Tagged: Sherlock Holmes

The Law is a Ass #463: Sherlock Takes the Law for 2000

What do I have to say about a Sherlock Holmes story that’s hard to swallow? That’s alimentary, my dear Watson. I say:

The Adventure of the Innocent Murderess,” the June 30, 1947 episode of the radio show The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, was a gripping tale of murder and intrigue. Gripping because it was a fevered mess.

The episode involved Igoru Priscop, an official of the People’s Party of the European country of Grotznia, a fictional country that, like most fictional European countries, was smaller than Liechtenstein but bigger than a bread box. The People’s Party of Grotznia had been deposed by the Royalists. Now the International Committee of Power was meeting in the Hague to decide whether the Royalists or the People’s Party were the rightful rulers of Grotznia. Where did The International Committee of Power meet, the International House of Pancakes?

Priscop was in London to meet with exiled leaders of the People’s Party. Because Royalists dominated the Grotznian, Priscop had to keep his presence in London a secret. Sherlock Holmes agreed to shelter him in 221b Baker Street.

While hiding in Baker Street, Priscop ordered some wine. After it was delivered, Priscop proceeded to drink it. While he did, tragedy struck. Tragedy and a bullet. A young woman stormed into Holmes’s flat and shot Priscop. Priscop was dead.

Shortly thereafter, the Hague ruled the People’s Party was always the rightful government of Grotznia. Because Priscop was dead, Carlo Tarfush of the People’s Party became the Grotznian ambassador to England. Tarfush’s fiancée, Ladri Mikelto was the young woman who shot Priscop, which, we learned later, she did to insure her fiancé would become ambassador.

During Ladri’s trial, defense counsel produced evidence that Priscop had died of cyanide poisoning, which had gone undetected, because everyone assumed he died of gunshots so didn’t look for poison. (Or so the story said. I can’t think of a way to explain the unprofessional gaff of a coroner who didn’t perform a complete autopsy. Seems a little slipshod tomb me.) Anyway, Ladri was found not guilty.

After the trial, Tarfush challenged Holmes to discover the real murderer or become the laughing stock of England. (By the way, what is a laughing stock anyway, a soup base prepared from hyena meat?)

Holmes tested a wine stain left in his flat and found it contained cyanide. No one could have doctored the wine after it was delivered, so he tracked down the boy who delivered the wine. The delivery boy told Holmes that a woman, one the boy later identified as Ladri, approached him and offered to buy him a cake in a nearby tea shop. Holmes deduced that while there Ladri switched the original wine bottle for the one she had doctored with cyanide.

Holmes confronted Ladri with his proofs. She freely admitted her guilt. Then she gloated that under England’s double jeopardy law, she couldn’t be tried for murdering Priscop a second time.

Holmes brooded and thought and read. Then he had the solution to the problem.

At a formal party in the embassy, Holmes accused Ladri. He reminded everyone that the Hague had ruled the People’s Party was always the rightful ruler of Grotznia. So when he and Watson were harboring Priscop, their lodgings at 221b Baker Street became the true Grotznian embassy. Holmes also pointed out that embassies are extra-territorial and anyone in the Grotznian embassy was on Grotznian soil, not British soil. So any crime committed in the embassy was subject to Grotznian law, not British law. And, as Grotznia didn’t recognize double jeopardy, Ladri could be tried for murder a second time in Grotznia.

But when Ladri switched wine bottles, she was in a tea shop not in 221b Baker Street. So when she committed her crime, she wasn’t in the Grotznian embassy, she was firmly on British soil. After all, can anything be more firmly British than a tea shop? That means British law and it’s annoying double jeopardy rule would apply to her crime. You may wonder, was Holmes correct. Or was he talking through his deerstalker?

Despite this apparent flaw, I can think of a way to get Holmes out of this Inver-mess he was cloaked in. Two, actually, and I won’t even charge him extra for the second one. Sherlock-y for him that I happened along.

