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Marta Rewatches: The Great Game

I'm fighting off a bit of depression, so I'm afraid this is going to be a bit rushed and muted. Bear with me. But The Great Game is easily one of my top three episodes alongside TAB and TRF, and I've put off this rewatch long enough. So let's do this!

When I talked about TBB, one point that kept coming up was how slooooooow it seemed at points. And there's a lot of truth to that (I chalked it up to being worn out by the 90-minute format, which takes mental stamina). Fascinating how TGG goes the other way. There's so much going on, it can be a bit hard to catch your breaths at times. But even fighting through depression, I was still clear-headed and on the edge of my feet. Really, well done keeping the tension up particularly as this is an episode about one case after another getting solved in quick order. But they kept crescendoing, because for an episode so focused on mysteries and crime-solving, this still doesn't feel like a straight-up detective story. The point isn't to solve the case but see the man.

And that's what I love about this episode, particularly on rewatch. It walks the line between Sherlock being so swept away with the mystery and excitement of it all, and Sherlock actually caring about the people involved. Because Sherlock actually is very caring throughout the whole thing. The earnestness in his voice when he solves a case and gets to ask: where are you? where should we come to get you? The way he talks to witnesses, yes it's driven by a need to get information, but there's also a sense that he knows he's dealing with traumatized people and he needs to get the information quickly. Even with Molly and the revelation that Jim's gay: he defends this in terms of: wasn't that kind?

He's wrong, of course, at least on that one; but compare that to Jim's "That's what people do!" when confronted with the deaths he's caused. Watching this in retrospect, he really shines through as a man who cares so much, but maybe doesn't quite know how to care or maybe even that he's allowed to. The first time I watched this I chalked that up to John's influence, but in retrospect it seems like that side of him was there all along.

Let's talk about Westie, the DOD employee killed over the missile plans. After ignoring the case --multiple times!-- despite the fact he's bored, when he finally takes an interest (or rather asks John whether he really believed he wasn't working it out just because it was Mycroft asking), he says he'd never turn down a "case like this." But setting aside the missing memory stick, there really isn't a great mystery to be solved here. Suicide tracks at first, and when it doesn't, the real mystery is pretty easily solved. Lestrade could have worked this one out; certainly Mycroft's men could have. So what is it about this case that so interests him? Well, Westie is young and in love, and the people talking to his fiancee insinuate he did something wrong. Major parallels with the way Sally talks to John at the Ian Monkford crime scene. He's also a case Mycroft wants solved, but instrumentally: he's not motivated by the death of a company man, it's the missing jumpdrive he wants solved. There's a lot for Sherlock to identify with, there.

Which brings me back to perhaps my favorite moment in the series. From Ariane DeVere's transcripts:

Sherlock: I think [Moriarty] wants to be distracted.
John: I hope you'll be very happy together.
Sherlock: Sorry, what?
John: There are lives at stake, Sherlock -- actual human lives... Just -- just so I know, do you care about that at all?
Sherlock: Will caring about them help save them?
John: Nope.
Sherlock: Then I'll continue not to make that mistake.
John: And you find that easy, do you?
Sherlock: Yes, very. Is that news to you?
John: No. No.
Sherlock: I've disappointed you.
John: That's good -- that's a good deduction, yeah.
Sherlock: Don't make people into heroes, John. Heroes don't exist, and if they did, I wouldn't be one of them.

 
In retrospect, it's worth noting: "heroes" is precisely who Sherlock is. Magnussen saw that. Mycroft saw that. He is at heart a dragon-slayer, or wants to be. And in a post-modern age, for a jaded city boy like Sherlock to still believe in a struggle that can be won if he's only clever enough is almost... quaint. Dragon-slayer, definitely.

But getting back to the main point. I think Sherlock cares quite a bit, but he also recognizes he's extraordinarily gifted, and that caring can limit his effectiveness. It's like a surgeon who loses a patient, possibly through his own mess-up, but who can't cry over it because there's another patient waiting to be save in the next room. You develop a necessary callousness after a time. And John knows this. Remember: army doctor. What bothers him, I think, is that this seems to come easily to Sherlock; and also because it happens in an environment John probably associates with safety. This is London, not Afghanistan, and he went and fought in a war precisely so people wouldn't have to develop those calluses back in England, so they can be safe. Only it's not that simple, of course.

This is a real sign, though, that John's and Sherlock's relationship is moving to the next level. Not just a flat-share or a professional partnership, because why should John care if Sherlock's not a good person, if he doesn't care about other peoples' suffering, at that level of connection? But if they're becoming friends, if he's bound to Sherlock because he recognizes something good or admirable in him that he wants to be closer to, well, Sherlock being so jaded (as he thinks) matters a great deal, doesn't it?

I mentioned over at Tumblr that I was taking some time off between rewatches because I wanted to work out my thoughts on the difference between romantic love and friendship (eros vs philia, or possibly storge, if that distinction carries weight). I wanted to do that because this episode plays with some really interesting parallels between John and Sherlock vs. romantic couples. Westie's the most obvious one. More subtly, we get a gay man overshadowed by his powerful sibling (shades of Mycroft-Sherlock), whose lover is employed by said man's sister (shades of Mycroft's offer to pay John for information on Sherlock), and finally commits murder over Kenny's abuse at his big sister's abuse (hasn't happened with John and Mycroft, but John is increasingly less cowed by Mycroft, and Sherlock is increasingly gratified by this). Even the episode opener in Minsk has a very "married" feel to it if you read the blogs: Sherlock initially wasn't going to bother going all the way out to Minsk, but did when John told him to.

My point isn't that John and Sherlock are romantically involved here. For early seasons, this episode has a decided lack of romantic subtext. But they do seem to be functioning as a romantic couple, sans the romance and sex. It's almost as if they're trying to say romance isn't the defining factor of the kind of relationship that defines a life, gives it structure. As if the hard distinction we draw between romantic partners and platonic friends isn't always so tidy.

All of which makes the pool scene at the episode's end very interesting indeed. The way Jim describes their relationship, it does feel very much akin to romance. "People do get so attached to their pets." I have no doubt that Sherlock came to the pool just to play with Moriarty over the jump-drive (okay, I have some doubts because I personally headcanon this whole scene as being an attempt by Mycroft and Sherlock to trap Moriarty, but that's a long story). That said: when John shows up it becomes something else entirely. Look at the nervous energy, the on-edge almost manic reaction to getting John out of danger; this is no longer a game, and certainly not an engagement where the hostage is unimportant.

And when John delivers that famous line about "people will talk," all resistance does seem to have gone out of him. It's almost like he's playing a role, much like Sherlock is when he uses his uncaring-machine persona elsewhere. But the impression I'm left with here isn't one of romance, it's of a close connection that others would label as romance: as love full-stop, without the distinction.

Next week: A Scandal in Belgravia. That toeing the line between philia and eros isn't going anywhere.

This entry was originally posted at http://marta-bee.dreamwidth.org/7608.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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