By Chris B.
Modern television has more “ships” than the Pacific Ocean.
Virtually every character on the airwaves has been matched with another, fancied relationships dreamed up by eager fans, either to generate laughs or to satisfy personal passions. Every fandom has its favorite pairs, but if you’re a follower of the BBC’s Sherlock, the most discussed coupling by far is that John and Sherlock, or Johnlock. The desire to see these two together in more than a simple platonic friendship is one that is played out in blogs and fan fiction regularly, but is this something fans will ever see developed on screen?
There are many factors to consider here. Sadly, in 2017, there is still a certain amount of controversy about showing a gay couple in an everyday relationship, one that is not present for purposes of comic relief or sideline plot support. Would the network and affiliates allow it? How conservative are its politics and those of its advertisers? Given the overwhelming popularity of the show on an international scale, I would wager their wallets would easily trump any qualms that might exist. It is amazing how capitalism can solve all manner of perceived ills.
Regardless, do Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat even want this to be the dynamic of their characters? According to them, the answer is no. In an interview with Valerie Parker in July of last year, Gatiss claimed, “…we’ve explicitly said this is not going to happen – there is no game plan – no matter how much we lie about other things, that this show is going to culminate in Martin and Benedict going off into the sunset together. They are not going to do it.”
That sounds pretty final. Maybe.
Since these two have made the most of The X-Files philosophy that a lie is most conveniently hidden between two truths, there is always room for doubt. (Really, how likely is it that a seasoned professional like Gatiss suddenly mistook the names of his characters for those of the men who portray them?)
In any case, I think an openly romantic relationship between John and Sherlock would be well worth it. Consider the following points and determine for yourself if this match is a just a forgettable fantasy, or if it could be an ultimate destiny.
5. The characters are already tightly bonded
No one would argue with the idea that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original characters of Holmes and Watson are best friends; through each of the numerous variations presented over the intervening century plus, this is one of the few facets has remained consistent. They are a team.
Individually, though, each member of the team is lacking. At one point, Sherlock confesses in “The Great Game” that he’s been “reliably informed” that he has no heart, going so far as to declare several different times that he is a high-functioning sociopath. John, on the other hand, is “abnormally attracted to dangerous situations and people”; he misses the war that left him behind. Both have a hole that they need to fill, and that is exactly what the other satisfies.
In Sherlock, this is reinforced repeatedly. John and Sherlock are clearly presented as two halves of the same whole, each needing the other to be a complete version of himself—John, the heart and inspiration; Sherlock, the excitement and intellectual challenge. When Sherlock is baffled why a woman would be upset about her child’s death after fourteen years or when he too gleefully investigates a child kidnapping, John is there to mediate his reactions. Then, when Sherlock returns in “The Empty Hearse,” he insists correctly of John, “You have missed this…the thrill of the chase, the blood pumping through your veins, the two of us against the rest of the world.” Later, in “The Abominable Bride,” John quips to Moriarty, “There are always two of us.” There must be. Inevitably, all roads they take lead to Baker Street, back to their roots together.
4. There is already plenty of precedent for it
Sherlock has never shied away from the suggestion that Sherlock and John are more than friends. From the outset, John is mistaken for Sherlock’s date, and the man who will “outlive God trying to have the last word” makes no correction, nor does he when a reporter in “The Reichenbach Fall” asks for a quote about whether he and Dr. Watson are “strictly platonic.” Further, the two gay owners of The Cross Keys Inn from “The Hounds of Baskerville” assess John and Sherlock as a pair; and Mrs. Hudson, who lives just a floor below them and knows them very well, refers to one of their arguments as “a little domestic” and is shocked when John is ready to move on (to marry a woman?) a full two years after Sherlock’s supposed death. Then, Irene Adler, who sizes people up as adeptly as Sherlock, calls out John’s jealousy about the 57 unanswered texts that she’s sent (yes, John kept track) and flatly counters John’s insistence that he and Sherlock are a couple: “Yes, you are.” Finally, in “The Abominable Bride,” when John saves his other half from the precipice and Sherlock gushes about John’s intelligence, Moriarty himself rolls his eyes and scoffs, “Oh, why don’t you two just elope, for God’s sake!”
