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Sherlock-related musings

(Series three Sherlock spoilers ahead, if that still is a problem for anyone.)

I've been thinking about something related to Sherlock, or rather the Sherlock fandom. Or rather, to be specific, I haven't been thinking so much as feeling and living with a realization I'm still trying to make sense of.

I've seen a lot of back-and-forth over the character of Mary Morstan. If you're at all drawn to the show or the fandom, this is in no way surprising. What's slightly more surprising (though maybe not depending on where you're coming from) is the fact that for a lot of people, the fandom seems drawn between two camps: those who think Mary is is a villain, possibly a very exciting one, and those who try to explain away her actions and make sense of how they're understandable or even justifiable.

Put a different way, the fandom seems to be carved up along the lines of an objective analysis of Mary's morality. The question we're asking is whethr her actions are defensible or acceptable - or not.

What I'm discovering as I sit with her character is that I don't have strong opinions one way or the other on that question. One of the canonical (as in: Doyle) Sherlock's main points was that it's a mistake to form theories in the absence of evidence, and if there's one phrase I'd ascribe to Mary, "evidence of absence" is it. We just don't know nearly as much about her as we need to, to go making up our minds. I highly doubt the Watson marriage will last, for a whole slew of reasons. I have a strong intuitive sense that we're supposed to hate her, which makes me think (given these show creators) that that hatred is a red herring, either that Mary will turn out to be in some sense redeemable (even if not as Mrs. Watson) or that our focus is being drawn to her is a misdirect away from some other important aspect of the story (just a magic trick...). So I'm not really sold either way, thinking that Mary's a villain or that she's not - because we don't have the necessary evidence and I don't feel qualified to work out an answer to that question.

Here's where things get interesting for me, though. Almost in spite of myself I care deeply about Mary's character - just not about the question being asked. See, I know from my own experience that just because someone's a really, really awful excuse for a human being, that doesn't mean you don't love them, it doesn't keep you from being emotionally invested about them. And because of my own PTSD I've always identified really very strongly with John, so I feel myself going through this journey with him a bit. For me, even if Mary turns out to be a true villain that I as an objective outsider should hate the way we hate Voldemort and Morgoth, it won't change the fact that for John, the way I read John, he will suffer betrayal and anger and pain and abandonment just like he would if Mary turned out to be a redeemable character. And similarly with the baby: even if it turns out he's not the biological father, that doesn't change the fact that he'll still feel involved. He will still feel tied to Mary and will probably grieve for how Mary's past and his own falling-apart from her (assuming that happens) affects his daughter in a probably very negative way. If the baby turns out not to be his in the technical sense, that won't change how I think a man like John Watson would have to be affected.

At the end of the day, I think that is the framework I approach these questions through. It's not that I don't have opinions about Mary's past or the baby's paternity or any of the rest; it's that I think when I focus on those questions, I necessarily separate myself from the story the show is telling. I view these matters with a bit too much disinterest, I guess, and so I separate myself from these characters I care deeply about. I don't think of Mary as a villain, not because I'm convinced she isn't so much as because, if I acted like her being a villain would make everything okay, well, there's something off about that. Because it wouldn't for John Watson, or at least it wouldn't for me if I were in John Watson's shoes.

There's a part of me that wonders how many people are out there ambiguous to Mary's character or even looking a lot like the people wanting her to be redeemed, who are approaching this show from a similar perspective. I honestly don't know. I kind of hope so, though, and if they are I'm not sure where we fit into the Mary wars.

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vulgarweed
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:55 am (UTC)
I think you and I are on a similar page with this. I agree 100% that we don't have enough evidence at all, one way or another, to make a solid judgment on Mary's character or what role she'll play in the future. I feel fortunate in that I can enjoy both stories where she's a horrible villain and stories where she's redeemed and forgiven. I've called her a Schrödinger's Cat character - is she evil or good? Only way to find out is to open the box, and that choice makes the determination.

I'm not at all convinced the showrunners want us to hate her, though. I think they want us to love her or at least be open to the possibility of loving her. But I just don't know! Trying to analyze this through what the writers want us to think leads to madness. For example, I think Sherlock's statements of "surgery" and "she saved my life" are the bullshittiest bullshit that ever bullshitted, but Sherlock is an unreliable narrator even when written consistently (which he isn't always). So there are so many possibilities there: (a) is Sherlock lying? (b) Is he himself deluded enough to believe it (he's hardly a deductive genius in s3 when it comes close to his personal life)? (c) Do the writers believe it? (d) Do the writers want us to believe it, or not? SO many questions, locked inside each other like those nesting Russian dolls.

For me, even if Mary turns out to be a true villain that I as an objective outsider should hate the way we hate Voldemort and Morgoth, it won't change the fact that for John, the way I read John, he will suffer betrayal and anger and pain and abandonment just like he would if Mary turned out to be a redeemable character.

Yes, and this really hurts considering how bad his trust issues really are. And comparing her to those other villains... I think the up-close-and-personal evil that we can relate to is more horrifying than the sort of force-of-nature evil. I hate CAM more than Moriarty. I hate Saruman and Wormtongue more than Sauron. I hate Dolores Umbridge more than Voldemort. There's that quality of personal fucking-over, there's the way most of us, in one way or another, have known someone like that, and sometimes there's the sense of betrayal knowing that person could have chosen to be better than they are.

Sometimes I've jumped into Mary wank on Tumblr with fists swinging, but what I really objected to more than anyone's actual position is the tendency some people have to act like they know what other people's motivations are, and to ascribe them in really bad faith. Like, "Mary haters are all butthurt, misogynist Johnlock shippers" or "Mary apologists are letting her off the hook because she's a woman." Ugh, I hate that kind of argument. But I've found out the hard way it doesn't really work to try to yell and scream your way to a more nuanced, mutually respectful argument. XD

Edited at 2014-06-23 06:59 am (UTC)
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