About Sherlock’s return, John’s reaction, and Johnlock in TEH in general
Second part of my review. Had to split it up because it became too long. First part can be found here.
Let’s start with this scene:
Sorry, but the holiday is over, brother dear. Back to Baker Street… Sherlock Holmes.
And Sherlock smiles. He smiles. Why does he smile, I wondered at this point. Is it relief to finally escape the torture he’s been subjected to, as it seems? Is it hearing his (real) name for probably the first time in many months? Is it the prospect of returning to London; to Baker Street, home? Or is it even that he knows he finally going to see John again? What follows afterwards – see below – speaks for the John factor. Why should he be happy, especially in that situation and in the face of his brother he usually isn’t all that fond of (or so it seems?).
I can’t help but think that John’s the only thing Sherlock really cares about in that whole scene. He asks about him, he looks at the picture and criticizes his appearance (moustache), he assumes John is still in 221B where he apparently just wants to return to and go back to his normal old life with him, and he asks Mycroft where he can find him after he learns that John isn’t in 221B anymore.
It’s all about John. All of it. It seems as if all Sherlock wants is to go back to where they were two years ago, being friend, living together, solving crimes together. Because it worked and Sherlock had gotten used to it. Maybe even dependent on it? It’s no news that socially speaking Sherlock is a very complicated person. He knows he’s not easy to live with, and he despises most people because they are idiots. John, however, was different, from the very beginning, and that is what he thrives on, what he needs in his life. He’s become used to it, and even though he was away for two years, for his everyday life in London he needs John.
When Sherlock enters the restaurant and first sees John, he suddenly looks anything but confident. It is almost as if he went there without a plan – he just thought he would go and, well, pop out of a cake, but the moment he spots John, sitting there, for real, confidence apparently leaves him.
This is a Sherlock who knows that he’s not done good by his friend, his best and possibly only friend; he might even deduce in that moment that John has still not recovered, that he is still mourning. I assume there is guilt in Sherlock – about what he has done, but also that he is now about to just shock John with his return, and he hasn’t thought through how best to do that – so he opts for what he knows best: A disguise to play a role. To not be himself. To not be affected. And suddenly he’s smirking again and the confidence is back. Not himself, he can approach John, because he can hide his feelings away, like he has always done, and he doesn’t have to deal with the full extent of consequences, especially emotional, all at once.
That scene. My God. I had seen it before, in the Finnish trailer, and immediately noticed this one thing: the tiny hint of insecurity in Sherlock’s voice when he said “not dead”. Apart from the fact that initially laughed because of the words having been featured on Tumblr a lot in the past months, this was truly touching. As was his insecurity afterwards. Heartbreaking.
Let’s get into that. He’s just learned from Mycroft that his one constant isn’t there anymore, that John has moved on. Sherlock really believed he’d come home and nothing will have changed. After all he wasn’t there. But now he learns, he sees, that things indeed do have changed, that the world continued to turn, and that the John he knew, he was familiar with, the John he trusted and thought of as his friend, his only friend probably, and the man who is his sole connection to social life/behavior, has moved on – that he isn’t sitting in Baker Street, frozen in time, and waiting for Sherlock to come home.
And it must so confuse Sherlock, if not break him a little, because among all the things he had to think of and consider these past two years, he might just have hoped, believed, that John would be there, no matter what – because he always was. Every problem they encountered, John had been there, no matter how bad their fallout was, how much they argued. But that constant is gone now (or at least appears to be for the moment) and maybe, for the first time in his life, or at least in a long while, Sherlock doesn’t know how to react. Suddenly, John has become an incalculable factor he was never supposed to be.
And that tiny quiver, that faint question in these two words that are so heavy with meaning, show that Sherlock Holmes is scared. He doesn’t know what to do because of all the possible scenarios, that’s probably nothing he counted on. It becomes all the more obvious when he begins to ramble, because Sherlock never rambles – but here he does. He tries to keep his focus on John, dismisses Mary with as less attention as possible, and he laughs it all off. He laughs, nervously, and that is something we’ve never before seen him do. Oh, Sherlock was nervous, in one way or another – remember Hounds, remember Irene Adler. But never before has he laughed something off. Ridiculing a situation by laughing it off, by joking, is the worst form of nervousness and insecurity, because you are bound to make the other angry, as they will think you make fun of them, but it is at the same time also the most desperate form, because when we can’t think of anything else, we usually go for humor or even mockery to not confront the depth of our true feelings – something that could be extremely hurtful.
