Season 4, the case of the missing Watson, and why BBC John doesn’t love Sherlock
So yesterday I was reading @silentauroriamthereal‘s Best of Three, again (it’s a really good story!). And I realised that the John in that story is pretty much a total dick. He’s incredibly patronising and self-congratulatory about being such a wonderful friend to Sherlock etc etc etc, all the while being actually unimaginably cruel to Sherlock.
And I left a comment to the effect that I loved the story but hated John, and she very kindly replied that she thought it was pretty in character and I had this absolute oh my god moment because she’s bloody right, isn’t she?
And somewhere between Season 4 and Best of Three and SilentAuror’s comment, I think the scales sort of fell from my eyes with regards to John and the show. It’s not that Season 4 ruined John. Season 4 was the logical continuation of where they had taken the character, arguably from the second episode. Go back and look at the way John talks about and treats Sherlock, all the way back to TBB. Try to reconcile the way John talks to and about Sherlock with the way Watson talks to and about Holmes.
Season 4 John is not out of character. Not for BBC John. It’s extreme, but it’s not actually out of character. We think it is, but I think that we have good reason for that. In my specific case, I knew and loved the canon long before BBC Sherlock came on the scene. I know Watson, and I know how he feels about Holmes. So when John acted the way he did in Season 4, I thought it was awful, and terrible, and it came as a shock to me. Before Season 4, when John acted in ways that Watson would not have, I was like “well, maybe he’s just having a bad day’, but Season 4 made me realise that Watson hasn’t been having bad days, Watson has never been here at all.
We think that John is better and wiser and kinder than he is because we spend more time with the wiser, kinder versions of John Watson that we see in the canon and in fanfiction. We’ve been blinded by those Watsons to the truth of John’s character in the show.
And that leads me to another conclusion. BBC’s John doesn’t love Sherlock. We think he does, because Watson loves Holmes, and whether you think that it’s platonic or romantic or sexual or whatever, you can’t deny that there is love there, but John? He doesn’t love Sherlock.
I think he wants Sherlock. I think he’s addicted to Sherlock. To the cases and the life they lead and the danger and all of it. And I think that, like any addict, he hates Sherlock and everything that comes with him, and hates that he needs him. And that’s why the morgue scene happens. Because John, unlike practically every other Watson in history, does not love Sherlock Holmes. Because John wishes that he had never met him and wishes that he could live without him, and knows that as long as Sherlock is alive, he will never, ever be able to leave him for good.
Which means that yes, they really did do TPLoSH all over again, with a gay Holmes desperately in love with Watson, who doesn’t love him back. Except they dialled it up to 11, because everything has to be bigger and louder and hurt more, and instead of a straight Watson who still loves his Holmes, they have given us a John Watson of ambiguous sexuality who not only does not love Sherlock, but actively despises him.
(I also have some thoughts about how Sherlock has been moving toward becoming Holmes over the course of the series, while John moves further and further away from being Watson, but I’ll save that for another time.)
“They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should just be friends’, turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.”
~ Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol 9: The Kindly Ones
They’ve come back from a case, Rosie long-asleep in the upstairs bedroom where there’s just enough room for her cot and John’s bed, and Sherlock is ranting.
“Stupid,” he spits out, pacing to and fro in the living room, his hands in his hair. “Why was she so stupid? Why kill them in the first place, when she knows she’s the best suspect?”
“Well, she loved him,” John offers, even though he knows Sherlock doesn’t really want his opinion.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snaps, not even looking at John. “She didn’t love him.”
“What?” John sits up from where he’s been lazing on his chair. “Of course she did. Listen, I know you like to dismiss ‘sentiment,’ Sherlock, but love makes people do crazy things, so-”
“That,” Sherlock says and his voice is flat and angry at the same time, “was not love. That was possession, that was ownership, it may even have been jealousy, but it was definitely not love.” He infuses the word with such contempt that it makes John flinch, but Sherlock is moving again, glaring at the world as though it had personally offended him. “If she loved him, she’d have let him go. She’d have done everything in her power to make sure that he was happy, even if that meant he was with someone else. She’d have killed - she’d have died herself - if it meant that he would have one millimetre more happiness in his life than otherwise. She would have protected his lover with her life, she’d have done absolutely anything in her power to give him anything he wanted. Instead, she killed them both in a fit of jealous rage, because she never really loved him, she loved owning him. Like a favourite pair of shoes, or a pretty picture.”
John is still trying to absorb that rant when Sherlock crosses the room and slams his bedroom door behind him.
John sits in silence for a few moments before heading to bed.
He wakes up an hour later and John Watson has never actually experienced an epiphany before, never experienced that moment Sherlock is always chasing where all the pieces come together and your brain dissolves into fireworks and you know everything but he’s pretty sure that he just had one.
Before he can even think, he’s downstairs, pushing open Sherlock’s door and standing there like a fool.
Sherlock sits up, sleep-mussed and soft, and says “John, what’s wrong? Is it Watson?”
John licks his lips and tries to speak and…nothing.
“You…you love me,” he manages, and it’s a bare whisper, all he can force past the weight in his chest, of ten years of unsaid words. “Sherlock?”
