What Sherlock Doesn't Say to Molly
In light of Sherlock finally saying those three little words to Molly, I’ve been going back and tracing the progression of his feelings for Molly. And one of the things that stood out to me started with that often analyzed Sherlolly question… “Was Sherlock really oblivious about the coffee invite?" Because there is one thing that Sherlock has never said to Molly despite having ample opportunity to do so.
We’ve noted for ages that for all his supposed obliviousness Sherlock is socially perceptive enough to realize that John’s questions about Sherlock’s dating status could denote a romantic interest, and Sherlock immediately and politely shuts that down lest it create some misunderstanding or trouble with his new roommate. Not that John meant it in that way, anyhow, but an ounce of prevention…
So if Sherlock can recognize those social cues, how does he miss Molly’s date invitation? One could argue that Molly’s invite was more subtle and at a time when he was rather distracted by the experiment that he was conducting at the time… except for one rather large fly in the ointment.
For someone who is supposed to be oblivious to Molly, Sherlock is awfully damned observant. His reaction to Molly’s explanation is equally problematic if we are supposed to believe that Sherlock is completely oblivious.
That is not the face of a man who is just going with the easy explanation. Even as Sherlock starts to turn back to his notes, his eyes are warily fixed on Molly and his expression and body language seems quite suspicious and nervous, rather like a man who has just discovered a large cobra that looks ready to strike. He knows there’s more to this and that Molly is about to make a move. This would be the perfect time to lay things on the line, as he later does with John, but instead he feigns complete ignorance.
We’ve thrown out plenty of theories about his actions here before, but I think that in light of the progression between Sherlock and Molly it’s worth a few new thoughts. I am honestly not sure if Sherlock knows why he plays dumb at this moment. As Mrs. Hudson points out in S4, Sherlock is actually all emotion… however in S1 Sherlock is firmly denying his emotions to the point that you have to wonder if he’s even convinced himself.
For as concerned as Sherlock was about his observation that Molly had put on lipstick for him, he’s equally concerned when he observes that she has taken it off after her failed invitation. And it is not at all inconceivable after all we’ve seen between them that a primal part of Sherlock actually enjoyed the fact that Molly was putting on that lipstick for his benefit.
He doesn’t want her to push for something he thinks is beyond his capabilities, but he doesn’t want her to completely lose interest in him either. Sherlock knows how to give Molly a compliment to get in her good graces, as he does in the very next episode, but he doesn’t do that here either. A compliment this soon after her invite could provoke another invite. So he needles her instead, trying to provoke her into continuing to wear lipstick around him.
At heart I really don’t think that Sherlock is behaving this way because he’s a cold bastard who’s merely trying to use Molly at the beginning of the series. I think that would have been his way of rationalizing his behavior in the first two episode, but I also think that from the beginning Sherlock at least subconsciously wants Molly’s romantic attention. There could even be a conscious recognition of this desire on his part that he is internally at war with himself over, because there is a pattern of behavior here that continues even as their relationship escalates.
Let’s skip ahead to the next big development in their relationship. The Christmas party where Sherlock discovers that Molly’s regard for him is deeper than just a little meaningless flirting… after he humiliates both of them in front of their friends by trying to deduce her. She’s dressed to the nines, she’s carrying one specially wrapped present, and she’s wearing that sexy red lipstick for someone–and Sherlock’s deductions make it crystal clear that he does understand the psychology behind a woman trying to draw a man’s attention to her lips. The "Jim” incident made it clear that Molly wasn’t just sitting around and pining for Sherlock, and he might even have reason to believe that Molly has moved on after that particular scene in the lab. It’s only after he has behaved like a complete bellend that Sherlock realizes that he was the object of her affection all along.
Sherlock giving his first ever apology in the series to Molly was a beautiful and important moment. Sherlock goes beyond that though by giving Molly a Christmas present in return.
After all the horrible things he’d said, Sherlock gives her a tender kiss on the cheek while wishing her a Merry Christmas. Leaving Molly (and the rest of the world) to wonder what to make of his actions. Was he so cruel before because he was jealous? Was he overcompensating for having just been a total jerk to her? It’s not like Sherlock bothers to clarify with something like, “I’m flattered Molly, but I’m married to my work." Is that because he’s trying to spare her more pain, or because he, himself, is confused especially with how Irene has been trying to stir his libido?
Between the kiss, Sherlock’s lewd ringtone, and Sherlock identifying Irene at the morgue by "not her face”… Sherlock is definitely not giving Molly the impression that he is a man who is married to his work. No wonder she’s looking for a little clarification on the subject while they are working alone in the lab.
And this was Sherlock’s golden opportunity to tell her if he didn’t want her affections, because he didn’t have to make the answer about Molly. There is nobody around to make the situation humiliating. He could have simply answered, “Molly, I think you should know I consider myself married to my work, etc."
Because at this point Sherlock knows how Molly feels about him. All the Christmas deductions plus the "three x’s… sign of romantic attachment." And yet again, Sherlock doesn’t say it.
For someone who had zero trouble saying those words to John when he thought John might have a romantic interest, Sherlock goes out of his way to never say those words to Molly, even after he knows she is romantically interested in him. Even when Molly thinks that he is in love with Irene, Molly is still that helpful and loyal soul he can rely on. He’s not going to lose her help in the lab or on his cases, so none of his potential earlier rationalizations for not telling her would apply anymore.
Instead, Sherlock goes on to tell her things like, "You can see me.” “You do count. You’ve always counted, and I’ve always trusted you." "If I wasn’t everything that you think I am, everything that I think I am, would you still want to help me?" And let’s not forget his answer to "What do you need?" Obviously the only way to answer that was, ”You.“ ;)
So Molly helps fake his death (and keep it secret for two years) and lets him use her bedroom for a bolthole, so I think we’ve reached a pretty high level of trust between them by the beginning of season 3, where Sherlock gets yet another scene where he could have said those words.
Yeah, so if Molly considers "have dinner” a viable ending to that sentence, Sherlock has obviously still never mentioned his “no dating” policy to her. They have a day filled with crime solving, meaningful looks, Sherlock’s heartfelt thanks, declarations of Molly being “the one person who mattered most”, another kiss from Sherlock, and an offer to take her to dinner after all… until Sherlock and Molly finally have to acknowledge that she’s currently engaged to another man.
And do you know when else Sherlock would have had an opportunity to tell Molly that he was married to his work and not interested in romantic entanglements? During whatever off-screen conversation that had about saying “I love you” to each other during the whole bomb threat scene. Of course, with the way that Molly was beaming the world’s biggest smile and rushing towards Sherlock’s favorite spot in the ending montage, I think it’s safe to say that Sherlock never said those words to her then either.