Sherlock unmasked


Season 3 begins with Sherlock and John Watson absorbing big changes in their lives. John finds out his best friend isn’t dead, gets married, finds out he’s going to be a father, and get his old job back. Death, birth, marriage, and career change are major life events. Watson has strong adaptability, perceptiveness, and relationship skills so its no surprise he’s handling it like a Hobbit.

Sherlock is dealing with change as well. His best friend is getting married; he’s picking up his life after a lengthy absence; he’s still dealing with life or death mysteries; and, oh yes, he lied to his best friend and nearly everyone else he knows. He let them think he was dead for two years and must now deal with the effects of that deception on all his relationships, even on Molly and Mycroft, who were in on the deception. In one way Sherlock’s return from the dead simply adds to his public mystique, but the press is focused on “how he did it,” an indication that his controlled image is unraveling further. Sherlock seems to be shedding some of his mystique in order to adjust to change, not only in his circumstances, but in himself.

Sherlock may be reluctant to let go of the emotional safety net the perception of detachment provides. His response to Mary’s comment that John thinks Major Sholto is the “most unsociable man he’s ever met” is disappointment. Actually I think Mycroft wins the unsociable award this time. He didn’t even come to the wedding. The Major not only came, but agreed to forgo the relief of death for John’s sake.

Sherlock later describes himself threateningly to Mary’s ex, David, as a “high functioning sociopath with your number.” Maybe the funniest line in the episode, but inaccurate. A sociopath could not have planned an elaborate pub crawl to revisit Holmes and Watson’s most interesting mystery-solving exploits. That was the affectionate nostalgia of a best man who wants to relive the glory days with his best friend. It may have been odd in the execution, but the idea is remarkably typical of how friends celebrate passages together. Which brings us back to the wedding toast and Sherlock’s declaration that Watson saved his life. His awkward but affectionate and emotional best man speech are not at all the words of a sociopath or a detached genius, but of a grateful friend.

The more we know about people the less mystique those people seem to hold. I think Sherlock has been shedding his mask for some time. To a great extent it is Sherlock’s friendship with John that pulled back the curtain on his perception of himself. Sherlock’s personality, his giftedness, his upbringing, and even his career as a detective reinforce the image of a man set apart from ordinary men. His public persona of cool, objective detachment doesn’t hold up when Sherlock is with John.

John Watson’s marriage will undoubtedly impact John’s and Sherlock’s professional and personal relationship, as Sherlock is repeatedly warned in the wedding episode. But Mary’s role seems to be more ally than rival. Sherlock likes and trusts her. Mary likes him too, and seems to see behind his mask as well. If Sherlock’s hilarious scenes with the young ringbearer are any indication, being “Uncle Sherlock” to John and Mary’s new baby might provide still more insight into this complex character.

Which brings me to the questions about Sherlock Holmes this new season leaves me pondering. Is Sherlock’s image deliberately constructed? Is it the result of a public imagination hungry for mystique? Certainly Mycroft seems to encourage this mystique; he seems to enjoy wearing it more than Sherlock himself does. It seems that Sherlock is discovering that, like most humans, he enjoys being known, loved and accepted, and even enjoys occasionally, selectively reciprocating that response towards a few others.

Another revelation in Season 3 is that Sherlock and Mycroft have parents. Meeting someone’s parents tends to reveal things that the most deliberate and carefully constructed image cannot hide. At this first brief glance, these people seem incongruous with their offspring. Hopefully Season 3 will provide clues to the mystery of how the Holmes brothers came to be so brilliant and peculiar. After seeing the parents I wonder if Mycroft might have more to do with Sherlock being Sherlock than his parents do. In his own way Mycroft is as mysterious as Moriarty, and perhaps more complex. I’d be happy to see the unmasking of Mycroft become the intriguing mystery of Season 3.

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