It’s Not Yours

Yesterday I read this article in which Martin Freeman, who played John Watson in Sherlock, rants a bit about alternate readings of the text. Namely, he insists that there’s nothing gay in Sherlock and Watson’s relationship, it was never played that way.

My initial gut reaction was, “Wow, that’s a really strong and seemingly homophobic reaction.” But what I think really bothered me about it was the suggestion that the however many viewers who read the text differently had somehow done it wrong.

The moment a book or film or television series meets the public, it no longer belongs to the creator(s). Not the writer, not the actors, not the director, etc. It becomes the property of those who engage with the text. They get to read it and interpret it however they want. It may not be what you intended, and some interpretations may be a stretch, but there is no right and wrong.

One of the first things they taught us in Radio-Television-Film courses at uni was “encoding” and “decoding.” This is the fundamental of all communication, from speaking to writing to filming. You say something, or write something, or perform an action, and the listener/reader/viewer takes that information and decodes its meaning. Some messages are fairly simple. There are only so many ways my son can interpret, “Clean your room.” But if I want to be really clear, I might break it down into: “Put all the clothes on the floor in the laundry basket and make your bed.” Otherwise, his idea of “clean” and mine might not be the same.

When dealing with books or film or television, however, the author of the text is not there to explain the work as the reader or viewer engages with it. Nor would we want them to be. There’s nothing worse than watching a movie with someone explaining everything as things happen. Part of the joy of reading and watching shows is extrapolating information for ourselves. Our brains like having to work.

Look at all the fan theories for various shows, the online communities. People love taking things apart, breaking things down. And the choices they make for that process—the lines along which they break things, the metrics they use—are going to be wide ranging and, at the same time, very personal.

What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that a queer reading of Sherlock is par for the course. There is a grand history of queer readings of all kinds of things, and to stomp your foot and say, “No!” is childish and naïve.

When I’ve been asked about—or sometimes told—things that appear in my books and stories, I don’t say, “You’re wrong.” (Well, maybe if they have a detail or fact incorrect.) I say something like, “That’s interesting. I never thought of it that way.” Or, “Well, that’s not what I had in mind at the time, but I see where you might read it that way.” There’s room for everyone and their ideas, after all, and I’m just flattered they’ve taken the time to think that much about it.

Thing is, I know I can’t control how people will receive my work. I know that, once they’re holding that book, it’s no longer mine. It’s theirs, and they will interpret it however they want, in whatever ways work for them. To throw a little tantrum over it would be unprofessional to say the least and smacks of dictatorship at the worst.

The only way to make sure people read your text the way you want them to is to never write or film it at all.

Presented Without Commentary

  1. Irene – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  2. Mary – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero (but isn’t)
  3. Eurus – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  4. Molly – a weak woman whose attempts to assert herself are unconvincing and unsuccessful, and who pines for the hero and allows him to manipulate her repeatedly
  5. Mrs. Hudson – a strong [older] woman played for comic relief

Sherlock and Cressida

I have a personal (invitation only) blog that I post my dreams on (along with other of my personal life stuff), so I don’t normally post them here. But every now and then I have a dream that is so “out there” that I think might entertain my readers, even via sheer bizarro value, so I post it here for all to read. Last night—at the height of my personal Neptune trine Uranus transit—I had one of those. So here it is.

I was in London, and the first thing I remember about the dream is libraries. Big ones that took up two buildings so that you went in one and came out another on an adjoining street. This seems to be what I had done, anyway, and then I was walking down a crowded pavement. It was late afternoon, and I was thinking I needed to maybe find something to eat and then go back to my hotel. There were a lot of people out—coming out of work, going out for dinner. The part of the city I was in seemed upscale; there were a lot of men in nice suits.

I was walking toward a bridge—London has a lot of them, but this one didn’t look familiar. And I was suddenly aware Sherlock (yes, from the BBC television show) was walking behind me. I went to cross the bridge, but he got ahead of me somehow and I realized something was going on because next thing I knew he was fighting some bad guys. I remember thinking, even while in the dream, it was all rather more James Bond than Sherlock.

But the bad guys caught him. That seemed to have been their goal. And he woke up strapped to one of those metal medical tables in the back of a semi (he would have said “lorry”). He was yelling for them to move him to another room. And somehow I was in the cab of the truck and able to look back through the little window into the cargo, and it occurred to me he must not know he’s on a truck. Couldn’t he feel it moving?

