This article was written by Angelica Marciano and Megan Seabaugh
Thanks to you, Season 3.
There’s already a great, in depth review of Season Three of BBC’s Sherlock up on this website, so if you’re looking for an actual review I’m going to kindly redirect you to that. I’m also writing this with the assumption that you have seen the season and you know what I’m talking about.
That said, I’m going to verbalize my opinions on something that I feel is more important.
1) Nothing is answered. Nothing is solved.
I’ll be the first to say that The Reichenbach Fall was a brilliant episode – it was my favorite of the series, and it hit all the right notes for me for what makes a ‘good’ piece of television. James Moriarty kills himself to get the last laugh over Sherlock Holmes; he’s pushed Holmes into a corner where suicide is the only apparent option, since his friends’ lives are at stake and his reputation has been destroyed completely.
There were multiple ways that Holmes could have survived. Fans came up with myriad theories over the two-year hiatus, some of which were alluded to in the episode. But the episode did not actually address, for certain, how Sherlock actually survived. instead they provided three possibilities for how it might have been done. As the third and final explanation comes from Sherlock himself, viewers are given cause to believe that this is “official,” and what actually happened — but even this last explanation is undermined when Anderson, the character who fills the role of the archetypal fool in the two previous seasons, questions why Sherlock would even tell him how he survived in the first place.
Viewers are left in a strange limbo where nothing is answered. Moffat and Gatiss wryly noted in an interview with Empire Magazine that this is a direct parallel to the public’s reaction to how Sherlock survived the fall in the original Conan Doyle stories, wherein Holmes survives “due to his knowledge of an obscure form of Japanese wrestling” (Gatiss, 1a). Moffat claims that leaving the audience guessing is justified, as there is no reason to believe “Sherlock Holmes has told the truth about how he did it” (Moffat, 1a). But this is, after all, Moffat and Gatiss’s fanfiction; shouldn’t they address the flaws of the original, rather than repeat them?
This brings me to my next point:
2) Trivializing YOUR Fans
In “The Empty Hearse,” we see that Anderson has organized a fan group for Holmes. These fans in the show gather to try to figure out how Holmes died, trading theories and exchanging stories. When Sherlock comes to him for the anti-climactic reveal, we are shown through Anderson’s confession and Holmes’ inference that this is a manifestation of Anderson’s guilt. Anderson felt like he had been the one to push Holmes to the edge when he didn’t believe Holmes, and he has become a desperate wreck because of it. The group of fans represented in the show were a clear call-out to the shows’ actual fans, some of whom appreciated the so-called fan-service, and others of whom found the reflection of themselves distorted, unflattering, and highly insulting.
During the post season 2 hiatus, a lot of the theories and critical analysis came out because of the episodes, with fans trying to figure out the death. It was brilliant to see. The scene in the episode that some have read as playful ribbing at the fan base, I think was incredibly out of line.
One of the theories, played out on television involved Holmes and Moriarty faking their deaths together, and then about to kiss. Of course, it was shared by one of the most stereotypical representations of a young, ‘gothic’-looking female fan. In the show, Anderson calls her theory “ridiculous” (despite the fact that his own theory involved a bungee cord and hypnosis). Both theories are presented as laughable by the narrative, but they are very clearly gendered: Anderson has evidently put a lot of thought into his, and is concerned more with the “rational” side of the story behind Sherlock’s fall. The overweight goth fangirl, on the other hand, is preoccupied with one thing and one thing only: the potential romance between Sherlock and Moriarty. Her “theory” for how Sherlock actually survived is pathetic: a rope holding a mannequin with a paper image of Sherlock’s face taped over it, released over the side of the building.
It’s clear the showrunners are trying to playfully allude to female fans’ tendency to write erotic fanfiction; but in the process, they’ve completely dismissed those fans’ capacity for rational thought, despite the fact that many of these same women came up with in-depth theories for how Sherlock survived the fall. Online members of the fandom, most of them women, had theories about the rubber ball, the homeless network, Molly’s assistance, and more, all of which Sherlock indicated he had used in his final reveal. in “The Empty Hearse,” the fierce intelligence behind these theories is completely dissociated from female fans. Instead, the narrative has constructed Anderson, an older white male, as the paragon of rationalism, whereas the young female fan is just in it to see two attractive white men kissing. She’s not meant to be taken seriously; she’s an absolute joke.
Fans have banded together for meet-ups and other purposes all over because of this show. Some examples are: SherlockNYC, Baker Street Babes, Sherlock Boston. There are groups in London, and Toronto, in Atlanta that existed to make the hiatus easier and to simply bond over the common fact that they love Sherlock Holmes and his many incarnations.
As someone who co-founded Sherlock Boston, I felt personally insulted by the fact that they were making fun of their fan base. I think it’s wonderful, that something like Sherlock Holmes can bring people together. Apparently that has just become more of a joke.
It’s one thing to pander to your fan base by jokes on twitter or other social media platforms, or when you’re interacting with them in person. It’s another thing entirely to mock your fans on national television. Please see NBCHannibal’s social media strategy for an example of how to play with your fans on the same level as them, instead of constantly remaining ‘above’ them.
