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I've grown increasingly fond of the idea that series three isn't as broken as a lot of us seem to think it is, that it's more a matter of it being untold as of yet. That a lot of the things that just seem random or don't make any kind of sense (TEH, I'm looking at you) will be more significant and moving once we have the full story.

I could be wrong of course, but if I'm right, it's both clever and cruel. We had all this build-up in the previews and even going back to the cliffhanger from TRF to think that this was all going to be about Sherlock coming home and things getting back to normal, only it wasn't and he didn't. We still don't know how he survived or even why -- I'm not even sure Sherlock fully realized what was going on behind that decision. And even more fundamentally, I'm not convinced Sherlock has ever come home, certainly not to anything resembling the home he left. And while Mrs. Hudson is right, it's wonderful to see him in his chair again, it's also horribly incomplete with the other chair standing empty. And even more so with it tucked away into some attic. There's a sense I think that Sherlock is still clawing his way back to his old life. Which fits, somehow, given in the Doyle story he's three years away whereas for us series three is only set two years after the Fall. But us fans waited quite a while (well, I only waited eight months or so and that was long enough). It's natural to want him back, and I think the longing is both what has the fandom a bit fractured at the moment but also (I really, really hope) it's creating a hunger for what's coming next that will pay off.

But still, it's like Jacob and Rachel and Leah. If you don't know the story, Jacob is one of the Genesis patriarchs, Abraham's grandson and father of Joseph of the Technicolor Dreamcoat. He basically tricked his brother out of his blessing as the elder son and had to run away from home to avoid getting killed. He fell in love with his cousin Rachel (not that unusual in the culture) and since he can't offer any kind of bridal settlement, he agrees to work for his uncle Laban for seven years to marry her. And marry her he does, but because brides were veiled in that culture he doesn't discover until after the wedding that he's actually been tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah. "It's the custom that the older sister not be wed before the younger," etc. - stinks to be Jacob, but if you'll work another seven years I'll still let you marry Rachel.

(Actually, Jacob demanded his right to marry Rachel and Laban hems and haws a bit, says "well, you're a good man, I know you, and it's better that Rachel marry you than someone else, so I'll do you the favor of letting you work the additional seven years. Because, you know, I like you." It's one of the funnier bits of the Bible especially when taken in light of the tricks Jacob pulled on his own brother.)

But getting back to Sherlock. It feels very much like we're Jacob just after that first wedding. We've worked and waited, we've made our vows, we've finally pulled back the vow, and the only thing staring back at us is this man:

But it's okay. Really. He'll even let us wait two more years to get the thing we were promised and really were kind of counting on. You know, because he likes you.

Scary thing #1: that's the best case scenario.

Scary thing #2: I'll still be tuning in. More than that, I'll be waiting anxiously and speculating over every scrap of news. At least there's fanfic.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 29th, 2014 01:12 am (UTC)
You know, that was the first time the poetic justice of Jacob getting tricked into marrying the older sister clicked. That's gold, and his Uncle probably knew what happened with Jacob's brother, and in a way it's a righting of that wrong - Jacob's tricked into accepting the correct social order. The Old Testament is pretty funny.

Re Sherlock, I hope you're right. :D
Aug. 29th, 2014 05:30 am (UTC)
One day I'm going to have to break out my Bible-based (fan)fic. I've never quite had the nerve to share it, both because it predates the decade I've spent learning how to write in fandom and so isn't very good but also because of the irreverence factor. (In some ways I'm pretty heretical, but our childhood stays with us, and I grew up in the Bible belt so...) But yes, Laban is great fun to really delve into. In some ways he's a manipulative misogynistic jerk, but in others he's just such the perfect match to Jacob. I've always loved the way Rachel manipulates him and his cultural taboos later in the story (the whole incident of stealing the family gods).

Re Sherlock, who can say where we're going? I live in hope until given reason not to. This post was really about how I was struck by the fact, even if I'm right and series four makes everything okay, it's still a pretty crappy spot to be left for two years at this point.
Aug. 29th, 2014 02:03 am (UTC)
Joseph of the Technicolor Dreamcoat

aaaaand now that's in my head all day. "such a dazzling coat of many colors, how I love my coat of many colors..." ta.

We had all this build-up in the previews and even going back to the cliffhanger from TRF to think that this was all going to be about Sherlock coming home and things getting back to normal, only it wasn't and he didn't.

I know these feels. and I did kind of have the same expectation, but I realize now in retrospect that it was kind of foolish. things can't "get back to normal" because narrative doesn't work that way -- it has to move us forward. and conflict is the engine of this narrative. so I'm afraid I wouldn't hold out much hope for next season, either... a Sherlock in which Sherlock and John are happy and at peace and have settled into a comfortable rhythm and routine is a Sherlock that is about to go off the air. this narrative cannot sustain contentment and routine.

