The BBC has just released the third series of Sherlock
, which I have contrived to watch by dubious and immoral means justified to myself only by the fact that I've already ordered the DVD. (Lawful Good in spirit!). This was an absolutely essential gesture of false-identity piracy, as my Tumblr feed has exploded like a tribble in a fireworks factory into comment, analysis, speculation, heartbreak, angst, accusation, fangirling, death threats and squee and I simply couldn't read it at all until I'd seen all the episodes. Like the others, the series consists of three movie-length episodes (The Empty Hearse
; The Sign of Three
; His Last Vow
, for extra credit name the three Doyle stories these reference...); for those of you not following along at home, Sherlock swandove off a roof last series, and is now Back. There may or may not be a certain moustache theme to subsequent proceedings.
I don't propose to spoiler the series, because it does have some enjoyable twists and overall some lovely moments and good television, and its cast is bloody brilliant. But I have, so to speak, some Generalised Beefs on the writing side. Dear god, this series is a hot mess. For a start, my girly writer-crush on Stephen Moffat is Officially Over. Whatever elegance he possessed during the "Blink" era has departed for parts unknown, lamented by all. The season is full of weird events imperfectly justified by giant plot holes, and the inherent misogyny is not, apparently, assisted by the heady power of showrunner status. He still writes terrible, paper-thin, stereotypical women who lack coherent motivation or backstory or character and who are too often utterly defined by the men they associate with.
The first two episodes are actually rather fun: Empty Hearse
plays lovely metanarrative games with fan interpretations of the faked death, and Sign of Three
is funny and goofy and emotionally very real. These two episodes, however, are not only written by different people, they're apparently written about different characters to those in the final episode, which is an abrupt about-face in tone, mood, characterisation, character objective and, regrettably, coherence. There are a few weird plot glitches in the first two episodes, but Last Vow
seems to have been written on the Russell Davies Principle, viz. punchy set scenes you think will be particularly cool which are carelessly strung together with cardboard and string or, preferably, actual gaping holes. Alternatively, the writers are being actively misleading and/or actively withholding information to make it all Mysterious so they can do Twists next season, in which case they have borked narrative satisfaction something 'orrible. I should point out, gently, however, that Last Vow
is an entirely Moffat script, whereas the first two episodes are some combination of Gatiss/Moffat/Thompson. I think this is Significant.
There's another problem. It's not just because I'm reading fanfic, although I'm reading a lot of fanfic (and, ye gods, after the myriads of versions I've ploughed through, nothing the series does can actually be too much of a surprise - I swear, I have run across most of the major developments in several forms during my slightly obsessive reading over the last few months. Either fanfic writers are good at narratives cues or the show writers are predicable. Probably both.) Even before the slashy fanfic - in fact, even before the BBC version - Sherlock Holmes has been highly susceptible to a queer reading. The Holmes/Watson relationship is so powerful, so central, you cannot avoid the homoerotic subtext with which it is rife. The BBC version has always been hyper-aware of this, probably because Mark Gatiss (who, apart from his own identity apparently has something of an obsession with Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
), but it's painfully obvious in the third series that the writers are not only not on the same page, key members are actually not on the same page as the actors, directors, photographers and editors. Really, this show is constructing Sherlock as gay in the teeth of Moffat's determined refusal to admit that he is. Everything is against Moffat. Everything and everyone. His resolute scripting blinkers are undercut by the production on every level, which is one of the major sources of the incoherence and frustration of the final episode, and for the uncomfortable sense that this is degenerating into queer-baiting. Seriously, the rabbit they're going to have to pull out of a hat to reconcile some of these elements in Series 4 is at this point eight-legged, twelve foot tall and gently radioactive.
Don't let the whinging mislead you, though - I still love this show. It's still a vital and compelling interpretation of Doyle and is productive of various viewing pleasures, not all of them dodgy or Benedict Cumberbatch. I wouldn't be getting my teeth-gnashing on with poor Moffat to quite this extent if I wasn't still invested as hell. I'm just terrified that he's going to do something irrevocable to Sherlock
, to close off the multiplicities and queer readings I find so interesting and generative. And I'm saddened and disappointed, because the writers are not quite as wonderful or in control as I thought they were.
While on the subject of Fan-Beloved Texts Currently Bedevilled By Poor Writing, Sarah Rees Brennan has parodied the second Hobbit movie, to her usual effect. (Spit-takes). I have shamelessly nicked my subject line from her.