So what if Sherlock would have remained serious, would have apologized (as he actually did later on!), would have tried to explain himself? This could have ended in a very heartfelt, very emotional, but also very out of character-like scene. Maybe Sherlock indeed tried to give John the opportunity to get his anger out of his system first – he must have seen how he was seething. On the other hand I don’t agree on what some people said about Sherlock deliberately not defending himself. I think he was really surprised. I watched that scene several times and Sherlock’s face shows that he’s completely taken aback by John’s sudden attack. Maybe the emotional turmoil he must have felt inside him made him blind for the obvious and he didn’t see it coming, after all.
Later on, Sherlock admits that other people knew – Mycroft, Molly, the homeless network – and that he was also thinking about contacting John numerous times, but didn’t do so because he believed John would give something away. And looking at John now, it actually makes a lot of sense. John has, as mentioned before, apparently been in mourning for the past two years. He would never have been able to keep it upright as a facade had he suddenly learned that Sherlock’s still alive. Quite the contrary – especially because there couldn’t have been a right moment to inform him. Immediately after the Fall he would have been too relieved. Later on he would have questioned why he hadn’t been told earlier and would have been angry.
May John have problems expressing his feelings – those emotions such as grief and anger and relief resulting from friendly affection/love are too strong to hide them, and John’s not the born liar anyways (why do I have to think of Jane and Lisbon from THE MENTALIST?). Keeping him in the dark was probably the best thing they could do to assure people that Sherlock Holmes is indeed dead – which they apparently needed everyone to believe.
By the way, I think it is interesting that it took two years to clear Sherlock’s name. What the hell where they doing? Or is that correlated with Sherlock finally breaking up and dissolving Moriarty’s network; that only when he’s done with that suddenly people can realize that Sherlock was innocent? Because wrong information isn’t thrown into public anymore? I mean, that’s the only explanation that makes sense to me, everything else would mean that they had taken really long, and much longer than it should have taken.
We had it in the trailer already:
The thrill of the chase, the blood pumping through your veins… Just the two of us against the rest of the world.
A sentence that pushed a fandom into a frenzy, and for a reason. Now, in context, it’s even better. And not because of where and when it happens, or how John reacts to it. No, because of what it says I’m not sure anyone has really gotten into yet (at least I’ve not seen/read anything about it).
“Just the two of us” – Sherlock’s speaking about the two of them, John and Sherlock, an inseparable duo, friends, confidants, soul mates even. Sherlock isn’t all “I” and “you” anymore; he’s “we” now, he needs John, he wants him back in his life, in his work. He knows he is a better person with John, he knows he works better with him, because John’s different from everyone else, John has accepted who and what he is from the very first moment on, he didn’t insult him and walk away, no he stayed and listened and thought he was/is amazing, and Sherlock now knows that he can’t go on without that – because he will be incomplete.
Now he’s trying to appeal to John but what he knows got him in four years ago, when they first met – the thrill, the danger. And he adds what has worked so well – the two of them, a unity, a symbiosis. Sherlock has seen how John relies on him, trusts him, needs him, and he knows how it is the same to him. When it comes to human relations, Sherlock can only use what he knows and has experienced, and it is what we see him doing here. He is learning, yes, he has learned a lot since before he met John, but he’s still clumsy and awkward and at best imitating humanity.
For the moment, John leaves – and Sherlock remains, looking sad, broken even, before he walks away into the night. It’s a telling picture; they could just have cut there, but no, they show him how he looks after the cab John and Mary have just left in, and then he walks away, and the camera stays on him, on his back – he is walking, in the dark, alone. That’s the theme; that’s what it is like now for Sherlock, at least for the moment. He is alone. John doesn’t want him anymore.