The whole thing ended up being about a little girl named Cressida. She was maybe six or seven years old, had long blonde hair, and she was dying of cancer. And her parents were some kind of fundamentalists and wouldn’t take her to the hospital for treatment, yet somehow they thought Sherlock Holmes would be able to save the girl.

Sherlock took the “if you can’t beat them” tactic. And for whatever reason, I had ended up part of this strange band of people as well. I didn’t seem free to go, so I guess they’d captured me when they’d captured Sherlock.

For a while we moved place to place pretty regularly in order to stay ahead of the law. But the whole thing culminated in us gathering at a kind of huge playschool where others of these people’s “church” also came. Sherlock was remarkably jolly. He did magic tricks and stuff to entertain everyone. Guess he does love an audience. At one point there was a little TV on a shelf, and I think it was actually showing Sherlock. But the signal kept getting a little fuzzy, and this one woman kept going to jiggle the cable. I found that annoying for some reason.

Cressida’s parents were preparing for her to get married . . . Possibly to Sherlock, though I’m not entirely sure of that. But she was in really bad shape, though she was keeping her spirits up. It was clear she wouldn’t live much longer. In one of the playschool rooms they had set up a bunch of sleeping bags and hammocks. All of them cobalt blue. Cressida was in a hammock, in the wedding dress and veil. I was two or three children over in a sleeping bag. Yes, children. There were mostly children there—it was like a child’s party, a sleepover. So I’m not sure why I ended up in the sleeping bag. But the kids were singing . . . It was one of those songs that they’d clearly substituted the words. Some pop tune, but they’d changed the words. And Cressida’s mother came over and was massaging my shoulders, but not in a good way. It was like she was trying to be mean, trying to hurt me. It irritated me. In fact, throughout a lot of the dream I was irritated.

Cressida died that night, I think, and I’m not clear on whether the wedding ever actually happened. I think maybe she took her vows while lying in her hammock. Sherlock was either the groom or the ordinator. Not clear. Don’t think I actually saw it happen in the dream; it was one of those things that took place “off camera.” But the sum total was, the morning after the sleepover, everyone was packing to leave.

There was something complicated about stairs headed down to where our bags were waiting for us. Pale grey concrete and they looped back on themselves in some way. I was walking down with another woman, and there was an athletic coach—also a woman—at the bottom of the stairs. She and the woman I’d been walking with knew each other and greeted each other and then I accidentally brushed up against something, either in a trash bin or that the coach was holding, that had nacho cheese on it. What a mess, more irritation. There was a laboratory of some kind down there, too, so I went and found a sink. And there was candy next to the sink, so I took some. Others who were down there were saying they were hungry, and I was like, “There’s candy. Stop complaining. It’s probably for the rats but I’m taking some anyway.” And everyone laughed. I felt better after that for some reason.

Sherlock was there, too, in the laboratory, and I suppose he was also getting ready to leave. I felt like he was watching me, but I tried to ignore it. I was waiting with my suitcase (though I’m not sure what I and the others were waiting for . . . transportation of some kind, I guess) when I woke up.

Notes After a Second Viewing of “His Last Vow”

So I had missed Sherlock’s seeming pleasure at his drug habit turning up in the papers after John started a row with him at the drug den, which maybe explains this point from a previous post. Maybe. Since unless Sherlock was the one to drag Isaac into the den to begin with, he can’t have known John would be coming along . . . But perhaps John was just useful at the time in Sherlock getting what he wanted: his name in the papers. So that he could have a line on Magnuson.

Except. If he was already dating Janine, why did he need his name in the papers? Not quite seeing how being tabloid fodder was going to help his case, especially if his goal was to get Smallwood’s letters. How would Magnuson having something on Sherlock help in that? (And then again, Magnuson wouldn’t have anything on Sherlock if it was already common knowledge that Sherlock was an addict . . . so perhaps that was the goal? Not to give Magnuson any leverage?) Rather convoluted no matter which way one turns it.

I’m also not sure why Sherlock falls for the idea that the papers Magnuson gives him a glimpse of are the actual Smallwood letters. I like to think Sherlock is smarter than to assume. But perhaps his failing—human error—is that shared by so many: When one’s eye is on the prize, one leaps ahead without looking down. (Most accidents happen close to home for a reason, after all. One lets one’s guard down.)

