Some thoughts on the Watson marriage
First of all, upfront: I believe Mary and John sincerely loved each other and were genuinely trying to make their relationship work. But clearly, at least on some levels, it was not working, and I want to play armchair marriage counsellor for a bit and look at why.
obviously, the first major misstep in their marriage is Mary lying about her
history and identity, and then shooting John’s best friend to protect her
secret. Why didn’t she just tell him who
she was from the beginning?
MARY: John can’t ever know that I lied to him. It would break him and I would lose him forever.
She was terrified that he wouldn’t love her if he found out about her past. What might have given her that idea? What messages was John sending her that his love was conditional on her being ordinary, sweet, and safe?
In some ways, John’s behavior after he finds out the truth proves her fears unjustified. Though he struggles for a while, he doesn’t leave her, and he makes a renewed commitment to their relationship. So far so good. But look at what he says to her:
JOHN: The problems of your past are your business. The problems of your future … are my privilege. It’s all I have to say. It’s all I need to know.
It’s a very romantic moment, and clearly well-intentioned. And Mary is grateful for his forgiveness, and agrees to move forward with him. But there’s a mixed message hidden in John’s statement. In throwing away the thumb drive unread, he’s confirming her suspicion that he can’t love the person she was in the past, only the persona she has created.
MARY: You don’t even know my name.
JOHN: Is ‘Mary Watson’ good enough for you?
Here again – it’s a lovely and romantic sentiment, but even as Mary was thrilled to accept his forgiveness, she must have gotten the message that Mary Watson is acceptable, but her history as Rosamund is not. That could only have heightened her sense of insecurity in the relationship. It would have been a much more generous gesture on John’s part if he had simply asked her name at that moment, instead of shoving it into the closet of things we must never speak of.
In TST, John acts surprised that Mary is still keeping secrets from him, but what choice did he give her? He basically told her there’s this whole part of her life that he doesn’t want to hear about.
And when he does catch her in her lies, John tries to be understanding, but he makes another small mistake with big repercussions:
JOHN: Mary, I may not be a very good man, but I think I’m a bit better than you give me credit for, most of the time.
I think what he means is that he’s not as judgmental as she thinks – she doesn’t need to hide from him, because he would support her even in difficult times. But by phrasing it in terms of him being “good”, he also unintentionally reminds her that she is not good. This is a difference between them in her mind: he is good and she is bad.
MARY: You’re always a good man, John. I’ve never doubted that. You never judge; you never complain. I don’t deserve you.
She seems here to be accepting his claim that he won’t judge her. But in saying that she doesn’t deserve him, she’s highlighting the fact that he makes her feel lesser, which makes her insecure and leads her to lie and misrepresent herself in order to seem “good” enough for him.
Once they get back home, she states this problem again, even more clearly:
MARY: You don’t make it easy, do you?
JOHN: What d’you mean?
MARY: Well, being … being so perfect.
Unmistakably, she is trying to tell him how hurt she is by the roles they’ve unwittingly assigned each other: Perfect John and Bad Mary. And at last, it seems like John gets it. Before they’re interrupted, he starts to tell her about his affair in an effort to reassure Mary that neither of them is perfect. It feels like the best chance they have for a fresh start based on a better understanding of and respect for each other as real, flawed people.
Then, sadly, Mary dies before they are able to hash this out. And one of the most tragic elements of her death scene is this:
MARY: Being Mary Watson was the only life worth living.
Mary wants to leave their relationship on the best note possible, but it breaks my heart that even with her dying breaths, she feels the best way to do this is to deny the “bad Rosamund” that John always seemed to be rejecting, and present herself as the “good Mary” that she believed John wanted her to be.
And the thing is, I don’t think John ever intended her to feel that way. He wears a conventional veneer, but Sherlock is right – deep down, John wanted to be with someone as dangerous and morally grey as he is. He initially thought he wanted perfect Mary, but he really fell in love with the more complicated Rosamund underneath.
And yet, even though he loved her, forgave her, and respected her for the most part, a part of him was still angry and resentful over Mary’s betrayal, and I think he unconsciously picked on her for it in these subtle ways.
Which is understandable, if not ideal. But what *really* saddens me is what John says at the end of TLD:
JOHN: I’m not the man you thought I was; I’m not that guy. I never could be. But that’s the point. That’s the whole point. Who you thought I was… is the man who I want to be.
No, John, no! He’s so close here, but then he gets it so wrong. Mary doesn’t want you to be that perfect man she thought you were! Mary thought that dude was kind of a jerk! And she was right, honestly. What Mary was trying to tell you is, that man is sanctimonious, patronizing, and judgmental. DON’T BE THAT GUY. No one likes that guy, least of all Mary.
Mary didn’t want a “good man”, she wanted a partner in crime. Someone who understood her and respected her – ALL of her, not just the pretty and well-behaved bits. At your best, John, you were that partner, but at your worst, you were a superior, scolding, hypocritical prig.
I’m not sure, but I think (I hope?) this is what Sherlock’s getting at during this exchange:
SHERLOCK: It’s not a pleasant thought, John, but I have this terrible feeling, from time to time, that we might all just be human.
JOHN: Even you?
SHERLOCK: No. Even you.
The lesson John needs to learn is not to be a better man for the perfect, imaginary version of Mary in his head, but to be kinder and more accepting and empathetic to the real, flawed person Mary actually was. And to honor her memory, perhaps be kinder and more accepting and empathetic to people like her – including himself.