The Final Problem(s): A Commentary on the Characters, Relationships, Themes, and Unresolved Mysteries in the BBC’s Sherlock
WARNING: This post will contain spoilers a plenty! If you haven’t seen ALL 6 episodes that have aired in the first two seasons (or Series if you are from the UK), don’t read this.
I began watching the third episode of Season/Series Two of BBC ONE’s epic television show Sherlock, intending to refresh myself before the New Year’s Day premiere of Season/Series Three. Upon finishing that episode, I spent hours (into the wee hours of the morning, in fact) looking up theories on how Sherlock survived “the fall.” Intending to write a blog post on that mystery, I watched S.1.E.3. “The Great Game” and S.2.E.1. “A Scandal in Belgravia.” The notes I took made me want to watch S.1.E.1 “A Study in Pink”, S.1.E.2. “The Blind Banker”, and S.2.E.2. “The Hounds of Baskerville.” After reviewing my notes on all of the episodes, I decided my notes covered far more than just “The Fall.” I decided to watch “The Reichenbach Fall” once more and write a post on the entirety of the show. Yes, I’ll offer a theory on how he faked his death (not survived, faked), but I want this to be a far more expansive blog post.
Pardon the comma splices…..
The Greeks had 4 different words for love: Agape, Eros, Philia, and Storge.
- Agape is unconditional love.
- Eros is romantic, passionate love.
- Philia is brotherly love.
- Storge is the natural love, like that of a mother for her child.
I am of the opinion that 3 of the 4 are on display in this show.
It is an often joked about topic on the show, the relationship between Watson and Sherlock. Are they actually gay, though? John Watson is definitely a heterosexual. Although, he’s not a very successful one. He is clearly attracted to women:
Really, the question is: Is Sherlock gay? My guess is most likely not. He definitely shows attraction and fondness for a certain female in “Scandal in Belgravia”, causing this to happen:
His attraction caused a momentary shut down of his mental faculties. There are moments where we see Sherlock showing attraction for Molly.
My theory is that the writers throw these references in to draw attention to the relationship between Sherlock and his live-in ordinary person, Watson. Their relationship can be described as a perfect example of philia love. They are not gay; their friendship just extends beyond that of our modern understanding of friendship. In modern times, friendships have gotten so shallow, but this friendship is an old-school example of what true best friends are.
Sherlock and Moriarty both get bored. The world is a boring place for geniuses like Sherlock and Moriarty. Their brilliant minds far surpass those around them. This makes it hard to form connections and intimacy with their associates and companions. The Game (see next section) is their distraction. For Moriarty, it is his most worthwhile distraction and ultimately his only one. When The Game ends, so does Moriarty’s life. Sherlock not only has the game to distract him, but he also has other mysteries to solve. However, only the truly mysterious and intensely puzzling mysterious will do to slake his boredom.
Theme: The Game
"The Game, Mrs. Hudson, is on!" - Sherlock
The game takes place over the course of all six of the episodes that have aired thus far. Every story involved Moriarty, with the exception of “The Hounds of Baskerville” (but Moriarty does have a small bit there where he has been captured by Mycroft and is subsequently let go). It is a battle of wits between Sherlock, Moriarty, and a third player (more on why I believe there to be a third player and who she is later). The winner is the one who can outwit the others. How does one win? Not sure. Moriarty wins when “he burns the heart out of” Sherlock. Sherlock wins by Actually, Sherlock doesn’t want to win. “He gets off on it,” as Sergeant Donovan would say. He might win if he shuts down Moriarty, but does he really want to do that? No, he enjoys playing the game. The third player wins by ensuring her safety.
Theme: The Final Problem
See next section
The human body does not function without a heart. Likewise, the three players have something without which they cannot function:
- Player Three: Her phone
- Moriarty: The opposite of boredom. Call it what you like - entertainment, distraction, fun, amusement, etc. He hates ordinary and mocks Sherlock when he thinks he is ordinary. This character was the happiest when he realized Sherlock wasn’t ordinary.
