So I went back and looked at a this thing that I posted a while back about watching “Study in Pink” with my partner. And I was struck by this paragraph:

So, Martin Freeman’s Watson is brilliant because it reveals something that the Doyle stories hide more successfully—which is that it’s Watson, the more superficially normative guy in this partnership, who actually has the most difficulty with his emotions and who puts the most effort into repressing them. Freeman does a terrific job with something very difficult, which is preserving an unemotional front without seeming blank or empty. He’s much calmer and stiller than Sherlock most of the time, but you look at him and you know it’s only because he’s so tightly wound and putting so much energy into keeping the lid on everything. It fits in with Mycroft’s note about how John’s response to stress is actually to become steadier and calmer, and with what Sherlock says in his profile of the as-yet-unknown shooter about him being “acclimatised” to violence (but not necessarily, on a deep level, OK with it). Which is so much more interesting than nearly anything else I’ve ever seen anyone do with Watson.”

Boy, does “Empty Hearse” make that SO MUCH MORE TRUE.

Though I initially complained about the non-operatic quality of the reunion scene, on rewatch I am  better able to appreciate it, and thing that I appreciate about it is Freeman’s performance of John’s initial reaction. Because it is totally consistent with the characterization he’s developed for John in the first two seasons. In the first few seconds he barely actually moves; it’s more of John responding to stress by becoming calmer and stiller, only the tension he’s suppressing in order to maintain that response is highly visible and just about unbearable. The strain of not exploding all over the restaurant makes it nearly impossible for him to speak. And, again, Freeman makes visible everything that’s *not*  being expressed. 

So in the end I think I have to applaud the decision to do the reunion in a public place, because that actually brings out in spades all the things on which Freeman has always based his performance of John and his emotions. Hooray for that.

Yes, yes, yes! Oh yes, John really is repressed (as I said in my response on biromantic!John) to a point that almost everyone weirdly ignores. It’s how he balances with Sherlock, who expresses with no filter (but is barely aware of anything inside), while John is so deeply controlled and ‘calm’ but raging out of control inside and he knows it, too. Their neuroses match so perfectly I just want to cry, hahah.

Anyway, I was always a bit uncomfortable that the reunion was in public (and with Mary!), but on the other hand this way, the unspoken tension just ratchets up, and the fact that John still jumps Sherlock (repeatedly!) and the sheer ridiculousness of the whole thing (oh god they’re both idiots) is so clear. I mean, John is so perfectly John, but Sherlock is just so ridiculously, obliviously Sherlock as well! It wouldn’t be the same if he wasn’t, if he wasn’t so tone-deaf and yet wanting to please, thinking that even now he’s being cute and is going to get away with it. Like a manipulative toddler with a mom that has PTSD and is about to snap (and then does snap). It’s just so painful and ridiculous at the same time. Sherlock isn’t operatic, and John never is anything but clothed in his metaphorical jumpers with tea (about to shoot you); I mean, Sherlock’s opera is a farce. Sherlock himself is a farce (‘a ridiculous man’, he admits later). John needs to be calm, but his calm is always different than Sherlock’s calm; Sherlock is disconnected, while John is just compressed into predatory stillness.  

Oh John. I actually think this is Sherlock’s ‘in’ way more than any biromantic tendencies he supposedly shows in the next episode: it’s the brewing violence and John’s addiction meeting Sherlock’s, and it always was. It’s not about John expressing his feelings, but Sherlock allowing John’s feelings a concrete expression. Like a weird sort of ventriloquist, Sherlock’s whole existence acts out John’s repressed desires. As long as Sherlock speaks in John’s silences and John speaks through Sherlock’s, that’s more sexual and more romantic than I can even imagine a love-confession could be. 

This is what I’m saying.  Maybe they have sex, and maybe they don’t, and fundamentally it doesn’t matter, because their primary, hm, form of union takes a different shape.  But they do totally HAVE a form of union.

I still say the closest analogue is probably non-sexual BDSM (yes, that’s a thing).  But I know that some people find ‘BDSM’ a problematic term here, because whatever these two are up to, it’s not always safe, sane or consensual.  So maybe go for the broader term, ‘kink.’  I mean they’ve DEFINITELY got SOME kind of non-sexual but still passionate kink relationship going.  Could anybody even argue otherwise?

(I always found Sherlock the more predatory of the two.  John reminds me more of the more badass species of herbivores.  Technically he may be a prey animal, but if you want to take him down, you’d better have brought your pack along.)

Had to reblog for the epicness of ‘badass species of herbivores’, omg. I still remember Martin Freeman saying in an interview that he thought John and Sherlock were both alphas, but John has to adjust ‘cause Sherlock’s (amazingly) being more alpha than he is. I thought, yeah, this makes more sense to me than anything anyone else had said on the subject (being as it’s talking about intra-gender dynamics rather than projecting sexual, animal or pack dynamics inappropriately). I can see John as a badass herbivore (and now I will! for quite awhile!), but I think the source of the confusion is that I can’t see Sherlock’s dominance and John’s as being *the same*. So the easiest solution *may* seem to say that (since John’s frequently capitulating) John is clearly the beta-male. But he’s not a beta-male in any other situation or dynamic we see him in. So what’s the deal? I think that basically, they’re alphas with differing domains that don’t conflict; in the domain of cases, Sherlock rules. In the domain of the household and like, human interaction and necessities, he doesn’t. (He appropriates, then pouts and disconnects if thwarted or capitulates if it’s important enough to John.) 

