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.

Viewers are left in a strange limbo where nothing is answered.

Viewers are left in a strange limbo where nothing is answered.

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.

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.

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.

About The Author

Angelica Marciano is a Blast Magazine Staff Writer

8 Responses

  1. Griffin

    The cruelty of Holmes is really the thing that’s been nagging at me. The obvious gender imbalances in character depth and the consistent disrespect of LGBT concepts is horribly distasteful, but as a reader of the ACD tales and having written more than one paper comparing incarnations of Holmes in modern medial to it’s source… the cruelty is the worst. Consideration for others was always something that happened due to a difference of focus. It was inconsiderate. It was rude. It was terse. But it was never malicious or intentional. The entire 3rd season is riddled with moments where he is being mean to someone and he is clearly entirely aware of it. I’m going absolutely on team Elementary now.

  2. Lexie

    While I do understand why some fans may be upset about this past season, I find that many who criticize it so deeply are missing important perspectives. Take, for example, the writers’ place in creating the explanation that is the Reichenbach Fall. You are being handed theory after theory, some of which are, yes, quite ridiculous, and now you are faced with the challenge of choosing an explanation that will satisfy each fan? Even for Gatiss and Moffat, I’m not sure such a feat could be accomplished. With millions of fans globally, it would be an absolutely absurd notion that they could please every fan (which, obviously, they still pissed some off anyway; it happens). I think it was indeed a wise choice on their part to not reveal Holmes’ methods as none would seem to match up to his past displays of intellect. Thus, they would probably have angered more fans than they already have.

    As far as trivializing the fans, anyone could find fault in that. Whether it be, “I’m a fan and I don ‘t look like that,” or “I’m a fan and I never ever joke about Sherlock Holmes,” everyone will find fault because this character of the gothic girl is meant to be humorous and a hyperbole in the world of Holmes fans, a symbol and shoutout to the fans who do indulge in “crack” fanfiction just for the fun of it. If she was a size two, fans would be upset because it’s an inaccurate representation. If she was anything else, fans would still be upset because again, it is not an accurate representation of them. The gothic-looking girl is clearly meant to be a caricature representation of the slash fanbase, as is evident in her theory about “Sheriarty.” She is not meant to be taken seriously, but then you have to think, neither is Anderson. What Gatiss and Moffat displayed was an onscreen showing of the fandom’s descent into madness over the two year hiatus. It was never a knock on the fans, but a nod to them in acknowledgement that yes, the showrunners saw all the ridiculous goings-ons post-season two. Understandably, not every fan was like that. They were simply appealing to the majority.

    Now, as far as Holmes’ cruelty, I think you missed an important piece of the deduction. Yes, he took a step back. But why was he such an arsehole this season? You looked, but you didn’t see. He was being tortured as he slowly took down Moriarty’s criminal web. Remember how he was beaten, chained, dirty, and weak. Does anyone really expect him to emerge from his two-year mission, completely alone in his work, with all his character development from the past season in tact? Surely he would take steps backward. He would be even more out of touch with interpersonal communications than when he began because he no longer had John to keep him grounded. It has been established that Holmes has difficulty staying both sharp-minded logically and sensitive to others’ emotions at the same time. This is not a new scenario, and with two years of living in his head and staying logically sharp, his person-to-person communication would obviously be more than lacking. It’s elementary, my dear Watson.

    Now Mary, the lovely and darling Mary Morstan. I quickly fell in love with her character and her story. Why did her characterization and plot twist feel so rushed? Because we were never shown life with just John and Mary. Consider this: Mary Morstan has been in three episodes and we watched her big reveal which, in Holmes’ time, would have been after three years with John and an additional several months after their re-acquaintance with Holmes. Also consider: Mary Morstan has appeared in three episodes, falling just short of James Moriarty, who was given character development and only appeared in 1×03 “The Great Game,” 2×01 “A Scandal in Belgravia,” and 2×03 “The Reichenbach Fall.” He only had a small mention in episode 2×02 “The Hound of Baskerville” and episode 1×01 “A Study in Pink.” If we look even closer, we see that Moriarty was only really active in 1×03 and 2×03, because his appearance in 2×01 was limited to the first few minutes that allowed John and Sherlock to escape the pool area. So while you may criticize Mary’s “rushed” character development in season three, consider that we were given very little time with Moriarty and he still was able to masterfully display a descent to desperation to take down Sherlock Holmes. Mary, by contrast, has had more onscreen time than Moriarty, so she actually had, what I felt to be, the correct amount of character development within her allotted screentime.

    Queer-baiting: yes, another nod to slash fans, who widely populate the BBC Sherlock fanbase. Being that Gatiss wrote the majority if not the entirety of 3×01 “The Empty Hearse,” and being that he is openly homosexual himself, I really don’t feel that he would object to a homosexual Holmes/Watson coupling. In fact, his joking “Sheriarty” almost-kiss appeared to be toeing the line to test his boundaries as the show writer. Of course, taking a show known for its loyalty to the original books (hence the first meeting, episode titles, cases, and story arcs) and making such a drastic change might be frightening and intimidating to the duo as writers. I don’t think that this season was filled with queer-baiting so much as testing the water for possible future turns.

