Sentimental Holmes

I’m not a gushy person, or at least I try not to be; when my teenage girl friends gushed about boys, I wrinkled my nose (my favorite guy was a deerstalker clad detective in Victorian England; real ones could never measure up to a violin-playing genius); when others gush about their favorite things, I feel distinctly uncomfortable and tempted to criticize what I love, just to be different. It’s certainly a result of my Enneagram combination (oh, those self-contained 1’s! those melodramatic 4’s! those distrusting, pain-in-the-butt 6’s! And I am all of them!).

But today, I have to permit myself a single line of gushing: oh, my gosh, Sherlock was glorious.

The four year old buried deep in my soul, under mounds of self-control, simply wants to shout that, while bouncing up and down on a trampoline, at the top of her voice. The mature, settled adult wants to have a serious conversation (that barely contains her glee).

I’ve been so-so about this season; the first episode amused but angered me; the second seemed contrived and self-important until the end; but the third inevitably made up for it, a complex emotional series of events structured to reveal to the audience not only Sherlock Holmes’ progress as a person in an emotional and social sense, but also his complicated relationship with his brother. While I’m so proud of how Sherlock has become “human” through realizing those connections are what ties him to humanity, and makes him understand mortals in ways Mycroft cannot, my favorite character continues to be his older brother, who pretends to be far more of a hard-ass than he really is. Mycroft is an intellectual giant, and like all intellectual giants, can be incredibly stupid at times, genius in one area, moron in another, since he continually underestimates people.

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They have another Holmes sibling, one that makes them look like average cheese graters intellectually, a female psychopath who constructs an elaborate trap intended to torture Sherlock’s emotions, force him to face buried past truths, and tests Sherlock’s limits of psychosis. It’s an interesting approach, forcing him to work to save people’s lives, using Mycroft and John as a foil, one of which “refuses to compete” and the other who simply “accepts his role as a soldier.” Sherlock needs both of them to calm him down and keep him focused; he requires his brother’s massive intellect, and John’s sheer humanity, and as such, the final episode becomes a metaphor for the entire series and for his life. It’s Mycroft’s genius that makes Sherlock strive to excel, to push himself, but also Mycroft’s rigid example that sets Sherlock against his kinder, gentler, “more emotional” side; it’s invigorating and damaging at the same time, because Mycroft feigns less humanity than he has, in a sort of competition to see which Holmes brother can be “least-touched” by human events.

Set against this cement blockade against human emotion and love (Mycroft merely wants to ‘protect’ his brother from life’s hardships, by encouraging him to abandon all sentiment; and is a bloviating hypocrite in the process, but more on that in a moment) is John, the highly emotional, reactive “soldier,” who’s been telling Sherlock to behave, to be nicer, to not treat Mrs. Hudson and Molly like things, to care about people, from the start; who for some demented reason (addiction to adrenaline?) has stuck around long enough to make his best friend human, to introduce concepts of love, affection, kindness, gentleness, and color to Sherlock’s black and white world. Sherlock is still a self-important, conceited, genius with a dismissive attitude, who acts like a total asshole most of the time, but at least he’s starting to care. We’ve come a long way from the Sherlock of season one, who failed to see the point of emotional involvement, to the one this season who is furious he had to torment Molly in a painful phone call, breaks down remembering the truth of Redbeard, refuses to shoot the two most important men in his life, and finally talks his sister out of a psychotic break into reason.

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The most competitive people need formidable opponents; the interesting thing is that this has never been anyone except Mycroft in Sherlock’s life, reflecting that the forces which shape us can do so in good or negative ways. Someone might bring out the best side of you, because they refuse to accept anything less (or you refuse to show them anything less), but might damage you in some way at the same time, because in order to live up to a larger than life reputation, you suppress that which makes you most yourself. In this context, Sherlock’s difficulties with his brother come into focus; for the first time in this episode, Sherlock sees the truth of Mycroft, which knocks him down a peg in his own mind, and causes him to realize that maybe he doesn’t have to live up to his brother’s expectations, because he’s clever but not wise. You can be the cleverest man on earth, and lack an ounce of wisdom; and that’s the truth of Mycroft.