Anyway, I’m uncertain about this, but yes, this is another reason why BDSM dynamics don’t quite work; not only are the two of them not safe or sane, neither are they top/bottom in a traditional sense. I do think they’ve got a passionate kink relationship though (though that too cracks me up). Power-exchange is definitely going on (and how much more kinky is it if it’s power-exchange when both people enjoy power in a similar way, just different approaches and domains?) I’d even say what they both enjoy is a form of self-control (rather than other-control), which makes it even more nonstandard. I think if you deconstruct it enough, you just wind up at the beginning: they’re partners, haha. 

Well, truthfully the whole alpha/beta/omega thing is…  Well, actually fundamentally it’s a load of huckus.  Originally it was an attempt to describe wolf pack dynamics, except it turns out that it’s not wolf pack dynamics at all.  Wolf pack dynamics are ‘mom and dad lead the pack, and most of the rest are their adult or adolescent offspring, plus a few adoptees and in-laws.’

But then you’ve got lions and gorillas and stuff, who do at least have the whole ‘big male in charge’ thing going on.  (Horses, deer, turkeys…)  So addressing that, insofar as territoriality and mating competition and all that goes, the truth is that ‘who’s the boss’ is all a spectrum.  It’s not like there’s a line where the animals standing on one side of it are alpha, and the ones standing on the other side of it are beta.  It’s all about “am I more alpha than YOU, personally, right here in front of me?”

That’s why they have to put on displays and try to intimidate each other and, in extreme cases, actually fight.  Because it’s not always evident, just from looking, who’s the strongest and fiercest and most ambitious, who’s the best able to lead and protect those under them.

Then again, sometimes it is.  Sometimes, they don’t need to fight at all; they just size each other up and can see where they stand, and then everybody takes their places and moves on with life.

But while it’s always interesting when you pull back the veil and catch humans acting like the primates we are, character-wise I think there’s something more interesting here than that.  Which is that I think John wants somebody he can follow.

I mean clearly he’s more than capable in his own right.   It’s not about that.  Personally I suspect that it’s that John wants a place he belongs.  Sherlock can function as a loner (although maybe, he’s discovered, less well than he always believed), but John needs someone.

And not just someone, but someone who can give him the things he’s looking for.  The crazy lifestyle comes built in to Sherlock, but it doesn’t come built in to John. He found it once under his own power by signing up with the military, but left to his own devices, his conflicting impulses between normality and crazy seem to tend to lead him into more normality than he can handle.  Alternatively, I’ve personally known some people who are too badly torn between normality and risk, and my big takeaway from them is that when you can’t commit to one or the other, you end up fucking up both and then being in REALLY big trouble.  So Sherlock holds the door open for him—literally, sometimes—and ushers John into his crazy dark war-torn underbelly of London.

I don’t think, though, that Sherlock and John do enjoy power the same way.  It’s one of the reasons they work so well.  Sherlock dominates (get your mind out of the kink-gutter for a second, I mean this in a more generic sense—well, maybe kink-gutter too, BUT ALSO) almost any scene he’s dropped into.  He even takes over the freaking wedding reception.  We get almost a whole episode of two people getting married, and still Sherlock is the one all eyes are fixed on.  He also habitually uses his intellect as a weapon to batter those who stand against him into submission, and you can practically see the cloud of his charisma drifting around him in a shadowy nimbus.  And he likes it that way.  He clearly enjoys winning, and forcing people (especially stupid people) to yield to him, and proving against the smart people that he’s smarter (in fact he apparently enjoys this so much that he’s willing to play Operation with his brother just to get a chance at it), and commanding the attention of everyone around him.  (The moment in HLV where we see him literally forcing John down through sheer personality during the confrontation with Mary at Baker Street sticks in my mind, but he wasn’t doing that for jollies, I don’t think.  But the thing is, he can.)

John, meanwhile, seems to really enjoy being the second in command.  He seems to enjoy stepping up to exert authority over others for Sherlock—to help him with a case, to give him convenience, when someone around him gets out of line with him (John really really seems to enjoy putting people in their place when they’re being unnecessarily mean to Sherlock; you can almost see the outrage and satisfaction rolling off him).  And not just Sherlock; Sherlock describes him as behaving ‘like a puppy’ around Major Sholto (obviously he was indulging in some jealousy-powered hyberbole there, but for John that was pretty burbly with excitement).  The only times we see John step up to take authority in his own name are in the circumstances that someone has been hurt, either physically or emotionally.  (Notably, most often they have been hurt by Sherlock, at whom John will then snap.)

So basically, while Sherlock seems to really like being in charge and winning, I don’t think John feels that kind of need to be in charge.   Although he’s perfectly capable if circumstances call for it, I think what really scratches his itch is being able to give people what they need—healing and nurturing, caretaking and fulfilling others.  

And the crazy, of course.  They both love the crazy, weird, dangerous, challenging.  It makes everything else about them and around them and between them that much more intense.

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