There are a million versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but today we're talking about the BBC's modern retelling, Sherlock, which, according to the internet, is the only one that matters. You know, the one starring the actor whose name could get his parents charged with child abuse.
Sherlock's Sherlock is a certified genius, combining photographic memory with the ability to think outside the box and use deductive reasoning at lightning speed. You could argue that he is the world's greatest detective, if it wasn't for one minor detail -- he's never solved an actual crime.
That's right. Throughout the entire series, Sherlock Holmes, super-sleuth, misses the most obvious clue right in front of him: that his brother, Mycroft, is creating fake puzzles for him to solve to keep him from killing himself.
While Sherlock can solve crimes just by walking into a room, he's also a man in distress. He's plagued by his own special form of manic depression: He's totally up when he's solving a case and completely down when he's got nothing to work on. Or, as he puts it, "Bored! Bored! BORED!"
While literally firing a gun at the wall.
This is not a man who you want to have a lot of time on his hands. To escape this boredom, he turns to hard drugs. Watson, played by Martin Freeman, has to literally drag him out of a drug den in "His Last Vow" and most of "The Abominable Bride" is set inside his drug-addled mind.
New Line Cinema
The weirdest part of his dream is when he's an evil dragon and Watson is a Hobbit.
This isn't a man who's naturally inclined to help the police solve a basic, run-of-the-mill murder. This is a man who is a day away from killing himself with an overdose.
Fortunately for Sherlock, he has a brother who cares for him. Mycroft -- the smarter, more successful sibling -- has obviously known about his brother's heroin addiction for a long time, to the point that he recognizes subtle signs that Sherlock might be about to relapse. Mycroft also knows that, left to his own devices, his brother's smack habit would be the death of him. This is why he sets up incredibly complicated crimes for Sherlock to solve, a la The Game.
First, Mycroft hired an actor named John Watson.
When Sherlock first meets him, he lists off a bunch of facts he deduced about John. These include that he fought in Afghanistan, was a military doctor, and has an alcoholic brother who just broke up with his partner.
Later, John acts amazed. Most of what Sherlock said is true, he claims, before correcting brother to lesbian sister. What's notable is that, over the show's next 15 hours, we see no evidence to support any of Sherlock's claims about John. In fact, the show actively goes out of its way to highlight how flimsy each deduction is.
For example, in the Season 2 finale, Sherlock dramatically jumps off a building to save the lives of those closest to him. This results in the biggest cliffhanger since "Who shot J.R.?"
Except this time fans had to wait TWO YEARS for the solution, because British TV is cruel.
On the ground, to see if he's alive, John grabs Sherlock's wrist and checks his pulse. This doesn't seem like a big deal, except that in an emergency situation and with an unconscious patient, a certified physician would have been trained to check the pulse in the neck. Here's an actual doctor saying exactly this. As an army doctor, John wouldn't just forget this. It would have been drilled into him again and again until he'd have this basic medical information down to a habit. And just in case he forgets in his moment of shock and confusion, there is a passing doctor doing just that as John approaches the body, yet he still reaches for the wrist.
Those shoes were white before he stopped to help.
And when he gets a job at a clinic? He gets hired before his references are even checked, and the one time we see him at work he's asleep, forcing the other doctor to see "five or six" of his patients. Was John really just tired, or trying to get out of a job he can't do?
Then there's his sister, Harriet. She's suspiciously missing when John gets married in "The Sign Of Three." When his bride asks about Harry at the reception, John just replies with, "No show," and moves on absolutely fine. Sure, he said before that they "don't get on," but according to his story she must have been one of the first people he saw when he got back from the war -- when she gave him a phone to use -- and he mentioned planning to see her on at least one Christmas. Besides, not getting on with a close family member has rarely worked as an excuse not to attend their wedding.
As for his time in Afghanistan, we do see footage of warfare in the show's very first scene, before John wakes from a dream. However, note how the footage doesn't have John in it anywhere. In fact, it's just stock footage of a war without a single Martin Freeman in sight. It seems John has been preparing for his role as an ex-soldier so much that he's given himself nightmares, probably by watching Full Metal Jacket too many times.
By now, true Sherlockians and Cumberbitches are down in the comments saying that this theory is blown out of the water half an hour into the first episode, when John originally meets Mycroft. The scene plays like this: After John is abandoned at a crime scene by Sherlock, he goes looking for a cab. Instead, he gets a mysterious phone call and is invited/seemingly threatened into the back of a car and driven to an abandoned warehouse. Once there, Mycroft offers him money to spy on Sherlock, which John turns down.
