You walk into a room full of people and realize they are all talking about you. Most of them are saying positive things about how much they like you. They think you’re fun, cute, that you dress well, that you make good conversation. Even so, a few of them admit there are things about you that annoy them. But on the whole it’s all good news.
And then, in one corner of the room is a very loud, drunk group of people going on and on about how wonderful you are. In their eyes you can do no wrong.
What do you do?
A smart person might stealthily circuit the room a make note of all that is being said. But then again, it’s said eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves, so the better part of valor might be simply to back out of the room entirely.
But if you’re the people who make Sherlock, you march over to the loud drunkards and begin to shout over them in an attempt to prove to them you really are as clever as they say. They are gratified by your presence and your acknowledgment of them; they lap it up, even as you tell them they are not as smart as you and slyly poke fun at them.
And the rest of the room has gone utterly quiet. While you put on your circus show for the ravers, the rest of the people are staring and wondering what the hell is wrong with you. They are no longer saying wonderful things about you, even kind things tempered by reservations. You have opted to have a conversation—to hold court, really, in a self-aggrandizing way—with one small, select group and have thus cut off the quieter majority. (Yes, the drunkards are loud, but that does not mean they are legion. At least not comparatively.)
I suppose it depends on what you value in your audience.
A smart person doesn’t answer his critics. Good or bad. He listens, but he doesn’t respond, at least not directly. He chooses what is valuable, incorporates the information as necessary, chucks the rest. He does not jump in and manhandle the conversation. To do so only makes him appear ridiculous (except to those who adore him, and he already has those people on his side, so why—except that he cannot get enough of the praises, that he cannot resist the idea he is giving these fans a “treat” even if the treat is bittersweet and backhanded). In this instance, the “answer” to these fans is to tell them that they have become laughable in their obsessive interest in figuring out how Sherlock survived his fall, and that in the end it doesn’t matter. On with the show.
Except it does matter to these viewers, and to discount that is to undercut them. “You’re all correct, you all win!” is the same as “You’re all wrong, you all lose!” Because a point in every direction is the same as no point at all.* And the tone in “The Empty Hearse” is definitely one of a smug Sherlock Co. attempting to feel superior to its audience.
Maybe they figure Sherlock is smug by nature. Maybe they think it’s cute that he tries to tell John how he did it and John is the one who dismisses the explanation as the least of his concerns. Is John in this instance the stand-in for the silent majority of viewers while Anderson and his “fan club” are the vocal demanders of truth?
Sherlock does tell Anderson a version of what happened, but the audience is made to wonder how truthful his account is. “Why would you tell me?” Anderson asks. Indeed. Though maybe Sherlock is just frustrated that John didn’t care as much as one might expect.
But the bottom line is: subverting Anderson’s character and tossing in a tribute to your loud, drunken gaggle is not, perhaps, the best way to win the room. Listen to what is said and bask, if you like, in the glow of the gushing praise. But do not insert yourself into the conversation. To do so only detracts from the work itself.
*I love that movie.