The Problem with BBC Sherlock – of Terrible Themes, Abuse, and Tragic Gays
Here’s my first essay on my thoughts on S4.
I’ve been digesting the shock and sense of “wrongness” after
THE FINAL PROBLEM, and I’ve come up with some ideas on why it bothers me so
deeply. It has to do with themes. Every good story has a theme. It might be “love
conquers all” or “the bad guys always lose” or “truth always comes out”. The
themes of the show after S4 are truly repellent.
The THEMES after S4:
No matter what you do or sacrifice, it’s never
good enough and you won’t win your heart’s desire in the end.
It’s okay to abuse to your loved ones, it’s
completely forgiveable, and, in fact, the most abusive people win.
Lying and killing people is okay and you can
still be a good person.
HOW THIS IS DEMONSTRATED:
SHERLOCK sacrifices himself over and over for very
little reward and a lot of abuse.
First, Reichenbach Falls. He jumps in order to
save John, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson from snipers. He goes off to dismantle Moriarty’s network,
in part to keep them safe. Yes, he hurts John terribly. And yes, it was a
mistake. But ultimately, Sherlock still did it for his friends. This is never explicitly discussed or acknowledged
in the show between John and Sherlock after Sherlock returns. John never learns
what Sherlock went through or says thank you. In fact, the “bomb” scene in S3.E1,
Sherlock tricks John into forgiving him only to make a joke out of the whole
thing. This is too serious a situation to joke about, yet a real resolution of this conflict is
never shown. By S4.E2, it’s clear John still harbors anger over it. Never
Sherlock plans John’s wedding and is his best
man. If you read that Sherlock is gay and in unrequited love with John, this is
a tremendous self-sacrifice. Even if you don’t, it’s still a sacrifice—Sherlock
is not a party type. He hates social gatherings. Yet he does this for John.
John never appears grateful. At the end of the wedding, we have Sherlock
walking away alone and (probably) heartbroken.
Sherlock is shot by Mary—and then forgives her,
for John. This is almost incomprehensible, but nevertheless, Sherlock catches John’s wife, Mary, in a lie, offers
to help her, and she shoots him in the chest. He dies on the operating table.
He comes back through superhuman effort. Mary threatens him again, twice. Yet
he forgives her and tries to patch things up between her and John. Why? Because
that’s what self-sacrificing friends do? Is this Stockholm Syndrome?
Self-loathing? Never explained.
Sherlock kills Magnussen to protect Mary.This
was basically an act of suicide. But he did it – for his friends. Neither John
nor Mary ever acknowledge this. In fact, in S4.E2, John tells Greg they should have
known Sherlock was psycho because “he shot a man in the face” (yes, John, to
save you. asshole)
Sherlock again tries to help Mary when her past
comes after her (S4.E1), and in the end, Mary throws herself in front of a
bullet for him. Ok. Weird but OK. Afterwards, John blames Sherlock for it and
casts Sherlock out of his life in a hateful way (again, breaking Sherlock’s
heart when Sherlock did nothing wrong).
Sherlock goes back on drugs and nearly dies
confronting serial killer Culverton in S4.E2. At the end we find out it was all
done to “save John Watson” from his grief. So once again, Sherlock nearly dies
for John. And during E2 John treats Sherlock horribly, even going so far as to
beat and kick him in a brutal attack.
S4.E3 – Sherlock battles with Euros to save John. There’s really no appreciation or recognition of this in the end.
SO – what does Sherlock ever get for his repeated sacrifice and pain? For
getting shot, tortured, and beaten? For having his heart ripped out and
watching the man he loves choose someone else? He gets a John Watson who seems oblivious to
what Sherlock does for him, is in love with his wife and cheating with another
woman, is furious with Sherlock and treats him like shit after his assassin
wife dies, and beats Sherlock. John finally does come back to Sherlock, but only in the
capacity of a friend. More on this below.
MARY – the lying assassin gets all the rewards
and a Mary Sue make-over
She pretends to be a nurse at a clinic,
befriends John Watson at his lowest point after Sherlock’s death, and he
marries her. Given what he know about
her past, surely she didn’t’ just coincidentally end up in John Watson’s path,
yet it’s never explained by what deceit and plotting she found him.
She has a secret past as a freelance assassin.
Though it’s played up that her past was “very naughty” (Magnussen S3.E3), later
in the show she’s whitewashed as being part of a mercenary team that did things
like extract hostages. She lied to John about who she was and used a fake name.
She shoots and murders Sherlock – and gets away
with it completely. Both John and Sherlock forgive her! She faces no prosecution and no penalty even from Mycroft or Lestrade, two of Sherlock’s protectes. This is never explained. She never even says “I’m sorry” or justifies the shooting, not until long after she’s been forgiven and everything’s been swell for her.
Sherlock remains “bffs” with her after this, calling her “his family” and trying to help her when her past comes back to haunt her.
Even in her best moments, she’s manipulative and
selfish. For example, she insults John’s value to Sherlock and refuses to let her husband have any say in naming the
baby. In fact, she names the baby after herself and announces the name to a
room full of friends without discussing it with her husband first. There are a lot of instances like this.