I was wondering how Mary got into the office building. Seems unlikely she proposed to Janine too. I guess we’re supposed to assume her skills are just that good.

And I also didn’t quite understand how Mary killing Magnuson after shooting Sherlock would have implicated John (which is the reason given for why she didn’t just kill Magnuson there and then) . . . Aside from his simply being there . . . Sherlock would have been able to vouch for John (okay, yes, that would be suspect, and one supposes everyone would assume John had also shot Sherlock to cover up?), and ballistics would have borne out that John had not fired a gun, plus no gloves on the scene . . . In fact, no gun either, assuming Mary would have taken it with her . . . And there was nowhere for John to dispose of both a gun and gloves. Anyway, I’m not sure what Mary is worried about, exactly, since all Magnuson’s power comes from keeping his mouth shut. He wouldn’t give that away. Not unless there were a bigger prize, and if the goal was to “own” Mycroft, then keeping his mouth shut would be how he’d achieve that.

Let’s look. Magnuson has goods on Mary, who wants to keep these things (a) quiet from John, and (b) quiet from anyone else who might come looking for her. Since John is the one Sherlock cares most about (and since John cares for Mary, Sherlock does as well because he wants to see John happy), and Sherlock is the one Mycroft cares most about . . . It does Magnuson no good to reveal Mary. To do so means he loses [his power over] her, John, Sherlock, and Mycroft. So why is she worried? Aside from the general discomfort of being under someone’s thumb, of course. Was Magnuson going to ask her to kill people for him as part of his price for silence? Did Magnuson work for Moriarty? Isn’t Magnuson just another Irene Adler, only instead of an iPhone full of secrets, he just carries them in his brain?

Oh, and speaking of that. Appledore, it turns out, has no vaults. No storage of secrets. (And I have to say, the episode was a bit of a cheat with the false glasses thing, but that’s a bone to pick over another time.) So . . . We’re supposed to believe Magnuson just prints whatever in his papers, without substantiation. Okay, yeah, chalk it up to the nature of tabloids anyway. But then what? If an inquiry begins in earnest . . . I mean, does this mean Magnuson never even owned the Smallwood letters? He mentions as a throw away line that he “might send out for something” which suggests there is a repository of some kind, somewhere. But then just before shooting him, Sherlock confirms with Magnuson that there is no hard copy of the information, that it is all in Magnuson’s head. So which is it? (He must have read or seen the information somewhere, at some point, in order to photographically remember it, right? So where did Magnuson get all this intelligence?)

Whatever. Littler things: the mention of the cottage on Sussex Downs, John as the “dummy” (better than a waxwork at least). And why does Sherlock think that will be the last conversation he’ll ever have with John? If he has six months in Easter Europe, can’t he phone? (Well, okay, maybe not if he’s going to be undercover. Maybe he wouldn’t want to put John, Mary and the baby in potential jeopardy.)

And I sure hope they don’t name this baby Shirley.

And Finally . . .

Not to belabor my points or anything, and I will say “The Empty Hearse” played slightly better on a second viewing, but there are still a few things . . .

1. Surely Mary has seen pictures of Sherlock? So why did it take her so long to recognize him at the restaurant? Or was that an act?

2. I don’t get why the train enthusiast didn’t immediately know about and/or think of the siding where the bomb carriage (car) was parked.

3. No, Sherlock, bombs do not always have an off switch. Many terrorists aren’t all that concerned about finding themselves in trouble. Many would be more concerned that someone might switch off their bomb. So this is lazy writing, really. Better to have come up with a way to put the bomb in a vacuum; an ignitor needs oxygen to detonate.

A nice touch I noticed last night but had missed the first time was Sherlock’s startled moment when John says, “You love it.” For a second there, Sherlock was worried John had figured it out.

P.S. Interesting that Mary tells John he should have something on a t-shirt. Watch for that to come up again in “His Last Vow.” Is there a deeper link between Mary and Magnuson (that is, deeper than the one revealed in “His Last Vow”)? Or is this just an attempt at a running joke?

“The Empty Hearse”: An Observation on Sherlock‘s Response to Fans

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.

