“A Study in Pink” on BBC’s Sherlock is fascinatingly different from the original pilot version, as it caters to a modern audience’s need for a complex story and tortured hero. When adapting the pilot, the producer increased the mystery of the story, making viewers work harder to interpret the clues for themselves. The style, too, is different, using dramatic short cuts with text that compels the audience to pay close attention. As the text floats around people’s features, it’s as if the audience is reading the clues as Holmes does.
In the pilot, Holmes instantly deduces the murderer drives a cab, but in the first episode, he only wonders how the murderer can hide in plain sight, allowing us to make the deduction. Likewise, the serial killer’s assurance that his words cause suicides offers a puzzle Sherlock can’t resist, and offers the viewers a long interval to figure it out. The first episode casts Sherlock as his own worst enemy, deepening the character and emphasizing the struggle he will have with himself throughout the series. The killer taunts him with boredom and drug addiction. As Holmes, not drugged or at gunpoint, nearly takes the pill, Watson shoots to save Holmes from himself, not the killer as he does in the original pilot.
The pilot, with its long psychological battle between hero and villain, focuses on character rather than mystery. Even the challenge itself—is offering the pill a bluff or double bluff or triple bluff? – focuses on the killer’s character rather than any clues offered to the viewers. The killer dies, ending the threat completely for a happy ending as the camera fades out on Watson and Holmes’ budding friendship.
Episode one, by contrast, begins a story arc, like most 21st century shows. Moriarty has masterminded the episode’s crime, giving Holmes a season-long enemy to face. And Holmes’ greatest enemy is not really Moriarty; it’s himself, who risks his life to escape boredom and cannot pass up a puzzle, even the ones that might kill him. Episode one has a more complex ending as Moriarty and Mycroft are both busy scheming–though the killer is dead, the story arc is only beginning.