Previously on Sherlock: The Six Thatchers.
Modelled on Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Dying Detective, this episode is, in some aspects, a return to form — but it’s hella gut-wrenching, too.
Sherlock’s More Emotional, Isn’t He?
So. I know that last week’s review was very much focused on Mary and her relationship with the boys, and of whatever mystery we have yet to unlock when it comes to her past and motivations. And, indeed, not only that, but in regards to her feelings for both John and Sherlock as well.
But this week, we’re very much back to falling headlong into the rabbit hole that is Sherlock Holmes’ love for John Watson. I didn’t mention it last week, but I cried bitter tears when Sherlock went to John’s house to ask if there was anything he could do, anything at all. Mary gave him a case, and he took it — and even if she hadn’t, he’d have been there. Sherlock Holmes would never give up on his blogger. It’s because Sherlock is our focal character now: for the longest time, we saw him only through the lens of John’s opinion of him. Which was full of affection and awe and loyalty, but it was flawed, too. He presented Sherlock, in his blog, as cold, a machine, and not quite human, and it took him until the Fall to articulate that Sherlock was the best and most human being he’s ever known. It took him longer still to realise the feelings Sherlock harboured for him — it took him until he watched the CCTV footage of Sherlock dragging him from underneath a bonfire with his bare hands to realise just what Sherlock would do for him. Has done for him. He asks, “Who would he bother protecting?” You. It’s always you, you idiot.
So it stands to reason that now that we watch this series through Sherlock’s lens, the Sherlock that we see is different. He’s coloured (more intensely) by the feelings that he has, and we have to conclude that they’ve always been this obvious, it’s just that John didn’t see them. As viewers, we saw them, because Benedict did play them, and when John snarled at him that “friends protect people,” we knew that that was what Sherlock was already doing. But now, when Sherlock smiles and looks at John with longing in his gaze, it’s not so much that Sherlock’s feelings have changed. It’s that they’re finally more visible, because we’re inside Sherlock’s head, and unhindered by John’s denial. Mrs Hudson is in hysterics at the thought that no-one can figure out that Sherlock’s driving himself six feet under because John left him.
To be sure, Sherlock is less of a dick than he used to be. And he has changed since meeting John — hell, I wrote an entire thesis about how John’s the catalyst for change in Sherlock’s character — but this is more than character development. This isn’t just Benedict turning up the dial on Sherlock’s expressiveness, this deepening of his voice, full of pain and mourning… It’s there because it’s not John explaining it to us. It’s Sherlock telling his own story. And he is in indescribable pain.
“Because Mrs Hudson’s right. I’m burning up. I’m at the bottom of a pit, I’m still falling, and I’m never climbing out. I need you to know, John, I need you to see that up here, I’ve still got it. So when I tell you that this is the most dangerous, the most despicable human being that I have ever encountered, when I tell you that this, this monster must be ended, please remember where you’re standing, because you’re standing exactly where I said you would be two weeks ago. I’m a mess, I’m in hell, but I am not wrong. Not about him.”
“So what has all this got to do with me?”
“That man, that creature, that rotting thing is a living, breathing coagulation of human evil. If the only thing I ever do in this world is drive him out of it, then my life will not have been wasted. Look at me. Can’t do it, not now. Not alone.”
See, it’s right there, he says it. “I’m in hell,” and it’s not just because he’s killing himself with drugs on purpose, it’s because John turned away from him.
The Unreliable Narrator and Corrupted Memories
Just to get one thing out of the way: I am dead certain that the drug, TD-12 was only included to give us a clue as to why The Six Thatchers was such a trippy ride and full of inconsistencies, and full of conversations people who weren’t in them couldn’t have known about. Culverton Smith warns those in the room that not only their memories of his “confession” may be affected, but also other moments of their lives. John pointing out that his therapist couldn’t have known about him asking Mycroft about “the other brother” also points to an unreliable narrator, and very obviously this time. She couldn’t have known about it. Unless what we see wasn’t real.
