Yesterday I got talking about a quote from “The Blind Banker,” the way Sherlock was always interfering with John’s love life and ended up writing a fair bit about Johnlock, the way some fanfic stories develop a romantic, even sexual, relationship between Watson and Sherlock. And today, I wake up to see the next prompt is to talk about my favorite ship. Which, if I had one, would be Johnlock. (Except I don’t so it isn’t, not quite any way.)
Which… pretty much. In this fandom, when things don’t go right I’m supposed to blame Steven Moffat. For once I can’t see how this is possibly his fault, but I’m still mumbling the name under my breath, the way Jerry Seinfeld would say “Newman” on the old TV show. In some ways I suspect I’ve already said my fill on this topic, but I’m not sure I did it particularly well, so let me give it another try.
The relationship between John and Watson is really the beating heart of the show. If there was one relationship I want to see explored, this is it. The thing that first grabbed my attention as I watched the show was how well their friendship played out what I most love about Aristotle’s ideal of friendship. There’s something utterly, mind-bogglingly beautiful in the love these two men have for each other. Which probably makes it sound like I do ship them in a more intense way, but I actually don’t.
To be clear:
1. I believe John is a thoroughly heterosexual man, a soldier who’s looking to settle down. For him, that means looking or the right woman and eventually marrying Mary Morstan. He isn’t a confirmed bachelor in any sense of the word. In fact, he’s quite a bit like Sam on the cusp of marrying his Rose: Finding a woman to settle down with is pretty much the definition of leaving his soldiering days behind hind.
2. I also believe Sherlock is neither gay nor straight. He’s attracted to an intellect, a brilliant mind on par with his own. That’s why he’s so taken with Irene Adler. The gender of the person isn’t really what’s relevant here. And for the record I think that Sherlock also has a very low libido, maybe to the point of being asexual.
In any case, the point is I don’t see them being romantically attracted to each other. That doesn’t mean I turn up my nose at fanfic taking this interpretation. Canonically, this is one of those areas where there’s room for fans to disagree; heaven knows, it’s not like I can’t see where Johnlock fans get the idea. And I enjoy the Johnlock humor (and okay, this one too) as much as anyone. But when it comes to my personal interpretation, I don’t really think of John and Sherlock as being romantically involved. A big part of that is I’m fairly asexual myself so I quite like seeing a character who isn’t romantically driven yet still has warm relationships.
Sadly, this goes beyond what most people have in mind when they write stories about friendship. In our culture, platonic friendship just doesn’t seem to get to this level of two-bodies-one-soul connection. This is what I was trying to get at yesterday, when I said John and Sherlock’s friendship, even if it was non-romantic, had to feel at some level like romantic competition. It’s not that friendships can’t be that close, so much as that 99% of the people trying to portray it don’t do an adequate job of convincing me the friendship they’re talking about is that two-bodies-one-soul intimate.
Here’s the problem, though: in 221B-land, friendships are intense. One man kills his pride for the sake of the other, and the other flat-out kills for him – within forty-eight hours of their first meeting. They live together. They work together. They work so hard together that John can’t stay awake at his day job, and Mycroft suspects a happy announcement within the week. And sadly, that goes beyond what most people get across when they talk about a John-Sherlock (non-romantic) friendship. In our culture, platonic friendship just doesn’t get to this level of two-bodies-one-soul intimacy. There’s nothing about friendship that can’t be that close in principle, but given how abnormally intense this relationship is, I’m just more likely to find a good examination of it in slash fanfic than gen fanfic. Not always, of course, but the odds are definitely better.
And as for Johnlock being “the other woman,” I do think this is a real concern that genfic writers in the Sherlock fandom need to address better than I’ve seen them manage so far. Because Sherlock really knows no boundaries, he’s managed to crash one of John’s dates without really knowing that’s what he’s doing and pretty much sinking at least one other relationship. Quite aside from Sherlock sabotaging John’s lovelife, intentionally or otherwise, I think John and Sherlock’s friendship is so intense that it would be quite a lot for either of their girlfriends to handle without it worrying them. It’s one thing to have other people in your life, it’s quite healthy. But I also understand why Jeanette would think John made a great boyfriend for Sherlock more than her. If either of these men are to make romance work with someone else, it’s going to require some reconfiguring of their friendship, or at a minimum an awareness that this is an issue that needs to be navigated.
At some point, I think this comes down to what you mean by a “ship.” I am very interested in the relationship between John and Sherlock. I don’t believe most gen fic does it justice and think slash typically gets at the intensity of the relationship much better, to the point I’m more likely to think a slash story “gets” how I see their relationship than a fic story I would. I don’t really see it as a sexual relationship, but I also don’t think relationships always fall in a binary here. I ship the ‘ship; I just think that (at least when they’re not at Buckingham palace), everyone is wearing their pants. Is that enough?
In any event, I’m more likely to read and care about Johnlock than any other relationship, platonic or otherwise. Apparently, I’m not alone.