She has an extremely implausible redemption arc
when she throws herself into a bullet for Sherlock. Not only does it defy all logic and physics, it’s just dumb and corny.
John is grief stricken for a whole episode. Mary
constantly appears as a sort of “Yoda” ghost, uttering words of wisdom and
continuing to be whitewashed as some sort of wise woman who retains the role of arbitrator over John and Sherlock’s relationship, as if it’s up to
her to validate it.
SHE NEVER PAYS FOR HER ASSASSIN PAST, LYING TO JOHN, OR
KILLING SHERLOCK. The audience is expected to continue to welcome the cloying presence
of this killer. And so much about her remains unexplained.
JOHN WATSON LOSES HIS CHARACTER ARC AND HIS AGENCY
Despite the promising claims that “he’s smarter
than he looks” in TAB, John Watson in S4 continues to be clueless. He keeps
refusing to see how good Sherlock is and how much Sherlock is trying to help
him and Mary.
John’s wife shoots Sherlock in S3 and John
forgives her? How is this possible for a “strong moral principle” man who shot
a stranger to save Sherlock in S1.E1? Who punched a police chief who insulted
Sherlock in S2.E3? He’s a doctor, he knew Sherlock’s wound from Mary was
basically fatal! On top of this, we have a man who goes to a therapist for “trust
issues” who forgives his wife for lying to him from day 1, and he’s okay
with not ever knowing her real name? Honestly?
John is bored but seems complacent in his marriage
to Mary in S4.E1. But it’s not clear. Does he not notice the way she manipulates
him, such as with the baby’s name? He
certainly seems grief-stricken after her death. If he’s really not happy in his
marriage, why not make that explicit? Or vice versa? He never says “I love you”
to Mary and yet, there’s no reason to withhold it since he never ends up saying
it to Sherlock either. It’s just super confusing what he feels for her or for
Sherlock. Basically, he seems grief-stricken. Mostly.
Trashcan John. The first time another woman flirts
with him, he begins a sexting affair, despite having a wife and infant at home. This is John who is “unfailingly loyal?” If it would have been a plot point, such as him being miserable with Mary, it would have been more justified. But he did it and then he’s also grief-stricken when Mary dies. Inconsistent.
After Mary dies, John treats Sherlock abysmally, shuts him out, insults him,
calls him a monster, accuses him of tricks, etc. to the point of physically
beating Sherlock when Sherlock is drugged up and ill. This is the man who has
repeatedly sacrificed himself for John. And Sherlock did nothing to deserve
this abuse since he was not responsible for Mary’s death.
In S4. E3, The Final Problem, John is used as
more of a set piece than anything real. He helps solve the “puzzles” at the
fortress, but on an emotional level there doesn’t seem to be much there.
A real arc for this story would be that John
finally sees/ acknowledges all that Sherlock had done for him, and/or sacrifices
himself in return (like a 3 Garridebs moment). But this never happens. There is
no satisfying resolution to this relationship plotline. Yes, at the end of S4.E2 John and Sherlock finally talk, John seems to forgive Sherlock, and there’s a hug. But that’s pretty minor stuff compared to all that Sherlock has done for John and feels for John and all John and Mary did to hurt Sherlock.
Even though John is technically “back at Baker
Street” at the end of S4, it’s only in the capacity of a friend. In addition,
John basically “defaults back” to Sherlock because he no longer has Mary. There is no moment where John has to actively “choose”
Sherlock, over Mary or even at all. THIS IS LAZY WRITING, NOT A SATISFYING
GAYNESS REMAINS “TERRIBLY UNSPOKEN”
This is one of the biggest crimes of the show. What
we get in the end of S4 is a gay Sherlock in unrequited (desperately unspoken)
love with John, a love that will seemingly never be returned. Is this 1998? Why
do we have a tragic anti-gay ending like this in 2017?? It’s nearly as bad as
just killing off all the gays. (Or making them all villains, which the show has
also done – Irene, Moriarty, Magnussen in the hospital, and Euros).
It could be argued that Sherlock is not gay, that
he’s asexual, or even in love with Irene. Yet the show planted many, many clues
that Sherlock is gay and in love with
In ASiB, Sherlock repeatedly ignores or pushes
off Irenes heavy advances. When he ‘wakes up’ at one point when she’s sitting across
from him, his first words are “Where’s John?”
Janine says several times “I know what kind of
man you are”. Even in “faking” a relationship with her, Sherlock never had sex
with her (he jokes “I was waiting until we were married.”)
Sherlock’s horribly pained look at John after
the wedding , and then he leaves the wedding early.
TAB, in which Sherlock confronts very gay-acting
mind-palace Moriarty, facing his own homosexuality.
See Sherlock’s many sacrifices for John. If that
isn’t love, nothing is.
Sherlock spirals into despair and drugs whenever
John abandons him.
Mary says on the DVD in S4.E2 that John is “the
man we both love”.
