fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,

let's talk about Sherlock's morality

I'm preparing a an essay on Bill Wiggins, the lookout at the drug den in His Last Vow, and as part of that I was rewatching His Last Vow. I was struck by a scene that should be upsetting but to my knowledge hasn't been very often remarked on at all.

It's set during the break-in to Magnussen's office, where Sherlock and John are trying to steal the blackmail material Magnussen has on Lady Smallwood. Sherlock has just fake-proposed to Janine in order to get him and John into the inner office and they come across a deserted office. Janine's been knocked out with a blow to the head, but the way John deals with her, she seems pretty stable, medically. And then we get this lovely gem, which I'm quoting from arianedevere's transcripts:

SHERLOCK (walking across the office): Another in here.
(John looks over to him but doesn’t leave his patient. In the next room Sherlock looks at the suited man lying face down on the floor, then does a full-circle turn to look around the rest of the room.)
SHERLOCK: Security.
JOHN: Does he need help?
(Sherlock walks to the man’s side and looks down at him. Behind his left ear, which has an earpiece in it, is a small tattoo of the number “14”.)
(He zooms in on another tattoo on the man’s right hand between his thumb and index finger. The tattoo is five small dots, four of them in a square shape and the fifth in the middle of the square.)
SHERLOCK: White supremacist, by the tattoo, so who cares? (He points back towards John.) Stick with Janine.

Any decent doctor, when faced with two injured patients, one stable and the other of unknown conditions, would ask that question. (Actually, any decent doctor would probably get up and investigate himself, if Janine is as stable as she seems to be.) But Sherlock doesn't say he has strong vitals, he can wait; he says this man isn't worth saving because he's basically a hired goon.

This isn't the first time we've heard a justification like this. It's basically what John says after he shot the cabbie in A Study in Pink, and I'm fairly sure it's what's going through Sherlock's head at the end of His Last Vow. And it's precisely the justification Mary gives after Leinster Gardens: that people like Magnussen should be shot.

It breaks my heart to hear Sherlock give it because it's the cold assessment given by someone who's used to people dying around him. (Good God, what did he see and do in those two years away?) And I get that Sherlock didn't actually assault this man, but still, it leaves me feeling very, very cold that this is the kind of justification we get out of him. It's not the kind of justification I think adds up to being worth anything here. It's just not up to Sherlock to make those kinds of justifications, and the fact that he leans that way now should make us all rather uncomfortable about his moral compass, if he ever had one.

What really struck me, though, was how these kinds of incidents are talked about, or not talked about, by people drawn to this show. I mean, take the incident with the cabbie in ASIP. It's always bothered me that everyone I've heard talking about it discusses it at the level of John saving Sherlock's life. At some level that is what's going on here, but the reason Sherlock needs saving is because he allowed himself to get painted into a corner. In at least the broadcast version, there's nothing keeping Sherlock from walking away from that situation. Instead, he's so desperate to get a thrill and prove he's clever than he very nearly kills himself and basically forces John's hand. The cabbie wasn't an innocent person, but he was ultimately shot and tortured rather than being arrested because Sherlock allowed himself to get in a situation where John thought it was the only way to save Sherlock's life. Or look at the American who attacked Mrs Hudson in A Scandal in Belgravia; it seemed okay - laugh-worthy, even - that Sherlock would throw him out a window. Repeatedly.

I keep playing incidents like this in my head and comparing it against the absolute backlash against Mary shooting Sherlock. Yes, there are differences, but I think that a lot of the reason people are so upset with Mary (not the only, but a major one) is that she didn't shoot Magnussen - she shot Sherlock. If it turns out that Mary's past really is as dark as Magnussen implies, I can deal with that making her a first-class villain. I can even deal with the fact that she lied and manipulated John and shot his best friend and then went right on lying until she was caught, and that made her not a good spouse for our noble army-doctor. I'm a Johnlock shipper, I don't want Mary and John to end up together in the longrun. But I'll be honest, the thought that Mary's getting slammed for more or less what Sherlock and John and Irene (I'm thinking of the way her gun killed the American agent in the attack on her house) get a free pass for? That does bother me.

The bigger problem, of course, is this idea that there are good people who deserve saving and bad people who don't, and that Sherlock is okay being the one to make those kinds of distinctions This isn't the first time that kind of reasoning has been used. It's not just that the cabbie would have gone on to kill more people if he hadn't been stopped, it's that it was literally okay to kill him because he wasn't a very nice man. And on down the line.

And that's just not what I think of as a great man trying to be a good one. The fact that even I, pacifist though I am, only noticed this little detail tonight is a bit unnerving.
Tags: sherlock
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