about how i watch this show for plot and puzzles

surviving (and maybe even thriving) in the sherlock fandom after s4

…OR, maybe even kind of sort of learning how to enjoy oneself again while being a johnlocker.

This is a post for people who are on the fence / still turned off by s4 / still struggling with how to frame it for themselves. 

In light of the upcoming fic writers’ retreat, in anticipation of (I hope) having a conversation or two about this very topic, and in partial response to comments that my good fandom friends have dropped recently about their struggles with feeling like they don’t want to engage with the show or the fandom after s4, I’ve been thinking about how to continue on as a johnlocker, and why I feel more motivated than ever to find a way to have a relationship with the show (albeit a substantially altered one than before), and what fandom engagement means to me. 

It probably doesn’t look like it, because I’ve participated full throttle in all kinds of conversations about the show since s4, but I do get why s4 was entirely offputting for a lot of people. While I strongly suspect that mofftiss are doing something interesting and unusual with s4, that whatever-it-is came at a heavy price: a series that looks like a hot fucking mess and actively does things that one should never do (i.e., constantly throwing into question the reality status of the story one is telling) if one wants to avoid frustrating the shit out of one’s audience. 

What’s worse, the series was promoted with a promise of FINALLY answering the question of who Sherlock loves, without delivering on that promise in a way that was in any way definitive (John? Molly? Irene? Chips?) or satisfying (JOHN???). We got a scene that was really close to the kind of thing we’ve always wanted to see, at the end of The Lying Detective, an episode that also brought us an interaction between John and Sherlock that was so awful, it singlehandedly ruined the show for a lot of people. 

Even though I love the shit out of talking about the puzzle of s4, I love it because I love how smart everyone in the fandom is, and how much I’ve learned about Doyle, and the many many intertexts the show engages with. I love how stunningly great people here are with teasing complex arguments out of this hot mess. 

I don’t love that we got this weird thing to figure out instead of actual story. I don’t love that for some reason a major plot point was John and Sherlock detonating their relationship even more profoundly than they had before. I still think that the more skillful thing to do would have been to make a puzzle for viewers to figure out, but make it actually enjoyable to watch. (Personally, I did enjoy TLD, but I’m a sucker for Nick Hurran’s direction, I thought Ben and Martin performed incredibly, and I have a high tolerance for creepy shit and violence, so.)

SO: WHAT TO DO?

I’ve been thinking about a few of the strategies I’ve put in place / fallen back on for approaching all of this. I don’t know if any of this is helpful but here it is, for what it’s worth.

Acknowledge that the showrunners are human people and human people make good choices and bad choices and questionable choices

Before s4 aired, I wrote about the fact that mofftiss had set up a highwire act with extraordinarily high stakes, as of the end of s3. This meant they could pull off an astounding feat of storytelling, or they could fall. Instead they sort of burned down the circus tent and re-encoded all the elephants…not what any of us were expecting. I mean, surprises in storytelling can be great, but this was like hey everyone, suddenly the show is going to be performed in Esperanto instead of English, have fun with that.

Questionable at best.

To sum up: good choices resulted in the following:

Ben and Martin in s1 and 2 creating this beautiful dynamic together, eyesex and all the subtext and a tragic love story with mistakes and denial and pining and hope. s3, which bumped up the subtext to the point of ridiculousness. And TAB, which doubled down on that subtext EVEN HARDER. The purple shirt of sex and the swishy coat of alone protects me and a stalwart and broken John who is finally strong enough to partner his Sherlock and enough sexual and romantic tension to drown the population of the earth planet and a Mary Morstan who is actually Moran and there’s always two of us and hey did I mention romance yet?

We got all that, and then we got–this s4 thing.

Let me tell you about writers (speaking as one). They shit the bed all the time. They make weird choices. They have strange ideas. They fail to stick the landing. When that happens, it’s their tragedy. It doesn’t have to be yours. 

Maybe this story isn’t done yet. I don’t think it is. I’m willing and able to reserve judgement, but this post is for those of you who aren’t, or can’t. 

