Sherlock continues to fascinate me and, having exhausted Irene Adler for the time being, a post on this blog by Dan Hartland points out the perennial feature of many Sherlockian narratives – the endeavour either to get inside the Great Sleuth’s head or to set him up, literally for a fall which discredits him, is a natural response to what is, at heart, a superhero narrative. Is Sherlock human at all? Or at least, can he be regarded as a normal human being? If not, then the inclination to distrust him is natural.
John bears witness to his faith in Sherlock’s humanity, whilst standing at his graveside. Unbeknownst to him, Sherlock overhears this testament – not only did John refuse to deny him, but he refused to believe in his own denial. And this is closely linked to another belief, one that he hardly dares to articulate but clings to nevertheless – that Sherlock, his ordeal over, will rise from the dead.
Dan Hartland points out that in both ASiB and THoB we see Sherlock incapacitated and losing control of the rationality that defines him. The second of these Hartland refers to as a “Gethsemane moment.”
How to respond, then, to a problem which does not yield to the rationalistic observation method Sherlock brings to bear upon every problem? He is for a while at a loss, and confesses an extended moment of real doubt to…Holmes – naturally – ultimately solves the mystery. But he does so by passing through a Gethsemane, and the audience enjoys it.
We enjoy this because it appear to reassure us that Holmes shares at least some of our weaknesses, that his all-knowing armour can be pierced and that we can identify with him. Other examples of this are scattered through S2 and Hartland examines some of them.
But shortly after this revelation of Sherlock’s fallibility, he does something that many people would find inhuman. He uses Watson as an experimental subject without his consent and watches impassively for the benefit of proving his theory as he cowers in abject, pharmaceutically-induced fear.
The setting here is significant. Experimental laboratories are a potent source of fear and suspicion for many people, particularly when associated with pharmaceuticals and animals. One could, possibly, even add guilt to that list, since while many of us recoil from the perceived cruelty to animals, we gladly embrace the products that result from the process.
This scene causes us, once more, to question Sherlock’s essential humanity, since he clearly sacrifices his friend’s welfare and autonomy to what is rationally the greater good – ie, solving the case and thereby cleansing the community of evil. My use of religious language is intentional here. Narratives of superhuman beings fascinate us because they allow us to question what it actually means to be human, and one of the most potent of these stories is that of Jesus Christ.
In a neat reversal of the Devil’s command to Christ in the wilderness, “If you really are the Son of God, throw yourself down and his angels will take charge of you and lift you up if you cast your foot against a stone,” Sherlock is called, literally, to throw himself down and appear dead in order to restore our faith in his essential humanity. He redeems himself from the rationality that makes him both fearful and fascinating by showing himself willing to die for his friends, and also willing to submit to the ordeal of losing the reputation that defines him. The final scene sees John grieving at his tomb while he looks on, waiting to reveal himself in an eagerly awaited resurrection.
But can things ever return to the way they were before? In the original, Conan Doyle told us that after he came back, Sherlock was never the same again. He also gave us a married Watson (admittedly before, rather than after, the events of TRF). That’s a possibility that neither Moffatt and Gatiss nor the majority of fan fiction writers have yet explored.