Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sherlock Season 3 is changing the game and here's why

I know a lot of people (especially on Tumblr, where I spend far too much time these days, what with the liveblogging and such), were kind of ticked off about this season, but a lot of those people seemed to have been angry that it didn't start or end with Sherlock and John confessing their undying man-love for each other, and that's just...

Okay, I'm going to digress for a second to say this one thing about ships: You can want whatever you want, you can root for whatever you like best, but none of it counts until it's cannon. If Sherlock and John end up together, that will be so awesome, but they've also specifically said in the show and out of it that that's not the intention, so it's like slamming your head into a brick wall to get angry when it doesn't happen. Better to be happier for what we do have, and then be delighted if we find out that they actually are going to end up together further down the line because Moffatt Lies and TV Is Changeable.*


I really liked this season. I was pleased with how giddy everyone was to get back together and be a team again, with how they handled the changes that happen naturally when someone is away for an extended period and comes back, and I was very pleased with how under all the giddiness, there's also this deep core of sadness and misunderstanding and Sherlock at a total loss of how to handle any of it.

And there's SO MUCH to talk about. A lot changed and a lot, it seems to me, is going to continue to change, and so here's everything I want to talk about in no real order:

- What if Moriarty is now a meme, a martyr for the cause of some other villain? We saw him die with a point-blank gunshot wound to the face, and that's going to be hard to fake, but the easiest and least annoying way I can think of is to have it be just his image, taken over by whoever took his place as the Nepoleon of Crime--because whenever a villain is suddenly gone without an heir, someone else would step in quickly enough, and Moriarty has been proven real even as Sherlock was absolved, and why bother making yourself visible when you have an image to hide behind that people already know and fear? Sherlock spent two long years getting rid of all Moriarty's men for them, so they could just slot their own dudes in, easy. Heroes Make Their Own Villains.

- Sherlock does not make vows, so the fact that he made one is incredibly important to his character. Even when John was stomping around being angry at the world, Sherlock defined his whole existence on keeping the only vow he has ever felt strongly enough to make: to protect John’s family. But he forgot that he’s part of John’s family, too. And he defined John's Family as something that he isn't part of or able to do anything but protect because of it. We're left with the problem of Mary, more on that later, and the fact that Sherlock literally just handed over his life to the people he least wanted to be controlled by because he knew that otherwise it would be John who did it and he would have failed to save the Family.

This is especially interesting because we find out that Sherlock isn't the orphan he always basically portrayed himself as. His parents are both alive and both trying to be involved, and the lonely childhood raised by Mycroft seems to be some sort of protective armor story that he tells--something to keep him from being connected to people, or some shared phobia between the brothers, or a long-standing power-struggle. And the family that he chooses, with that as his basis for what a family is, is John and Mary and the Baby.

- There seems to be a concerted effort on Sherlock’s behalf to build relationships this time around—whether because he has grown that much, or because he doesn't want a repeat of how easily it would have been to take his whole world down, he went out of his way to be nicer, more dependable, more empathetic. This is probably the most obvious change in the series, moving Sherlock away from his identification as an uncaring sociopath and closer to the book-cannon Sherlock that is arrogant, but actually does care about things. It remains to be seen whether it's true change or just an effort to be more normal as some symptom of how happy he was to be back in his own life. In my opinion, both are sort of awesome potentials.

- This whole season was from Sherlock’s PoV rather than John’s. What if Sherlock was always this human and we just didn't see it because we weren't inside his head? What if John has been so amazed at him that he misinterpreted almost everything that has happened since the beginning?

- The first ep was hyperactive joy of being back in his own life; the second was a big ball of feels he didn't know what to do with and did the best he could, and the third was closer to what we generally think of when we think of this show—more serious, more dire. But even so, we keep the more open, connected, raw and loose Sherlock, and if this is the tone being set for the next season, I'm frankly a little worried that all this stress and strangeness is unhinging him. When we meet him in season one, he's safe and balanced and doing what he does. It's not that great an existence, but he could have carried on indefinitely; at the end of season three, he seems close to burning up or cracking up or losing control in ways that will be really interesting to see--but also heartbreaking and possibly dangerous for the future of the show and its fandom. Not to mention the safety of my own heart.

Because it really does seem like he's not only gone a little fast and loose, doing more stuff on the fly and less planning ahead, but that he's literally a little off the rails. He keeps getting sideswiped and thought around—whether that’s because his mind is becoming overloaded with connections and emotions or because the baddies know his limits now and he hasn't figured out that he needs to move back / expand his limits, is still to be seen. I keep coming back to how he was talking to himself because he was literally hearing John's voice, and I wonder if it's creeping insanity, or if it's like a form of shell-shock--did he start talking to John while he was away to remember who he is the way people in PoW movies talk to memories and hallucinations?

- Molly is amazing and we’re not talking about her enough. Through the whole season, she's the only one who seems to see through Sherlock. No matter what's going on, she's the one who notes the moments of sadness and confusion and raw panic that everyone else, even John and Mrs Hudson, wave off. She was the one who saw the fear and sadness before the Rooftop, and it's good that she's still seeing it while also being braver and more secure in who she is and who he is and how they fit together.