- Sherlock: His reputation. He cannot stand to be thought of as a fool or ordinary for that matter. When Moriarty says he will “burn the heart out of” him, he means he will destroy his reputation, expose him as a fraud, cause him to commit suicide, etc. This is The Final Problem: Burning Sherlock’s heart.
He is what he is. We learn far more about Sherlock from exploring others and their relationships with him.
Mycroft does not like his brother. I’m sure that comes as no surprise, but ponder this: Mycroft loves his brother. You may disagree with this at first, but deep down you know it is true. This is not Agape, Eros, or Philia love; those involve a choice. This is Storge, the natural love. Mycroft loves Sherlock because he is his brother.
Watson: “So when you say you’re concerned about him, you actually are concerned?”
Mycroft: “Yes, of course.”
Relationship: Mycroft and Sherlock
Mycroft, as previously stated, loves Sherlock and wants whats best for him. A great source of tension between the two of them is over what exactly is best for Sherlock.
Mycroft: “My brother has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher, yet he elects to be a detective. What might we deduce about his heart?”
Watson: “I don’t know.”
Mycroft: “Neither do I. But initially, he wanted to be a pirate.”
Mycroft views his baby brother as just that, a baby brother. This childish feud perpetuates because Mycroft still views Sherlock as a child and because Sherlock, well, is still childish. Yet, they still value one another. They despise one another, but they both recognize the other can be of use to them. However, they both only go to the other as a last resort.
Sherlock Holmes: “Molly, please don’t feel the need to make conversation. It’s really not your area.”
Molly Hooper is more than just a means to an end for Sherlock (or comic relief for us). No one is more vital to Sherlock’s work than she is. She is allows him to utilize St. Bart’s medical and scientific equipment. Sounds like a means to an end, not a vital cog, right? WRONG! Ask yourself this question: Why? Why does she do this for him?
Relationship: Molly and Sherlock
Why does Molly allow Sherlock to have free reign at St. Bart’s? Eros. It may not shock some you to read that I believe she loves Sherlock in a romantic way. It seems quite obvious from the start: The lipstick in the first episode (see above photo), the fancy dress and present at Christmas in S.2.E.1., etc. Yes, not shocking at all.
Ah, but how does Sherlock feel about Molly? Does she mean nothing to him? No. Does he love her as much as she loves him? No. His feelings for her border between Eros and Philia.
Sherlock Holmes: “You’re wrong, you know? [Molly gasps in fright and spins round] You do count. You’ve always counted and I’ve always trusted you. But you were right. I’m not okay.”
Molly Hooper: “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Sherlock Holmes: “Molly… I think I’m going to die.”
Molly Hooper: “What do you need?”
Sherlock Holmes: “If I wasn’t everything you think I am, everything that I think I am… would you still want to help me?”
Molly Hooper: “What do you need?”
Sherlock Holmes: “You.”
Yes, Sherlock does have feelings after all, and not just the hardened, hateful kind, but the soft and squishy kind. He even flirts with her to look at a corpse in “The Blind Banker”, but I suppose that doesn’t really count.
Final note on Molly and Sherlock: Who do you invite to a party? Your friends. Who did Sherlock invite to his Christmas party? Everyone Moriarty threatened to kill and Molly. As Sherlock said in S.2.E.3., she counts. She’s always counted.
Character: The Woman
"Brainy is the new sexy"
Ah yes, The Woman, our third player….
I shall refer to her simply as the woman…..
She is the most powerful woman in this show, both in personality and in manipulation. Like Sherlock, she has an obsession with her mobile (to use the British word for cell phone), which she uses for “protection.” Clearly, she has much on there that can be used for manipulation or blackmail purposes. The Woman is able to get these from her “clients” who give them up or leave them vulnerable to her. As she says, “Brainy is the new sexy,” and she is clearly visually “sexy.” If there is any doubt about that, ask Watson…..