Many, many other instances.
John is ambiguously bisexual earlier in the
show then becomes strictly hetero. He flirts with Sherlock in ASiP, is horribly jealous of Irene and Janine
in ASiB and HLV. Irene, whose specialty is “knowing what people like” tells
John he and Sherlock are a couple. John has an implied intimate relationship
with his former male commander, Sholto. In a deleted scene, he flirts with a
soldier at Baskerville. There’s some drunken knee-groping during the bachelor
party in TSoS. However, during all of S4, any sign of this flirty and
possibly-bi John has been removed and his heterosexuality is “doubled down”. Why?
To avoid any hint that he might get together with Sherlock at the end?
Sherlock never even admits outloud that he’s
gay, not even obliquely. Why? Is it something to be ashamed about? Do we not
deserve a gay hero? If they really intended to leave it open-ended what
Sherlock was, why did they plant so much of the above evidence that he was gay?
If he is gay, why not have him admit it!
e. This all amounts to a huge queerbaiting exercise, given how many subtextural and textural clues we were given in S1-S3 that this was ulimately a romance.
These are my thoughts on the story so far. I’ll try to update this with some pics later.
“Vorrei che tu venissi da me in una sera d’inverno e, stretti insieme dietro i vetri, guardando la solitudine delle strade buie e gelate, ricordassimo gli inverni delle favole, dove si visse insieme senza saperlo. […] Insieme, senza saperlo, di là forse guardammo entrambi verso la vita misteriosa, che ci aspettava. Ivi palpitarono in noi per la prima volta pazzi e teneri desideri. “Ti ricordi?” ci diremo l’un l’altro, stringendoci dolcemente, nella calda stanza, e tu mi sorriderai fiduciosa mentre fuori daran tetro suono le lamiere scosse dal vento.
Vorrei con te passeggiare, un giorno di primavera, col cielo di color grigio e ancora qualche vecchia foglia dell’anno prima trascinata per le strade dal vento, nei quartieri della periferia; e che fosse domenica. In tali contrade sorgono spesso pensieri malinconici e grandi, e in date ore vaga la poesia congiungendo i cuori di quelli che si vogliono bene. Nascono inoltre speranze che non si sanno dire, favorite dagli orizzonti sterminati dietro le case, dai treni fuggenti, dalle nuvole del settentrione. Ci terremo semplicemente per mano e andremo con passo leggero, dicendo cose insensate, stupide e care. Fino a che si accenderanno i lampioni e dai casamenti squallidi usciranno le storie sinistre delle città, le avventure, i vagheggiati romanzi. E allora noi taceremo, sempre tenendoci per mano, poiché le anime si parleranno senza parola.
Vorrei anche andare con te d’estate in una valle solitaria, continuamente ridendo per le cose più semplici, ad esplorare i segreti dei boschi, delle strade bianche, di certe case abbandonate. Fermarci sul ponte di legno a guardare l’acqua che passa, ascoltare nei pali del telegrafo quella lunga storia senza fine che viene da un capo del mondo e chissà dove andrà mai. E strappare i fiori dei prati e qui, distesi sull’erba, nel silenzio del sole, contemplare gli abissi del cielo e le bianche nuvolette che passano e le cime delle montagne. Tu diresti “Che bello!”. Niente altro diresti perché noi saremmo felici; avendo il nostro corpo perduto il peso degli anni, le anime divenute fresche, come se fossero nate allora.
Vorrei pure – lasciami dire – vorrei con te sottobraccio attraversare le grandi vie della città in un tramonto di novembre, quando il cielo è di puro cristallo. Quando i fantasmi della vita corrono sopra le cupole e sfiorano la gente nera, in fondo alla fossa delle strade, già colme di inquietudini. Quando memorie di età beate e nuovi presagi passano sopra la terra, lasciando dietro di sé una specie di musica. Con la candida superbia dei bambini guarderemo le facce degli altri, migliaia e migliaia, che a fiumi ci trascorrono accanto. Noi manderemo senza saperlo luce di gioia e tutti saran costretti a guardarci, non per invidia e malanimo; bensì sorridendo un poco, con sentimento di bontà, per via della sera che guarisce le debolezze dell’uomo.
Ma tu - adesso ci penso - sei troppo lontana, centinaia e centinaia di chilometri difficili a valicare. Tu sei dentro a una vita che ignoro, e gli altri uomini ti sono accanto, a cui probabilmente sorridi, come a me nei tempi passati. Ed è bastato poco tempo perché ti dimenticassi di me. Probabilmente non riesci più a ricordare il mio nome. Io sono ormai uscito da te, confuso tra le innumerevoli ombre. Eppure non so pensare che a te, e mi piace dirti queste cose.“
- D. Buzzati, "Gli inviti superflui" - G. Klimt, dettaglio de "Il bacio”
top 3 television moments
1. All of Twin Peaks
2. Everything Corinne did on this season of The Bachelor
3. The One Where Ross Dies Because I Beat Him To Death With A Sock Full Of Batteries For Being The Worst Character On TV, Ever