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Sherlock | A Study in Pink | Scene Breakdown | Scene 04

We always find here that things are better with example. And just like all these rules apply to the larger narrative, in this case, the July 2010 Sherlock episode "A Study in Pink," it's also supposed to work for every scene. Every scene should have a Story Circle. Every scene should be concise.

So, let's continue to look at Sherlock: A Study in Pink. Every scene, in intricate, to show how this is done at such a high level of expertise. Continuing on to Scene 04, where we finally meet the show's titular character: Sherlock.


We start with that Answer Cut we talked about setting up last time, when Watson asked "who else would nobody want to room with?" We answer with the unzipping of a bodybag from the body's POV, unveiling Sherlock Holmes. If you were writing a novel and not a script, this sort of "Answer Cut" technique would be effected by ending the chapter on Watson's question, then starting the next chapter on the reveal.

Thinking back to the Story Circle and how we impart information to the reader, we have now taken two scenes to establish John Watson, both at home and at work (or rather, a lack thereof). Now we need to do the same for Sherlock, but we're aware of a audience's time. In many ways, the last scene set up Sherlock's home life: he's like Watson, wanting to live in the city but unable to do so alone.

Now we see Sherlock at his work, in the morgue. He's beating a dead body with a riding crop in order to test the bruising rate, even as the young woman next to him, Molly Hooper, says that she knew the body. Again: show them at work interacting with someone. We have this weird interaction with the body, and also Sherlock's indifference to the feelings of others, so laser-focused is he on the work.

This is also just... silly. Like it could have been anything, but it's beating a dead body with a riding crop to "test how quickly it bruises" and "prove an alibi." There's an obvious sexual nature to this alibi that's going unstated, and somehow not saying it makes it funny. I won't pretend to know a formulae for humor like I do for story: humor is subjective and often unrepeatable, but after three scenes of dour murders and PTSD, it's good to show that this episode will have some lighter moments.

We then get an awkward scene of Molly asking Sherlock out for coffee and him not realizing, showing him as not only abrasive but oblivious in this incarnation.

Let me be real clear here because think is the first instance where I'm going to skip some things: none of this matters. It's some fun character stuff, but were I planning this episode out before I wrote it, the note for this whole scene would be "Sherlock does something irreverent." It's showing off his character and it's showing the comedy of the show for a moment before we get into the point of the scene proper.

But on that note, think of where this otherwise-unimportant information is in the scene, and think back to that pointed-down triangle I use for Conciseness. If you're going to have silly asides in your story that are just there to flex your chops and the characters you've invented... where in the scene should you put them? At the start, where the triangle is wide. Things can happen here at the start of the scene that aren't "the point" of the whole scene, that aren't moving the story forward. But as the scene progresses, there's less and less 'fat' that could be cut without missing something vital.

Similarly, the entire story will be triangle-shaped as well: you'd only have a scene with this mood and frivolity here, near the start of the story. It'd be out of place lower down. So even though the dialog itself isn't adding much, aside from inventing the ongoing joke of the relationship between Sherlock and original-character Molly Hooper, there is still something to be learned from its placement here: there's a reason it's here and not somewhere else.

Mike and Watson come in and Sherlock asks for his phone, Reminding us of Sherlock's preference of texting rather than calling that was Set Up in Scene 02. Watson offers his phone, and Mike introduces the two.

And then, after barely glancing at Watson, Sherlock asks: "Which war were you in, Afghanistan or Iraq?"

This is one of the first very clear Set Ups in the story so far, one that everyone, even non-writer viewers not trying to analyze can see: we get the Setup of Sherlock deduction, which in this show operates on show a high level that it may as well be telepathy. We don't get an explanation of it here, that comes later, in the remind and the payoff.

Sherlock's intuition then goes a step further, asking Watson if he minds that he plays the violin. If they're going to be roommates, they should know these things about each other. This time, we get a small demonstration of Sherlock's deduction, a reminder: "I said to Mike this morning, that I was a difficult man to find a flatmate for. Now he turns up after lunch with an old friend clearly just home from military service in Afghanistan. Wasn’t a difficult leap."

Again, just the mildest hint of how his mind operates, how he deduces things. How he knows things without being told.

Here we get the first sign of their relationship, as Sherlock turns to leave and Watson stops him, incredulous. "We’ve just met and we’re going to go and look at a flat? We don’t know a thing about each other." This perfectly sets up what will be the ongoing conflict between Sherlock and Watson, right from the start.

And that's when Sherlock hits with the payoff: "I know you’re an army doctor and you’ve been invalided home from Afghanistan. I know you’ve got a brother with a bit of money who’s worried about you, but you won’t go to him for help because you don’t approve of him - possibly because he’s an alcoholic, more likely because he recently walked out on his wife. And I know that your therapist thinks your limp is psychosomatic - quite correctly, I’m afraid. That’s enough to be going on with, don’t you think?" He leaves, announcing the address as the famous 221B Baker Street, and Mike confirms: yes, he's always like that.

What we can confirm this scene was about? Introducing the world to Sherlock, of course, as evidenced by that last line in the scene. Remember our conciseness triangle: whatever the last thing in a scene is, chances are, that's what the whole thing was about. That last line from Mike says it all: this is who Sherlock is, this was not abnormal for him, this is what he will always be like. Get on board or get off now.

There's a neat Setup, Remind, Payoff in this scene with regard to Sherlock's deductive skills, if you notice. We get the Setup of him asking "Afghanistan or Iraq?", followed by the Remind where he displays exactly how simply he deduced that Watson was here looking for a roommate, to the Payoff that Sherlock in fact knew everything about Watson that we know up to this point, and a few things we didn't.

This is an excellent example of having a Rule of Threes within a scene that will also act as a Rule of Threes within the story as a whole. This deductive nature will come up again and be pivotal for the rest of the scene and series. It has a Setup and Payoff here in this scene, but the interaction as a whole is also a Setup for it to be further explored later on.

In a lot of ways, Sherlock is a character that acts like he can read the script notes: he takes notes of Setups, Reminds, and Payoffs that usually only the audience is privy to. He's even aware of things we aren't, giving the writers cryptic and interesting ways to Setup plot elements themselves. In Sherlock's little dissection of Watson, we get setups for the posh phone, his alcoholic sibling and failing marriage, and the fact that his limp is psychosomatic. Also, even though there are multiple reveals contained within each (Sherlock knows he has a therapist and that the therapist thinks the limp is psychosomatic), it's presented in a list of three. Because it's just how we talk, how eons of storytelling has trained us to talk. We speak in Rule of Threes.


See? This is how it's done. All tools used. Perfectly balanced. And as the viewer, you're none the wiser. It seems like magic, it seems like it just happened. It seems fresh and original, but it's done using the same tools of the trade that have existed for a hundred years. Join us soon for Scene Five!



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