Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dang, This Show Is Hella White and Other Thoughts (Sherlock: TSOT)

Dang, this show is hella white.

That was what popped into my head a few nights ago as I breathlessly watched the second episode of the third season of the internet's obsession, Sherlock. I was watching it with a friend of mine - well, I say watching it with, but really we were each watching it separately while on a video call together because we live on opposite sides of the international dateline, and isn't technology amazing - and while I did giggle and hug a pillow and squeal at the appropriate intervals, I also noticed something else. Not just that the show is super white, though we will talk more about that, but deeper. Namely, that Sherlock seems poised to fall into the same trap that annoys the crap out of me on Doctor Who. He's becoming "The Loneliest Man in the World."

Which is complete and total bullcrap and I hate it so much.

But before we get into the part where I rant and rave and make you all very uncomfortable with how deeply I think and care about a show that most people consider diverting or intriguing at most, let's talk facts. What was the episode about?

Obviously, SPOILERS now.

The episode, titled "The Sign of Three" in a callback to the excellent original novel The Sign of Four, takes place about five or six months after the last. While last episode we saw John (Martin Freeman) painstakingly proposing to Mary (Amanda Abbington) while Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) looked on amused, now we fast forward to their wedding day. Sherlock is in a tizzy, or as much in a tizzy as he ever is, over his best man speech. Mostly just floored that he is John's best man at all, let alone that he has to give a speech. In front of people.

Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) warns Sherlock that even though he and John and Mary have all become quite close (and it's freakishly adorable to watch their scenes together), everything will change after the wedding. Sherlock will be left alone again as the married couple insulate themselves and move to Siberia or something?

I'm going to be honest, I know lots of married people, and while, yes, there is a period of "Holy crap, we're legit! We can be disgusting all over each other with an excuse!" that goes on for a few months or so, it does taper off, and life generally returns to normal, just with the occasional ring-cleaning. I don't get what this "Everything will change forever," thing is on about. 

Anyway.

Despite having a surprisingly robust collection of friends and supporters, like Greg Lestrade (Rupert Graves, still the sexiest) and Molly (Louise Brealey) and the aforementioned Mrs. Hudson, and even Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), Sherlock takes the idea to heart. That after this wedding, which will be perfect if it kills him, John and Mary will be effectively absent from his life. Forever. Cue the sad violins.

Most of the episode, which is told in slightly confusing, but very entertaining, non-linear fashion, revolves around Sherlock's best man speech. In the speech, written to show everyone how amazing John is, Sherlock mentions several cases he solved or tried to solve, and while giving the speech he slowly realizes that the cases are interconnected. They're not an accident. More than that, they're fixated on this particular wedding. Someone is going to be murdered at John's wedding.

And that simply won't do. So Sherlock starts deducing right then and there. He figures out who the victim is, but he can't figure out who is going to kill them or where or how. And that's the real fun of the show, wading through Sherlock's memories and his deductions as he tries to figure out who is going to do it, without letting the guests know what's happening and without spooking the murderer. It's good fun.

But, like I said above, it's a little...annoying. At least to me, and my cold, dead heart. You see, the whole case really serves to analogue Sherlock's relationship to John. I won't explain it more than that, but the whole case hinges on John and his John-ness, and Sherlock's relationship to John's John-ness. Really, the whole thing is about how much Sherlock is going to miss John when he goes.

Except for the part where John is patently still right there. And so is Mary, who is freaking amazing.

It seems that even though Sherlock swans through life surrounded by people who would drop everything for him (as Lestrade literally does in the first minute of the episode, giving up a career making arrest because Sherlock texts him for help), but is completely and utterly alone because John is getting married.

And we, as the audience, are supposed to be heartbroken that Sherlock, the wonderful, amazing, sensitive Sherlock, is being left behind. What complete and utter bullcrap.

It's crap because let's think about Sherlock and his "friendship" with John for a second. While I do not doubt for one minute that he means all those nice things he says in the speech, I also remember. I have a long memory. I can remember all the way back to last episode, when Sherlock thought the best way to announce he wasn't dead to his best friend was to dress up as a French waiter and make painful jokes at him for a while. Or when he convinced John they were about to die in a firey explosion so that John would have to forgive him for pretending to be dead for two years without a particularly compelling explanation or excuse.

So, to recap, Sherlock is an amazing friend in this one episode, where he learns to fold napkins and writes some violin music and gives an awesome speech and intimidates guests into doing what he wants them to, and this means that we should completely forget all the other times in their friendship when Sherlock has been a complete and utter cock.

Not only that, but we're expected to mourn how alone Sherlock is. That he has no one to dance with at the end. Even though he could go dance in that group with all his other friends, where Molly and Lestrade and Tom and Mrs. Hudson are all dancing in a group. No. He will dance with John, Mary, the bridesmaid he just met today, or no one. If none of those three people is available, then he will leave the reception and walk tragically into the cold.

Sigh.

I don't think I need to say that I don't like this, but I don't. I'm totally cool with Sherlock having feelings and those feelings making him feel isolated, but in this case? His isolation is totally a choice. He's being a dick. And it's annoying. It's also making him a crappy friend, not only to John and Mary, but to everyone else in their group and at the wedding. While it seems sensitive and tragic, what Sherlock is actually doing here is deeply selfish. And I don't like it.