You can still like the parts of the show that you liked before. You weren’t wrong for liking what worked for you before. You would not be wrong now, for still liking those bits. All the shitty choices the showrunners could make, did make, and might still make, do not make you wrong for liking the bits you liked.

You can still like the parts of the show that you liked before. 

Need permission for that? Here it is: BECAUSE MAY SHEPARD SAYS SO. I’ll make you a certificate if you want. 

Need more specific help? Here’s another idea:

Get selfish. Get really, really selfish.

Remember that you are here for you. You came here, probably, because thinking about John and Sherlock together is something you enjoyed. Back immediately after s4 aired, and I was still stuck firmly in the wtf zone, I had to have a talk with myself about this. 

I asked myself what I liked about the show. Why John and Sherlock, together, were so crunchy and beautiful to me. It came down to one thing: the fact that I read the show as a love story. 

I’m here for my own entertainment. This is my happy place. This is where I come when my regular writing is stuck or I want to try to hack out a new part of my skill set. I get a lot out of thinking about John and Sherlock, as characters.

I still read the show as a love story, and I will continue to do so.

That means, in light of s4, doing a lot more reading in to the little moments than I used to have to. It means cherry picking a lot harder. It means ignoring vast swaths of what we actually saw onscreen. (The fact that this is the current state of meta too helps a whole heck of a lot.) 

Playing the what if game a lot harder than I have previously has become the rule of the day. 

What if John and Sherlock are in love? They are. For me, they are, and they always will be. Will they be in canon? Get yourself to a place where this question doesn’t matter, where your personal happiness doesn’t hang on this. We’re several months on after s4. It’s time to give your head a shake and remember that John and Sherlock love each other and will always find their way back to each other, because we say so. 

If you don’t believe this, try because May Shepard says so. I’ll say it until you believe it, too: John and Sherlock are in love. The show is a love story.

I will read the show as a love story, regardless of whether it wants me to. Hey show, get ready for some sweet sweet interpretation. I hope you’re in the mood.

Still not convinced? Try this thought experiment:

Put Some Distance Between You and S4

So a few nights back I was chatting with @laughing-at-the-darkness​ (who is the best, go follow her immediately), and I jokingly said that what we need in this fandom is a reset, like the kind of perspective you can only get ten years after a television show has finished airing. 

Try this on for size:

The year is 2027. You’re looking for some good content to watch. You remember hearing, dimly, about the fact that, a while back, BBC made a Sherlock Holmes adaptation with some pretty famous actors. 

You read about it a bit first. Ah yes: the adaptation that everyone was raving about, but that did a weird thing in its fourth series. Bearing this in mind, you decide to watch. 

You’re charmed by series 1-3, and the one-off Victorian special. You decide to watch s4, bearing in mind what you know about it, that it seemed to go off the rails relative to everything that had come before. You watch, prepared to laugh along at Mary’s bullet tango and the way she just won’t seem to go away and Sherlock has a sister who is also an X-Man? What???? 

You watch it. You shrug. You carry on thinking that s1-3 and TAB are great, like you were prepared to do. 

We know what we know now: that s4 is a difficult part of canon, a stumbling block for a lot of us. If you can accept that, then you can move forward, liking the parts you like, and leaving the parts you don’t.

Moving On

I still personally have some questions about how to deal with s4 as a fic writer. There are so many potential interpretations–how does one go about sorting through the detritus? A lot of people don’t want to / can’t bring themselves to rewatch, so how much can I assume they do and don’t remember about the episodes? But these are mostly logistical issues, and solvable with some rational decision making. (I did start a fic a while back based on TST, but I wasn’t ready to finish it, and I don’t think people wanted that type of fix it in that particular moment.) s4 changed the stakes for a lot of people, so writing fic now is all about writing to a different emotional register, I think. I’m personally having fun with that, while sorting through the implications for the wips I started before s4 aired. I’m hoping we can talk about some of these issues, as writers, and as fans, but that’s a post for another day.

In any case, I’m here, John and Sherlock are in love, and I hope this is helpful in some way. I don’t want anyone to lose the thing that used to give them enjoyment, nor (on a more selfish note) do I want to see people still leaving the fandom if they don’t have to.