of all, upfront: I believe Mary and John sincerely loved each other and were
genuinely trying to make their relationship work. But clearly, at least on some
levels, it was not working, and I want to play armchair marriage counsellor for
a bit and look at why.
obviously, the first major misstep in their marriage is Mary lying about her
history and identity, and then shooting John’s best friend to protect her
secret. Why didn’t she just tell him who
she was from the beginning?
MARY: John can’t ever know that I lied to him. It would break him and I would lose
was terrified that he wouldn’t love her if he found out about her past. What might have given her that idea? What messages was John sending her that his
love was conditional on her being ordinary, sweet, and safe?
some ways, John’s behavior after he finds out the truth proves her fears unjustified. Though he struggles for a while, he doesn’t
leave her, and he makes a renewed commitment to their relationship. So far so good. But look at what he says to her:
JOHN: The problems of
your past are your business. The problems of your future … are my
privilege. It’s all I have to say. It’s all I need to know.
It’s a very
romantic moment, and clearly well-intentioned.
And Mary is grateful for his forgiveness, and agrees to move forward
with him. But there’s a mixed message
hidden in John’s statement. In throwing
away the thumb drive unread, he’s confirming her suspicion that he can’t love
the person she was in the past, only the persona she has created.
MARY: You don’t
even know my name.
JOHN: Is ‘Mary Watson’ good enough for you?
Here again – it’s
a lovely and romantic sentiment, but even as Mary was thrilled to accept his
forgiveness, she must have gotten the message that Mary Watson is acceptable,
but her history as Rosamund is not. That
could only have heightened her sense of insecurity in the relationship. It would have been a much more generous
gesture on John’s part if he had simply asked her name at that moment, instead
of shoving it into the closet of things
we must never speak of.
In TST, John
acts surprised that Mary is still keeping secrets from him, but what choice did
he give her? He basically told her
there’s this whole part of her life that he doesn’t want to hear about.
And when he does catch her in her lies, John
tries to be understanding, but he makes another small mistake with big repercussions:
JOHN: Mary, I may
not be a very good man, but I think I’m a bit better than you give me
credit for, most of the time.
I think what he
means is that he’s not as judgmental as she thinks – she doesn’t need to hide
from him, because he would support her even in difficult times. But by phrasing it in terms of him being
“good”, he also unintentionally reminds her that she is not good. This is a difference between them in her
mind: he is good and she is bad.
always a good man, John. I’ve never doubted that. You never judge; you never
complain. I don’t deserve you.
She seems here to
be accepting his claim that he won’t judge her.
But in saying that she doesn’t deserve him, she’s highlighting the fact
that he makes her feel lesser, which makes her insecure and leads her to lie
and misrepresent herself in order to seem “good” enough for him.
Once they get
back home, she states this problem again, even more clearly:
MARY: You don’t
make it easy, do you?
JOHN: What d’you mean?
MARY: Well, being … being so perfect.
she is trying to tell him how hurt she is by the roles they’ve unwittingly assigned
each other: Perfect John and Bad Mary. And
at last, it seems like John gets it.
Before they’re interrupted, he starts to tell her about his affair in an
effort to reassure Mary that neither of them is perfect. It feels like the best chance they have for a
fresh start based on a better understanding of and respect for each other as
real, flawed people.
Then, sadly, Mary
dies before they are able to hash this out.
And one of the most tragic elements of her death scene is this:
MARY: Being Mary
Watson was the only life worth living.
Mary wants to
leave their relationship on the best note possible, but it breaks my heart that
even with her dying breaths, she feels the best way to do this is to deny the
“bad Rosamund” that John always seemed to be rejecting, and present
herself as the “good Mary” that she believed John wanted her to be.
And the thing is,
I don’t think John ever intended her to feel that way. He wears a conventional veneer, but Sherlock
is right – deep down, John wanted to be with someone as dangerous and morally
grey as he is. He initially thought he
wanted perfect Mary, but he really fell in love with the more complicated
And yet, even though he loved her, forgave her, and respected her for the most part, a part of him was still angry and resentful
over Mary’s betrayal, and I think he unconsciously picked on her for it in these
understandable, if not ideal. But what
*really* saddens me is what John says at the end of TLD:
JOHN: I’m not the
man you thought I was; I’m not that guy. I never could be. But that’s the
point. That’s the whole point. Who you thought I was… is the man who I want
no! He’s so close here, but then he gets
it so wrong. Mary doesn’t want you to be
that perfect man she thought you were!
Mary thought that dude was kind of a jerk! And she was right, honestly. What Mary was trying to tell you is, that man is sanctimonious, patronizing, and
judgmental. DON’T BE THAT GUY. No one likes that guy, least of all
Mary didn’t want
a “good man”, she wanted a partner in crime.
Someone who understood her and respected her – ALL of her, not just the
pretty and well-behaved bits. At your
best, John, you were that partner, but at
your worst, you were a superior, scolding, hypocritical prig.
I’m not sure, but
I think (I hope?) this is what Sherlock’s getting at during this exchange:
not a pleasant thought, John, but I have this terrible feeling, from time to
time, that we might all just be human.
JOHN: Even you?
SHERLOCK: No. Even you.
John needs to learn is not to be a better man for the perfect, imaginary version of Mary in
his head, but to be kinder and more accepting and empathetic to the real, flawed
person Mary actually was. And to honor her
memory, perhaps be kinder and more accepting and empathetic to people like
her – including himself.