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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.

1.       The THEMES after S4:

a.       No matter what you do or sacrifice, it’s never good enough and you won’t win your heart’s desire in the end.

b.      It’s okay to abuse to your loved ones, it’s completely forgiveable, and, in fact, the most abusive people win.

c.       Lying and killing people is okay and you can still be a good person.

HOW THIS IS DEMONSTRATED:

2.       SHERLOCK sacrifices himself over and over for very little reward and a lot of abuse.

a.       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 resolved.

b.      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.

c.       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.

d.      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)

e.      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).

f.        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.

g.       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.

3.       MARY – the lying assassin gets all the rewards and a Mary Sue make-over

a.       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.

b.      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.

c.       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.

d.      Sherlock remains “bffs” with her after this, calling her “his family” and trying to help her when her past comes back to haunt her.

e.      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.

f.        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.

g.       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. 

h.      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.

 4.       JOHN WATSON LOSES HIS CHARACTER ARC AND HIS AGENCY

a.       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. 

b.      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?

c.       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.

d.      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.

e.      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.

f.        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.

g.       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. 

h.      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 RESOLUTION.

5.       GAYNESS REMAINS “TERRIBLY UNSPOKEN”

a.       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).

b.      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 John.

                                                               i.      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?”

                                                             ii.      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.”)

                                                            iii.      Sherlock’s horribly pained look at John after the wedding , and then he leaves the wedding early.

                                                           iv.      TAB, in which Sherlock confronts very gay-acting mind-palace Moriarty, facing his own homosexuality.

                                                             v.      See Sherlock’s many sacrifices for John. If that isn’t love, nothing is.

                                                           vi.      Sherlock spirals into despair and drugs whenever John abandons him.

                                                          vii.      Mary says on the DVD in S4.E2 that John is “the man we both love”.

                                                        viii.      Many, many other instances.  

c.       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? 

d.      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.

XA

3rd Anniversary.

It’s officially been 3 years since I started the blog one afternoon after college. Bored out of my mind just scrolling through my dashboard when I saw some imagine posts from one of my biggest inspirations imaginexhobbit.tumblr and thinking to myself why don’t I make an imagines blog. And thats how the blog came to be, I spent a few days looking at other similar blogs and decided to create a place where any request was welcome as I often couldn’t find blogs that would do some of my fandoms back then. And here I am now almost 40,000 followers and nearly 9000 posts later still going after originally thinking that this would only last for a few months. 

So thank you guys. Thank you for your unending support through everything you guys are what make the blog so its all thanks to you that it has grown so popular. So please keep sending in requests so that we can spend next year together as well.