There are innumerable instances of extreme devotion shown to us as well. In “His Last Vow” Sherlock literally restarts his own heart because John is in danger, then commits murder to protect John from the thumb of Magnussen’s extortion. In “The Great Game” John throws himself on Moriarty to allow Sherlock to escape the bomb he wears, and in “A Scandal in Belgravia,” he dumps his girlfriend and their holiday plans to stay home and look after Sherlock, a choice he makes easily after she demands, “Don’t make me compete with Sherlock Holmes!” (Oh, he won’t, dear; there’s no contest.) Further, images abound of the intense and meaningful stares shared by these two, traded like stocks on internet forums and social media, all screaming of something bubbling beneath the surface. Thus, to transition to an official couple would not be much of a stretch.
3. It fits the transformational model of the show
Gatiss and Moffat have shown a penchant for pushing the envelope with their version of Doyle’s characters. Would Doyle have raised his eyebrows over John’s sibling being a divorced lesbian who’s taken to drink? I doubt the original author could have imagined Mrs. Hudson as a former exotic dancer who had been married to the head of a drug cartel. And certainly no one anticipated that the lovable Mary Morstan would turn out to be a former intelligence agent and ruthless trained assassin.
The creators have not been afraid to add their own special spice to these characters. In a 2014 interview with Phil Ittner, Gatiss and Moffat asserted, “Most of [the series] is actually completely new, so there’s not a drying-up of the source…we’re slightly broadening out the world a bit and being slightly more heretical than we probably would have been at the beginning. But then that’s good, it feels like this is our version…” To go all-in and apex this concept with the core pair would allow them to make a truly indelible mark on the enormous canon of Sherlock Holmes iterations.
After all, side characters are only so revealing; in this universe, John and Sherlock are the only ones who matter. The series has been proposed as the story of the development of a genius, hence its very specific title, so building Sherlock Holmes to the point where he can freely give and receive love, achieving true intimacy, would be the greatest development possible. Gatiss and Moffat could provide that humanity for him, to create their own warm center to the notoriously melancholy sphere of the private life of the world’s only consulting detective.
2. Proper representation matters
All segments of society can and should have a right to see themselves recognized unabashedly by the media they consume, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. In the twenty-first century, this should not still be the struggle that it is, yet any in the LBGTQ community know how resistant this practice is to change in the machine of social institutions. Too often, gay characters are used as statue pieces or comic relief, sidelines or after thoughts; they are not permitted to be real and valuable human beings, but are stock characters and stereotypes, extras who inevitably get the axe if the Grim Reaper comes calling.
Steven Moffat has been most emphatic on the issue that the showing of gay or bisexual characters in popular culture should not be approached with triviality, that it is a serious issue that should be offered (particularly to young people) in a way that denotes true acceptance. In his Parker interview, he asserted, “You don’t want to essentially tell children that [being gay is] something to campaign about. You want to say this is absolutely fine and normal. There is no question to answer. You want to walk right past it, in a way. You don’t want to…say, as sometimes other kinds of literature or movies might, we forgive you for being gay. You’re just saying you’re gay and it doesn’t matter. There’s no issue.”
Essentially, one’s sexuality is just an average, marginally interesting, non-personality-defining, run-of-the-mill reality. Thus, no matter what your sexual bent, it is not odd; it is not special or different, wonderful or terrible. It just is, as mundane to one’s whole character as eye color or shoe size. Indeed, until this matter does not flutter pulses with its rakish novelty, true acceptance has not yet occurred. Having Sherlock and John integrate their sexuality seamlessly into the roster of the other attributes that the audience has witnessed, to roll it into the entire picture of who they are, we would be granted a relaxed and genuine portrayal of a devoted couple that happens to be gay, one from which we could all ultimately benefit.
1. It would count
Sherlock is a global phenomenon. According to the Radio Times, it is shown in 224 countries and territories around the world, making it the most watched of any of the BBC’s programs, surpassing even Dr. Who, which has decades of history. It has spawned blogs and merchandise and a number of Sherlocked fan events, which are major affairs to rival the most popular comic cons, where every artifact, set detail, and image from the show is cherished and applauded.
The series’ leads, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, are beloved international stars. Thanks in no small part to this show, they are in constant demand and headline massive studio projects, like The Hobbit series of films and Marvel’s Dr. Strange. Each has a immense following of fans, and rightly so—they are award-winning craftsmen, extremely versatile talents who deserve every bit of success they’ve acquired.
This degree of influence and appeal leverages a lot of power.
What this show brings to the table, the world eats; what it points to as its guides, people would notice, and what’s more, follow. What, then, could be accomplished in social terms if Sherlock were to subtly demystify gay relationships? What might result if a stellar product and the highly popular individuals involved indicate that a homosexual relationship is every bit as complicated and trying and boring and wonderful as every other kind?
Respect. And with luck, progress.