Sherlock: The Science of Devotion


Sherlock has captivated a diverse audience internationally. For many fans, the true value of the show lies not in the cases themselves, but in the layers running beneath the show’s surface. One of the most popular topics amongst Sherlock fans is the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, and, more specifically, the idea that they will end up romantically involved. If this idea alone makes you roll your eyes, prepare for much worse. At time of writing, the season four finale has not yet aired, and I am therefore going out on a limb by agreeing with this prediction; depending on the outcome of this episode, you are about to feel either amazed or amused… Brace for spoilers.

Whilst seeming like wishful thinking (or ‘fangirl behaviour’), this theory is based on evidence such as ‘mirroring’, a narrative device in which a character resembles one of the leads. Consequently, important features of both Sherlock and John are highlighted in an indirect manner. One of the first mirrors we meet is pathologist Molly, who shares many attributes with John, from their medical careers and backgrounds at St. Bart’s Hospital, to their moustaches in The Abominable Bride and their awe at Sherlock. Their defining difference, however, is the way in which Sherlock reacts to them; Molly is met with abrupt rejections, whereas John is treated with affection. When discussing mirrors, it is staggering how many characters share names or initials with John and Sherlock (real name William), from A Study in Pink’s Jennifer Wilson, to the many Bills, Billy’s and Johns scattered throughout the show. In The Hounds of Baskerville, Gary and Billy (the married pub owners) share a lot visually with the two protagonists, most notably their height difference, shirts, and even haircuts. Not only that, but in scenes where these two pairs meets, they are literally surrounded by mirrors.

If this episode is a preview of the current series, its waterfall finale with John’s line “There’s always two of us” is promising for fans hoping for a romantic ending.

Another form of evidence supporting the theory that Sherlock is inherently a romance is ‘foreshadowing’. Mrs Hudson’s line “Mrs Turner next door’s got married ones” (referring to a same-sex couple) is a minor example, playing on the fact that the landlady’s name was often confused in the original books. A greater case of foreshadowing is The Abominable Bride. Despite its strong Victorian visuals and unexpected twists, many were unsatisfied by this episode. This is arguably because its value lies not in the case itself, but in the foreshadowing for season four, with the unhappy marriages, betrayals and shootings reminding many viewers of John and Mary Watson. If this episode is a preview of the current series, its waterfall finale with John’s line “There’s always two of us” is promising for fans hoping for a romantic ending.

This waterfall forms the basis of another piece of evidence: the water motif. In the first episode of season four, water is everywhere – the aquarium, the pool scene, even superimposed over Sherlock’s face. This is one of many motifs tied to romance in the show, with another being tea. Throughout the series, tea is linked to same-sex romance – something that both the fans and writers know, prompting the line “Is cup of tea code?” in The Six Thatchers. The most popular motif is elephants, first appearing following Sherlock’s reference to “the elephant in the room” in His Last Vow. Ever since, there have been elephants littered around the set, with the show’s production designer regularly tweeting elephant imagery, in what is either a hint to fans or a monumental case of queerbaiting.

Dialogue cannot be ignored when analysing Sherlock. In the recent episode The Lying Detective, Sherlock utters an important line as he comforts John: “It is what it is.” Whilst this might seem nondescript, it is a proverb from philosopher John Locke (‘Johnlock’). This is unlikely a coincidence – as Sherlock says, “the universe is rarely so lazy”.

Based on this, I predict The Final Problem will have seen some kind of romantic ending for Sherlock and John, or at least some serious pining from Sherlock. If this did happen and you were surprised, perhaps you should have been watching more carefully. If not, feel free to laugh at my expense.

But regardless of outcome, why bother with this analysis in the first place? For one, it brings people together, and develops their abilities to look for deeper meaning in media. More importantly, though, it is in the spirit of the show, and of the great detective himself. Sherlock would be proud.


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