Sherlock is looking at him with horror in his eyes.
“I-I” Sherlock says, and John interrupts him.
“Please say I’m wrong, Sherlock, please say I’m wrong,” and he’s speaking quickly now, tears running down his face unchecked, and his leg gives out and he finds himself on his knees by Sherlock’s bed, a ragged penitent in old pyjamas, prostrating himself before a saint. “Please say I haven’t been wrong all this time, haven’t wasted all these years, please, Sherlock, please…”
He hides his face in Sherlock’s bed, so that he can’t see Sherlock’s eyes, his beloved face creased in confusion.
“John?” Sherlock asks. “I don’t…I don’t understand.”
But John is sobbing too hard to answer, great heaving sobs, and Sherlock puts a hand on the back of his neck that burns like a brand because of course Sherlock would try to comfort him, even though he doesn’t understand what John is on about, even though John has hurt him so terribly so many times.
“I love you,” John gasps into the bed. Sherlock’s hand stills for a moment and then, cautiously, resumes its smooth comforting stroking.
“John, you’re upset,” he begins, but John cuts him off mid-sentence.
“Years, Sherlock, years,” he gasps. It’s becoming easier to speak, the weight on his chest becoming less with every word. “I’ve loved you for years. Since Angelo’s that first night, I think, since the cabbie, since the first time I saw you sleep-soft in morning light. I loved you in Dartmoor and I loved you at the pool - God, how I loved you in that moment, I would have fallen to my knees and worshipped at your feet for the rest of my life and I would have been content. I loved you on the roof of Bart’s and on the pavement a moment later. I loved you every moment of every day you were gone, and I loved you every time I stood in front of your grave and begged you for one more miracle, and I loved you when I punched your face because it was that or kiss you, and I loved you when you were bleeding out in Magnussen’s office. I loved you on Magnussen’s porch and I loved you on the tarmac, and I loved you in the morgue and in the hospital and in the prison and the well and I’ve loved you every moment since the day I met you, I love you I love you I love you.”
He doesn’t stop so much as run out of breath, chanting those three words - three words he’d never thought he’d be able to say - like prayer, John is a monk and this is his religion now, this is his faith, this only thing he knows for sure.
“John,” Sherlock breathes. “Why didn’t you…”
“I thought,” and John is trying to think of a way to say this right, a way to really explain, “I thought that you didn’t…I didn’t think you didn’t love me, but I thought you wanted me as a friend, just a friend, and so I tried to be the best friend anyone could ever have, but obviously I’m pretty shit at it, but I tried and I hid it, and hid it, and I married Mary because I thought…I thought I’d break apart from missing you and later I thought I’d die from wanting you, and I couldn’t bear to lose you but I was losing you anyway, but the surest way to lose you was to tell you, you didn’t feel the same, you didn’t want the same things, and that’s the best way to kill a friendship, and if friendship was all I could-”
And John shuts up, because Sherlock has slithered out of his bed and fallen to his knees in front of John, and stopped his panicked babbling with his mouth.
When Sherlock finally pulls back, John stares at him, shocked into silence.
“So many years,” Sherlock says, stroking a thumb over John’s lips. “We could have had so many years, John. If only we hadn’t been…”
“Afraid,” John supplies. Sherlock nods, and he’s so close that his nose rubs against John’s when he does, and it’s unbearably intimate. “We could…” And John has to stop for a moment to breathe, to lick his lips and gather his courage in his hands. “We could still have years,” he says. “If I’m not too late. If you still-”
And Sherlock doesn’t say anything with words, but when he kisses John, he writes eloquent poetry in this new language they are building together.
Yes, he says as he licks into John’s mouth
I want, he says, as he sucks a bruise into John’s neck.
I still, he whispers into the curve of John’s ear. I still love you. I will always love you.
Sherlock has his head hung in shame. “On the wall.” He mumbles.
“Sorry, didn’t quite catch that.” John folds his arms.
“On the wall.” Sherlock says louder, then cuts his eyes to the ginger haired puppy who is sitting and panting happily as if nothing is wrong. He gives the pup an accusing glare. “In my defense, it was all going well before-”
“The paint was supposed to go on the wall, and now it’s all over the both of you.” John too cuts his eyes to the pup, whose ginger coat is mottled with white paint. “I have to give both of you baths now, I suppose.” John sighs, then notices Sherlock’s smirk. “A clinical bath, you clot.”
Sherlock stops smirking and puts down the paint roller in the pan. “As if you’ll be able to resist me once I’m undressed.” He begins undoing the buttons on his shirt as he leaves the room. “I’ll give you five minutes before you-”
“Don’t forget you’re in trouble!” John warns.
“Hm, even more a reason to indulge.”
John watches Sherlock leave, then picks up the pup, holding it out far in front of him to avoid getting paint on himself as well. “Never a dull day, is there?” The puppy licks John’s wrist. “I’m glad you agree.”
sherlock and john drop rosie off for the first day of kindergarten. john spends the whole morning fretting. he worries about her being on her own, if she’ll make any friends, if she’ll get picked on.
“she’ll be fine,” sherlock says. “it’s elementary, my dear watson.”