“His Last Vow”: Another Thing

As cute as the post-credit sequence in the drug den was (and yes, it feels weird to write “cute” and “drug den”)—and this was lifted from Doyle, too; note that the best of the program adheres mostly to Doyle’s original work—I feel Sherlock would have known that by addressing John he was inviting having his cover blown. He knows John and so should be able to reasonably predict John’s reaction, which would certainly involve Sherlock’s name being shouted. So . . . Are we supposed to believe Sherlock had a momentary lapse in judgement in drawing John’s attention (maybe couldn’t help himself because he so misses having John’s attention, though the delivery of “Did you come to fetch me too?” doesn’t quite give that impression), or that he really wanted to have his cover blown, or that he wasn’t actually undercover at all?

Sherlock: “His Last Vow” (Initial Thoughts)

This was better than the first two. There’s that at least.

An adaptation of “Charles Augustus Milverton,” here changed to Magnuson—a most reviled blackmailer in the Doyle story and equally nastily portrayed in this take. In the original tale, Sherlock Holmes’s revulsion and frustration are palpable, and this did a decent job of pulling that through. And yes, Doyle’s Holmes does court a member of Milverton’s staff in order to gain access to his home, so I saw that bit coming.

There were little things, like the fact that if Sherlock is holding John’s coat he should be able to tell John’s gun is in it without having to ask. Stuff like that.

I enjoyed the passing reference to Sherriford. And the way Billy was introduced. I liked Sherlock’s sincere affection for John, which came through quite nicely this episode. I realize it was the through line of the plot, but really there were just lovely moments that highlighted this aspect, particularly at the end when Sherlock is on the plane and so heartbroken (as much as ever Sherlock can be) to have to leave.

I don’t know if I’m sold on the whole “three amigos” aspect of bringing Mary into things as an ex government assassin. Though I’m sure they’ll try and make her useful. (And oooh, her last initial is “A.” Could she be an Adler? Or is that stretching?)

And are we sure Moriarty’s actually alive? Just about anyone can throw an animated image together. Just curious. (Though I’ve been told Molly telegraphs that Moriarty IS alive with her “not like in the movies” bit. Are we supposed to then believe Sherlock was taken in? That he was in enough of a state that he didn’t notice it was all staged . . . Because he was too busy staging his own? Hmm. I don’t entirely buy it. Unless the gimmick is that Sherlock secretly doesn’t want Moriarty to be dead because that means he loses a playmate. But seems like if he spent two years clearing Moriarty’s network, he’d have heard something about Moriarty still being alive.)

Again, I’ll probably have to think about it some more, but . . . I’m mostly relieved it wasn’t as awful as the previous ones. Well, when you set the bar low, it isn’t difficult to jump over. That was the difficulty coming off the first series; how does one maintain such quality? Nothing is perfect, nor is perfection a sustainable state of being. Perfection is something that comes only in brief moments. Still, one should strive for it, or at least to do as best as one can.

But that’s another lecture for another time.

I’ll sleep on it. And come up with more thoughts. Or not. ::shrug:: ::yawn::

ETA: Another thought here.

Additional Thoughts on “The Sign of Three”

The way they shot the uniforms/belts, and then later the photographer, gave the game away a bit. The key is to shoot it all like none of it matters. Because it doesn’t until the moment Sherlock realizes it does. And if the audience is ahead of Sherlock, that defeats the purpose of the show.

Speaking of being ahead, why did it take so long for Sherlock to zero in on Sholto? When the rest of us are sitting there going, “Um, what about the recluse everyone wants to kill?” In fact, all the personal drama seems to be turning Sherlock into a bit of a slowtop; in “The Empty Hearse” my first question after hearing about the train was, “Well, was there any time lost between the stations?” But Sherlock didn’t get around to that until much later. What’s that about?

And how coincidental that the unsolved Bainbridge case is the one Sherlock decides to mention in The World’s Longest Best Man Speech, and then just happens to be the key to figuring out the Sholto case? What do we say to coincidences? “Not today!” Or any day, really, so this is just terrible plotting.

More clumsy writing: having Tessa throw out John’s middle name for no apparent reason. Though of course John and Sherlock were too drunk to notice. But the audience did.

Where was Harry, btw? Or maybe she was there and I totally missed it.

Also, did we just set up a “Dancing Man” episode? (Maybe “The Dancing Detective” . . .)

And btw, Happy [traditionally celebrated] Birthday to Mr. Holmes. Though I see him more as a Capricorn-Aquarius cusper myself.