I typically like everyone. My wife often makes fun of me for that. It’s like I’m a golden retriever who is just happy to talk to people. But when I started watching The Golden Pince-Nez, I couldn’t stand The Professor. It was that utterly disgusting habit of smoking one cigarette after another. “The cold air won’t help my bronchial condition!” You think that’s what’s causing your condition, do you?
I was recently outside a restaurant bidding some dear friends goodbye as they planned for a month away from home and this guy came out repeatedly to smoke sometimes 2 or more cigarettes before going back to his meal. I was so disgusted by it. I mean, I don’t like the idea of smoking to begin with because I think: hey, if you want to die, there are faster ways and I don’t have to get collateral poisoning, but watching someone chain smoke exacerbates an already grotesque habit. It’s like biting nails, but with a higher risk of killing you down the line. So watching the main character chain smoke to this extent was really off-putting. Luckily, the story is a very good one.
One thing that distinguishes this from the rest of the series is a missing character: Watson! Hardwicke was off filming something else so Holmes gets a different companion: his brother Mycroft, played again by that supremely fascinating Charles Grey. This time he seems addicted to snuff, which was almost as off-putting as the Professor’s smoking until I realized it has a point….
The Professor has an aide, Willoughby Smith, who is found murdered in the house. The maid finds the body but before he expires, he utters one clue: “The Professor, it was she!” In his hand, is a golden pince-nez (which is to say, a pair of glasses that pinch on the nose to keep them up, because, you know, minimal material needed to make them…) The professor is an invalid so we know he didn’t do it, and the maid is a wreck. Who killed Willoughby Smith and why?
The episode opened with a prelude of some violent revolt going on in Russia. It turns out that the Professor was a Russian anarchist and his wife was left behind and imprisoned. Nearly blind, she snuck into his house but when Smith found her, he tried to detain her. With her glasses accidentally knocked off, she grabs anything she can and swings, not realizing she’s grabbed a particularly deadly looking letter opener and plunges it into his neck. She flees, but makes a mistake and runs right into the Professors room. And then… she vanishes!
No deep motive here. She wanted some papers that she hoped to steal from the Professor before he even knew it. When she makes the mistake of stumbling into his room, the Professor decides to hide her…
The smoking professor is eating a lot for a man who doesn’t eat. Mycroft, often said to be the smarter of the Holmes brothers, sprinkles snuff on the floor by the bookcase. When Holmes notices footprints and determines that the professor isn’t eating all the food – and it must be going somewhere – he announces that the Professor is harboring the killer.
“That’s father’s magnifying glass. He gave it to you?” Holmes and Mycroft are a perfect double act. I love Watson, but the fun carries over quite well and in a believable way. The sibling rivalry is delightful.
One of the most recognizable quotes of the canon appears when Mycroft asks: “Do you remember what Papa used to tell us when we were young? Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Inspector Hopkins is eager to please Holmes, but lying down in the blood of the victim to illustrate what happened seems like a poor choice. On the other hand, that same blood stain is putting the maid off terribly, so Holmes lays his scarf down in the gore just to obscure it. After he leaves it there, she snatches it up and runs it to him with a thank you. A lovely scene showcasing Holmes awareness of human nature, even if he is often detached from it.
The story takes more twists and turns including a subplot with suffragettes but the main thrust of the story is far more interesting that the subplot. I liked that they did get into some of the other elements of life at the time though. In fact, I recognized far too late in my run that I should have had a section called Trifles where I point out the little things like the detective wearing galoshes in the rain or those other points that really bring us into the time period. Or perhaps I could have used it to talk about those little things like the tricks in filming that indicate this director has done work for the series already. He has a propensity for using prisms to create a rainbow, filming through reflection, having Holmes reflect perfectly on a painting where the face should have been and, a personal favorite: having Holmes hold up a pair of glasses and letting the light pass through to land squarely on his eyes. A great image, but alas, as ideas go, a lost opportunity.
“You might say it was elementary!” Mycroft writes Holmes a letter at the end and suggests Holmes leaves out the incident with the snuff box, replacing it with cigarette ash. In the book, Holmes finds the secret door with the aforementioned cigarette ash. We finally have proof: Watson does change the details some, which now, many episodes later, gives a logical continuity as to why he’s unmarried in the episodes, but had married Mary in The Sign of Four.
A thoroughly enjoyable episode, but one that features a repeat idea: a killer hiding in an obscured room, like The Norwood Builder. It doesn’t stop the episode from being immensely enjoyable but it’s not original. It seems Doyle only had a few tricks up his sleeve, when we break these episodes down. That’s not the dig it sounds like. Sherlock is fun to watch even when he’s just being cross with people. “Mrs. Hudson, you’re under foot again!” I’ll take repeat ideas just for more fun with our favorite detective any day! ML