So I watched Snow Angels just today going in expecting that I’d want to talk about Ms Hudson. Which I do, because she is amazing, but part of what’s remarkable about her is how much about her in unremarked on. Which is awesome, but awesome is a fairly self-explanatory way.
So I wanted to talk about this scene where Sherlock gives money to a veteran currently living on the streets for housing when a major blizzard is on its way and how well it demonstrates to me a pattern of characterization in Sherlock throughout Elementary. When I heard through Twitter that this was actually a Johnny Lee Miller ad lib at first I though that was great how much he’s inhabiting the character, but then I felt a bit of disappointment because I, like many others here on tumblr have fallen unabashedly in love with the Elementary writing staff and I was sad that this wasn’t another example of their greatness. But then I thought again about how much this version of Sherlock has been fleshed out into the sort of character from who this becomes an conceivable action I was appeased.
Sherlock and other Sherlock-type characters have for a very long time existed as a figures of a certain type of male-power fantasy (whether those who have this fantasy identify as male or not) where brain power can be used as a means of domination. Masculinity has long been narrowly defined as the realm of physical superiority and aggression that we see more readily demonstrated in sports, hunting, warfare, etc. But for certain young men, those likely invested in books or other geekish pursuits, this vision of masculinity seems unattainable and they find themselves at the mercy of jock culture. These young men find their masculine role models not in the star athletes but in Sherlock Holmes and other brain jocks like him. These are characters that use mental superiority and aggression to alienate others and the male power fantasy they represent, using genius and lack of social grace and an excuse for this intellectual bullying when in actuality this mental aggression is often the point.
Now look at Elementary’s Sherlock. This is a character who is brilliant and mentally superior to those around him, he says as much. This is part of his brain jock persona and what makes him a Sherlock-character, but what these writers have done is continually made it clear often through the character of Joan that what he’s doing is not socially acceptable. Even later in Snow Angels, when Sherlock determines that the criminals got away in an ambulance, Joan lets him know that his demonstration of intellect without regard for others perspectives can hurt those around him; that he is being a bully. Sherlock similarly is shown realizing his shortcoming in emotional matters and he actively apologizes to Joan for his social missteps. This is a huge departure from other Sherlocks or Sherlock-type characters where emotional mistakes are shown as insignificant or dismissed with humor. Elementary instead chooses to engage with the real work of developing emotional intelligence and empathy that doesn’t always come easy for everyone.
Often in our admiration of Joan, deserved as it is, and our delight in her role as a groundbreaking feminist and anti-racist character we don’t give enough kudos to how great Elementary is at engaging with the problem of this popular incarnation of masculinity and our obsession with caustic geniuses.