If there’s an episode that truly demonstrates the relationship I have with my oldest friend, it’s this one. The playful guilt trips and the intentional derailing of a friend’s joy at getting a puzzle right really hit home with this episode. Most notably, Holmes asks Watson what he intends to title this adventure and is not particularly impressed by Watson’s choice. The resulting discussion had me laughing out loud and wanting to recommend this episode to my old pal immediately. Admittedly, that’s barely a footnote to this story, but it was a delightful way to end the adventure and kept me in high spirits for quite a while! As for the adventure itself, we have another situation where Holmes fails to prevent tragedy.
We open with a dream sequence with a man, Mr. Blessington, woken from his sleep by someone calling out the name “Sutton” over and over again. He leaves his bed to find pallbearers waiting for him downstairs. In the coffin, he sees himself. With a very scary opening, Mr. Blessington sends Dr. Trevelyan to summon Holmes.
Dr. Trevelyan was the recipient of some kindness from the eccentric Mr. Blessington, the result of which enabled him to set up a medical practice on the lower level of Blessington’s home. When Blessington noticed shoeprints in his room, he had a near breakdown. He explained that he doesn’t trust banks and all that he owns is kept in a lockbox in his room. Unexpectedly, we discover that nothing had been stolen. A day later, he’s found dead, apparently having committed suicide. Holmes investigates and deduces that this was actually a murder.
For a change, this isn’t a crime of passion but rather one of revenge. Blessington had been part of a bank robbery when he went by the name of Sutton. He helped put his fellow robbers behind bars to gain favor with the courts, but as one of the men was being hauled away, he saw Sutton and swore revenge. When these men were released from jail, Sutton/Blessington became aware that they were set loose and turned into a nervous wreck, expecting their visit. When they finally did enter his room, a trial is held and the verdict is hanging.
Holmes pieces together all that has transpired by digging up facts: he can tell that there were three men in the room, along with Blessington, from their cigar ash and finds screws in the fireplace where the men deposited them when they realized they would not need to setup a gallows because there was a convenient chandelier hook they could use instead. But while Holmes helps identify the crime, only the office boy is caught – he was an accomplice in that he secretly allowed the men to enter the house. The actual killers all escape. The only mistake they make are those that we learn about in Watson’s monologue: they chose the wrong ship to escape on – one that sinks with all hands lost. Fate, not Holmes, punished the wicked.
It’s actually Watson who gets another great moment here, this time when Percy Trevelyan arrives. Watson proves to be the learned doctor he is, speaking excitedly about a medical monograph Percy wrote. I find it so odd how frequently Watson gets depicted as the comedy relief; it’s as though people forget he is a medical man with military background. Having him get the spotlight is always nice.
Although I never subscribed to the idea that Sherlock and Watson where anything more than friends, people who enjoy “slash” or “ship” fiction may pay some attention to lines about them being “intimate friends”. Even that has not swayed me in my own belief, but watching the two walk through London arm-in-arm does lend credence to the theory. As Seinfeld might say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that!”
This episode was surprisingly fast-paced bookended by some great moments between Holmes and Watson. The barbershop scene is an incredibly enjoyable moment for Watson to show that he has been paying attention and learning Sherlock’s methods, even if Holmes himself shoots Watson down. What Holmes can’t shoot down is a good story, and this certainly fits the bill. (Even in the title!) ML