- What if Mary is part of Meme-iarty’s plan? What if she’s still active and still on a mission and is just so undercover that she’s starting to go native—but there’s still things she needs to do and everything that’s happened with her so far is only the start? And that’s why it’s hard to tell if he really tried to kill Sherlock or not--because the endgame hasn't happened yet, so we don't know whether she actually ever wanted to kill him**, or whether she was trying to just get him out of the way, or if she ever really intended to kill Magnusson, or whether there was ever anything on that flash drive that she probably knew by then that John wouldn't actually read...You know, the more I think about her, the more I feel like she's still mid-story; the season-resolution was between John and Sherlock, and she isn't resolved at all, no matter how much John forgives her. And that makes me both fear and anticipate what's coming next for her. A woman who Sherlock knew was lying about something, but who still flew under his radar...

- Mycroft literally sees Sherlock as a little kid when he looks at him. It breaks my heart--and it totally explains a lot of their relationship. Assuming Sherlock is the same age as his actor, he's closer to half a century than he is to childhood (I"M SO SORRY BENEDICT FOR SAYING THAT), but Mycroft still looks at him and sees a slightly chubby schoolboy who needs to be protected. And probably comforted, though Mycroft doesn't seem capable of even knowing how to start doing that.

- Sherlock has two other totally normal names*** that he could be called by, so the only inference is that he’s chosen the weird one; we can assume Mycroft is similar, probably, since most families name their kids on similar patterns. They've both chosen to be what they are. And now Sherlock is choosing something different.

- The parallelism in this season is crazy, bringing a lot of old ideas back around; does this mean from here on out is like a new start?

- Molly listing her bedroom as one of Sherlock’s bolt holes + her very pointedly mentioning how happy she was with Tom and how much sex they were having = me wondering if maybe there isn't a secret and failed attempt at something going on there before he disappeared across the world. Like, maybe there’s all sorts of things that we don’t know about yet, and one of them is that while he was trying to get out of country, there’s story there between him and Molly, and Molly’s still sore about it even while she still obviously feels strongly for him. If that's a story, what other stories were just not mentioned because we have three episodes and none of them were about what happened while he was away, yet?

- It is deeply annoying that Sherlock’s mom was as smart as Sherlock or Mycroft and then, because babies, turned fluttery and busybody. On the other hand, I can totally see young Mycroft realizing that his mom is losing her brains and seeing it get worse when the baby comes along, and between the two of them, building up a deep fear of attachment because attachment makes you stupid, and they feel like not being stupid is all they have, for whatever reason. And there are, in reality, plenty of women who give up everything distinctive about themselves the second they have kids. Maybe the younger women on this show will eventually NOT DO THAT and offer an alternative story.

- It occurs to me that the fandom is blaming John for breaking his promise to Sherlock that things wouldn’t change, but it seems to me as if Sherlock bowed out—this whole season has been about him realizing that things have already changed, that a lot of the change was brought on by his not being there, and that he can’t just actually expect that it wouldn't have. And so he gets out of the way, which is not something he would have done before, and probably a huge sacrifice from him and his self-centric view of the world. He thinks Mary is worthy of John, and that he can’t give him whatever normality and love it is that he wants. So he removes himself after the wedding makes it obvious that it's the two of them, not the three of us as they kept saying. But without him, John is at least a little bored and frustrated, and that’s what (accidentally) brings them back together—John heading out into the world to get a little adventure on his own, since he knows that his best friend isn't dead and so he doesn't need to avoid all the painful things that remind him of Sherlock--and that he loves, too.

- Mary was so upset in the second half of the last ep that she lost most of her sparkle; if this is a proper reset of a season, and they continue with stability as three of them in the next season, I really hope the charm and cuteness and cleverness is back. Like, she relaxes back into her Mary Persona, and it's great--and then we again find out that she's playing everyone, and things are even more complicated because now the baby's born and she's been working with them, and it's been functional for however long has passed between this season and the next.

And so my conclusion:
- This feels like a transition season: like things are changing and shifting and gaps are forming, and we’re only seeing what it most important this this particular moment--not all the background shifting that is only being hinted at and not quite caught on to by most of the characters yet. Like how the last season overlapped and filled in gaps with the rest of the series****, this last one opens up gaps and asks questions and sets up something new.

I have a very strong suspicion that season four will be back to the feeling of everyone in control, back to the stability of adventure that we had in the earlier seasons, but that in reality, the villains have gotten cleverer because Sherlock has been both very visible and study-able and because he's tried to hard to create a power vacuum, and so there are going to be lots of spaces that they don't yet know are there, where contexts shift and everything is already more different than they (or we) realize.

What about you? What do you think?

* Moffatt also really needs to check his mouth in interviews. I don't think he's intending to queer-bait, exactly, but I do think he's incapable of leaving things alone and that it's being interpreted as queer-baiting. I also think he's on the bottom of an uphill learning curve and not handling it all that gracefully, and really needs to learn when to stop talking.
** I think she did, but did it in such a way that if he didn't die, she could use that for the next stage of her plan. We're in a spy novel now, and that means that she's James Bond in a way; she can think in branching what-if's and make contingency plans for them. So instead of killing him with a sure-thing headshot, or a heart-shot, she gave him a mostly-mortal but slower gutshot that would probably kill him and would otherwise convince him that she wasn't trying to kill him, even though she probably was.
***Also, since I plan to name my kids strangely, this is encouraging; I can blame it on Sherlock even though I had the idea ages ago.
****Especially Reichnbach; watch the cues of setting and clothes; those scenes happened in between all the other scenes we'd seen up until then, so that that story actually took much longer than one episode to tell.
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