I’ve maintained since early episodes that Mycroft is much softer than he pretends to be, feels far more than he lets on, and despite all his former statements to the contrary, this episode proved it. Hypocritical statements aside, Mycroft’s “weak point” (I prefer to use the term “humanity,” though he’d hate it, sorry Mycroft!) is his siblings; instead of having his sister shot or gassed for the good of humanity (the logical response; you put dangerous animals down), he built an island fortress to contain her; and he’s always gone out on a limb to try and protect, shelter, and harden his brother, fearing life might damage him beyond repair, because Sherlock cannot deal with the truth. (The little boy invented a dog to replace a dead childhood best friend, and managed to block and/or forget the traumas of the past.) And this episode… stripped Mycroft down and showed that all his hardened statements are just that, and when faced with actual people, his conscience and emotions won’t allow him to do “detach.”

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This comes to conflict in my two favorite scenes (is that gushing? I hope not, I’m trying to maintain a Mycroft-like calm here): where either John or Mycroft must murder a man to save a woman’s life, and where Sherlock must choose between them, in whom he wants to live. Mycroft has been telling us for four seasons now how much he doesn’t care about people and considers them ants; but when faced with shooting someone in cold blood, absolutely refuses. He won’t even consider it. Before Sherlock walked across that room and tried to hand him the gun, I thought, “Mycroft won’t do it, he’s ‘soft.’” It’s Mycroft who reacts the most violently to the self-inflicted suicide, who is sickened to the point of gagging by it; and it’s John who thinks he can do it, who believes he can be a “soldier,” but who cannot pull the trigger, because he’s moral, too. So there comes the test of their “goodness,” whether they’ll kill an innocent life; and a few rooms later, comes Sherlock’s test.

Forced to choose between brother and best friend, Mycroft turns on the insufferable prig to goad his brother into shooting him, by insisting the next tests require mental concentration and massive intellect, diminishing John in the process; but Sherlock isn’t about to fall for that trap, and turns the gun on himself. Tick-tock, Sherlock, tick-tock. There’s a child-loving little heart somewhere below that massive brain after all; I’m glad to see you found it. Even Lestrade decides at the end that Sherlock is a good man, in addition to being a great one, in part because Sherlock has always had good men at his side, moral men, beneath Mycroft’s rationalizing. (Is it entirely logical to volunteer to die, as Mycroft does, or is it self-sacrificing and moral?)

I’ve always felt a kinship with the Holmes brothers, especially Mycroft, because I’ve spent so much of my life trying to repress and set aside my feelings in order to remain rational and detached, to make the “right” decision, to find logical reasons for all my choices; I can be cold and calculating on a purely theoretical level as a result, but when faced with genuine people and their problems instead of ideas, much like Mycroft, I reveal my “soft” inner lining; the person who couldn’t commit murder, who is horrified at a psychopath’s actions, is far more often hurt by people than they are allowed to know, and not nearly as detached as she pretends to be; one who puts on a front, and is just as protective of and “sentimental” toward her family as Mycroft is, who sees others as someone to protect, and whom I hope would have the courage to give up her life for another. I like characters that self-contain, that restrain their emotions, but what I like even more, is to see them crack and reveal the truths that I also hide.

3 Replies to “Sentimental Holmes”

  1. Interesting. My reactions with episodes 2 and 3 are reversed from yours: I ADORED episode 2- I liked the return to a single storyline (rather than the mess of episode 1) and the fallout of Mary’s death, but thought the events of episode 3 contrived and the existence of the sister irritating. That being said, I LOVED the emotions and character developement shown in episode 3, just as you did. I just wish they were brought out more naturally.
    What irritated you about episode 1?

    1. I don’t like the fact that the show isn’t remotely realistic anymore; I enjoy Sherlock Holmes as an intelligent human being, not a super-genius-human who can solve impossible crimes from his cell phone out of thin air, so overall the series’ levels of pretentiousness and self-congratulation on how ‘clever’ they are rub me the wrong way.

      Since I’ve never found Mary that interesting, the James Bond adventure of Episode 1 didn’t interest me much (the best bit was with the exploding car, and the question of how the body got there!); Episode 2 was also a bit “druggy” for my taste. But I may like them better with a rewatch; Episode 3 was the only one that struck me well, since I most often aim for emotional depths in my entertainment — that, it provided even if the situation was, again, totally impossible (a combination of Hannibal Lecter and SAW).

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