Yes, Ladri switched the wine bottles in a tea shop, but she performed another key part of her plan in 221b Baker Street, shooting Priscop. Ladri shot Priscop to obscure the cause of death and keep the coroner from checking for poison. If the police knew Priscop was poisoned, they would realize the poison came from the wine bottle and trace the poison back to her. So, the shooting was a key part of her plan, both because it kept the police from looking for poison and because it set up her double jeopardy plot and the shooting was committed in 221b.

Ladri could be tried in any jurisdiction where an important step of her murder occurred. In England, where the tea shop was, or in Grotznia, where the embassy was. Grotznia did have jurisdiction over her case, including its law not recognizing double jeopardy.

Remember I said I had two ways out for Holmes? I do. The first is the dual sovereignty argument you just read. The second is that Ladri couldn’t invoke double jeopardy, because it didn’t apply in her case.

Ladri was tried for murdering Priscop by shooting him. She was never tried for poisoning him. Poisoning Priscop and shooting Priscop were two separate and distinct acts. Double jeopardy wouldn’t preclude her second trial, because criminal prosecutions put a person on trail for what act the person committed, not for the crime’s name. Let’s look at a hypothetical.

Suppose a man commits a robbery and then later robs the same victim second time. The man is tried for the first robbery and acquitted. In that scenario, double jeopardy would not prevent that man from being tried and convicted of that second robbery, because the man wouldn’t have been tried for the same offense twice. Rather he’d be tried for two different offenses both of which happened to violate the same law. The crimes would have the same name. The victim would even have the same name. But the two crimes were different acts.

It would be folly for any court to rule that once a person was acquitted of a robbery, that person could never be tried for any other robbery in the future. Judges aren’t paid with Monopoly money, so wouldn’t give out that kind of a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card.

In the same way, Ladri’s poisoning Priscop with wine was a completely separate and distinct criminal act than was her act of shooting Priscop. Yes, the name of the crime and the name of the victim would be the same in both trials, but the two acts were wholly distinct and she could be tried for each separately irrespective of the results the first trial.

In Ashe v. Swenson, the Supreme Court established a double jeopardy test that could apply here: In a subsequent trial, would the prosecution have to prove any of the same facts already proven in the first trial which resulted in an acquittal. If yes, then double jeopardy would bar the prosecution. If the prosecution did not have to relitigate any of the facts from the first trial, double jeopardy would not bar prosecution.

In Ladri’s second trial, the Crown would not have to introduce any evidence about her shooting Priscop. It could secure a conviction solely with the evidence of how she doctored the wine and poisoned Priscop.

Leastwise, that’s how it would work in the United States. I’m not completely familiar with how double jeopardy works in British law. But it would be pretty stupid of them to use an anal interpretation of double jeopardy that centered solely on the name of the crime charged and not the nature of the criminal acts being charged.

Some might say such a legal analysis was ill-advised. Others might say it was ill-ementary.

Irene Adler Gets a Comic

Irene Adler gets her own League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen

Titan Comics has announced Adler, a five-issue miniseries starting in February 2020 starring the only woman to ever best Sherlock Holmes, teaming her up with “famous Victorian heroines from science, history, and literature… such as Jane Eyre, Lady Havisham, Marie Curie, Carmilla, and Ayesha” to defeat Moriarty.

Comics Worth Reading has a preview and a recap of who’s who:

Irene Adler, the only woman to outwit Sherlock Holmes, appeared in one 1891 story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”. She’s been a favorite ever since, particularly with people who want to pair Holmes up romantically in a traditional fashion.

Lady Havisham is from Great Expectations, the crazy spinster in her wedding dress in a ruined mansion. Carmilla is a vampire who appeared 26 years before Dracula. Ayesha is the She written by H. Rider Haggard.

If you need me to explain Jane Eyre or Marie Curie to you, you are clearly not the audience for this story.

