The Thing about Mary
It’s been awhile since I made a post about Mary… it’s overdue. *crackles knuckles, limbers up fingers*
It made no sense. None of what they wrote made sense. What was the narrative point of Mary? To “create” Sherlock Holmes and John Watson? I call bullshit; they were already that without any external help. Moreover, if that was her purpose all along, she sure did a lot to destroy that very thing: the dynamic of arguably the most famous and celebrated male friendship in English literature. Just in case we’ve forgotten:
Mary started undermining both John and Sherlock, individually and together, from the moment she appeared on the screen. She had already interrupted John’s attempted proposal once to excuse herself to the bathroom or wherever she went (”Now then, what did you want to ask me?”)*, then interrupted him and corrected him and laughed at him throughout. Her pattern of gaslighting, demeaning, and manipulating him continues through every moment of their shared time together on screen. Nowhere is it more evident than in the opening of His Last Vow, wherein she basically follows textbook procedure on gaslighting, from correcting his perceptions (”about a month, actually”, “see? That does happen!”) to doing it in front of a third party (humiliation) to questioning his motives and abilities (”why you?”) to outright forbidding him to do something (”you can’t go”) to inserting her presence where he clearly didn’t want it, then trying to sugarcoat it all by giving him a compliment - one which he reacted to not with pleasure or a softening of his obvious anger, but with a terse statement that he was already aware of what she was complimenting him on. It’s an abusive relationship, full stop.
She inserted herself between them from that very first scene and made it clear that any form of friendship they were going to have was to happen through the medium of herself, and only on those terms. This was so clear to John that he patently disguised his intention to see Sherlock to her as of their first conversation about it (during which she was openly mocking his blog posts about Sherlock, another form of demeaning and humiliation). This forced brokering of their relationship led to John eventually being ousted from his own friendship with Sherlock (who was too distracted by Moriarty to notice Mary’s machinations, alas). John was so unhappy with this dynamic that became the least like his canonical self that we had ever been shown before that point, going so far as to actively seek out an affair. This is decidedly not like John Watson, the man who got himself arrested because someone insulted his best friend. Loyalty is as much a part of John as his thirst for adventure. He was made to feel so superfluous by the wife who compared him to a dog and the friend who didn’t notice what was going on that he was looking desperately for escape.
Mary, on the other hand, never gave John her loyalty. She never even gave him the truth. She died without him even knowing whether her name was really her name (doubtful, given the sort of work she was doing while using it). Mary gave John nothing but lie after lie after lie. He could never trust a word that she said, and he hated it. She was willing to do anything to him, as long as it kept him by her side. She was willing to shoot the man he was still grieving years after his (supposed) death and never tell him after, no matter how much it would have devastated him to lose Sherlock all over again. As for Sherlock, she shot him without a second thought, smirking and condescending.
Mary never once showed a shred of remorse for any of it. Not for any of her past crimes, which included killing people for money - not for anger, not for principle, not for political manoeuvring - but something as tawdry and meaningless as money. Gross. And she never regretted it. Not that the creators of the canon decided to show us. She never expressed any regret for having lied to John, nor for the way she constantly treated him. She never expressed any gratitude to Sherlock for having rid her of the blackmailer that would have sent her to prison for a very long time. She accepted it as her due, without blinking. She never thanked Sherlock, John, or Mycroft for having become accomplices in her attempted murder on Sherlock’s life in not having reported it. She assumed that was her right, too. Mary was a psychopath and narcissist, not caring about right or wrong, just what benefited her.
Mary never changed her ways. There was no development of character, no softening, no realisation that everything she had ever stood for was completely terrible. Right to the last she was calling a man she had tried to kill a “pig”, offensively mimicking accents, still owning and carrying around guns and enough drugs to knock out a seasoned user. If anything, what we were shown was someone who had not only not changed, but someone who kept repeating the same behaviour. When the .A.G.R.A. team got into trouble on its final mission, Mary cut and run, leaving the other 75% of her team to be tortured or killed. She never went back and checked to see if a rescue mission was possible, never followed up, never confirmed the deaths of her teammates, just blithely moved on with her life and got married without once looking back. Sherlock offered to help her, twice. With the weight and power of the British government directly related to him, this isn’t exactly an offer to be taken lightly, yet Mary attacked him on both occasions, first shooting him in the heart and running away, then drugging him and running away - just as she left her former colleagues behind.
If you want to take the argument that motherhood somehow redeemed Mary, think twice on that, too. I’m not a parent, but just about every mother I know would never leave an infant behind. Obviously it happens; infants get abandoned all the time. Most mothers don’t, though. Was Rosie not nursing anymore? Was she ever? Did Mary think about that before she cut and run, or was she too busy with her offensive faux-Jewish accent and possible flight attendant murder there? My mother used to tell me that her own life took on so much greater weight once I had been born because she had something to live for, someone who needed her. She stopped taking any sort of risk that would endanger her, because she had a child to care for. Mary doesn’t seem to have been similarly affected by parenthood. Her inexplicable and unsupported decision to jump in front of a bullet says that perfectly, if her previous abandonment didn’t.
Never forget that John had the measure of Mary. It was John who knew that Mary would turn on Sherlock, should Sherlock warn her about Ajay and offer to help her again. It was John who grimly suggested putting a tracking device in the USB, knowing that Mary would attack Sherlock and steal it from him. While she was living, John had no illusions about who Mary really was.
Mary’s decision to defy physics and leap in front of that bullet was not the culmination of an arc of redemption. What it was is a completely out of character action that jars with everything that came before it. It’s wholly unsupported by any of her previous behaviour. This was, if anything, a “redemption split second”, not an arc. Followed by her DVD wherein she pointedly tells Sherlock to kill himself or get himself killed, it is to be understood that this behaviour was an aberration from the norm. Mary never changed. If she had, she would have gotten rid of her guns and ninja outfits and come properly clean with John without waiting until circumstances forced it out, and even then only giving him partial truths. It could almost be said that Mary was pathologically incapable of telling the truth, but that would be making excuses for her. She knew what she was about. She made all of these decisions by herself, to benefit herself and her own interests.
The Mary in John’s head never existed. It can’t even be discussed in a conversation about Mary’s characterisation, because it wasn’t Mary. It was John. And what John said about Mary at the end of The Lying Detective is a displacement of his own thoughts about Sherlock. John has a lot of dissociation issues in this episode in particular, and what he says about Mary is a statement which actually applies directly to Sherlock, not to Mary. This is John simply unwilling to believe that his marriage was as abusive and terrible as it really was, and trying to make himself feel better about it. The one person who genuinely believes that John Watson is a far better human being than he actually is is Sherlock, who calls him the “bravest, kindest, and wisest human being (he has) ever had the good fortune of knowing”. Mary literally called John a dog. That’s decidedly not what he was aspiring to. The one time she says something genuine about John’s moral superiority over her, it’s worded as a complaint (”you don’t make it easy, do you… being so perfect”). It’s as close to a real compliment as Mary ever gets. Sherlock is the one who believes in John, who sees past the temper and the grumpiness to all of John’s sterling qualities of loyalty, kindness, courage, humour, and accepts him as he is in his everyday self, too.
The post-mortem DVDs just don’t even make sense. How did Mary know she was going to die? Even if she suspected that one of the many enemies her life of professional criminality had made would come for her eventually, it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that Mary was still, even beyond her death, doing everything in her power to drive a wedge between John and Sherlock, even to have Sherlock die. For her to finally assume credit for their friendship is an insult to the intelligence of the viewers.