September 28th, 2013


The Blind Baker: on Sherlock + friendship

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Tonight I’ve been rewatching “The Blind Banker,” the second Sherlock episode. Specifically the scene at the beginning where Sebastian Wilkes (Sherlock’s old acquaintance from university) offers him a case. I’ve put together a clip, for those of you who aren’t yet Sherlocked and want to check it out.

What intrigues me about this scene is the fact Sherlock takes the case at all. The case he tells John he turned down because it was boring? Involved a masked man dressed Middle-eastern style attacking him with a sword, and Sherlock fighting back in kind, in the 221B parlor. (Really, it’s one of the more delightfully campy scenes to date.) He’s just gotten an email about a bank break-in from this guy who calls him “buddy” but they haven’t seen each other in eight years. The guy is schmoozy and manipulative, precisely the sort Holmes would hate. And when the two of them get in the same room together, it’s quite clear that Holmes does hate him. Sebastian calls Sherlock’s deductions a “trick,” a kind of game, and the way Sherlock looks at him I expect him to walk out. Actually, if this was a man with less control and poise than Sherlock, I’d expect him to haul off and punch the banker.

Which raises the question, just why does Sherlock stay? It’s because this case isn’t about the puzzle, it’s not about the intellectual thril of solving out how a petty criminal was able to break into the bank. At least at the beginning, “The Blind Banker” is all about John. Look at what’s happened so far. John’s had trouble buying groceries, he’s asked Sherlock to cover the bills and gotten frustrated when Sherlock offered to do that in what was actually a pretty trusting gesture (“just take my card”); he’s heard John mumbling about the need to get a job, which he dubs boring, seen him ruffle through past-due bills, and even been lost in thought as John asked him to borrow money. John needs money, quite badly, because apparently being a wounded-in-action war hero isn’t enough to make ends meet on.

And how does Sherlock reply? He pays for the groceries, but that’s no more than you’d expect; it’s for his meals, too, after all. He could try to be marginally less annoying but doesn’t go that route. Or he could pay attention when John asks for money and lend it to him. I mean, Sherlock’s not rich, but he seems in much better shape than John. And lending him some money, maybe even giving him a share of his detective fees, would help him keep John all to himself, which I’m sure Sherlock wants. But it also might be seen as condescension. Instead of doing that, he takes on a job that bores him with a man he hates even more, who treats his very real gift with derision even as he needs to make use of it.. Sherlock takes on all this frustration because the job is sure to pay well, and if John is smart he’ll be able to make a little bit of money off of.

So when he introduces John not as his colleague or buddy, but as his friend, when he clues John in to how he knew about Sebastian’s two trips when he wouldn’t share that information with Sebastian, when he refuses to take the check but either is clueless that John accepted it (right…) or more likely looks the other way – these things just make me smile. Because Sherlock truly is the absolute worst friend in terms of basic frustrations and complete lack of social niceties. But he really and truly does get friendship, true friendship, at a deeper level.

Ironically, I think Sherlock is much more cognizant that he’s found something more than a flatmate or a companion (“colleague” to use John’s word) than John is himself. Not that I can really blame him, when you look at the ringer Sherlock insists of putting him through. Then again, John has already killed a man (bad man, but still) to save Sherlock’s life, so perhaps I should give his side of the friendship a bit more credit.