….It is, furthermore, true that she is the “new sexy.” Prove of this can be seen in the following:
- She understands that Watson loves Sherlock by the way she hit him.
- She had confidence that Sherlock would figure out the combination to the safe.
- She reasoned out that the hiker died due to a boomerang…..Did she? Didn’t Sherlock dream that? Maybe, but I’ll wager that it actually happened. One doesn’t dream that logically. My guess is that Sherlock was in between sleeps, so to speak. We do know she was in his room. His coat was returned and the text tone for the woman’s phone number had been customized.
Although she uses an unusual method for playing the game, distraction by sexualization, she is quite an able player. She may be an unwilling participant, but she is playing. She faked her death to escape from Moriarty or someone else (most likely both…..I imagine she has pissed off many people). She has the intelligence and the means to accomplish a great undertaking and discreetly.
Relationship: The Woman and Sherlock
Both tried to make such an impression the first time they met. They both tried many outfits on before their “battle” as they called it, and it is indeed a battle. Their battle of wits is a challenge that fascinates Sherlock. She quite enjoys it too much.
"Everything I said, I was just playing the game."
Sherlock proves her wrong, though.
"No, because I took your pulse. Elevated. Pupils dilated. I imagine John Watson thinks love’s a mystery to me, but the chemistry is incredibly simple and very disruptive. When we first met, you told me the disguise is always a self-portrait. How true of you."
Sherlock is the better player. He wins this battle (I sure hope the war rages on in series/season 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or forever, though).
They are not enemies, though, despite their battle(s). The woman shows her “heart” when it is revealed that her “heart” is her phone and the key to her phone is Sherlock.
Furthermore, Mycroft knows how Sherlock feels about her. After The Woman died, he told this to Sherlock
All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.
When it appears she has defeated Sherlock and confronts the Holmes brothers on the plane, Mycroft says to Sherlock:
I drove you into her path. I’m sorry
There is a romance between them in this episode. Although, Sherlock does show romantic feelings for Molly in the “Reichenbach Fall”, so we don’t know how serious he really feels for The Woman. However, that could have been the out of character moment Steven Moffat was talking about.
"James Moriarty isn’t a man at all. He’s a spider. A spider at the center of a web. A criminal web with a thousand threads and he knows precisely how each and every single one of them dances." - Sherlock
Moriarty admits to being insane on the roof of St. Bart’s and shortly after kills himself (Yes, he killed himself. The only reason I think he might still be alive is that I want him to still be alive, and quite frankly that is not enough to spare his life), so let’s start with that. Jim Moriarty is insane. He is nuts. He’s not playing with a full deck. He has a few screws loose. Ok, I’ve made my point.
He’s insane, but brilliant. Oh, he is so brilliant! Both Sherlock and I admire just how brilliant he is. The great detail he puts into crimes and the way he is able to avoid jail. He can also manipulate people into doing whatever he wants (Example: Kitty Riley). If The Woman is right when she says “Brainy is the new sexy”, then Moriarty is right when he declares himself to be “Mr. Sex.”
Finally, Moriarty is cocky and arrogant. He shows off his brilliance, never expects anyone to figure out his plans, and thinks everyone else is beneath him. This is his fatal flaw. His cockiness blinds him to the fact that Sherlock is playing him on the roof. He knew the computer code wasn’t real, but Moriarty thought he thought it was real. Sherlock plays him like a fiddle. I think it will remain to be seen just how much Sherlock outwitted Moriarty on that roof, but one thing is certain Moriarty was too cocky. Moriarty died a loser, but thinking he was the winner.
Relationship: Moriarty and Sherlock
Their relationship closely resembles Batman and the Joker. They need each other, and they are each other. They want to defeat each other, but at the same time, they want to play the game forever.
Watson needs Sherlock. I don’t know what situation he will be in when we see him in the beginning of series/season three, but I surmise he will not be living life to the fullest. In the previews for series/season three, Watson appears to have gotten on with his life, but he needs Sherlock.