In the following we see a Sherlock who tries desperately to accept John’s decision. He doesn’t harass him (at least we don’t see it, but I assume he really doesn’t), he apparently only once tried to contact him again and got a very not-nice answer. What does he do. He gives up. For the moment, he gives up. Sure, Mary told him she would talk John around, but when have we ever seen Sherlock rely on someone other than John, especially in a matter that’s so important to him? No, I believe the old Sherlock Holmes would try and get John back on his own, no matter what Mary says. But he doesn’t; he’d ready to accept John’s decision, even though he still wants him in his life, and needs him, and that tells a lot.
This shows also in him asking Molly to be herself when he invites her to solve a case with him. Molly is readily assuming she’ll be a John substitute, but Sherlock just tells her that she’s supposed to be herself. He knows no one can ever be a second John, and if he can’t have the real article, he rather tries something new altogether. As if Sherlock indeed tries to move on.
Of course it isn’t working. Sherlock starts to hear John’s voice – and it’s not a nice one. It is some kind of self-flagellation his subconscious mind subjects him to – reminding him of the less kind words John has said to him, of mocking and teasing. John has praised him several times, but Sherlock remembers exclusively critic, and that out of a context that could possibly ease the harshness of the words. Context doesn’t matter here, though. Sherlock feels guilty, even though he might not even know he does, and that guilt manifests in his hearing of a voice he wants and needs to hear, but that at the same time abuses him verbally. Sherlock’s reactions are rather unusual, especially when he outright growls “shut up” – something I thought was extremely OOC. It is another indicator that Sherlock has suffered greatly in these past two years, and it all adds up here: overt comical behavior, hearing voices, slips in personality.
Jump to the bonfire scene. The scene that has Sherlock literally run into fire for John. It’s reckless and impulsive – but it is exactly what Sherlock does for John. And only for John.
There’s not really much need to talk about Sherlock’s reactions in general. When he learns from Mary something has happened, he appears worried; when he understand the message she’s been sent he literally drops everything and rushes out. He commandeers a motorbike (too bad we didn’t see that completely, although it would of course not have fitted the mood here) and uses his skills to find the quickest way. And he takes Mary. That once again show that he either really likes her, or believes he needs to keep her close, for whatever reason. Or she just didn’t let him leave.
Thinking about it now, it is possible that Sherlock’s just behaving so differently towards Mary because he’s thankful she took care of John while Sherlock himself wasn’t around…
Anyways, the first thing I noticed was that we heard Sherlock utter “Oh God” when he saw how the pile was inflamed. To me, Sherlock saying this is very OOC, because it’s just not him, and I can’t remember to have ever heard him saying it before. I’m sure I would know because I don’t think that’s something Sherlock says. But here he does, because he is panicked and far-gone and this comes from the heart, from deep inside, beyond his controlled self (even though we can argue about how controlled Sherlock really is this season).
While Mary stays back, Sherlock, after sprinting through and pushing away the crowd, runs into the fire, more or less. He doesn’t bother that he could hurt himself, he grabs the burning pieces of wood, and I think at one point even his glove catches fire, but he doesn’t stop until he finds John and can pull him out. And then he leans over him and has his hand on John’s face, and I had to think of the scene from the Jeremy Brett series, in which Watson falls unconscious after Holmes’ return and Holmes caresses Watson’s face when he wakes up. I think there are supposed to be similarities here; I’m sure.
But what else. Sherlock doesn’t really… well, think. Not that there would be much time for thinking, but then is he a genius, he knows that there has to be some security around to douse the fire in case of emergency. At least that’s what I assume; not entirely sure, but it has to be like this around here. It is of course possible that there is no such security and there would never have been a chance to douse the fire in time; nevertheless acts Sherlock purely on emotions – on heart, not head.
On to the bomb scene and possibly the most important Johnlock scene of this episode, as well as so far in the show.
At first, Sherlock does not know how to diffuse and/or switch off the bomb. He is at a loss, just as he says. He’s calm at first, but he’s reached his limits, and when the bomb is suddenly activated and John refuses to leave, the panic and fear we see is real. He faces a situation he can’t handle because he lacks knowledge, and there are no people to influence and manipulate, like with Moriarty, where I guess his only concern was about John, but where in the end they believed to have the upper hand, even if they have to explode the bomb and die.
