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 heartless
In “The Great Game” Moriarty threatens to burn the heart out of Sherlock Holmes, to which he drawls, “I’ve been reliably informed I don’t have one.” Even John calls him “a machine.” And it makes sense. How else could a man fake a gruesome suicide in front of someone who’d recently suffered from war-related PTSD and then let him unnecessarily battle gut-wrenching grief for two years without a single word?
Sherlock’s “suicide” is a vivid, intense act of caring; it is his sacrifice. It has to be in a showy format so its ripples are felt by the worldwide network that James Moriarty had established. It has to look real because if it didn’t, John would have been at risk. John, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade—all would have died immediately, and countless others in their wake. In the process, Sherlock forfeits his home, his welfare, and his best friend.
And then he does it again.
When Sherlock executes Charles Magnussen in “His Last Vow,” he knows already what awaits him—if not an immediate bullet from the security force, then a fatal assignment in eastern Europe. But he does it anyway. He protects John by protecting Mary, and he saves all of Magnussen’s other victims from the crushing weight of the extortionist’s thumb.
The final scene he shares with Watson, the conversation he thinks will be the last they’ll ever share, is heart-wrenching. Benedict Cumberbatch is superb at subtly showing Sherlock’s inner agony; he clearly wants desperately to tell his friend something real and lasting, to express the sincere depths of his gratitude and love for “the bravest and kindest and wisest human being [he’s] ever had the good fortune to meet.” But his sadness is made all the more keen when, instead doing this, he tries to make the good-bye easier for John by making him laugh, telling him Sherlock is a girl’s name (and thus perfect to use on the daughter the Watsons are expecting).
Time and again, when the stakes are high and the situation dour, Sherlock invariably chooses those he loves over himself. There could be no purer form of expression of his boundless heart.
Consider this: John Watson, who has been the audience’s relatable guide to the world of Sherlock, is a person upon whose judgement Sherlock himself has come to rely. The detective so keenly believes this that in “The Abominable Bride,” he barks exasperatedly to Mycroft “Of course [John’s] right! He’s always right!” Given this, if John feels in the deepest part of himself that Sherlock is “the best and the finest man [he’s] ever known,” who are we to argue?