Originally at comicsworthreading.com

Go click through and see the preview.

Mike Gold: The Great Superhero Movie Backlash

Mike Gold: The Great Superhero Movie Backlash

Over the millennia, I’ve written enough reviews to denude the Shoshone National Forest. My fellow commentators here at ComicMix have as well, and some of my best friends have been critics. So, as you read the following rant, please keep in mind I am not referring to those people… but I am referring to damn near every other critic practicing their arcane craft these days. From reading their recent criticism, I have come to the following conclusion.

Most critics seem to be sick to death of superhero movies and teevee shows. Even many of those who are enthusiasts of the superhero genre.

It’s not hard to understand this. Even if you have seen 90% of all the superhero movies and teevee shows released in the past decade and enjoyed most of them, there’s an important difference: you made the choice to see them. For critics, it’s their job. They are more-or-less forced to watch these productions, usually in exchange for a paltry paycheck. I am sympathetic to their plight, although I do not believe anybody is writing criticism to fulfill their court-mandated obligation to community service.

If this was a reaction to Batman v Superman or the Fantastic Four movies or Amazing Spider-Man 2, I’d be more understanding. Now that the embargo has been lifted, I’ve read the “advance” reviews of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and, while it did garner some very good notices, it is clear to me that a rather large gaggle of such critics really went far out of their way to put some hate into their criticism. The comment most typical to these writers is some variation of “Well, yeah, it’s fun and entertaining and the performances are solid, but it’s too much like the first one.”

By this, I gather they mean that Star-Lord, Rocket (he will always be Rocket Raccoon to me), Drax, Nebula and Groot are in this movie as well. Well, they are the Guardians of the Galaxy, so they’re in the movie. That’s the deal. National Periodical Publications once made a Superman movie without Jimmy Olsen and Perry White; that was as wrong as it was cheap. Critics who feel Guardians 2 was overcrowded with already-seen characters are missing the point… and went to extremes to damn it with faint praise.

If you think Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 sucks, fine. You’re the critic; tell us why. But if you think a movie is “fun and entertaining and the performances are solid,” then don’t hold your dissatisfaction with the quantity of superhero movies against any one movie. It is obvious that professional critics have minimal impact on box office – at best – and by putting a movie you found to be enjoyable in a negative context, you are doing absolutely nothing to reduce your forthcoming superhero movie burden.

Besides, I doubt anybody ever told John Wayne there were too many westerns. Well, maybe John Ford, but I certainly doubt anybody ever told John Ford there were too many westerns.

Are superhero movies a fad? I don’t think so. We’ve always had a lot of them, but the passage of time has painted them with a nostalgic afterglow. Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, James Bond and their ilk have been in the theaters for over a century, and the industry is still making movies about these same guys.

Each movie should be evaluated on its own merits. If it’s a remake of a great movie, okay – the bar is higher as the filmmakers must justify why they’re remaking a great movie. But the argument should be about quality and not quantity. When it comes to sequels, let us remember that there have been quite a number that many critics define as superior to the original. Godfather II and From Russia With Love come to mind. Rotten Tomatoes gave Spider-Man 2 (the one that was good and not Amazing) four points over its well-received predecessor.

There’s a more direct way to say all this.

Before sitting down to watch a movie, pull that stick out of your ass. And don’t get wrapped up in the capes.

Dennis O’Neil: PI’s

Now as I was young and easy and gentlemen still trod the Earth and politics still made sense (a little… sometimes) I held that private eye fiction was about righteous men who had the courage to be alone. I was, at the time, living by myself in a small Manhattan apartment and so I guess I was seeking identification with heroes (and maybe seeking an excuse for my isolation.) But I was, I now think, wrong.

Which fictional gumshoes did I have in mind? My two favorites were Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and they were, indeed, solitary beings walking the mean streets seeking truth. And there were others sprinkled through the pop culture regions of pulp magazines, radio, B movies. (Comic books? Patience, please, we’ll get to them.)

