Sherlocked: Mary, Mary Quite Contrary …
(Read if you are a geek or Sherlocked 🙂 This is my second ‘nerdesk’ blog post in response to the story-weaving and word smithing in a very popular show. Hey, I’ve been poorly and this is my idea of brain exercise, OK? )
17 December 2013
The game is already afoot for Sherlock with my predictions for the season finale revisiting details in the first two episodes including his first meeting with Mary, John Watson’s name, warning texts, a wedding telegram, the complexities of a Best Man’s speech and a brother’s warning. At first glance ‘The Sign of Three’ could be seen as frivolity and a development of Sherlock’s inner world and relationships. Of course it is. However, a deeper look shows undercurrents and collisions yet to occur. We have already had a glimpse of our new arch enemy, who appears at first glance to be missing from episode 2. I see a spectre is at the feast and there was much contained within exchanges with Mycroft and others.
Let us start with the wedding telegram read out by Sherlock in which Mary is called ‘poppet’. Poppet is not only a term of endearment it also means ‘puppet’, which has some more twisted connotations. The telegram is signed from ‘CAM’ which could be an abbreviation of our new villain, Charles Augustus Magnusson. This is a villain we find out is a master blackmailer who destroys lives if his terms are not met. A message telling Mary that Cam ‘wishes her family could see her now’ could be seen as a chilling threat and /or reminder disguised within a wedding tradition. This strikes as particularly true because Mary has told us she is an orphan and we know little to nothing of her family. In the original books we know her father’s name was Captain Arthur Morstan (also CAM) and there is mystery surrounding him and his vanishing was during war.
We know Sherlock’s initial deductions of Mary included ‘liar’ and ‘linguist’. Such word play would not be lost on her. The word ‘guardian’ also came up in Sherlock’s original deductions, which may be her choice of newspaper or a life role. Then there is the secret tattoo. We know Moffat, Gatiss et al are masters in the story arc; of hiding clues and cues in the seemingly insignificant or hiding layers in names and exchanges. They write stories that peel back like onions, deft of hand with tears predicted. The telegram, with her reaction to it, can be read as ‘I’m watching you’ as easily as it can be read as a deploring of past losses. This possibility is underlined by several things:
- Mycroft’s warning to Sherlock and his reaction
- Sherlock adding ‘others’ to the opening address (and his manner while doing so)
- Sherlock’s prior knowledge of seating arrangements, planning etc (he would note any unexpected guests and staff)
- The man with the beard in the crowd and the photograph of Sholto
- The fact that Mary does not alarm John with her discomfort could endear her to Sherlock
We know little of Mary except that she has a great knowledge of human nature and keen intelligence which helped save the life of Major Sholto in ‘The Sign of Three’. She is a nurse and according to Sherlock bakes her own bread and loves cats. She apparently understands Sherlock immediately and we see her gently manipulating all parties. She is a part of the two reconnecting. While her character fits well into a trio dynamic and she exudes warmth and understanding there is a sharp edge to the possibilities of her abilities to manipulate and to be manipulated. When she expertly orchestrates the two men to ‘run’ one another on the next case she has also left herself alone. I remain unsure as to whether or not Sherlock was duped by this merry charade, possibly only in part. We don’t know what use she made of that time. I would not have taken note of this if it were not for several issues, including the later telegram from Cam and the fact that in episode 1 the text warnings regarding John were sent to Mary but then address Sherlock directly. Her choice involved saving John. Then there is the fact an attempted murder happened at her wedding. Is it coincidence the case they end up on leads them to one near victim who ultimately leads to the near victim at their own wedding, or that both lives are saved?
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon, Major Sholto had shady connections with Mary’s father. We know little of her father and just because the Major has affiliations with John Watson does not delete the possibility of more tangled and as yet unseen connections between those ‘three’, or others, referencing the classic story-lines. We don’t know details of how Mary and John met (though it is implied by them working together.) We do know there is a blackmailer wishing service from or harm to Sherlock through those he cares for. The addition of a child or possible child would make Mary vulnerable to blackmail, particularly when she states she is an orphan. We do also have her cleverness, secret tattoo and possible guardianship as deducted by Sherlock to figure into the mix. There is something there in potential layered meanings of the title of episode one; ‘The Empty Hearse’, particularly in the veiled threat implied in the wedding telegram about wishing her family could see her now. I link this to the a re-examination of those texts about John and that shadowed face re-watching videos of her reaction. Outside the cyper detailing threat and location the texts show other potential messages.