If John is an actor paid by Mycroft, why doesn't he recognize his employer? That's easy enough to explain -- Mycroft could have hired him anonymously. But then, why would Mycroft go to the trouble of concealing his identity, only to meet John face to face days later? What does he, and his plan to distract Sherlock, gain from this exchange?
We know Mycroft is able to read people -- shown when he has a deduction-off with his brother in "The Empty Hearse" -- so it would make sense he wants to see what would happen in this scenario. He doesn't take John to his office, or to a restaurant, or to any other non-murdery place; he takes him to a shadowy, abandoned warehouse somewhere just off 42nd and Stab Street. He also never once says, "Oh, I'm Sherlock's brother, by the way," like any non-psychotic person would. He wants the offer to seem threatening. He wants to make sure John can handle the grim and seemingly dangerous fake cases that are coming and at the same time make him more protective of Sherlock. With one meeting, Mycroft turns "just a paid acting gig" into "I need to make sure this guy doesn't wake up dead," which, remember, is Mycroft's main goal as well, according to this theory. He probably also predicted that John would tell Sherlock about their meeting. By relating Mycroft's attempt to pay him off, John inadvertently hides the truth in plain sight.
Now that we know Mycroft is the puppet master, other anomalies start to fall into place. Like how at the end of "A Scandal In Belgravia," Irene Adler, dominatrix and walking proof that bad puns can ruin your life, is rescued from terrorists by a disguised Sherlock.
It is an understatement that it would be difficult for a posh, white, British man to infiltrate an Islamic terrorist cell in time to stop an execution, let alone be the guy doing the beheading. And it would be harder still for him to fight his way out with only a sword. Yet we're to believe Sherlock not only does all this but does it with John -- the one man whose life's work is to write down what Sherlock is doing -- not noticing he's missing.
Earlier in "A Scandal In Belgravia," Sherlock finds himself famous and rejects a whole montage of cases, ranging from a man who thinks his aunt's ashes are fake to a young girl who wants to know if her granddad has gone to heaven. In the episode's final reveal, it turns out that the little cases Sherlock rejects are all related to the same overarching case, tying his experience up in a satisfying bow. And this isn't the only time this happens. All the experiences Sherlock lives through tie up to some larger cosmic plan, almost as if someone is making damn sure that this is the case.
According to the show, that arc is all down to Jim Moriarty. But, just like John, Jim is an actor being funded by Mycroft to give Sherlock a purpose in life.
The first time we hear the name Moriarty is when we discover a terminally ill cab driver is being funded by him to murder people so that the driver can take care of his family after he dies. But where is he getting the money for this? In fact, how is he funding any of the henchmen he has, or the explosives, or the bribe money?
This guy seems like he'd give out loans for that sort of thing.
The answer is Mycroft, of course. He's a wealthy man in a high position of government, who would be able to afford to pay for this kind of activity and who needs an antagonist to get all antagonistic toward his brother. This explains how Moriarty knows so much about Sherlock. (Mycroft offers a flimsy excuse that he has to tell stories about his brother to get Moriarty to talk, but a man of his intelligence could have lied to get the same results).
It also explains how Moriarty is able to break in and wear the crown jewels. Moriarty brags that he bribed a guard, but the crown jewels are never just guarded by one person. There should have been several armed guards to stop him. But with Mycroft on his side, he can get into any government facility he wants.
And look ridiculously fly while doing it.
But the role of bad guy was too much for "Moriarty." In "The Reichenbach Fall," Moriarty reveals himself to be an actor named Richard Brook. He's scared of Sherlock and claims he was hired to make the consulting detective seem like he was solving crimes. He might genuinely believe he was being paid by Sherlock because Mycroft hired him anonymously just like John, and Sherlock seems to be the only one benefiting from the deception. But his distress is genuine and he desperately wants to give up the acting gig. He's taken this all too far. He doesn't want to be part of the charade anymore. The next time we see him, he's clearly out of his mind, and he shoots himself on a rooftop.
You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out why poor Richard kills himself. He's revealed his secret identity and now a powerful man in the government has come at him out of the shadows. Threats are made by Mycroft -- perhaps he has a dirty secret or a family to leverage -- and Richard has to keep being Moriarty or lose something important to him.
So he's Moriarty again, manic and desperate for Sherlock to discover the truth. He's clearly angry every time Sherlock can't figure it out, because if only Sherlock knew about the ruse he could give up this role. In the end, with Sherlock as clueless as ever, Moriarty's only way out is to shoot himself in character. Richard Brook just becomes another death in Mycroft's bid to keep his drug-addict brother alive.
See why without keen observation skills Sherlock would just be a jerk in The 5 Things That Separate Troubled Geniuses From Jerkwads, and see how the internet fueled the Season 2 finale of Sherlock in 7 Fan Works So Good They Were Adopted By The Creators.
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