If you’re looking for antecedents, cast a glance at the King Arthur stories. Arthur’s knights mostly roved without companionship on their quests for the holy grail or whatever. But they did have a whole posse of clanky buddies waiting for their return at that round table, not to mention the odd fair maiden.

And from the very beginning of detective fiction, the heroes often had assistants, sidekicks, companions, homies – you pick the terminology – and these did a lot more than wait at home for the questers return. Edgar Allen Poe published the first private eye story way back in 1841. His hero was not a cop; he was a gifted amateur sleuth and here Poe established a much-imitated prototype, and not the only one. His good guy was a Gallic dilettante named C. Auguste Dupin whose exploits were related by an anonymous narrator whose name Poe did not share… and a mere 46 years later behold!

Dr. John Watson delighting us with the wizardry of his roommate and constant companion, the world’s first “consulting detective” and by now you know that I refer to the master, Sherlock Holmes. Then, a lot of others, some lone wolves, some with healthier social lives.

Comics have not been congenial hosts to the consulting detective crowd..There have been a few, including a pre-Superman toughie named Slam Bradley who, by the way, had a sidekick, Shorty Morgan. Slam was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the team much better known for Superman.

Superman did not have on-the-job companionship, at least not in his early days, when he was supposed to be the only survivor of a doomed planet. (That changed. Considerably.) But Batman, the character Superman’s publisher commissioned to repeat his success, though originally a loner, had, within 11 months of his debut, an official assistant, Robin The Boy Wonder. Costumed vigilantes thereafter often came equipped with young acolytes.

And that brings us to now. These days, the superheroic genre is evolving a new paradigm. There is a kind of boss hero and several attractive helpers who take an active part in the quelling of antagonists. They aren’t gathering dust at that stupid table, they’re doing stuff! This, I think, is to accommodate the needs of television, which reaches a much bigger audience than print media ever did , specifically, a certain demographic, millennials old enough to have disposable income and young enough to identify with having lots of friends and getting involved with romances and disapproving parents and such woes. Of the five comics-derived weekly shows, only Gotham violates this pattern; its creators are going with the earlier Holmes-Watson template.

And say! Did you hear about Sherlock’s girlfriend? Elly Mentary?

Yes. Inexcusable. Bye.

Emily S. Whitten: Curtis Armstrong, Sherlock Holmes and Me

Curtis Armstrong

This past weekend I attended the annual Sherlock Holmes fandom celebration, a.k.a. the BSI Weekend in New York City; a time I always thoroughly look forward to and enjoy. The weekend is great both for the setting (so much to see and do in NYC, both Sherlockian and otherwise) and for the friends (new and old) that attend.

One of the Sherlockian highlights of this year’s weekend for me was the Daintiest Thing in a Dressing Gown Pyjama Party, put on by the Baker Street Babes. I always get a kick out of costume parties, and this one featured lots of fun and creative pajama costumes, both Victorian and modern, and took place in the uber-cool and historic setting of The Players NYC (seriously – read their history page. So cool). It was a blast!

A non-Sherlockian highlight of my weekend was getting to see the current production of The King and I on Broadway. I was especially happy to be able to see Hoon Lee in the title role of The King of Siam, as I was already familiar with and had been privileged to previously discuss with him his excellent portrayal of Master Splinter in Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a voice acting role that requires an actor with both excellent sense of comedy and timing, and a broad emotional range. Both main roles of The King and I, i.e. The King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, fall into this category as well, and I was delighted to see both Hoon as The King and Kelli O’Hara as Anna absolutely killing it in their respective parts.

Both actors ably embodied the show’s by turns humorous and poignant or serious elements, and brought immense presence to the stage; and the other characters were also incredibly well acted. The sets, costumes, and choreography were beautiful, and the music and singing was phenomenal as well. I highly recommend seeing the show if you have the opportunity.