Here they don’t have any control whatsoever; they can’t stop the bomb, they can’t run, they face death and for the moment, they don’t know if they can avoid it. Sherlock doesn’t know it. He’s always been confident, he’s always known a way out, or at least thought so, but here there is nothing of that left. Scared Sherlock is a painful thing to watch, because this is not just about him – actually, I don’t think it is about him at all. Sherlock’s maybe afraid of dying, but here especially he’s a lot more afraid that John will die – and that it will be his, Sherlock’s, fault. He even tells John to go, leave and save himself, because he is unable to bear the thought that he might cause John’s death. He was willing to go through all that in TRF to keep John alive; and remember his horror in TGG. Sherlock is, if nothing else, highly protective of John would go into death for him, just like vice versa.
What I already noticed the first time around was that John talks of “switching the bomb off” – and indeed finds Sherlock an off-switch. I like to think that it was John’s words that gave him the idea – maybe not in the first moment when he heard it, maybe it needed proceeding, but after the mind palace idea (that was funny, btw) was not successful, I think to see something like realization in his face. It’s not really panic, it’s more surprise. Could be because he can’t find an answer; can also be because he just remembered what John had said before, and now realizes that switching it off isn’t maybe that far-fetched. After all, he says to John afterwards, “There’s always an off-switch.”
Please, John, forgive me for all the hurt that I’ve caused you.
First of all I want to point out Sherlock’s choice of words. Sherlock’s speaking of hurt that he’s caused, something the Sherlock from two or three years ago still would have found ridiculous, for all we know. Causing emotional distress with actions or words? Pre-TRF (or pre-TEH, according to how you see it) would have laughed about such a notion. But here he realizes that he indeed has caused John pain, emotional and maybe even physical, and he wants forgiveness for it.
Now, one might criticize how he did it. But think about it. We clearly see afterwards that the off switch is directly “below” the counter (on the side of the bomb that is bottom the sideways installed counter). Right before Sherlock’s mood switches from frantic and distressed to apparently resigned, his hands is exactly in that place. The decision to beg John for forgiveness he only makes when he is sure that they are safe.
While it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had there not been a switch (the classic bomb stops one second before explosion scenario) – if Sherlock had continued his search until it was basically too late and a conversation might never have happened – this is of course just as informative on both their characters, but especially Sherlock’s.
Sherlock knows they are safe. He could just say so. Sherlock used to despise sentimentality. And now he seeks it by pleading for forgiveness in a situation he knows John will have to either do so, or demonstrate that whatever Sherlock has done is past forgiving, even in the face of death. But at the same time he has to know that only now John will be able to voice what he feels, because as said before, those two are not big on expressing feelings, and what other situation is there to speak from the heart than one you’re not sure you’re going to survive? Sherlock must at least know that much – if you think you’re going to die, you’ll say what is most important to you. We had that issue back in ASiP when they were talking about what the woman in pink had written, and they shortly discussed why she would write the name of her stillborn child in the moments of her death. Thinking back to it, Sherlock did show an understanding that one might think of what one hold most dear in those last moments – and later on, in TRF, it was John he was talking to, and I still believe that at least part of it was real (tears, words – Sherlock could kept his composure and no one had thought of him wrong, because that would just as much have been him).
But Sherlock doesn’t say anything. Instead he lets John believe that they’re going to die, and takes his chance to get John to say something he hopes/thinks/believes John wants to say, but can’t because it’s not really his thing to voice it.
I want to point out the differences in Sherlock’s facial expressions here. The first is from before John says that he forgives him; the second appears afterwards.
And oh my God, just like with Martin, it is so easy to forget that this is all played. Because thing is – the first expression does look like played distress/sadness/apology – but the second, the second is real. And it shows was an amazing actor Ben is. Just like it’s supposed to be, his eyes lose focus, the tension leaves his face, his eyebrows become leveled/the inner edges go upwards. What we see on Sherlock’s face – according to renowned expert on facial expression, Paul Ekman – is genuine surprise and sadness.
