Hah, there’s a lasting question.

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?  In a past season, the camera’s steady eye would’ve given the actors the screen real estate to show us what Sherlock and John aren’t saying.  Unfortunately, the directing in this episode spent a lot of time on flashy, sleek cuts and visual sequences.

There isn’t really a way to entirely make up for that, but we have to do our best.

Okay, so let’s start with Ivy Blossom’s commentary on Sherlock.  We’re all clear on that, right?  Good.  To be further clear, it doesn’t make him evil or irredeemable, and definitely not a psychopath.  It makes him fallible, blind, and emotional.

‘Emotional incompetence’ is a loaded phrase, though.  Sherlock is great at reading and understanding peoples’ emotions—when he’s paying attention.  But when he isn’t on a case or something, a lot of the time he’s not paying attention.  He thinks it’s a waste of his time and mental resources, and over the years he’s put a lot of work into not bothering with what other people think.  (As he explains to Mycroft, “Why should anyone mind?”)

ONE of the themes of this season is that finally coming back to bite him in the ass—over and over and over again.  And by the end of the season, he’s finally beginning to catch on, although he’s still missing some fairly significant things.  Always room for improvement, I guess.

Now, TEH.

There are two things going on with Sherlock and John in TEH, and they’re completely at odds.  On the one hand, there’s what Sherlock is doing.  On the other hand, there’s what Sherlock is thinking.

From a thinking perspective, Sherlock’s heart really is in the right place.  He’s faced John and realized belatedly how colossally he fucked up.  He’s tried his puppy-dog-eyes-and-insincere-sorries trick and it only made John angrier.  He feels terrible and wants to fix it.  He’s working hard (harder than he is on the case) to re-establish his bonds with all the people he’s missed—not only John, but also his parents, Mycroft, Molly, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson.  Hell, even Anderson.  But most of all John, of course.  John is the one he missed most, and he’s also the one who poses a problem.

Meanwhile, from a doing perspective, he’s just fucking up every time he sets eyes on John.  He’s not trying to.  The last thing he wants to do in this episode is hurt John more.  But he’s off-balance.  And let’s just face it, Sherlock’s mind is a little beachy atoll of love and civility, surrounded by a vast Caribbean-blue sea of shark-infested dickishness.  It’s just how he’s put together.  So blaming him for being a dick every time he opens his mouth is, in a certain sense, a little like being upset with a Brazilian for speaking Portuguese. (Although Portuguese is obviously a much lovelier language.)

So Sherlock tried for John first, as the person whose relationship he most wanted to get back.  He screwed it up so badly (or rather, he had screwed it up so badly by doing what he did in the first place) that he realized it was the one that would take the most work, and thus he’d have to leave it for last.  First, John (like Sherlock’s rats) needed some time and space to do his own thing.

And indeed, John (with Mary’s help, maybe, though I’m not sure she even had to do much) did most of his calming down himself.  In fact he did so much of his calming down that it’s not even clear that Sherlock needed to pull the stunt with the train car.

But we can break the train car stunt into two different pieces.  First, there’s the getting to it, the ‘not calling the cops,’ etc.  Sherlock seemed legitimately surprised when the bomb activated.  I don’t think that was his plan.  I think his plan was just to go with John down to the train car and have a little one-on-one adventure time.  Which, yeah, that’s basically just their typical 221b courting behavior.

Then the bomb activated.

Sherlock was surprised.  Momentarily he was panicked.  He encouraged John to run in a moment of true, honest altruism.  After that (probably when John urged him to root around in his mind palace) Sherlock thought of the off switch (listen to him scrabbling at the bomb; his mutterings indicate he knows what he’s looking for).

Thus, for what it’s worth, the bomb stunt was an improvised trick/practical joke.  Though the way Sherlock lays plans, that might not be a comfort.  He doesn’t do impulses; he lays entire battle plans over the course of 30 seconds.

So why does he do it?

I’ve tried on a lot of different theories and reasons, and the only one that fits was that yes, he just wanted to make John say it.

But no, that’s not a ‘just,’ necessarily.  Why would he want to make John say it? 

I can think of a number of reasons.  Some of them are more flattering than others.  Some that come to mind:

  • Maybe he was just being egotistical and wanted to hear it.  
  • Maybe he was feeling hurt and afraid that he’d lost the relationships he valued most and wanted to reassure himself that John really did forgive him.
  • Maybe it’s just so fucking hard to get John to talk openly about his feelings that he figured it might be his only chance.  
  • Maybe he hoped that having them spoken would help them both heal.
  • Maybe he just figured it’d make John laugh.

And It’s worth remembering that it did make John laugh.  Sherlock knows John. It was an absolutely terrible thing to do to John, and yet it was also the right call.

And that has to be the key.  It was an awful thing to do, and yet it was also the right thing to do.  And maybe the issue at hand was not John’s forgiveness, but the two of them sharing the kind of moment that no one but them could ever understand.  This is what Sherlock gives John that no one else can give him.

And yes, it’s a thing that’s totally fucked up.  We knew that in the first episode, when they were giggling over a dead body they had put there.  These guys aren’t normal.  John isn’t looking for a pal to play tennis and go on pub crawls with.

It’s also symbolic.  John thought Sherlock was a dead man.  But just when all hope seemed lost, he fixed it.

This is what I mean when I say it’s a kind of D/s, S/M relationship.  John’s in it for the crazed emotional highs and the brushes with disaster (well, and also to keep Sherlock from getting his head smacked in), and he trusts Sherlock to both deliver and get them out again in one piece.

Hmmmm.  Maybe that’s what their final conversation means, about “I asked you for a miracle” and “I heard you.”  It’s not an apology—it is in fact the very issue that made the whole Hiatus so very wrong.  But it is a promise.  ”I will always work the miracle for you.”

Well, hell.  I think I parsed it.

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