s4, breaking the fourth wall, the arg, and gaslighting as literary device
And if the pretentious title didn’t frighten you away, or cause you to immediately unfollow / block me, I offer some thoughts:
Following the cues left by
the hot mess s4, it’s reasonable to assert the following (which has been asserted just about non-stop since each of the episodes aired; I am not pretending to be original here):
- s4 is fucky in a way that seems to call attention to its own fuckyness, especially if you take events and themes of the previous series as guidelines for what to expect / how things work in the world of Sherlock. (A ton of people have done a ton of work on this, but thanks to @antisocial-otaku for making it clear how frickin obvious this pattern is, here.)
- The subtext is richer / more coherent than the text, especially in The Final Problem. (Links # 2 and 3 to videos by @marcespot–shameless self-promo in #1 and #4)
- Breaking the fourth wall is a major theme. This includes s4 references to Twitter, and the #sherlocklive event, as well as the numerous and sometimes literal references to breaking the fourth wall. (post by @inevitably-johnlocked)
As much as recent arg developments have been A Ride, I really think we’ve missed the obvious, because it wasn’t nearly as much of a challenge as people were looking for / as the fandom genius hive brain is capable of meeting. I think we’ve been looking too hard.
The puzzle, the thing we are supposed to figure out, is s4 itself. The game is simply this: we are invited to have discernment with regard to what is and what is not possible in the world of BBC Sherlock, and to conclude, as most people did, that much of s4 is, indeed, not compatible with the world of Sherlock. The truth of the narrative is in the subtext, as almost everyone here has argued.
The narrative of s4 is, for the most part, really hard to get hold of, and full of content that blatantly works against everything the show has tried to set up so far. As much as I appreciate attempts to make sense of s4 as is, my mind, like a lot of people’s, recoils when asked to consider (for example) that the people who wrote this:
Also wrote this:
You’ve all seen the evidence. You’ve all watched The Final Problem and thought–what the hell is this?
People in this fandom were crying foul from the moment TST ended. I think we were already playing the arg then (if such a thing exists), and we kept playing it all through s4, because we were thinking critically about the episodes, and questioning the reality status of the story with which we were presented.
Up until recently, I would have said, meh, maybe this apparent lack of skill on the part of the showrunners was deliberate, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe they just threw in a ton of excess detail (like Mr. Glowy Skull) because why not? I am not very big on writerly intention. The text I’m presented with, I feel free to interpret however I wish, and this, to me, is the point of s4. It undoes itself. It undoes the text of series 1-3. It invites critique in a whole new way. Regardless of what does or does not happen next, I will always choose to question this narrative, to read against the text, because that reading is more interesting and less infuriating. s4, like mofftiss, lies.
The part that makes me think the arg is happening right in front of us, and it’s still live:
This fucking thing.
This “John and Mary really love each other”
barf festival video, released on 28 February. (Savage and efficient crit here, by @smoljohnlock)
I could see, maybe, that video flying as an s4 preview, but we have it released here, now, after…all that, when we know that the picture being presented in it is nowhere near the reality that we got in the narrative.
I don’t want to say it’s a sign. I don’t know, man. I’m tired. We’re all tired. But that video certainly did invite a renewal of the wtf-was-that outrage of s4, didn’t it?
The fourth wall, in my opinion, has already been broken.
The show has been teaching us how to observe, and not just see, to think critically, and to look for solutions to puzzles, since the beginning. Now it’s turning the function of detective over to us.
Just like the #sherlocklive game was designed to allow us to practice our puzzle solving on a small scale, so is s4. The entire narrative invites us to sit up, take notice, and say, come on, that can’t be how it really happened.
I’m still not going to predict the future here. The show has broken the fourth wall before, and paid off careful observation, via the “1895″ clues. It might be doing that with the “March 8″ billboard thing. It might not. When I say that the narrative is unfinished, I mean exactly that–it lacks an ending (much like my languishing WiPs…sorry about those, btw). What will happen next? Who knows? None of us. Signs (that’s literal, billboard-type signs) point to something more.
BUT IS IT ART?
So: we have been presented with not one, but two false narratives. If mofftiss finish their damn story, and offer some sort of explanation for all the fuckery of s4, then we’ll have been told a bunch of lies in-story, about “what happened” to John and Sherlock, and a bunch of extratextual lies, about s4 being finished after three episodes.
I will always assert, regardless of what happens next, that the in-story lies are there, and believing the textual level of the narrative makes less sense / is less happy making than believing that the story lies. As for the bigger lie, about the length of s4 / the end of this narrative–we’ll see.
It’s a peculiar choice, this, as modern storytelling goes. Rather than just, you know, tell the story they wanted to tell, about a detective and his blogger, they’re really going the long way round. If the “s4 is fake” reading is confirmed, and there is a plan in place, it’s show-offy. It’s audacious. It’s gaslighting the audience to make a point. It’s putting us through an experience–the textual level content of s4–and asking us to believe something contrary to that experience.
It’s not…enjoyable? Like with everything else, I think I’ll be left questioning why this way, and not some other way. It is, potentially, fascinating.
If this is what we think it is, we’ve been playing all along, without even trying.
Tags under the cut.