He doesn’t expect this to work. He maybe, at most, expects a “yes, all right, I forgive you, now shut up” or something along those lines. He probably thinks that if John said something, it will be done quickly, dismissively. But John repeats with a broken voice, a heart-wrenching whisper thick with emotion, what he said two years back at Sherlock’s grave (something we later learn Sherlock heard), and he tells him that of course he forgives him. And for everything Sherlock thought he might get to hear – this is definitely not what he imagined. Because it’s not John, just as it is not Sherlock and yet right in that moment, it is them so much. Their unmasked, true selves – John because he thinks he’ll die any second, and Sherlock because he’s completely taken off-guard by what John reveals. The true affection he feels for his friend.
At the same time, Sherlock must realize that this is nothing, as John also says, he can do easily – speak about his feelings. So laughing it off is the best way to resolve a situation. Initially, it seemed very odd to me. Very… sociopathic? ^^ Well, I read the spoilers for the episode and how this would happen, how they would almost die and then Sherlock would laugh after John forgives him – it sounded like mockery. And when you first watch it, it sure seems like it. While you laugh along, there is this bitter aftertaste.
Only when I went into all that deeper, looked at the facial expressions, and thought it through, I realized how, by Mark Gatiss, well done it is. Sherlock doesn’t expect John’s reaction. Back at his grave, he heard the words, but John spoke them to a gravestone, to a dead man, something that wouldn’t have to actually listen to his sentiment, to him opening his heart, and possibly react to it. Here now John has an actual living being in front of him, and as Sherlock knows that John isn’t big on revealing feelings, he doesn’t think it will go that deep. But then it does and he has to reconsider.
I believe that, had John reacted differently – as I’ve written above, with a dismissive few words – Sherlock might not have laughed. Not like that. He wouldn’t have ridiculed the whole situation, and John (“Your face!”). I rather think we would have seen his old arrogance back in place. But here he has to rethink what he does, or wants to do, and so he goes for laughter; once again, to ease the situation, just like in the restaurant. Maybe he even believes John will once again attack him for the apparent mockery; he offers John a way to not lose his face, dignity and reputation (and whatever else there is…). And possibly laughing it off is also the only way Sherlock knows to deal with it in that moment, because despite all his rejection of emotion and sentiment, hearing from your best friend (and the man he has obviously missed a lot) that he forgives you, that you are okay again, has to touch Sherlock.
I’ll kill you if you ever bring a word about this to anyone.
John doesn’t attack Sherlock. Not physically. And he’s also not angry about what Sherlock has done (well, he is, but it is superficial, to my mind). He is concerned someone could learn about his sentimentality, what he said, that he was so stricken, that he was weak, as he probably sees it. He’s concerned someone could find out that he fell for it, that he believed Sherlock even though he knows the man well enough and probably thinks he should have been able to realize all this was indeed a trick, as he initially accused it to be.
Of course we could read into that his fear someone could interpret his words in ways that are too affectionate to be said by a friend, and that then he’d be back to the assumption that he is gay. Might be far-fetched, but then it also isn’t, if we look at Mrs. Hudson’s reaction.
This scene made me very happy. Because things are good again between them, they’ve talked about it – at least as much as they will ever talk – and they are friends again. They are together again, in 221B, and John waits for Sherlock to be ready to face the press. Together with him. I love how they both smile at each other here, how at ease they are. Those are honest, open and affectionate smiles that are just heartwarming.
Back in the living room, Mary tells Sherlock that he’ll be there for the wedding, and even though Sherlock says it’s not really his thing, we know that a) he won’t stay away when his best friend gets married, and especially not if John asks him, and b) Mary would take care of Sherlock being there because she knows that those two need it – John needs Sherlock there, and Sherlock needs to be there. Even though I still doubt her motives, she understands how close those two are and how much they need each other.
And this makes for the first true and honest moment in that entire episode. No laughing off facts and feelings, just two friends talking openly.
What got me most were Sherlock’s reactions to John’s words.
“I know. I was there.”
“I heard you.”
It’s the words, but even more so the tone, that hit me right in the heart. So much. Especially Sherlock’s “I heard you” is spoken so gently and affectionately that it tells whole tales of what John is to him, and what it means to him that John loves him so much. And yes, I’m using love here, though it’s for you to understand it in a romantic or friendship sense. There is no pretense in those words; there nothing played. It’s plain and pure honesty.