Another thing: John mutters, “It’s not ok,” when Sherlock comforts him after his final(?) confrontation with Mary; which is what he also yelled after hallucinating the Hound in The Hounds of Baskerville. So, the question is, has John been drugged again? Is this a continuation of last week’s memory reel, Sherlock trying to make sense of the events that lead them to The Final Problem?
The first scenes with him are set up deliberately for us to wonder whether Mary did fake her death, until we realise that he’s imagining her; so that red herring still isn’t quite out of the running, either. If you’d like to know more about the possible outcomes of last week’s final scene, please read on there. We’ll be here when you come back.
Something else that I wondered about last week: I wrote that we didn’t get to hear John’s musical cue, War.
This episode, we do. When he turns away from the TV and Mrs Hudson orders Mycroft and his agents out of the house, it’s there. This could be the signal that, yes, Mary is really dead. Or, at least, John has now actually accepted it. Is ready to face it. Ready to face his dead wife and her last request.
It’s All About Love — Again
As I said above, we saw the feelings Sherlock has for John, and so… did Mrs Hudson. Mrs Hudson was a marvel in this entire episode, from driving that Aston Martin like a lunatic right to dressing Mycroft down until he’s about yea short. Hudders is not afraid of anything (except losing her boys), and certainly not of the British government.
Get out of my house, you reptile.
But I digress. The point is: she knows. She knows that what’s tearing Sherlock apart isn’t about thinking, it’s about feeling. It’s a mystery he can’t solve, sure, but that’s not because of any ineptitude with emotions he may still display, it’s because the situation is bloody well hard. John has just lost his wife, and Sherlock’s lost a friend. They’re both grieving, and neither of them are ok, but Sherlock doesn’t let himself grieve. He blames himself, and always will until John forgives him.
That’s why we see his heart break and shatter when he offers to let John beat him up in the morgue.
“He’s entitled. I killed his wife.”
“Yes, you did.”
When he hears this, Sherlock resigns himself to something. This mission that he’s on may succeed in jolting John back into the land of the living, at least into coping well enough to take care of Rosie. But Sherlock makes his peace here with possibly never getting his John Watson back. In that moment, he accepts that he’s lost him forever. And he still goes through with it.
And Molly’s pissed.
Go to Hell, Sherlock
“Here’s a few things about the man we both love. John Watson never accepts help. But he never refuses it.”
See, Inkie was right. Mary didn’t hate Sherlock, she didn’t want him to die. But she knew what he’d have to do in order to get John out of the downward spiral. This wasn’t about getting John back, or getting him to forgive Sherlock. It was about showing him that he still had a reason to live. And for that to work, Sherlock had to do something dangerous.
We have so many callbacks to A Study in Pink in here…
- The flashback to John walking with his cane down in Kensington Gardens when Sherlock sees Faith, telling us exactly how much he misses John.
- John getting the thing about Sherlock’s brother wrong — it’s a sister, exactly like Sherlock getting Harry wrong: it’s short for Harriet.
- After his first case at Sherlock’s side, John relinquishes the cane. He doesn’t need it anymore. When he leaves it at Sherlock’s bedside at the hospital, it’s a clear signal. ‘I don’t need you anymore.’ And Sherlock knew he’d do that, too.
This is also why, and I suspect many long-time viewers will feel this way, this episode felt a lot more like Sherlock than last week’s. I think the pay-off and fallout from last week’s episode is still to come, but we’re getting a break from the weirdness here and step back into what we know. The relationship between John and Sherlock at the heart of the show, and a case to solve, albeit one with heightened stakes. It’s also the focus on John’s emotions that ground us in this episode, because we’re so familiar with him. We’re familiar with all of it, which is why the writers can use shorthand, if you will. Flashbacks and exchanges like, “It’s password-protected!” / “Please.” (a reference to The Blind Banker) remind us instantly of the time when Sherlock and John were together, and happy. And that’s what we want them to have again, right?