    And finally, the biggest reveal of the season: Moriarty is back. But…is he really? If anything, this seems to build tension as the question becomes the reality of his return. Or could this possibly be Moran’s doing? This doesn’t so much trivialize the season two finale as it does add a new aspect. Does a new discovery really change how you felt when you first saw Moriarty shoot himself or Sherlock jump off the building? Adding a new mystery shouldn’t take away that emotion you felt when you first viewed 2×03. It still happened. You still felt how you felt in the moment. And honestly, who wasn’t unnerved and excited to see Moriarty’s face flash onscreen?

    “Did you miss me?”

    I’ll conclude with a disclaimer. These are all personal opinions, and most people viewing this page are more likely than not to have directly contrasting views. I’m simply offering my thoughts as food for thought on looking at things from a new perspective. Because really, your argument is much stronger when all sides have been considered and weighed equally. Thank you for your time.

    • Megan Seabaugh

      Hi Lexie,

      We really do appreciate your input! You make a ton of good points, a lot of which I’ve seen from other members of the fandom that I follow. I feel that I should have qualified this article with the statement that I actually am still an avid Sherlock fan and consider myself to be part of the fandom even now; the “I” in the last sentence really isn’t my voice, it’s more Angie’s, and I definitely will be watching the next season in the hopes that this season’s issues will be addressed.

      I think most of the points you make, though, draw attention to the fact that all of the character and plot developments in this series weren’t given enough room to breathe. I fell in love with Mary’s character too, and because of that I think we should have seen more of her and John interacting, especially in between the big reveal of her character and John’s forgiveness of her that happened months later, from what we’re told.

      As someone who’s studying writing in college, we’re often told in workshops to “show, not tell.” As cliché as that advice can sometimes be, I’ve found it really is helpful in developing a dynamic story with believable and complicated characters. But for this season of Sherlock, all we got was the writers telling us things, instead of showing them. Critical fans can and do read in between the lines to fill in what’s missing—like you’ve done an excellent job of doing here—but there comes a point where it feels like fans are doing as much or more work than the writers, and I feel that as Sherlock is a highly popular, mainstream show, that’s not the sort of writer-viewer experience they are or should be going for. But that’s just a personal opinion, like yours. Thanks again for giving such a well thought-out and respectful comment!

  3. Illel

    “Anderson, an older white male, as the paragon of rationalism”? Correct me if i’m wrong, but his first theory was about Sherlock, Molly, a bundgee, a dramatically broken window, some delicious curly hair and a kiss!! What difference between this hormone charged theory and the sheriarty theory of the gothic girl? Both of them was out of rationalism.
    I’m a girl (not teenage), i read fanfic, my brain explosed during the bungee episode but I don’t see the insult. Since the first episode, Sherlock said he’s not a hero and how he survived was the perfect exemple : no fireworks , no crazy scheme. Of course, Anderson (and fans) dreamed about crazy theory, but reality is completly different and in general, reality is boring and less shiny than imagination. Sherlock needed a way to survive, not to a way impress Anderson (or you). Moffat was really intelligent to give us this answer.
    Moffat and Gatiss didn’t laught at us, they laugh WITH us. Sorry if you felt out of it.
    Ok i’ve no time to write more but a cruel Holmes? How the “good bye scene” between Molly and him was cruel? Cruel for me, yes, but not for them! 🙂
    I’m not mother-tongued English, so i apologies for my chaotic grammar… 😉

    • Megan Seabaugh

      Hi Illel,

      You make some good points! Terming Anderson as “the paragon of rationalism” was probably going overboard, I admit—his theory just as fantasy-driven as the fangirl’s. I get heated when I’m mad about something, and when that happens I can have a tendency to exaggerate things. But you have to admit that there was more thought in his theory than there was in the fangirl’s—a dummy with a paper printout taped over the face and a rope holding it up??? seriously???—and there was definitely more money invested in the filming of Anderson’s scenes (the production value was higher). What really bugs me is that the only thing they show the teenage girl as being interested in is the kissing, and I find that an overly simplistic viewing of fangirls and their enthusiasm for all aspects of a show, not just their ships.

      I’m a fangirl too, I read tons and tons of fic—I have five different Sherlock fic rec pages on my tumblr, sorted into fluff, angst, smut, asexual!Sherlock fics, and fics with badass ladies. But I still found the fangirl’s character to be grossly sexist. Fangirls—and female viewers of the show in general—are interested in more than the main characters’ sex appeal, but based on what Moffat has said in interviews, that’s all he thinks they’re interested in. And it shows.

      And there are a couple of problems with the final solution Sherlock gives, the one he tells to Anderson. One is that the show flat-out says that it might not be how he survived. The second is that what he says happened has no bearing on how fantastical the fans’ theories were. It also incorporated a lot of theories that real-life fans had already given, so it capitalized on real-life fans even as it made fun of them within the narrative.


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