It is, as they would say in vocal education (not sure that’s what it’s called in English), his real voice. You know that voice that you have right after waking up in the morning? That’s your true voice. All throughout the day we tweak, twist and mask our voice with emotion, with intonation and emphasis, but this voice, when your vocal cords are completely relaxed, is your real voice.
And this is what we hear when Sherlock speaks those three words. There is a weakness in there, a kind-of whisper; he doesn’t put any effort into saying those words because they just slip from his lips easily. He means and feels them, with the deeper meaning of saying them instead of giving a long speech in which he thanks John for his affection, his love, and his loyalty.
Those two things I didn’t want to fit into the rest, therefore here:
Sherlock’s parents. Okay, apart from the fact that they are Ben’s real parents, which makes the whole thing at least a thousand times better, it’s is just glorious to see that they are completely average next door people. Or, as John puts it, ordinary – what brought someone on Tumblr to comment that John didn’t say normal, because it would have indicated Sherlock’s abnormal; instead he chose ordinary, because it makes Sherlock extraordinary. I really, really loved this interpretation, and whether or not it was intentional that they chose this word (and I believe it was, because nothing happens without reason and being thought through when it comes to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat), because I like this to be true. In emotionally complicated situations like this one John has always shown to be considerate, and been careful about what he says to Sherlock because I guess he knows very well that Sherlock will take every word as it is said, and it can damage his friend.
But back to the parents – the conversation is wonderfully “normal” – about lost objects and tourist stuff (which, by the way, tells us that they apparently don’t live in London and maybe never have – which would also mean that Sherlock and Mycroft originate from somewhere else), and of course Sherlock is bored, and in that situation no different from so many other people out there who love their parents (and I think, despite all, we can assume he does), but is nevertheless irritated by them.
And then John happens. Okay, appears. But John suddenly comes by/in, and Sherlock’s immediate reaction is to shuffle his parents out. There has to be an awareness of how his parents could interfere with John’s presence, and I think there are several possibilities of a how.
Is it because he fears John will leave right away because he’s busy? John indicated that he would, but Sherlock could just say that it’s not a case, it’s just his parents. I doubt John would mind.
Is it because he thinks with his parents around John and he will not be able to talk? Possibly, you can’t have a heart-to-heart with anyone who doesn’t belong in that relationship or conversation around.
Does he fear his parents might embarrass him somehow? But Sherlock is no one to relate to the concept of embarrassment; so playing the teenage boy who is afraid that his parents could do something embarrassing in front of his friend isn’t really him.
And then there is of course Sherlock not wanting his parents to get to know John. They don’t know each other yet, apparently. Has Sherlock told them of John? How much to they do? They don’t react when Sherlock says the name; either they have not heard it or they really are not familiar with it, as in, have never heard of him. But can’t we assume that Sherlock has at least once or twice spoken to his parents when he lived with John, and has told them that he has a flatmate now? It’s casual information – unless, of course, his parents and especially his mother are like Mrs. Hudson and always suggested/accused/thought John to be his love interest/boyfriend also.
Now, would they have approved or are they rather old-fashioned and not really happy about her son being gay? The latter would be self-explanatory when it comes to the reasons why Sherlock remained quiet and didn’t tell them; the first – well, here we’d have a theory and possible revelation as to what Sherlock thinks and feels, and that the permanent suggestion that John is/could be his lover is painful to him because Sherlock knows John isn’t gay. On the other hand we also have the fact that Sherlock himself claims to be married to his work, so of course his parents nagging about the status of his love life (with John) could have been too much.
Last but not least – what if his mother had been nagging him and just to stop he had told her his new flatmate is also his lover? Either he would have then told her to shut up because the rest is none of her business, or she would have done so herself anyways, because she knows her boy(s) and all she wanted was to know them happy anyways, so Sherlock was aware this would be the perfect way to keep them from saying anymore. But now of course has to prevent his parents from actually consciously meeting John (maybe they just hadn’t heard him exclaim the name, or didn’t make the connection right away) so they won’t say things that could turn out to be very awkward for everyone (it is a nice fic idea though ;)).
S: I prefer my doctors clean-shaven.