Okay, that rant out of the way, let's talk about race. Specifically, how damn white this was. Last weekend I happened to be marathoning some seasons of Luther on Netflix (awesome show, stars Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson and Indira Varma and Paul McGann - watch it NOW), and I was struck by something. Sherlock is hella white. Like ridiculously, improbably, eyebrow-raisingly white.

Take, for example, the wedding this episode. We are told that John has lots of friends, and that a fair number of those friends are people he met in the army. Fair enough, that makes sense. But are we to believe in this that John built not a single friendship or relationship of any kind with someone who was not a middle-aged white man? 

Because that's what the show is telling me. John has no black friends, no Asian friends, no Hispanic friends. He somehow managed to become a highly decorated veteran without gaining a single friend who wasn't whiter than yogurt and idli (which, if you don't know your vegetarian Indian foods, is hella white).

So, are we supposed to assume that John is racist?

Well, no, I'm pretty sure we're not (though I can't rule it out), but the odds aren't in his favor. In fact, in this episode, the only substantive characters of color were Sgt. Sally Donovan (Vinette Robinson) and Dean Thomas from Harry Potter, who gets stabbed. Of these, Donovan is the only recurring character of color that I can think of, and her role in this episode was about five lines and two minutes of screentime. In the whole thing. Dean Thomas was only there to be sort of sympathetic and then nearly die. And even his near death only existed in the story to show what a good person John is. 

Minority representation? I think we can all agree that Sherlock isn't exactly winning at this. For that matter, the women this episode, though sassy and fun and very enjoyable, weren't really hitting my sweet spot either. Because as much as I love Molly and Mary and Mrs. Hudson, they each spent the whole episode revolving around Sherlock and his problems. Molly was terrified (rightly) that his speech would be awful, while Mary was corralling her boys around and making sure their relationship was good, with no heed for herself, and Mrs. Hudson was doling out advice on all fronts (and an amazing anecdote about the late Mr. Hudson and his drug cartel). 

And while all these women were funny and cool and even sexy at times, they weren't real. They didn't have anything going on except for Sherlock. Even the maid of honor, who must surely have been Mary's best friend if she was her only bridesmaid, spent the whole episode following Sherlock around like a puppy, completely ignoring the fact that her best friend was getting married. Nope! No time for that whole female friendship thing. There's an attractive man here. I must seduce him with my wiles.

It was just a lot to take, especially when mixed in with the "I'm going to die alone," melodrama of Sherlock's plotline. Because somehow all these women don't count. Only John, who has been here the whole time, counts. Just him. Screw you, Lestrade, Molly, Mary, Mrs. Hudson, Tom, etc.

Well, I suppose Tom doesn't care all that much. But he seems like a nice guy, so I bet he does rather care.

We've only got one episode left now in this season, and while I predict that it will involve Mary being kidnapped and Sherlock bargaining his life to save her, I really don't know. But I do know what I want.

I want a cast with a reasonable amount of diversity, some actual, interesting stories for the women of the show, and for Sherlock to stop being an utter tit. We'll see if any of that happens. Sadly, knowing Moffat, I don't have very high hopes.

3 comments:

  1. I think you're spot on with the guess that Mary will be kidnapped. Let's be real -- no way is a Moffat show going to give you a female character that likable without damseling her or otherwise turning her into a hapless victim.

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    1. Yeah. Likable female character who isn't a romantic interest for the lonely genius lead? I sense danger.

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  2. I'll give you the lack of ethnicity but I was on Sherlock's side over the loneliness.

    I'm 27 and I don't have any friends and I probably never will. Some people are just not good at interpersonal relationships or forming connections. I don't think that Sherlock can help being an ass sometimes or from annoying or putting people off. He's just someone that only understands human behavior in theory. He's smart and witty and full of interesting facts and quirks but there is something missing to tie it all together into a fully fledged individual. It's not in the writing or acting but in how some just are and it's difficult to fake that normalcy and it's not a difference that's enough to qualify a mental disorder or that comes from a damaged psyche.

    John was Sherlock's first real best friend. It is like how Gregory House had a team of doctors that cared for him but only one Wilson. John would still be there even though he was getting married but he wouldn't be his roommate anymore. Sherlock couldn't walk out of his bedroom in his pajamas and see John at the kitchen table or have that daily routine familiarity of a living partner. He was going from meeting and moving in with his platonic soul mate to three's a crowd.

    He has other people he could dance with or have lunch with but for some people it's just hard to start something that feels natural instead of like having guests over. John somehow became like an extension of himself rather quickly and without doing anything to try to create that comfortableness and bond. If I tried to dance with someone or sat down to conversation it would feel forced and really awkward and the other person would be kind enough or maybe find me engaging but nothing would come of it. What do you do? Do you ask a person you hit it off with to do something in another locale later in the week? People make it seem so easy but if I tried it would come off desperate and maybe encroaching and they only were tolerating me in brief stints.

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