I was talking to my partner about the inconsistencies in season 3, and saying how I apply the principle, “If it makes no sense on the literal level, look to the figurative. What ideas is the text struggling with? What questions is it trying to ask?”

“Yes!” Warren said. “Why would a text break its own rules? Maybe because it’s struggling with deeper cultural issues that haven’t been resolved. Huckleberry Finn takes a huge leap off the realism track when Jim and Huck start drifting back down the river into slave country, and Huck’s story that Jim will be free is going to fall apart. But then Tom Sawyer shows up out of the blue and says, ‘Hey! Guess what! Jim’s already free!’ Reconstruction hadn’t begun to resolve the issue of slavery, and Twain saw no other way out than a deus ex Sawyer.”

This is how I explain in the broken narrative and emotional logic of season 3. The chief inconsistency, the question whose missing answer haunts all three episodes: why would Sherlock leave John for two years without a word or an adequate apology? How could a man who was so undeniably close to another man hurt him so very badly? This is a guy who’s killed for him and hunted with him and run with him and lived with him, a guy he talks to in his head, and their relationship is the emotional and narrative heart of the story. Why, why would you leave this break unexplained? The love between Sherlock and John is the rule of the series. Why would you break your own rule?

Because the cultural issue of homophobia hasn’t been resolved.

On the one hand, this season shows Sherlock coming to understand his own heart, and to experience love. This means his character’s markedly different than in previous seasons, and by extension it seems so is John’s. Sexuality and romantic love are central now, pair-bonding’s the issue, but the show can’t seem to figure out how to represent that in this context. There’s still too much anxiety around queerness. This is why TSoT especially feels so strange. That’s where their relationship is most obviously at issue, and where the struggle with homophobia’s strongest, because they can’t yet answer the question, “How can a love between men coexist with compulsory heterosexuality?” All the weirdness of the “bachelor party” finds its cause here, because yes, to me that drunken night is one long homoerotic in-joke. It does what jokes do, releases the tension and anxiety that can’t be consciously, openly, textually expressed. It tries to resolve the conflict between gay love and het union by making us laugh at gayness.

I think season 3 confuses me because it is itself confused. Sherlock’s character is off because the culture finds it so hard to imagine a logical man in love, or a man who’s all mind having a (sexual) body. John’s character is off because it so hard to imagine one man in love with two people (the bisexual blind spot). Mary’s character is incomplete because it seems impossible for these writers to imagine a fully formed woman having any real place in this Boys’ Own Story.

I don’t mean these ideas to be definitive or prescriptive; I’m just trying to figure some shit out. By tomorrow I might have figured it out better. But the sense of anxious irresolution toward John and Sherlock’s relationship haunts the season for me. Haunts many of us; I think it’s one reason why TJLC has such appeal, because it would resolve this indecision. (If there’s one thing conspiracy theories do, it’s make sense of disconnected, seemingly contradictory facts.) But as much as I wish for it, I don’t think the showrunners are heading for textual queer love. I don’t think they’d know how: they seem more constrained by the culture’s rules than their own.

This is a great framework to get at the things that Aren’t Working and Don’t Make Sense.  And I think Prof hit on a few things that are definitely at issue in S3.  (Mary not having a place in the boys’ story, that’s a thing, isn’t it?  I still remain unconvinced that she does, in the long term—and not in a good way.  I’m pretty pissed off by the idea that they’d introduce her and then throw her away again, that’s the exact kind of woman-as-prop storytelling that I’m so tired of seeing.)

But the reason TSoT seems so weird is, I think, a simpler one.  Sherlock has designed a persona for himself for the occasion.  He’s not really playing himself at the wedding.  He’s playing someone who might reasonably be found at a wedding, giving a speech for his best friend.

The narrative structure of the episode is completely flaky.  It darts back and forth in time so much that it can be hard to sort out what’s happening when.  But if you watch it again, you’ll see Sherlock acting like himself in the flashbacks, and acting like Best Man Sherlock as he narrates himself and John.  He’s not out of character at all when he isn’t standing in front of people pretending to be civil.

Personas are intrinsic to Sherlock (maybe the show as well as the character).  This is how Sherlock does disguise.  Rather than putting on faces, he makes up personas.  Sherlock Holmes himself is a persona, as he and John both allude to in TEH.  ”You missed this, didn’t you?  Being Sherlock Holmes.”  That’s why he so often feels performative—because he is.

Which isn’t to say Sherlock isn’t real.  When he’s at home, not performing for anyone, he’s a real, honest person.  Someone maybe John alone knows fully.  (Although we’ve seen very little of this; arguably some glimpses in “Scandal,” but when Irene’s around, he’s performing for her too, and he makes a point of shutting John out of his most personal moments.)  But he built himself a dashing, wild, swashbuckling piratical persona, the poetical “Sherlock Holmes”  he never grew out of wanting to be, and in most of his life he lives that person.  I don’t think this is meant to be sad or lost; I think it’s a joyous and empowering choice he made for himself.  Sherlock is, oddly enough, a man with a lot of joie de vivre.  He lives most of his life as a kind of party; and why shouldn’t he?  He made his own career, he’s got acolytes, he gets 99% of things his own way.  He’s captain of his own ship.  As John says, he loves being Sherlock Holmes.

Which is also why I don’t think his contemplative look when he leaves John’s reception is meant to be pining.  It’s just him slipping back into real Sherlock, the man who doesn’t belong to places like a wedding reception and never did.

This play with personas is one of the things that makes the characters so unreliable—especially Sherlock and Mycroft.  Both of them are, the vast majority of the time, doing performance art.  As we discover, so is Mary.  And so has John been, maybe, though he hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself.

But this can tie into Prof’s thoughts, too.  God knows, in a heterosexist society, people who don’t fit the mould spend a lot of their time living in personas—personas to go with the straight crowd, personas to go with the queer crowd, a carefully managed portfolio of personas for all the different circles of friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.  A story about men who go through life as a masquerade…there are themes there that match so very well.  But while some of the masks have slipped this season, there are still other ones lying underneath.

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