The Better Half and I received a great many video entertainments for Christmas this year. (We also gave a lot of them to The Critter, which is essentially the same as buying them for ourselves.) Since we are the parents of two small children, we don’t make it to the movies like we used to, so these were welcome additions to our possible recreational options.
The first one we opened and watched was “Sherlock,” the BBC’s reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective. We love it. The writing and acting are superb. (I also think Martin Freeman as Watson is kinda cute.) As soon as we finished with Season One, I was dispatched to Best Buy for the second one. We’re hooked.
But damned if those writers didn’t make such an epically stupid medical error that I was forced (as is my wont) to pause the video so I could make The Better Half listen to a diatribe about how wrong they were.
And here is the obligatory SPOILER ALERT. Below I will mention a spoiler-ish aside about the episode “A Study in Pink,” and will discuss a major spoiler for one (of many) plot point(s) in “The Great Game.” Consider yourselves alerted.
First, the minor aside. I was unable to watch the denouement of “A Study in Pink” without thinking of a certain scene in “The Princess Bride” in which death is on the line. It… complicated the dramatic tension. Still a good scene, but I kept wondering if the cabbie was Sicilian.
But the plot blunder. Oh, the blunder. It is a blunderous blunder, which they could have avoided by having anyone with a passing acquaintance with medicine look over the script. Since they obviously did not, Sherlock’s solution is a steaming pile of wrong.
The case in question involves the demise of a prominent television personality, who purportedly died in her home. The cause of death was attributed to tetanus, supposedly contracted through a cut on her hand sustained while gardening. Everyone apparently accepts this explanation for her death without much consternation. Dropping dead of tetanus is no great shakes in “Sherlock”‘s Britain, it seems.
That right there is just plain nutty. First of all, vaccination against tetanus is routine in the UK, and has been since 1961. Is it possible the character was one of those wacky vaccine-refusers, in which case dying of tetanus would be a grimly meet reward for her bad choices? Sure. One need look no further than a recent front page comment thread to find evidence that there are plenty of people out there who are. But it would make her an outlier in a nation where almost everyone is vaccinated, and would have provoked at least a mention from someone. But no, Holmes and Watson discuss dying of tetanus as though it were as commonplace as croaking from a heart attack. Wrong.
Not only that, but tetanus is an absolutely awful way to die. The muscles slowly begin to spasm, eventually causing painfully powerful contractions all over the body, sometimes bad enough to break bones and rupture muscles. People die when their muscles of respiration seize up, essentially suffocating them in their own ribcage. Yet we’re meant to believe that this famous person died this way in her home and nobody took her to the hospital, where she might possibly have received life-saving treatment? It’s a slow enough killer that she could have simply gone herself when her symptoms got bad enough. But again, her death at home of tetanus is simply accepted as Just One of Those Things. Wrong.
But that’s not all! NO! That would be dumb enough! Yet the stupid is stronger still in this storyline. For you see, she didn’t actually die of tetanus. No, she was poisoned with overlarge doses of Botox, and died of botulism.
This is so dumb it makes my face hurt. Any medical examiner who thinks a person who died of botulism actually died of tetanus should be sacked immediately and reassigned to a more appropriate job for his intellect, like charting Paris Hilton’s record sales.
Tetanus and botulism kill people in the exact opposite way! Tetanus causes intractable spasticity, and botulism causes progressive muscle weakness and flaccidity. While they are both caused by bacteria from the same genus, in terms of clinical presentation they look absolutely nothing alike. If Holmes was able to solve this one, it’s only because any medical personnel involved in the case beforehand were too grossly incompetent to remain employed.
I know I’ve ranted about this kind of thing before, and also that ranting about it is the kind of thing that probably nobody finds interesting. Fair enough. But it annoys the living daylights out of me when a show or movie invests so much in all of its aspects of production but doesn’t bother to check some very elementary (see what I did there?) fact, which (unchecked) makes its story collapse into nonsense. Surely they can scrape a few quid together to hire someone with medical expertise to check a few basic bits of information. If you’re reading, “Sherlock” people, I’ll do it free! Just let me pose for a couple of pictures with the cast and we’ll call it even.
Does this make me like the show less? Not really. It was a relatively minor point in an otherwise fantastic program. But it is a silly and careless error in a show that (as far as I can tell) avoids them relatively well otherwise. And surely Sherlock Holmes would never approve of such silly carelessness.