J: It’s not a sentence you hear every day…
And indeed it isn’t. Initially, this sentence was incredibly hilarious, because rather… suggestive. I mean, really? Whose mind didn’t go to places where it most probably was not supposed to be in that moment (or was it)? But then I began to wonder why Sherlock would say something like this. Of course this is Sherlock; we can assume he is not aware of the secondary meaning that could be seen behind his words. I’m curious whether John understood the words in a plain harmless way, or if he saw anything else in there, maybe did a double take because there was a slight pause before he answered, as if he had to actually consider what Sherlock had just said, and what he had said.
On the other hand, what if Sherlock was aware of what he had just said? The funny thing is, and I commented with that also on Tumblr, that only a few days prior I had read a fic that it was, among other things, about shaving, and not only facial hair. I think there is an understanding of shaving bodily hair being the same as cleaning oneself for the sexual partner. Before, we have two situations relating to that – one is Mary, John’s sexual partner, complains about “bristly kisses”. The other is Sherlock himself as he is being shaved while at his brother’s, after he is back from Serbia and imprisonment. In addition to that we’ve never seen Sherlock in any other way than clean-shaven; apparently even when he is at home and stays there, he doesn’t forego this part of his routine.
So what if this is an indicator that, should Sherlock ever seek a (sexual) partner – well, no, sexual doesn’t need to be in brackets, because John already is his partner – he will have to shave and always come along with smooth skin. And yes, I deliberately say “he” because obviously when it comes to facial hair – and that’s what this conversation (nonversation…) is about first and foremost – it can only be a man, not a woman. Which would be a very subtle way to express that Sherlock does indeed prefer men. Or John, in particular.
Then there’s also the rest of the sentence – “my doctors”. Not singular, but plural. And he’s emphasizing the doctor, the profession. This is the part that doesn’t make any sense to me. He is speaking about my doctors. Had he said “my doctor” – singular – it would have made sense because then he’s clearly talking about John. Who he also described as his doctor in the pilot (though it might have been the original pilot, so that wouldn’t exactly count as canon). On the other hand could my doctors just be a more general expression of an explicit meaning – as in, my friends and I do certain things, but you really mean just one or two particular friends and never the rest. It’s very hard to tell. I definitely won’t go as far as to suggest there’s some kind of doctor fetish behind that, because that would really be too much.
Another possibility is the following: We never see Sherlock engage in any sexual activities. As far as we know, he hasn’t had any in years, at least for as long as we’ve known him. I assume that he’s either never made any sexual experiences, or he last had them as a teenager, which would mean that it was around 20 years ago. Imagine remaining mostly abstinent and oblivious on purpose when it comes to sex and everything connected to it.
Then, all of a sudden, his interest in it is awoken again because of John (bear with me here). He begins to research. The lack of experience and the opportunity to follow the development society and its opinions have taken in these 20 years will leave Sherlock without anything to relate to when he does research. Basically, for today’s approach to sex and sexuality, he’s a clean sheet. He doesn’t have any opinions, so he makes it an empirical study and uses whatever those people who are loudest and most active on the internet say. Because he’d have to rely on the internet. If at all, because remember that he probably didn’t have much of anything – time, research material – in those past two years. So if the idea that maybe another approach to John would be possible, possible for him, he would have asked the internet what he’ll have to take care of.
No, I think in the end this truly is only about John, and maybe, just maybe, Sherlock managed to express it in a way that doesn’t sound too direct, while in fact both know exactly who he is talking about. And yes, I’ll still stick to my theory of sexual partner and body hair. After all have we seen Sherlock in merely a sheet and he has very light body hair (so Ben has, but that can be made canon for Sherlock); possibly he keeps it like that on purpose because that’s how he prefers it.
I’m closing this now. I’ve probably forgotten tons of stuff that could have been analyzed, but for now I’m happy because everything that went through my mind after watching the episode twice and in addition watching certain scenes repeatedly. If there’s more, I’ll add it here or in new entries. But this I needed to get out (and mind you, 6.700 words – plus 5.100 in pt. 1 – is definitely enough to have gotten out… ).
Ultimately, this episode, while at first sight mostly funny, if not even ridiculous, gives us a very deep insight into both John and Sherlock, into their character progression, and of course into their relationship, and I couldn’t be happier about it.