Before Sherlock proved that the iconic character could survive anything, even Moffat, I wasn’t sure Sherlock had a place in modern television. Then came Sherlock, and everything changed. I saw Sherlock Holmes (2009) next, and then came the second TV-show, Elementary, and I loved that too. As the reviews and fandoms grew and evolved, it became clear that the BBC’s Sherlock was of superior quality, Elementary was always underrated, and the movie Sherlock Holmes was fun and all, but not really in the same league.
My case is this: Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Sherlock Holmes (RDJ!Sherlock) is the loneliest, and in many ways the most tragic, of all three new Sherlocks. This observation was confirmed to me after watching the season finale of Sherlock, season 3. Do please comment if you disagree, or want to add anything to the discussion. There is really no point to all this, other than I found this to be just the right thing to do when bored and sick. Ignore this and wait for next week’s review of The Wolf of Wall Street, if you like.
[Disclaimer: the thoughts below, if they do stem from others, are only subconsciously plagiarizing. Also, there will probably be spoilers for everything now out.]
Evidence bag #1: Watsons.
If you have watched all three versions, I would find it hard to believe you despise even just one of the Watsons. I’ll admit Lucy Liu takes some getting used to, but if you stick with her, she proves to be the strongest Watson of the bunch. She is the only one whose job is specifically not to put up with Sherlock’s bullshit, and she does it very professionally. She then manages to redefine their relationship into a good working partnership where she contributes her medical knowledge to solve cases. Unlike the other two Watsons, she has yet to find her “Mark” to the others’ Mary, so her life – despite a few unhelpful dates – belongs entirely to Sherlock, in a completely platonic way. They are a great duo with no one to come between them.
Everyone on the internet knows the relationship between Freeman’s Watson and Cumberbatch’s Sherlock (which I will refer to as London!Sherlock because it’s shorter, and Batch!Sherlock sounds disrespectful). The wedding scene clinched it for me, because it proved that no matter how married Watson is, he will always have time for his Sherlock. Mary, who immediately took a liking to Sherlock, gives her full blessing, and the audience can breathe a sigh of relief that our duo will not be constantly interrupted by marriage duties. Again, the Sherlock and Watson relationship can flourish without anyone getting in the way, and we know that no matter what happens, Sherlock has his Doctor.
Last, but not least, is Jude Law’s Watson (Law!Watson – still a doctor). He and Sherlock share a great adventure in the first Sherlock Holmes film, and their chemistry is very warm and playful, and although slightly more exasperating for poor Watson, still comes off as just as important as the other two pairs. But their Yoko makes an appearance, in the form of the highly unlikable Mary. Her very appearance screams antagonism, though the film occasionally tries to remind us Watson does love her. Her first meeting with Sherlock, unlike London!Sherlock’s, is a disaster, and things don’t exactly get better.
By the second film, Watson is absolutely convinced he will never work another crazy case with his Sherlock again. Sherlock, of course, does everything in his power to get Watson into the game again, or to simply ruin the wedding and the relationship entirely. He even throws Mary out of a moving train with no form of warning or promise of safety. In fact, the only way for Watson to have a peaceful honeymoon was for Sherlock to fake his death for a few weeks. The two films firmly establish that Sherlock will just have to learn to share. And considering how hopeless he gets when alone, it might not prove very healthy for him. Unfortunately for RDJ!Sherlock, he will find himself without his Watson more and more often. Cue days in a fog of drugs with the poor dog as his only companion.
Evidence bag #2: The Woman
There were those who criticised how Irene Adler had to be saved by London!Sherlock, when she had proven to be such an independent character. Some saw her as too sexualised, but there were those who just loved the way she flabbergasted Sherlock. Whatever you think of her as a character, Sherlock clearly has strong feelings for her. It was heartbreaking watching him pretending she was dead, but luckily a sneaky text message put a smile on his face. While it is highly unlikely she will ever play a big role in his life, at least he can take comfort in knowing that she is alive and well.
Things aren’t as clear-cut for Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock (NY!Sherlock as opposed to London). SPOILERS ahead. His Irene Adler was someone he was intimately familiar with, more so than any of the other Sherlocks and their Adlers. NY!Sherlock and Irene were basically boyfriend and girlfriend for a time. Her perceived loss devastated him, and although he now knows (like London!Sherlock) that she is alive, unfortunately she is not the Woman after all, but Moriarty. In the last few episodes, however, we learn that Sherlock has been writing to her even after her imprisonment. He shares details about his life and Watson’s, but claims it’s is just an intellectual exercise. We don’t yet know what is in store for that pairing, but what is clear is that she is not gone from his life. We also know there are some residual feelings, for better or worse, between the two. NY!Sherlock might have lost the Woman, but at least there’s someone there to work out all his emotions with.
Then there is the tragic loss of RDJ!Sherlock’s Adler. We do not know their full relationship, or how far back exactly it goes. We do know he was very fond of her and again their relationship is more playful than the other Sherlocks’. Unlike London!Sherlock, RDJ!Sherlock gets no last minute text message – or telegram – and unlike NY!Sherlock he does not get to enact revenge for his lost love. I am referring here to how NY!Sherlock tricked Moriarty and got her thrown in prison as a little payback for tricking him. For RDJ!Sherlock there is only a dead Woman, killed with poison by Moriarty, which I think is particularly horrible and tragic. She is not killed in the fight, or to save someone, but simply because she has outlived her usefulness. Sherlock does not even get to say goodbye. I find his reaction to her loss all the more heartbreaking in light of how he is usually the more “upbeat” of the Sherlocks.