I think that wasn't always obvious. while in some sense conflict is necessary to every narrative, many narratives can survive on small-scale conflict. in season 2, it still looked possible that Sherlock was going to be an ordinary police procedural, with self-contained cases every episode and only a hint of larger character arcs. lots of shows do that, and that would have been okay. it's a natural format for detective shows. and if that had been the format, we would have gotten to see Sherlock and John being peaceful and content at the beginning and end of every episode, even if there was conflict and excitement in the middle. sitcoms also work this way, by and large.

but beginning with TRF, and definitely through season 3, the writers have made it clear that they are more ambitious than that. they aren't going to dawdle around anymore with villain of the week episodes that get wrapped up tidily at the end of 90 minutes. and they aren't going to let Sherlock and John relax into cosy stagnancy. they clearly want to push this narrative and these characters into something bigger and bolder -- something epic, even.

sooooo... I'm afraid my prediction is that things are going to get darker and more complex and more challenging. and we are going to see these characters tested, going to watch them make terrible mistakes and face the consequences of those mistakes for a while to come.

I do think they will come out of it all right! John and Sherlock will be healthy and happy and raise bees. but we won't get to watch that part.

Aug. 29th, 2014 04:31 am (UTC)
Sorry about the earworm. Hate it when that happens. :-)

I think perhaps I wasn't clear. I don't mind grand conflict at all. I cut my fannish teeth on Tolkien, after all, and while I like the self-contained cass solved in Doyle, it's not like we're lacking for adaptations of that kind of story. I really like philosophically what's going on with the movement from great to good (to borrow Lestrade's phrase from ASIP).

What I don't like is the way everything seems up in the air just now. IN particular I don't like it because it seems like all fans have these interpretations of characters that tell us as much about where the fan is coming from as what the show is about. Take Mary's character: there are of course people who expect her to go full villain and people who think she will be in some sense redeemable (though probably not as John's wife), and probably people who anticipate that relationship surviving though I haven't met any myself. So you have a lot of people who read her in different ways and it seems obvious to them that their reading is not only correct but almost obvious. And they're not coming out of nowhere - I suspect they're just latching on to different aspects of the show, and are more bothered by some problems than others. There are to my mind bits of the show that support at least the first two readings. But something about the way nothing is defined and everything is up in the air makes the show seem confused, yes, but it also makes the fandom seem divided, moreso than is enjoyable. At least to me.

At least for me, being settled back into 221B doesn't mean being the same man who went away. Those two years changed everyone, they had to, and stagnacy is boring. That's not the issue. The problem is that by the end of series three, I'm not entirely sure I had a feeling for what the conflict was, what problem needed to be addressed to get Sherlock... not the same man who went away, but a man who was "fitting" into his environment in the same way, I guess. I guess the world just feels confused in a way - not complicated and nuanced so much as muddled. But I have a feeling I'm not explaining it well.

Complexity is good. :-) Darkness is better - the best stories seem to be. (Which reminds me, I need to write up a review of a darkfic story I read recently. I love that stuff.) But the situation I see at this point isn't one of high stakes where Sherlock is battling against himself or Moriarty or something else. Everything just seems undefined in a way that makes it hard for me to tell up from down at the moment.
Aug. 29th, 2014 06:18 am (UTC)
Ah, I see what you mean. it's true that this last season has left us in a bit of a muddle. At the end of season 1, the cliffhanger was, how will Sherlock and John get away from Moriarty without getting blown up? And season 2 left us with, how did Sherlock fake his death, plus how will John deal with his betrayal?

Season 3 has left us with many more questions: what will be the consequences of Sherlock committing murder? what is going on with Moriarty? can Mary be trusted? and not least, how the hell are the writers going to get rid of her and this damned inconvenient baby?

To some extent, I think this muddle is born of the writers trying to address many different fan bases. I think the mainstream viewers of the show are mostly interested in the villain plots, so the Moriarty cliff-hanger was primarily for them. The fandom fans, otoh, are mostly interested in the relationship between John and Sherlock, so the Mary plot is meant to complicate that. A non-pregnant Mary would have been too easy, I think -- we would probably all have just assumed Mary would either die or be evil, and that would get her out of the way. Making her the mother of John's child gives us significantly more to fret over, which I think is very much by design.

I tend to think the murder thread is intended for fans like me, who are primarily interested in Sherlock's character development. Like you, I am interested in the "great to good man" trajectory, but (and I think you'll agree with this) I don't want to see that as a simple progression from "a bit not good" to "good." I am all about seeing Sherlock face some long dark nights of the soul -- in seeing him as a character with complexities and contradictions, rendered with nuance rather than incoherence.