And then, of course, there’s the big parallel: John saving Sherlock’s life. In A Study in Pink, he shot a man to save a man he barely knew, and he shot to kill. In A Study in Pink, Sherlock would have taken that pill because, well, he’s an idiot. A reckless idiot with nothing to live for but the high and chasing it. But then, he met John Watson. Sherlock took on the risk of dying to prove he’s clever out of boredom. In The Lying Detective, he went to his death to save John Watson, because now, over five years later — Sherlock Holmes has a reason to live.
In A Study in Pink, John Watson found his. He was suicidal once, and Sherlock saved him. (It’s also why he went out for chips with Faith — he likes her, and she’s (ostensibly) planning on taking her own life. So he makes sure she doesn’t; and he’s gentle with her, explains how he arrived at his conclusions, but he’s not showing off. This isn’t about missing an audience, this is about taking her mind off her pain the best way he knows how.)
“I was so alone, and I owe you so much.”
That’s what John said at his grave. He also said, “no-one can convince me that you told me a lie.” Remember? So now, when John accuses Sherlock of lying, always lying, the one example he can really come up with, apart from the multitude of little lies scattered across cases when Sherlock kept his plans from him — is the one where Sherlock broke John’s heart. He “died” to protect John, and John forgave him. But it’s still the worst thing he’s ever done to him, and now… John’s pain and anger stems as much from losing Mary as it does from fear of losing Sherlock ever again, of losing his other other half.
It stems from guilt, too. So John really did nearly have an affair — it was only texting, but he thought about it. He’s still thinking about it. I wrote last week, I would hate John for doing that to Mary, and I still do, I just… he’s feeling remorse, truly, and that gets me closer to forgiving him embarrassingly fast. ‘Mary’ forgiving him and telling him to “get on with it, then” rings hollow, though, because it’s not really Mary. It’s John’s subconscious “forgiving” himself, and as much as he does need to do that, it’s a really cheap trick on Moffat’s part to try and get us to accept it faster this way. What does count, though, is Sherlock’s forgiveness.
That hug. Sherlock holding John while he cries, I… My heart aches for them. Sherlock is so tentative in approaching John, so careful, wary of whether John will accept the contact or push him away. I think if he had, it would have shattered him. But John lets himself be held, by the one person who understands his pain, who shares it. And Sherlock gives comfort in that moment as much as he is receiving it, because it worked. He saved John Watson. It may take time for them to find their way back to each other, but Sherlock didn’t do this for himself. He just wanted John to be safe. The last time Sherlock was this reckless, he had nothing to lose. Now, he has everything to live for.
Sherlock’s expression is so open, so… full of heart. John is in pain, and so is he, and he just… wants to hold him. This is the first time we see Sherlock having voluntary and prolonged affectionate physical contact (no, Jeanine doesn’t count, much though I love her) with anybody, including John (though he’s always been more tactile with him than anybody else). It’s so gentle, and so raw, and it’s my favourite moment in the entire show so far. And John leans forward into his chest, crying into his shirt, Sherlock fighting tears himself, going by how fast he’s blinking, and it has to have felt like coming home.
You see, characters rarely listen when I yell at them to hug someone already. So as John sat there, crying, I could barely believe my ears when I heard the tell-tale rustle of clothes, meaning Sherlock had to have moved. And then when he moves into John’s space, and John lets it happen… it must have felt as healing for the audience as it did for them. I know that it did for me. They’re both in pain, but they’re not alone anymore. And that’s really the best thing.
Honestly, I… this blog post is 4k words long, including dialogue and a sodding love poem, and I still can’t adequately express what this hug alone means to me. To see John let go, to see him cry and let out the emotion he always reins so tightly in, and to see Sherlock acknowledge that sentiment is not a defect found in the losing side… to see these two come together after so many years of getting to know each other, saving each other, putting each other first and never saying it feels so good, even if it happens under the worst of circumstances. They have both come so far, and this is the culmination of the character growth that they caused within each other.