3) Sherlock is an asshole, but it’s funny, right?
Any sort of character development that had happened last season, where Holmes had realized that some of the things he says and does aren’t appropriate, went out the window completely. Instead, we are given a very malicious and cruel Holmes. He’s done things for his own gain before without any forethought of other people, which is understood considering the characterization of Holmes that we have been shown. The difference is, generally there are repercussions from the distasteful actions.
He kisses Molly Hooper after talking about how happy he is for her to have found a new boyfriend that she seems to really enjoy.
Worst of all, his cruelty is shown to extend even to his best friend, John Watson. In the climax of “The Empty Hearse,” Holmes takes Watson down into the Tube to investigate a potential terrorist threat. They find it in the form of a bomb concealed in an empty train car, set to explode in a mere two and a half minutes. It appears that Holmes’ arrogance has led our heroes into a situation where they have no hope for escape or rescue, and face certain death. John pleads with Sherlock to just think, to figure out how to save them in a moment of brilliance, but after much head-pounding and angsting, Sherlock responds “I can’t do it, John. I don’t know how. Forgive me.” Grudgingly, John gives his forgiveness: “Look. I find it difficult. I find it difficult, this sort of stuff, [but]…“You were the best and the wisest man (deep breath) that I have ever known… and yes, of course. I forgive you.”
After an awkward cut to Sherlock’s explanation of his death, where we see Anderson break down, we’re dragged back to the train car, where Sherlock —inexplicably—laughing. Surprise! We find that he knew how to defuse the bomb the whole time: “There’s an off switch,” Sherlock explains, still giggling. “There’s always an off switch.”
The scene highlights a recurring problem in the third series, wherein Sherlock emotionally manipulates John by making him believe this is a now-or-never scenario, the only opportunity John will have to accept Sherlock’s apology. He then laughs at John’s trauma: “Your face! Your face, I totally had you!” The dynamic between Sherlock and John is the heart of the show, but here it’s been twisted into something completely unhealthy. And yet, it’s not portrayed that way. John laughs grudgingly, apparently accepting his fate as the eternally kicked dog of the series (an aspect of his character arc that returns in “His Last Vow,” when Sherlock blames John’s having picked “sociopathic” assassin Mary as his lifelong partner on John’s own inner darkness, despite the fact that John harbored no suspicions against Mary whatsoever).
4) Mary Morstan
I fell in love with the Mary Morstan that sassed Holmes and Watson in episode one, that was a character who was very witty and could hold her own in the conversation. The plot twist at the end of season 3 struck me as very odd, and incongruous with the character we had been grown to like. Unfortunately, that isn’t the character we see in “His Last Vow”; in fact, the writers wanted so much to surprise the viewers with the twist in Mary’s character development that they didn’t even tell Amanda Abbington, the actress who played her, where her role was headed. It seemed like a forced character development with little to no basis, thrown at viewers for cheap shock value.
5) Queer-baiting, ahoy!
It’s turned into a running joke in the show that John Watson is gay for Sherlock Holmes, hahaha. Despite his vehement denials, it’s quite funny, isn’t it? Apparently, according to the writers, it is.
There’s a well-known presence on the internet about Holmes and Watson, about the fact that teenage girls apparently like to write about guys romantically paired together. It’s so funny, right? All these horny young women writing erotic fiction and making fanart of the dynamic duo. It’s funny because they’re teenage girls (and people like to roll their eyes and laugh at teenage girls whenever they can, because god, they’re silly and stupid, aren’t they), and it’s funny because the very idea that a homosexual Holmes and Watson would be depicted on screen is ridiculous. Even though they constantly call attention to the question of Holmes’ sexuality within the show, the idea that, in the end, that could be explicitly stated to be something other than heterosexual is absurd.
The Moriarty and Holmes kiss was made with a very self-conscious awareness of both of these issues. It was made to make fun of fans in the guise of giving them what they wanted; because of course they’re just watching this show to see two attractive white men kiss, not because they’re interested in the characters’ development or because they’re interested in queer representation. It’s silly, this idea that there are queer viewers that are interested in seeing an aspect of a character that speaks to their experience.
But the constant trivialization of the fans and of queerness is getting old, and fans are getting tired of it.
6) Trivializing the beautiful season 2 finale that was the Reichenbach Fall.
Surprise! The Season 3 Finale shows us that Moriarty is back from the dead. Even if he’s not physically back, and it is more of a recording, some grand scheme he left behind, I think that this combined with the fact that Holmes’ death wasn’t even answered really belittled the tension we felt at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall.” I understand the merits of bringing such a great villain back, but it was just handled very poorly in my mind.
Look, There were a handful of things I really enjoyed—like the villain that they had of Charles Augustus Magnussen. The wedding scene was beautiful, and it was nice to see some level of character development —which, of course, is removed pretty quickly.
Overall, however, I think it was incredibly poor how they treated the fans, and the shoddy treatment of the entire season. Unless there’s a change, I don’t think I will be watching the upcoming season of Sherlock.