And finally, a huge highlight of my weekend which ventured into both Sherlockian and non-Sherlockian territories was the opportunity to sit down for a chat with actor Curtis Armstrong (of Revenge of the Nerds, Risky Business, The Closer, Dan Vs., American Dad, King of the Nerds, Supernatural, and much more).

During our interview we got to discuss the new Amazon series, Highston, in which Curtis plays a main role as Uncle Billy (and the first episode is already available to watch here). We also talked about his role as Metatron on Supernatural, and what it’s like to work on an established and ongoing TV series. We chatted about how Curtis prepares for roles; and about his experiences with fandom. And, of course, we talked about being Sherlockians, as Curtis is a big fan of Conan Doyle’s clever consulting detective, and that’s how we met in the first place! (Sherlock Holmes, bringing people together since 1887.)

I had a great time talking with Curtis, who is an absolute delight; and I’m sure you will think the same if you give the full interview a listen right here.

So check it out! And until next time, Servo Lectio!



Dennis O’Neil: Happy Endings

For a while, my favorite way of paying the bills was by writing Batman stories for DC Comics. But that was over. I’d accepted a job with Marvel, DC’s arch rival, and so the story I was working on would be my final visit to the Batcave. Well, no  problem.  I was a pro and a pro, I probably thought,  keeps emotions away from the workdesk.

As the splendid Alfred Bester said, “Among professionals the job is boss.”  But still…farewell to Batman? Forever? So I wrote a final panel with a final caption that could have ended the Batman saga, which had been going on for decades.  I knew that it wouldn’t, of course.  Editor Julius Schwartz would  employ another writer and Batman would continue with nary a beat missed. But I would know that my Batman, the only one that counted, would have ended his career with that closing caption.

I wonder how Arthur Conan Doyle felt when he sent Sherlock Holmes over Reichenbach Falls to what he apparently believed would be the great detective’s final exit.

Holmes didn’t stay dead and after some seven years at Marvel, neither did my own private Batman. I returned to DC and, power-mad ogre that I am, assumed editorship of the Batman franchise, which at the time consisted of two comic books. No hardcover novels, no megamovies, just two flimsy comic books. (Plus a number of non-bat related titles, but never mind them.)

And why, you might well inquire, if you are still with me, am I blathering on about such ancient (ancientish) history now?

Cast your mind back to last week’s televised Arrow, which you must have watched, the season’s last episode  and what could have been the finale for the whole series. Arrow, whose birth name is Oliver Queen, has just vanquished his supreme enemy and restored peace and tranquility to his city. He has assembled his cadre of  assistants (disciples?) and proclaimed them his successors. His task is done and they are more than capable of dealing with future tasks. We next see him cruising along an open highway in an open-top convertible, the lovely Felicity Smoak by his side, vanishing into what will surely be the happiest of happy endings.

Except that the series has been renewed and will rise again come fall. So what will Oliver (and let’s not forget the lissome Felicity) be up to in the chilly months while their cohorts kick ass and take villainous names? To just have them leave the series forever would be gutsy, but maybe not commercially prudent. Or maybe they can be more or less absent for a bit – we could look in on them occasionally – and eventually find a reason to return to the fray.  Or maybe they’ll never reach their happy-ever-after destination because of an unforeseen crisis that demands their attention.  (Are they carrying cell phones?)

Or maybe – here’s hoping! – those clever scribes in tv land will devise something breathtakingly original  that will leave me sprawled on  the couch, awed.

I’ve got a whole summer to hope that’s what happens.


