Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Journey to Reichenbach Two: The Curtain Rises

"The curtain rises" Sherlock says quietly, to himself.  But John hears and insists Sherlock explain what he means.

"I've been expecting this for some time," he responds.

The first episode of Series One presented the essential themes of SHERLOCK, including the great detective and the criminal mastermind beginning their deadly chess game. Moriarty's ultimate goal is not yet clear, Sherlock's motivations at this point are: He wants to be fully engaged, challenged and win.  He lives for brainwork.  It is his passion, his validation and how he intersects the world.1

But Sherlock evolves.  In the first episode, "A Study in Pink," Sherlock takes full pleasure in displaying his intellectual acumen, which also gives him some power over others.  He impresses and intrigues John by revealing how much he knows about him, humiliates Sally Donovan by revealing her illicit and distasteful sexual relationship with forensic specialist Anderson. He expresses his uniqueness to and superiority over those not as clever as he ("What is it like in your funny little brains?  It must be so boring.") That changes in "The Great Game."

In Pink, Sherlock exults when finally called in to consult in the serial suicides case: "Brilliant!  Yes! Four serial suicides and now a note.  Ah, it's Christmas!"  As he leaves, Mrs. Hudson comments as a fond aunt to an excited teen-ager:   "Look at you all happy, it's not decent."  Whereupon Sherlock leaves her with the joyful declaration:

"Who cares about decent?  The game, Mrs. Hudson, is on!"  Contrast this to Conan Doyle's Sherlock of the Canon who needed the brainwork but also spoke of bringing evildoers to justice.  That Holmes' famous declaration was "The game's afoot!"  The difference is that the game to which he refers is criminal he is hunting.  It is afoot, out and about, prowling the streets.

But to the Sherlock of Gatiss and Moffat, the game is a contest between himself and the puzzle, a challenge set him by a perpetrator who's capture is simply how one keeps score.  The game is on; it is Sherlock's turn.

Without the evolution of the character of Sherlock Holmes, he will never get to the roof, never take the leap.

The beginnings of change occur in "A Study in Pink," but the most obvious changes come as a result of  Sherlock's experiences in "The Great Game" and "A Scandal in Belgravia."

In "The Great Game," Sherlock works out the puzzles given him by the bomber (Moriarty) in the first three cases with great enjoyment and mounting confidence.   It never seems to occur to him, though both John and Lestrade point it out, that the victims are in real danger.   The initial explosion that blew out the windows of his flat and got the police to call him hurt no one.  Only property was damaged.

The Janus Case: Fun times solving the puzzle.
Working out the the first two puzzles cause resulted in both victims being released unharmed. Sherlock keeps bits of his conversations with Moriarty secret from Lestrade and the fact that the kidnappings and bomb threats are part of a game aimed solely at him, according to Moriarty, he acknowledges only to John. to himself, victims were released unharmed.

Then Moriarty casually murdered 12 people after a successful solution to the third puzzle, a case Sherlock was confident would resolve in as satisfactory a way as the others: the rescue of the victim, the victory to him. After all, in his words, he is "on fire!"

Sherlock, visibly upset and trying to get his objective distance back as he knows Moriarty will take another victim, says, "He killed the old lady because she started to describe him."

Sherlock is right.  But he left out "at that moment." Because  Moriarty was always going to kill her.  Every victim was debriefed by the police.  Moriarty knew, when taking a blind victim that had to be coached verbally,  that she would be debriefed and able to describe the voice she heard.  Her death was inevitable.   Moriarty waited until Sherlock would hear her die.  Perhaps to throw him off his game, perhaps to cover up the fact that it was someone in the apartment above that was the actual target. Moriarty multitasking.

Whatever the motivation for the timing, the action triggers a change in Sherlock.


The next puzzle begins with a dead man on the banks of the Thames.  Sherlock seems like himself until he has to explain how he arrives at his conclusion the "Lost Vermeer" painting is a fake. He begins to explain, but Sherlock is no longer showing off.  He is giving a lecture, informing.  He doesn't comment on John or Lestrade asking questions, doesn't use the opportunity to point out how much cleverer he is, he simply answers the questions.

At the end, again impressed by his friend's talents, John says, "Fantastic."  Sherlock shrugs the compliment off with a single word response, "Meritricious." 

What did Sherlock just say about himself?  He seems almost repelled by his own performance, one he would have walked away without giving except for Lestrade and John needing to understand.  With this one word he reveals the performance he gave, that which he always enjoyed along with the reactions of his observers, was worthless. No one should admire him because of it; it's falsely attractive.

Deeply affected by the death of the old woman, Sherlock now understands that his abilities are worthless if only used in the context of self-aggrandizement.  Sherlock has stopped dancing.  Now, he is stalking.

Sherlock in stalker mode.
A variety of personality traits and elements of Sherlock's psychological make-up change during the central part of the plot line that begins with the killer cabbie and ends in the cemetery.
  • Estrangement from Mycroft that continues to exist by his own choice.
  • Working alone as much as possible, wanting no help from another. 
  • Motivated primarily by selfish needs with little regard for the needs of others.
  • In need of an audience and validation of his genius and worth.
  • Unable to anticipate how his actions affect others or care when he observes they do. 
  • Does not place a high value on his continued existence: reckless with his life. 

In Psyching Sherlock: the Impossible Sociopath, this blog made the case for two concomitant personality disorders.  Some of what supported that has been altered here, Sherlock's narcissism cracks.  His ego is intact, his confidence not gone, but his view shifted.  He has not turned all the way around yet, that happens by the end of "A Scandal in Belgravia," but Moriarty is unwittingly honing Sherlock into the weapon of Moriarty's personal destruction.

Journey to Reichenbach Three: Scherzo

1 See also Psyching Sherlock: Married to His Work

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