Evidence bag #3: Mycroft
No one would characterize the relationship between London!Sherlock and his brother as warm and affectionate. He is introduced in the first episode as Sherlock’s nemesis. They are constantly bickering, and Mycroft even insults Mrs. Hudson, though he does get a stern talking-to for that. Despite all this, one line alone can prove how much he does care for his brother. “Your loss would break my heart.” Of course, Sherlock brushes it off as drunken insanity, but the fans know better. Most importantly, Mycroft and Sherlock rely on each other often. They keep each other on their toes, and provide information to solve cases. They are the most alike of all three brother pairs, and they act the most like family. As someone with a close sister, I am well versed in the art of arguing for the sake of arguing. Trust me, they are having a lot more fun than Watson could ever guess.
NY!Sherlock’s relationship with his Mycroft, on the other hand, is strained to say the least. They have never been close, and Sherlock checking into rehab probably made their relationship even more distant. Despite this, Mycroft makes a big effort to repair their relationship, and gets results. Their last scene together in season two is touching, and although we don’t yet know what other game Mycroft is playing, clearly their relationship means a lot to Sherlock. He seemed almost peaceful after their last interaction. They don’t resemble one-another at all in terms of looks or personality, and Mycroft definitely comes across as the most “normal” of all the Mycrofts. This is perhaps why having a relationship with Sherlock is so important to him. He might live all the way in London, but in this day and age he can easily hop across the pond for another visit, and I think Sherlock would appreciate it, even though he would never say so.
Then we have Stephen Fry himself. Of course, I love Stephen Fry in everything he does, but his Mycroft is not exactly the best brother to Sherlock. Their interactions in the films are almost always completely made up of one-liners or taunts. He does help Sherlock, of course, but then again Sherlock is helping him as well. He is also the most eccentric of the Mycrofts, and I would argue he is so eccentric that he is difficult to relate to, and the audience can’t really take that relationship seriously at all. Their humours are a tad similar, but I simply can’t imagine Fry!Mycroft ever saying anything remotely like “Your loss would break my heart,” or having a heart-to-heart like NY!Mycroft. Their relationship seems based on a sort of… whacky professionalism?
Evidence bag #4: Moriarty
Show of hands: how many gasped out loud at the ending to His Last Vow? If you didn’t put up your hand up, you probably had your mouth taped shut. We all love London!Moriarty, and he is the perfect mirror to Sherlock. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to see Sherlock as he would have been, had his powers been used for evil. It sends shivers down my spine sometimes. But, we wouldn’t know light without the dark, and every hero needs a villain. Without Moriarty, would Sherlock be the same hero? Or a hero at all? In any case, Moriarty provides moral as well as intellectual stimulation for London!Sherlock. Whenever they’re in a room together sparks fly, and I suspect Sherlock is hoping his return is genuine.
Irene/Moriarty doesn’t really have the same role. In fact, she has been nothing but detrimental to NY!Sherlock, or has she? She, in effect, killed the Woman, but she has proven she is not without a conscience. She is capable of motherly emotions, for one, and her continued correspondence with Sherlock proves she is not without sentiment. I’m not sure exactly what her future role will be, or how Sherlock will handle it, but I would argue than she provides equal amount of stimulation and tragedy for her Sherlock, and will continue to do so.
Not so with RDJ!Sherlock’s Moriarty. Jared Harris plays a whole different Moriarty. While Irene/Moriarty and London!Moriarty are both snakes in the grass types, Harris’ Moriarty is a colossus by comparison. Yes, he is intellectually and psychopathically comparable, but his very physical presence, and the scale of his empire makes him into something else. And this is where he “fails” as Sherlock’s intellectual stimulant, in my mind. He is not Sherlock’s mirror because of his greed. The other two Moriartys (Moriarties?) are both criminals for hire, yes, and Irene/Moriarty has her own empire, but none of them are war profiteers. None of them hatch a scheme on a massive scale simply to acquire a fortune for the price of millions of dead soldiers. London!Moriarty was almost a Heath Ledger-Joker type criminal: for hire, but more concerned with the fun of it all.
Harris’ Moriarty had that one fatal flaw – greed – that drained all potential admiration from RDJ!Sherlock. Because of that greed he killed Irene without really considering what she meant. He didn’t even do it at an opportune moment, one where Sherlock was watching, to devastate him the most. He just found her useless and did away with her. So, for my part, I don’t think RDJ!Sherlock has truly met his match.
When I piled all this “evidence” up I realised I could finally explain why I find RDJ!Sherlock so sad. He has lost – at least partly – his best friend. He’s lost Irene in a pointless death, and his Moriarty is a greedy bastard who failed to fake his death (it is unlikely Sherlock would have left the body without being certain he was dead, so only two of the three Moriartys have managed it). The other two Sherlocks are of course both tragic in their own way, but they also have a lot of joy and love in their lives. They have their Watsons closer, they have their Irenes (in some form), and they conquered a worthy adversary who might yet give them more fun before the end. They also both have a brother who is there – or trying to be there – for them. In terms of tragic I would rate London!Sherlock the least tragic (though the best in terms of deduction skills).
RDJ!Sherlock gets a lot of “he’s the Hollywood-version” or the “action figure Sherlock”, but I’ve always found myself sad for him at the end. Everyone in the cinema laughs at the “The End?”, and I did too, but I also thought how it was yet another attempt to trick Watson away from Mary. It’s what he has been trying to do for two movies straight. I guess this long rant was just my way of making it clear to myself why I feel this way. For, while I do love his antics, there is a lot more to him. I really believe he is the most tragic Sherlock.
Of course, I still love all three Sherlocks. In fact, I don’t think I could pick a favourite Sherlock, Watson, Irene or Moriarty. They are all amazing in their own ways and I’m so grateful I get to see all of them.