Emily S. Whitten: The Music of Sherlock Holmes

This past weekend, Sherlock Holmes fans from all over the world gathered in New York City to celebrate Holmes’ birthday at the annual BSI Weekend, hosted in main part by The Baker Street Irregulars, a Sherlockian literary society founded by Christopher Morley in 1934. As a longtime Holmes fan myself, this was my third year attending, and, as before, I had a great time with Sherlockian friends old and new, discussing and honoring the great detective, his faithful chronicler Dr. Watson, and the peripheral cast of characters (including the original BSI, Holmes’ group of street urchin informants) created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


I first attended the BSI Weekend in January 2012 after organizing a Sherlock Holmes Night at The National Press Club and learning in the process about our local Sherlockian scion society, The Red Circle, and the BSI Weekend celebrations. And in honor of the BSI and Sherlock Holmes, today I figured I’d share something I put together while organizing that party – to wit, a little soundtrack of music that Holmes could conceivably have been listening to in the midst of his adventures, based on mentions in the canon of musicians and concerts he enjoyed.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are other fans around who are probably more serious Sherlockian scholars than I, and in fact, before I even realized that the BSI was out there as a Sherlockian society, I was using some of its work as a resource for compiling my little playlist (thank you, Baker Street Journal online archives). However, thanks to a little sleuthing and deduction of my own, despite there being more serious discussions of Holmes and music to be had, I am able to here provide a quick-and-easy list of compositions that are actually available and easily acquirable by anyone via, e.g., iTunes. So if scholarship is all well and good but what you’re really in the mood for is an efficient means of acquiring tunes that Holmes may have enjoyed as he processed clues while you snuggle up with your favorite bit of the canon on a snowy day, I can recommend the list below for your Sherlockian music needs.

  • Violin Concerto No. 7 in e Minor, Op. 38: II. Adagio – Takako Nishizaki, Capella Istropolitana & Libor Pesek
  • Song Without Words – Felix Mendelssohn
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): I. Affetuoso – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): II. Allegro – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): III. Larghetto – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Sonata in D Major, Op. 1 No. 13 (HWV 371): IV. Allegro – Andrew Manze & Richard Egarr
  • Barcarolle from the Tales of Hoffmann (Act 2) – Jacques Offenbach
  • Airs Ecossais, Op. 34 – Adele Anthony & Akira Eguchi
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29: I. Allegro Moderato – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29:II. Adagio molto Espressivo – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29:III. Scherzo: Allegro – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • String Quartet in C Major, Op. 29:IV. Presto – Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
  • Nocturne No. 18 in E, Op. 62, No. 2 – Vladimir Ashkenazy
  • 24 Caprices Op. 1 for Solo Violin: No., 18 in C – Nicolo Paganini
  • Barcarolle in F Sharp Major, Op. 60 – Alwin Bär
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108: I. Allegro – Nikolaj Znaider & Yefim Bronfman
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100: II. Andante Tranquillo – Nikolaj Znaider & Yefim Bronfman
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100: III. Allegretto Grazioso (quasi Andante) – Nikolaj Znaider & Yefim Bronfman

Enjoy! And if you are of a more scholarly bent and are curious as to why these songs were chosen, here are a few of the resources I used in compiling them: Music, Musicians, and Composers in The Canon, The Avant-Garde Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlock Holmes and Music.


Until next time, the game’s afoot – so Servo Lectio!


John Ostrander: “Sherlock” Season Three: Is The Game Off?

Several years ago, when I first heard that the BBC was doing a version of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories re-set in the modern day, I was skeptical. I’ve long loved the Holmes stories. I believe I finished reading the Canon for the first time by the age of ten. For me, part of the charm was the fog/smog filled Victorian streets of London, with the hansom cabs, the gaslights, et al. For me, the era and setting were as much characters in the stories as Holmes and Watson. I might have given the series a pass except that the co-creator and frequent writer for the series was going to be Steven Moffat.

I knew Moffat from some remarkable work he had done on Doctor Who. He has penned what I felt were some of the best episodes I’d ever watched on the series, full of surprises but also deep feeling, moments that truly touched me. So I gave his new series, co-created with writer/actor Mark Gatiss, a look and was generally delighted. The modern setting worked surprisingly well and, while not faithful to the letter of the stories, kept to the spirit of Conan Doyle’s canon. The series benefited as well from a very strong Holmes and Watson in the persons of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman respectively.