So yeah, I think the fact that the writers are trying to do a lot of things at once (and desperately hoping to build a cliffhanger that will keep everyone hungry for more even over the course of 2-3 years) may have something to do with the muddly feeling.

Personally, I'm okay with it. I have a sense that we are moving forward, and that things *are* moving in the direction of being darker, more complex, and more nuanced. And sometimes that looks like confusion. I walked away from season 3 the first time thinking "what the fuck is even going on I don't understand anything anymore." But after a couple of rewatches, I wound up putting complete faith in the writers. For me, ultimately HLV was a great pay off that left me gasping for more.

I think what did it for me was the way TSoT set me up to think they'd gone soft, and that from then on Sherlock was going to be cute and cuddly and in touch with his feelings -- that alarmed me. So when they managed to completely undermine that in HLV, I was shocked but I was also impressed at the guts it took to make Sherlock *so* sweet and open and vulnerable in TSoT, and then take that new Sherlock and show us exactly how *not* cute and cuddly he could be. That was the thing that made me think, okay -- these guys know what they are doing with this character, they are doing something interesting and unconventional, and I am going to trust them and go with it, wherever it takes us.

Edited at 2014-08-29 06:18 am (UTC)
Aug. 29th, 2014 06:19 am (UTC)
(as always, my comments are too long for LJ)

probably people who anticipate that relationship surviving though I haven't met any myself.

OT3! Okay I don't seriously think this is where the show is going canonically, but there is textual evidence for it. :)

Take Mary's character... it also makes the fandom seem divided, moreso than is enjoyable.

This is unfortunate, and I agree that it's not so enjoyable. But I do think it is at least somewhat by design, and I'm not convinced it doesn't make narrative sense. Think about if from John's POV -- he honestly doesn't know whether he can trust Mary or not. He fell in love with this woman, then she turned out not to be at all what she had claimed. He was ready to walk away from her at that point, but Sherlock wouldn't let him. Sherlock is the one who pushes him to forgive and accept her. But obviously the relationship can't go back to normal... I mean, this is a man notorious for his "trust issues", the only person in the world he really trusts is Sherlock, but trusting Sherlock is... always a difficult proposition, and now Sherlock is pushing him toward someone who makes him (reasonably) feel very unsafe. That's a little muddled, yes, but I think it's also a *very* interesting place for a character to be. So I'm on board with that up-in-the-airness, because I think we are sharing it with John.

What would frustrate me is if I felt like the characters all knew something, but it was being hidden from us for the purposes of suspense. That's bad writing, but that's not the case here.

I'm not entirely sure I had a feeling for what the conflict was, what problem needed to be addressed to get Sherlock...

Hmm. I think to me, the main character conflict (as opposed to plot conflict) is: how is Sherlock going to deal with the consequences of his new emotional vulnerability? "Love is a chemical defect found in the losing side." Sherlock was right about that in seasons 1 and 2. Does that mean he is now on the losing side?

aaaaaaaaah sorry I went on at such great length, but thank you for giving me a place to tease out some of these ideas, which I hadn't fully articulated before.

I need to write up a review of a darkfic story I read recently. I love that stuff.

I await this with interest!
Aug. 30th, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
I've gotten this impression as well, that the reason this arc feels incomplete is because it is, it's not finished. And if that's really where we're going, it's not only clever and cruel, it's also risky--risking leaving viewers feeling unsatisfied and, well, like many people feel right now. John's not back at Baker Street, Sherlock hasn't explained on camera that he has repeatedly sacrificed his freedom and happiness for John, Mary's actions are still too ambiguous, the question of the baby is still too up in the air.

Scary thing #2: I'll still be tuning in. More than that, I'll be waiting anxiously and speculating over every scrap of news. At least there's fanfic.

^^^Exactly. :)
Aug. 31st, 2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
For fairness's sake, let's just say that Jacob brought this mostly on himself because he was so disrespectful of the reigning social order of the day. There was no way any father could have allowed his younger daughter to marry first. And clearly he liked Leah well enough to make her pregnant year after year of their marriage...
/sorry, got carried away.

I'm one of the people who think that S3 is broken, and even if I were to believe like you that there was indeed more to the nonsense we were forced to endure on screen, because it wasn't the whole story, this doesn't make it seem any less broken. Sherlock has given itself a certain form with three episodes per season, meaning three separate stories and one "bigger" story around them, and S3 the writers failed to fill that form. We didn't have any sort of story. All we got were suggestions of a or of various stories. If the writers believe that they've come up with something which is so complicated and ingenious it can only be told over the course of six or ten episodes, they should have reconsidered the show's format.

Joseph, to come back to the biblical tale, was a very gifted storyteller. His stories held a significance both in the here and now and in the very distant future - that's the kind of storytelling I'd love to see on Sherlock too.
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