And then, instead of leaving, John goes out for birthday cake with Sherlock, and Sherlock says something important.
“Well, I suppose a sugar high is some sort of substitute.”
“Right then. You know, it’s not my place to say, but… it was just texting. People text. Even I text — her, I mean the Woman, bad idea, try not to, but sometimes. It’s not a pleasant thought, John, but I have this terrible feeling, from time to time, that we might all just be human.”
“No. Even you.”
It’s a ping back to the beginning of the episode, where John’s new therapist tells him that he’s holding himself to an impossible standard. I really wouldn’t say that ‘not cheating on your spouse,’ is an impossible standard. And I really don’t think that this storyline was the best way to go about fabricating a connection between the final twist and John’s personal life. But what’s important is that we see that John is disappointed in himself most of all. Sherlock may still be perceived as a machine by many, but he’s human in the sense that he has feelings, he’s just scared of them sometimes. John is human in the sense that everyone sees him as a good man — but good men don’t have rules. And now we find out why John Watson has quite so many of them. He’s not infallible, he’s not perfect. So… Five Continents Watson may be a flaw that we don’t have to accept (and certainly not excuse), but we probably love him no less regardless. And John isn’t just sorry that he could never ask Mary for forgiveness, he’s sorry about Sherlock, too; because it’s Sherlock who poured his heart and soul into his best man speech in The Sign of Three, in which he credited John with making him a better man, and basically told everyone that John is the One Good Man on this earth.
The thing about not coming to save Sherlock until she told him to: John doesn’t mean Mary’s voice in his head, he means Mary’s tape. That told him what he needed to know, that Sherlock got himself into that hospital to (nearly) die and need his help, and that’s when he springs into action and calls Lestrade. What he means about not being a good man is that he heard Smith say that he would “move [Sherlock] to [his] favourite room,” meaning the morgue. Culverton basically told the world he was going to kill Sherlock Holmes. John heard him say it, and he didn’t react.
And as for Sherlock… I get why John was angry. Angry at the world, and frightened. Mary died to save Sherlock’s life, and being with Sherlock isn’t exactly not-dangerous. Who’s to say he won’t lose Sherlock next, and then what does he have left? So it’s easier to blame Sherlock, of course it is; and it’s compounded by being furious with him for using again. And Sherlock, grappling with survivor’s guilt, does, too. The drugs are a necessary evil, but you can’t tell me he’s not glad that he’s high half the time, just so the pain will go away.
But John knows it’s not right. We have ‘Mary’ there as a manifestation not only of his grief, but also of his own subconscious telling him that he needs to forgive Sherlock. Because John may not be ok, but neither is Sherlock. He never wanted Mary to get hurt, and it wasn’t his fault. He misses her, too. (He misses Rosie, too, his “I should come and see her, soon,” is nothing short of desperate, and the look on his face when John agrees… it means everything.)
“Once it’s over, it’s not you who’ll miss it.”
John feels self-loathing after leaving the walking stick at Sherlock’s bed. He tells himself to do better. To ease his friend’s pain, because he’s the only one who can. When he rushes back to the hospital to save Sherlock from Smith, and he realises that Sherlock planted a bloody recording device in his cane, he says, “You cock. You… utter cock,” which is exactly what he said in The Empty Hearse, in the train car, after he realised Sherlock tricked him and they weren’t, in fact, going to be blown to kingdom come that night. That, if nothing else, is our signal that John is close to forgiving him.
“Christ, John. Stay. Talk!”
