As I fell asleep last night, pondering Sherlock, as one does…I kept going over a comment someone left on a gif set I reblogged yesterday about not forcing a love story into it, and just enjoying the show for what it is.
It annoyed me at the time - leave Johnlock stuff to the Johnlockers, and all that - but then I started thinking about it. I thought, but what is it? If it’s not a love story, then what is it?
Taking a cue from our beloved Sherlock himself, I started a process of elimination. Whatever remains must be the truth, right?
So. What is it not?
It’s not a detective show. The cases are second fiddle at best, even in the first two series. The cases are the backdrop, they provide the context, but they aren’t the focus. It’s not about who done it. It’s not a detective show, it’s a show about a detective. Okay, so that’s ruled out.
It’s not an ensemble show, particularly of judging by the hundreds of tumblr users complaining daily - and accurately - about how poorly drawn and underexplored the secondary characters are. This is not a show where every character gets equal screen time or equal treatment. Characters are missing back stories, histories, they’re shadows moving about in the background, the boys up front, glowing so bright and so real and so fierce.
Because that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s about the two of them.
Okay, so it’s not about cases and it’s not about the ensemble. It’s about John and Sherlock. So, going back to the original question, what is it about John and Sherlock? What story is being told here?
There are so many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and they all tell basically the same story - friendship, loyalty, love, partnership. That’s the essence of who John and Sherlock have always been. Those things are all most certainly present in the BBC show, and I would never argue that they aren’t.
Okay. But. Here we have two writers who like to leave their unique mark on classic stories (Doctor Who, for example), they want to “fix” the stories they read as boys, they like to take things to new places, push, explore, make new what is old. They wouldn’t be telling a story that’s already been told.
They pulled John and Sherlock apart at a far younger age than in canon. Separated them, divided them. Put obstacles in the way of their reunification. John’s crushing, debilitating grief - something notably absent from canon - and Mary’s pregnancy, betrayal, Sherlock nearly dying on John for a second time, John’s trust issues. All this stood in the way of the boys easily coming back together the way they did in canon.
Canon was much more about the cases, certainly. There was more of the mystery, more about the detecting. This show is about John and Sherlock, full stop. These two are so very different from the canon Holmes and Watson, so much more complex and broken, so much more human. John’s so angry. Sherlock’s so heartbroken. There’s a lot of focus on that, on how messed up these two are.
So why? Why are they telling the story this way? What is it?
It’s two men struggling to understand how they can function in the world. Two difficult, complicated men. Men who have few friends, who are solitary, and burdened with grief, insecurity, trauma. Men who deal with problems in profoundly unhealthy ways, who repress and deny their real feelings, who believe they don’t deserve happiness.
They’re broken, unhappy, alone, and then what happens? They find each other. In a scene that is right out of a romance film. Eyes across a room and all that.
In the pilot script, in a scene that was cut, it’s implied Sherlock was suicidal before he met John. John’s suicidal ideation was heavily implied in ASiP. They literally saved one another’s lives just by meeting, and countless times since. They make each other laugh - honestly, do we ever see them really laugh with any other character? - they make each other mental, they make each other feel alive. They shine when they’re together, practically lit up from the inside out. They get jealous, fiercely jealous, of the other spending time with anyone else. They take care of each other, they depend on each other, they fall to pieces when the other one isn’t there. They’re intensely connected to each other, truly unable to function without the other one. (PTSD returning, drugs, drinking heavily…etc.) They’re only content when they’re together. They are emotionally two halves of the same whole, light and dark, moon and sun. I’m literally just describing.
This is the story being told. This is what the show is.
Back to the original comment, about forcing the show to be something it’s not, I actually find it much harder to make sense of this narrative if it isn’t a love story. If you remove from Sherlock the idea that it’s building to these two finally getting their shit straight and allowing themselves to be happy together…then what is it?
It isn’t a detective show, it isn’t an ensemble show, it isn’t a retell of canon. It’s different, it’s darker, it’s more human. It’s about stumbling through life and screwing up and making bad decisions and doing things that hurt you because you think it’s the right thing to do at the time. It’s about blundering around and not seeing what’s right in front of you because you’re so used to being alone that you haven’t learned to recognise love when it’s staring you in the face. It’s about grief and loss and pain. It’s about how hard life can be.
It’s about finding the person that makes life easier to bear. The person that takes your pain away when they’re laughing beside you, that makes you smile at the most incongruous moments, that you can’t help but forgive even when you don’t want to, the person that makes you a better person, the person that accepts you for who you are and appreciates you, even at your worst. It’s about finding that one person with whom you lock eyes and suddenly the rest of the world falls away. The one person you absolutely cannot live without.
If that’s not a love story, then I don’t know what is.