moriarty? MoriarTY. Ty. “Interesting name that. Noun… verb… Nationality.” Criminal mastermind? That could just be overanalyzing things a bit too much, or we just might be pulling a Sherlock.

Thoughts anyone?


  1. ErinOctober 10th, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I love the Ty is Moriarty theory. I didn’t make the connection, but the Sherlock’s line about “Interesting name…” did stick with me. And we all know something that memorable wouldn’t be wasted on a nobody.

    I’m still thinking that this Holmes is really more American than British. All those things about Sherlock (BBC) being more word oriented and Elementary being more visual oriented makes sense for the British and American audiences (just look at our comedy differences). But, the fact that Sherlock in Elementary needs to get the emotions out of his head indicates that he is essentially more feeling than BBC’s Sherlock. And that would make a lot of sense for an American Sherlock. (Not to say the Brits are unfeeling, but it seems pretty stereotypical that Americans are more obsessed with our feelings).

    Still trying to decide if I like the whole thing… But these articles are really helping!

  2. NoorOctober 10th, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    It is a very interesting name. This Holmes does seem very Americanized, I’m guessing in order to relate to American audiences. That’s a great point about comedic differences (slapstick versus the witty word). I’m glad it helps orientate the world of Sherlock, even if it’s just a tiny bit helpful 🙂 Thanks for the feedback Erin!

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