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Rewatching "A Study in Pink"

I’m rewatching Sherlock with an eye for non-shipping stories the showrunners might be trying to tell, and because --yes-- I am on Tumblr, I’m thinking about that snippet from Gatiss’s interview making its way around Tumblr: that by the end of S4, John and Sherlock are comfortable in their own skins. It seems to imply this is a new thing, that they weren’t that way before. Like in earlier series, they’d be uncomfortable in their own selves.

And you know what? They’re just... not.

Pardon my language here, but: Sherlock is an asshole in ASIP, not just a “bit of a a”, we’re talking full out; but he’s the king of the assholes. Watch that press conference. He’s showing Greg and Sally up, completely needlessly, but he owns it. This is being a jerk raised to an artform. Or again the “four suicides and now a note” moment in 221B, right after that awkward hasty tidying up of the flat where he’s so clearly trying to appear normal for John? Normal people do not jump in the air at the prospect of a really interesting murder. This is not normal, but it is Sherlock, and he exults in that moment.

There are other examples. The look of glee when his deductions don’t drive John off. The simply not caring about how inappropriate it was to call John from across London. The more-than-slightly-cruel way he plays the game with the cabbie. I could describe this Sherlock many, many ways, but “not comfortable in his own skin” is not one of them.

John’s a little harder to paint that way. He’s clearly suicidal which does bring a whole level of discomfort, even self-disgust, with it. He’s alienated from his therapist. He’s itching to get away from Mike Stamford, visibly distressed by how thoroughly he doesn’t fit in to the kind of civilian life he represents. But there’s also this easy lethality about him. John Watson with a gun in his hand is (again pardon my language) fucking art, it’s a grace and self-possession I aspire to on my best days. And the race after the cab is that, too, to a lesser extent. So too with the people he meets: hitting on Anthea, standing up to Mycroft, running off to Lauriston Gardens after Sherlock. He’s a man of action, and when he’s given a context that allows that, it’s really something to behold.

What I am noticing, though, is there are huge parts of their characters that they’re a bit too comfortable with. Sherlock makes an art out of causing pain. Anderson embarrasses him? He’ll call Anderson out, but in the process he’ll humiliate Sally Donovan, who as a black woman police officer is bound to suffer more for the perception of sleeping around on the job. Or take John. He’s beautiful when he shoots Jefferson Hope, there’s a skill and even aesthetic to it that always takes my breath away; but I actually think he should regret the need for it, and the fact that he kills him not to save other lives but to save Sherlock specifically who put himself in this situation does bother me. I think it should bother us all. If I let myself think about it instead of getting swept away by the romance* of it.

(*Not necessarily the erotic, more just the idealism of it, the faerie.... I’m grasping for words here a bit, but I mean romance more in the sense of Le Morte d’Arthur than Romeo and Juliet, if that distinction makes sense.)

When I first watched these first two series, I saw Sherlock and John on a path toward something like Aristotle’s virtuous friendships (whatever other components their relationship might have). Sherlock has this daring quality, a kind of courage of the intellect, and John envies that. He wants to be more like that again. And for his part, Sherlock is drawn to John’s ability to care. It awakens a realization that maybe this is something he’d like to grow into. That means he has to be more aware of what he’s lacking - not a bad thing, it’s the first step toward actually acquiring that virtue. You can’t become more generous if you don’t realize right now, you’re more stingy than you should be.

But this is the great tragedy of the show, as I remember it. It breaks them of this false comfort in their own skin and while it does end with them being comfortable again in what’s supposed to be a better way (that lovely montage at the end of TFP!), I don’t see how it was really earned. It does feel a bit boop, and they’re fine. Which makes the comfort and self-awareness feel a bit tenuous to me, certainly it’s not well-earned or any more secure than what they had at the first meeting. That may be shipper’s frustrations shining through, so it will be really interesting if I can see that journey back to self-comfort better as I rewatch.

My point, though: rewatching ASIP, I want John and Sherlock to get back to this point. I want them to be as home in their own selves as they were here, but I want it to be a self that's better, less driven by cruelty and violence and more by justice and knowledge and standing up for the oppressed, and I want their unique friendship to be what gets them to the other side. Then again, that may be my inner Aristoteian setting up an unrealistic standard. Like I said, it will be interesting to see if I can find this arc as the show unfolds again.

This entry was originally posted at http://marta-bee.dreamwidth.org/5463.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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