‘Save our souls!’ linked with ‘The less is more?’ could suggest others dear to her at peril. ‘Save our Souls’ may also be the name of a hospital. ‘John or James Watson?’ could link to many characters. In the canon of Holmes John Watson is called James by his wife. Hamesh, his middle name, is often viewed as a Scottish version of James. James is also Major Sholto’s first name. There is also a vengeful villain, John Small in both the original ‘Sign of Four’ while the murderous photographer in our contemporary tale is called Johnathan Small. We are told in ‘ The Sign of Three’ more than once that Watson saves lives, but there will have been those he failed to save. Sholto is the first glimpse we have into Watson’s military career, beyond that he was a doctor and served in the controversial Afghanistan conflicts, was injured and needed therapy. Sholto’s own military record is hugely controversial and Watson is his friend. ‘Saint or Sinner?’ could be a question aimed at Mary herself regarding her motivations and choices. It could also reference a perception related to either Watson’s or Holmes in cases where they have failed to solve a puzzle or save a life.
Has Mary failed in a blackmailer’s eyes with John and others used as the bait of her vulnerability? Is she the poppet; the puppet of the master manipulator being sent instructions? Does she have family or connections we don’t know about that she is protecting, running from or seeking justice for? Sherlock’s initial deductions also labelled her ‘romantic’, something he calls John in the Best Man Speech. There is a sense that she is driven to save lives but who or what is she asked to sacrifice? Are these lives saved choices against the blackmailer’s wishes or part of a plan or series of tests? I believe they are or become the former and that Sherlock recognises her worth in part through her will to save. Before his pledge of protection to Mary and John there is that funny line “I will solve your murder but John Watson will save your life” almost as if the words were directed at a specific listener. Sherlock, contrary to his brother’s warnings ‘got involved’ and pledged a vow that exposes his vulnerability. It is a practiced manipulator that can work up the ranks to expose Sherlock’s emotional weakness. Much as I loved the emotional soft under-belly of Sherlock, I found a few lines in the wedding episode mawkish. I think there is dramatic purpose in this. We are given Sherlock’s battle between pure reason and emotion. It is interesting that in his Best Man’s speech he decries emotion as an enemy to morality. This is suggestive of the power of blackmail. This, together with his vocal admiration of Watson and professed faith in Mary as John’s equal may be a deliberate message to the ‘others’ in the room and a solidarity pep talk for her. Of course all of this is played with greatest humour, framed within the worst Best Man cliches and it may be just that, Sherlock style. If Sherlock is aware of any undercurrents (I think he is – it would not be the first time he has pretended ignorance and used his own vulnerability), his stating that he and Mary would never let John down, together with other comments, pack an extra punch and run together with his vow of protection. I believe his affection for Mary is real but his seeming ignorance to threats hidden within other threats is not.
Mycroft mentions ‘Red Beard’ whilst advising not to get involved. True geek that I am, this sets off several sparks in my head. One fairly obvious one is the man with a (grey) beard we see on a table and in the photo line up next to Sholto when the photographer stabs the Major. He bears a resemblance to the face we saw, minus beard, watching videos of Mary and Sherlock saving John. Other connotations are old stories of two pirate brothers, one of whom cannot protect the other from death or capture. This would offer a reason for Sherlock responding to his older brother that he was no longer a child. It could of course also simply mean, you can’t scare me. If this were alluded to who would be the one doing the protecting? Jonathan Small is avenging a brother’s death. There is an elegance to the echoing of the story of outcast and ill-fated brothers. In some other way Red Beard may simply link to childhood games. We have become ever more aware what a central role Mycroft played in the younger Holmes honing his skills of deduction and indeed growing up at all. The 1965 Japanese Film ‘Red Beard’ focuses on a doctor and his seemingly didactic but actually compassionate superior, echo John and the Major or even John and Sherlock. Granted this similarity is probably unintentional I know this is a stretch but I’m tickled by the idea of child Mycroft educating his younger brother with Japanese films. Within the film’s exploration of social justice are several ill-fated or unhappy women as well as one rescued who becomes rescuer to the younger doctor.
We cannot have light-hearted without it’s dramatic juxaposition and the story promises twists and tears to come. Nor can we see in Sherlock an end to the battle between pure reason decrying emotion and heartfelt expressions of love and devoted friendship. The wedding waltz must end with a kick to the senses for our beloved High Functioning Sociopath and friends, but I hope we have not seen the end of Mary or the complicated friendships that seem to be being forged.