This episode is told from both John and Sherlock’s point of view, and where Sherlock’s drug-addled mind truly is a trip, John grounds us in reality. The Empty Hearse did this, to an extent, but not the way The Lying Detective does. For the first time, they’re on the same page, emotionally. They’re communicating, and while they’re both in sheer and utter pain, they’re both on their way to getting better, if they stick together. The scene with John and Sherlock at Baker Street is one of the best Martin and Ben have ever done. Sherlock’s not hiding anything from John in that scene, his face is open and his eyes clear. He does deflect, a little, but it’s poking fun at his own vulnerability, at his wanting John to stay. That’s why this scene, albeit gut-wrenching, is so incredibly hopeful, and cathartic. It has to get worse before it gets better.
“You didn’t kill Mary. Mary died saving your life, it’s her choice, no-one made her do it, no-one could ever make her do anything, but the point is, you didn’t kill her.”
“In saving my life, she conferred a value on it. It is a currency I do not know how to spend.”
Oh good, now I’m crying. Sherlock feels his life wasn’t worth hers, and now he doesn’t know what to do. How to make it up to John, and to Rosie.
There’s another thing, about a thing John keeps saying, over and over. This morning (as I was pulling my boots on), something in my brain pinged. John keeps saying, “It is what it is,” and the meaning of the phrase changes each time he says it. First, it’s refusing to grieve. Then, it’s resignation. Then, it’s acceptance that it’s “shit” and then, the last time he says it, he’s saying, ‘I’m in pain, but I’m not alone anymore.’ And something was niggling at me, but it’s so obvious: it’s a reference to Erich Fried’s poem “Was es ist.” It’s about love. Here’s one possible translation from the original German:
What It Is
It is nonsense
It is what it is
It is unhappiness
It is nothing but pain
It is hopeless
It is what it is
It is ludicrous
It is foolish
It is impossible
It is what it is
And that’s what it is. Forgiving Sherlock, loving Sherlock —John’s afraid, afraid he’ll lose him, too; and there’s fear of rejection there, too. And he’d rather stay angry at him forever than risk that. But he can’t stay away, he can’t leave Sherlock, sitting there, miserable. He loves him, and he won’t do it. (And the age of Sherlock pushing John away is over.)
(Sidenote: it’s also what Martin said when Stephen Colbert asked him about all that racy fan art. Martin, you little shit.)
It is no secret that Mark Gatiss loves The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, an adaptation that codifies the way Holmes is in love with Watson and how, to use Mark’s words, ‘it is so desperately unspoken.’ This reference, which I will not believe was not deliberate, finally gives us the other end of that silent conversation, too.
And, so, in the end. There’s hope.
The Lost Sibling — Moran?
So I told you last week about how the prevalent theory in fandom was that Mary was really Moran, Moriarty’s faithful right hand and the one who came to kill Sherlock in the return story, The Empty House. In our version, The Empty Hearse, we didn’t have any hitmen out for Sherlock to worry about, so that part of the story was kind of put on the back burner. But what if — and a lot of people should be preparing to eat their words here — Mary is actually a good person? What if all our fears about her were unfounded? I mean, Christ — Moriarty framed her, too. I wrote last week that something must be up with Mary, because every clue that Sherlock thinks will lead him to Moriarty, led him to Mary instead. Oh, god. He did it again, just as he did with Sherlock, and we fell for it.
My money’s on Euros for Moran. (Inkie agrees, so I have a good feeling about this!) This is the Miss Me? that we’ve been waiting for; and it would take dedication to the cause to spend this many years preparing to take revenge. Moran, Moriarty’s loyal lieutenant, would be the only option this late in the game. (Ha, game!)
Oh man. Sherlock was so off his tits he didn’t realise he was talking to his sister the whole night. Bringing in a non-canonical Holmes sibling is a bold and risky move, but I’m loving it so far. But I swear, if John… he can’t be dead, can he?
Oh Jesus, I hope Sherlock won’t have to say, “I love you,” to a grave. Please, please don’t do this to him. And to us.
To end this on a humorous note: did… Mycroft and Lady Smallwood… did they..? God, imagine it. No, wait, don’t.
Next: The Final Problem.