Sherlock’s obsession with queerbaiting is more frustrating than ever

BBC

Sherlock Season/Series 4 is upon us! I’m sure there are a ton of us excited for Sunday’s first episode of the new season on PBS Masterpiece, which I shall be livetweeting via my personal Twitter handle @moniqueblognet. But before we flip out as we watch the first movie-length episode, I need to flip out about some things I’m already annoyed with.

First, let’s watch the two teasers together.

Okay, so what am I flipping out about, you ask? First, Moriarty’s alive? Come on now. Now, I’m a beginner-to-intermediate fan of the Sherlock Holmes literature, but there are other villains aside from Moriarty, right? I know he’s the biggest big bad Sherlock’s ever faced, but since Sherlock diverges from the canon all the time, why not make some other lesser known villain a supreme big bad for the screen? I don’t know, just some thoughts. I just hate seeing story ideas/plot devices get repeated.

Also, isn’t the basic “Moriarty” character now typecasting Andrew Scott in the ultimate way? Almost every time I see or hear him lately, he’s playing a skeevy character. He’s been so typecast, that even when he was in Garrow’s Law as an actual victim, his character was still lying through his teeth. Sure, he was lying to protect his lover at the time, sure, since this show is set in the 1700s when same-sex relationships were outlawed, but still, the character still painted himself as a skeevy villain.

Anyways, this Moriarty thing isn’t even the biggest concern I have. My ultimate pet peeve right now is when shows decide to queerbait vulnerable audience members, and Sherlock is the British king of queerbaiting.

In the second trailer, you see Sherlock telling someone, “I love you.” Previous to that, you have Toby Jones’ Culverton Smith saying that Sherlock will have to reveal his deepest, darkest secret. For big fans of the show, and particularly big fans who are also well aware of Sherlock‘s gay subtext, the trailer wants you think that Sherlock’s biggest, deepest, darkest secret is that he’s in love with someone so meaningful to him, that if he tells this person his truest feelings, it could wreck their entire friendship and, indeed, Sherlock’s entire world. The only person who fits that description is John.

There was a time when I was quite heavy into exploring the subtextual story in both the original Sherlock Holmes literature and Sherlock the show. A lot of that scholarship (if you wish to call it such) is still available via the Wayback Machine. But the jist of it was discussing why the show indulges in queerbaiting when it doesn’t have to. With the UK being in the 21st century and with Mark Gatiss—a gay man who seems to understand the subtext of the subject matter—as 1/2 of the executive producing/writing duo, there’s no reason why Sherlock has to be coy about asserting the queerer aspects of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.

The most queerbaitiest of Sherlock episodes ISN’T the first episode ever, in which Sherlock thinks John is asking him out over a candelit Italian dinner, although that’s a popular example. The most queerbaitiest episode is actually the first episode of Season 2, when Irene Adler comes to town.

Irene is used as both a beard for Sherlock (by the writers) and as confirmation for the audience’s belief about/confusion surrounding John’s amorphous feelings over his friend and flatmate. Irene’s purpose as truth-teller to the audience comes when Irene realizes John is obviously jealous over Sherlock’s surprising interest in her.

To quote myself from 2012:

Thanks to livejournal user bizarremain, we have the transcript of what exactly was said during this scene:

Irene: “You jealous?”
John: “We’re not a couple.”
Irene: “Yes, you are.”
John: “Who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes? But, for the record, if anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay.”
Irene:”Well, I am. Look at the both of us.”

What she’s saying is that she and John are both two people who aren’t attracted to men. Yet, here they are, attracted to one man, not because he’s a man, because he’s this amazing being. What Irene was getting at is that it doesn’t matter what Sherlock is, it’s that he is who he is what’s so attractive and magnetic. It’s not so much that he’s the magical male that can change Irene into a heterosexual–the episode never says she’s changed to a heterosexual woman; it’s that she’s attracted to him, no matter what he is, and that’s what makes the whole thing interesting.

…By alluding to [sexual fluidity], Irene is also saying that John is in the same boat as she is. …Irene is saying to John that he needs to analyze what is going on with him and Sherlock and realize that even though he’s attracted to women (just like she is), he’s just as attracted to Sherlock. In fact, Irene is also intimating that Sherlock might be the one for John. Never once does she say that she’d actually like to have a relationship with Sherlock. She’s mostly just got a mixture of intrigue and lust when it comes to him. To me, Irene summed up John’s relationship with Sherlock in just a few words.

To piggy-back off that, John is getting a lot of hints from the universe that he is meant to be with Sherlock, whether as friends or as more-than-friends. Sherlock is naked in a sheet–John takes a look before even asking Sherlock if he’s naked under it. John’s new girlfriend breaks up with him–the umpteenth girlfriend to do so. She says to his face that he’s a better boyfriend to Sherlock than he is to her. The whole Irene scene I just blabbed on about. And, frankly, I think Irene herself is a big clue to John that there’s more to his relationship with Sherlock than he even realizes yet. By Irene constantly asking him if he’s jealous of her and telling him that he’s in a relationship with Sherlock, coupled with his string of bad relationships due to his dependence on Sherlock, John slowly seems to be mulling over how his relationship with his friend is perceived, which is interesting.

And yet, the season progresses without much mention of this illuminating moment again. After this, probably the most progressive moment in Sherlock, the writing seems to have swung towards a weird place where either the writers, the characters, or both are afraid of admitting that the subtext is more than likely text.

For instance, John’s wife Mary calls John out on treating Sherlock like his boyfriend all the time, such as when she clocks him for getting spruced up more often once Sherlock comes back from the dead. However, Mary is also unnervingly okay with this, which strikes me as a little disingenuous, particularly because her characterization was basically acting as an avatar for the Tumblrites who want to squee over John and Sherlock.

Also, Sherlock acts like he’s completely happy at John’s wedding, but later on, we see that he’s clearly not. That’s keeping with his own dependence on John as his soundboard and wingman-of-sorts, but then we later see him act wildly out of character, even for Sherlock, by “getting a girlfriend,” only to later use said girlfriend’s emotions to crack a case. Even Sherlock of Season 1 would think that was going a little too far. The writing in this season both provides Sherlock and John with beards, as if to say, “SEE, BBC VIEWERS!? THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT GAY!!” But when they are with their respective significant others, nothing about the relationships seem real (and in the case of Sherlock’s, it actually isn’t real).

(If I can go on a tangent—The writing for that season wasn’t particularly strong; it was more about filling out the character beats the Tumblr fans wanted, to me, than it was about properly building character and realistic character moments. Out of that season, the only person who came out looking sane was John, who was rightly frustrated with the fact that everyone around him has lied to him in some way. Talk about gaslighting! The mental abuse John suffered during the third season is another reason why I don’t like it.)

Now here we are with Season 4, with Sherlock telling someone that he loves them. Chances are it’s not John, and that’s not even because John is standing behind him when he says it. For all we know, “I love you” could be another “I am Sherlocked.” (Also: If Irene was worth her salt as a dominatrix hardcore woman, she would never use such teeny-bopper language as “I am Sherlocked” for a cell phone passcode.)

The show loves baiting its audience and has gotten good at raising expectations only to have them tied in knots later on. Gatiss has said that he likes playing with the latent homoeroticism in Sherlock, but there comes a point when playfully exploring a theme becomes hanging a dangling carrot over fans heads, only to yank it away each season. I say either the show decides Sherlock actually loves John, and not in a platonic brother-in-arms kind of way, or it quits using homoeroticism as a crutch to keep people tuned in. At this point in time, the media we ingest, including Sherlock, can no longer have it both ways.