Each season consists of just three ninety minute episodes and each has ended on something of a cliffhanger or at least we are left with questions to be answered. We’re introduced to their version of Holmes’s arch nemesis, James Moriarty, at the end of the first season as he puts Holmes and Watson into a death trap with no seeming escape. At the end of the second season, Moffat and Gatiss do their version of the last meeting of the two. In their version, it results with Moriarty blowing his own brains out and Holmes forced to jump to his apparent death. We know Holmes is not dead by the end of the episode but we don’t know how he managed it. That would have to wait for Season Three. In theory.

Spoiler Alert. Lots of spoilers below. (more…)

Jen Krueger: Apparently I’m Kermit

Krueger Art 140128Of the myriad of characters that exist in Westeros, apparently I’m most similar to Tyrion Lannister. When it comes to the cast at Hogwarts, I could stand in for Hermione. And in a galaxy far, far away, I’m interchangeable with R2-D2. All of these results were drawn from online quizzes, but I probably didn’t have to tell you that. Your Facebook feed is likely as full as mine of results to the same (or similar) questionnaires.

The first memory I have of a “where would you fit in the world of (insert pop culture reference here)” quiz is one featuring the Hogwarts Sorting Hat placing the user in one of the school’s four houses. I recall seeing it online shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone became a huge hit in theaters, and my reaction to it was, How cute, I bet little kids will get a kick out of doing that. Today though, this bite-size pop culture personalization is a daily occurrence amongst my adult friends. With so much of ourselves represented in social media, it’s natural to want our interests in entertainment reflected there, but lately I’ve been wondering why that expression now comes so commonly in this quiz form.

I’m sure some of the draw is in the unique style of fan service these quizzes offer. They encourage geeking out by breaking down shows and movies in a way only fans would understand, and do so in an interactive and personalized manner. Obviously anyone could take a quiz to learn which companion they’d be if they found themselves in the TARDIS, but only a Doctor Who fan would appreciate the difference between being told they’re a Donna or an Amy. This active invitation to the user to move beyond simply thinking about the property’s world and into thinking of themselves as part of the property’s world is hard to replicate in other things aimed at fans. And since fancying yourself similar to a character you love is obviously going to be flattering, it’s no surprise the bulk of these questionnaires are aimed at telling people which character they’re most like.

So the impetus to take the quizzes makes sense. But why post the results on Facebook? Sure, sharing our favorite entertainment with friends is nothing new, but proclaiming I love the BBC’s Sherlock is very different from posting that I got Sherlock Holmes in a “Which Sherlock Character Are You?” quiz. The former reveals one of my pop culture touchstones, but the latter takes things a step further by letting me define a bit of myself with that specific touchstone acting as a yardstick. And silly as it might be, I have to admit it’s actually possible to tell things about people based on their results.

This week, a questionnaire telling the user what Muppet they would be was particularly popular amongst my friends. Looking at which Henson creation everyone got, I saw a correlation between the traits of their designated Muppet and the traits those friends prize in real life.

Is this a shallow way to think about people? Yes. But, weirdly, it works, at least to a certain extent. It also explains something I hadn’t ever understood before: people answering the questions in a way they think will yield a particular result, or re-taking a quiz until they get their desired answer. If we put enough stock in the results to be pleased when aligned with a favorite character, and we find other people’s results to the same quiz to be generally accurate, then I suppose it stands to reason that receiving a result comparing ourselves to characters we don’t like would be undesirable.

At the end of the day though, the lifespan of the results of these quizzes is the same as that of the quizzes themselves: extremely short. Accurate or not, today’s Downton Abbey questionnaire will be replaced by one about The Hunger Games tomorrow, and both will be forgotten by next week. But maybe this actually contributes to the popularity of these quizzes in a way; they’re quick bursts of fandom made no less fun for their brevity. If movies and TV act as pop culture meals, then these questionnaires are pop culture amuse-bouches. And they fulfill that role well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can get someone other than Lady Edith on this Downton quiz.