When we first found him, John Watson was lost, suffering through nightmares and a psychosomatic limp. Sherlock gets him out of that slump. He needs the thrill of that lifestyle.
"You’re not haunted by the war, Dr Watson. You miss it." - Mycroft
Relationship: Watson and Sherlock
As mentioned earlier, Watson and Sherlock share a deep philia love. I’ll wager this deep friendship is very influential in why Sherlock took the actions he did at the end of the “Reichenbach Fall.” Sherlock would have easily have taken the leap and killed himself, but he knew Watson needs him. He needed to survive to help Watson. He knew for awhile that Moriarty wanted to “burn the heart out of” him. Sherlock knew all along what that meant and what effect that would have on his friend John Watson. We can see how much distress it causes Watson to learn Sherlock is a fake and how his refusal to accept it causes him mental anguish at the end of S.2.E.3.
The Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How of “The Fall”
- Secrets are best kept when fewer people know about them. Ask The Woman to corroborate that.
- Those theories about the homeless network helping out Sherlock’s fake death are wrong. No way all of them could have kept that secret. The newspapers would pay loads of money for anyone claiming to have more information on Sherlock and his apparent demise. Furthermore, it must be all or none. Either all of the people on the street were in on it or none. If only some were in on it, someone would have noticed some funny business and sold that story to the papers.
- Molly runs the morgue. She could pronounce him dead and provide fake blood. Plus, Sherlock accepted her offer for help. She knows and was, most likely, his only accomplice
- Did Mycroft know about Sherlock’s plan to fake his death? No, there is a scene at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall” where he shows genuine sadness and guilt over his brother’s death. Does he later find out? Yes. Mycroft helps Sherlock out with money in the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Furthermore, we already know that Sherlock comes back due to an impending terrorist attack, and the trailer suggests Mycroft is the one who brings him back to stop it.
- Sherlock jumps off of a building
- Sherlock hits the ground
- Everyone (except Molly) thinks he’s dead.
- Nothing broke his fall.
- There was no body switch.
- Sherlock survived
- Sherlock may have figured out he was going to have die after leaving Kitty Riley’s apartment.
- Most likely he had an idea Moriarty wanted to kill him.
- "The only left for him to do is…" *knowing look*
- He left and went straight to Molly
- "I think I’m going to die," he tells her before getting her help.
- I believe Sherlock would have jumped and killed himself. He is not the sort of person who would let innocent people die, to save his own life.
- Lestrade: “…Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day—if we’re very, very lucky—he might even be a good one.”
- He also tries to hide his forthcoming death to protect Watson. Molly mentions he looks sad, except when John Watson is near.
- Why hide? Sebastian Moran. He’s in the Sherlock Holme’s stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but we haven’t seen him in Sherlock yet. My guess is Moriarty did get a live-in ordinary person.
- St. Bart’s
- He may have gone to Mycroft before leaving London to get money and to illicit his help for getting out of town and obtaining fake passports.
- There was no body switch, and nothing broke his fall.
- I previously said why he couldn’t have had help on the ground. If he had no help on the ground, he, therefore, could not have been able to make a body switch or have something break his fall.
- Molly let him have free reign of the morgue. Do you honestly think he never bothered to throw a cadaver off the roof? He may have even have done that that night. He knew what a body fallen from a roof would look like and how to minimize damage.
You’ll notice I didn’t say how Sherlock survived the fall. He might have relaxed really intensely or used some sort of herb to help minimize the damage, but I don’t know. Quite frankly I don’t care, and I hope they don;t tell us. Just thinking about this has been more fun than I imagine learning the truth would be. How great would it be if they didn’t tell us? That’s just the sort of thing they’d do too. Watson asks Sherlock how, and Sherlock just gives him a coy look. Maybe we’ll get hints at it here and there, but nothing substantial. Thinking, wondering, and not knowing is far more fun then them telling us and us going “Ah nuts! I wasn’t even close!”
Think of it as a magic trick and The Prestige's explanation of magic tricks….