By Chris B.
Early next year, the award-winning BBC series Sherlock makes its return.
If you’re disinclined to follow this iteration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective, you are missing out. Not only have you denied yourself the unadulterated pleasure of watching the magic between Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, you’ve sidestepped the quality writing and excellent storytelling of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat that has kept this series a hit, despite its painfully extended breaks in the ultra-saturated marketplace of television.
A key reason to watch is, of course, the characters; Holmes and Watson have been the prototypical pair for nearly every detective duo that has tumbled after them. However, this has occasionally led to misconceptions about them. Legends tend to morph over time, lessening their appeal, and if the audience doesn’t like the characters, they will tune out and never look back.
Sherlock has cultivated a reputation as a less than stellar person—cold, cruel, and untenable. But this assessment is anything but true. What follows are top five misconceptions about the world’s best known—and least understood—detective.
He’s not arrogant
Virtually every officer at New Scotland Yard would likely disagree with my assertion. However, to understand this fully, all one has to do is to watch scenes of Sherlock with Mycroft. In his presence, Sherlock does what most adults do around family members who knew them first as children: he reverts. Sherlock is at his most infantile when sparring with his older brother, from feigning disinterest in recovering his missile plans to ratting him out as the cigarette source at Christmas dinner.
A vivid example occurs in “A Scandal in Belgravia” as Sherlock refuses to dress for a forced visit to Buckingham Palace, arriving to “the heart of the British nation” in a bedsheet; when Mycroft arrests Sherlock’s attempt to stalk from the room, the latter explodes, biting out “Who is my client?” with the very expression of a toddler in full-on tantrum mode.
What must it have been like for Sherlock growing up? Mycroft has tortured his sibling with stories of how the East Wind will kill him since its job is to “seek out the unworthy and pluck them from the Earth”; after all, Mycroft is “the smart one,” a fact he still shoves in Sherlock’s face, continuously, to the point that Sherlock clearly believed it then (according to their conversation during a rousing game of Operation), and believes it now, as he tells John “His Last Vow” that the elder Holmes is “never wrong.” Sherlock has born the brunt of Mycroft’s “goldfish” view of humanity his whole life.
Logically, in this environment Sherlock would have developed a deep-seated insecurity. How does he attempt to assuage this? By passing it along to others: Lestrade, Anderson, Donovan—anyone who steps into his path.
Truthfully, he’s not setting out to make others feel dumb; rather, he’s trying to keep himself from feeling that way.
No wonder Moriarty is able to goad him with taunts of being “ordinary”; thanks to Mycroft’s corrosive influence on his self-esteem, that’s Sherlock’s biggest fear.