Jen Krueger: Surviving the Fall

krueger-art-130107-138x225-2905200When we last saw the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, he watched from afar as John Watson beseeched, “Don’t be dead,” to a headstone bearing Sherlock’s name. Watson does this at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall” after seeing Sherlock seemingly leap to his demise, and I thought it bold of series creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat to tackle this update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem” in their second series. A faked death on a show is as logistically tricky as a real one, and if there’s one thing that almost always creates a make or break moment for a TV show, it’s dealing with a major character’s death.

For a lot of shows, it’s a break moment. Perhaps some of the problem comes from the fact that a character’s death is often prompted by an actor’s exit from the show. When Dan Stevens decided to leave Downton Abbey at the end of his three year contract, his character Matthew Crawley was killed in a car crash that struck me as a spiteful way to explain his forthcoming absence in series four. Aside from the fact that the crash itself didn’t look severe enough to be fatal (I mean, how fast was he going, 30 m.p.h.?), it also felt like an afterthought to the 2012 Christmas special, as if the episode had been scripted to end in the preceding scene and the death was tacked on once it was official Stevens wouldn’t re-up. This was particularly disappointing from a show that had so recently served up an amazing character death by killing off Sybil Crawley mid-season. Even if I hadn’t hated her character (we get it, you like irking daddy by playing blue-collar), I would still have been pleased with her demise because of the way it affected the other characters on the show. Watching her parents, sisters, and husband deal with their grief was more interesting than Sybil herself had ever been, yet asking viewers to watch the family hit the reset button at the top of series four to mourn Matthew is grating.

But perhaps worse than the character deaths that are forced are the ones I don’t believe even within the world of the show. When Peter Bishop stepped into the doomsday device at the end of season three of Fringe, I didn’t for a second buy him exiting the show. His character was too important, and the circumstances of his disappearance too obviously pointed to a return for me to believe I’d never see Peter on the show again, which seemed to be what the writers hoped I would assume. Instead, watching became a waiting game centered on his return, and one that wasn’t concluded quickly or satisfactorily enough to justify his unbelievable disappearance in the first place.

That’s not to say shows can’t kill important characters successfully. When Boardwalk Empire concluded its second season by offing Jimmy Darmody, the character who’d served as the audience’s entrance into the (under)world of the show, it was wonderfully stunning. Even though the drama had blossomed into a sizeable ensemble by the time Jimmy was eliminated, he was still the most frequent point of view character, which meant his death irrevocably changed the show’s direction. But Boardwalk Empire had managed to build to Jimmy’s death in such a way that it seemed inevitable, and created plot momentum that carried forward into even the most recent season finale.

Of course, the holy grail of TV character death is the surprise demise. Four episodes into its third season, Southland unceremoniously killed detective Nate Moretta on the job. The disturbingly quick and brutal death was shocking in and of itself, but it also demonstrated no character on the show was safe regardless of their rank, skill, or narrative importance. From that moment on, I watched Southland with my stomach in knots every time a character I liked was in peril because I truly didn’t know if they’d emerge from it unscathed, or at all.

Though the titular character of Sherlock didn’t actually die in the series two finale, his faked death was just as striking to me as the most successful of these actual TV character deaths. The charade has the same effect on Watson as the real thing would have, meaning the audience still gets the emotional payoff of a pivotal character death, while how Sherlock managed to pull it off is a mystery fans are as eager to solve as they are any of the eponymous detective’s cases. Which, of course, is precisely the point. American audiences will get their answers in the series three premiere on January 19, but having already seen it myself, I can say “The Empty Hearse” sated my curiosity and I’m very glad that, as this prequel minisode promises, #SherlockLives.