Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One more time: Not a sociopath.

One of Peoria's major Sherlockians made a comment the other day that I was wanting to discuss eventually, but Stephen Moffat decided to make my thoughts a rather moot point yesterday in an article on Vulture.com.

"He’s not a sociopath, nor is he high-functioning," Moffat said about his Sherlock. "He’d really like to be a sociopath. But he’s so fucking not. The wonderful drama of Sherlock Holmes is that he’s aspiring to this extraordinary standard. He is at root an absolutely ordinary man with a very, very big brain. He’s repressed his emotions, his passions, his desires, in order to make his brain work better — in itself, a very emotional decision, and it does suggest that he must be very emotional if he thinks emotions get in the way." 

The point Stephen Moffat was in the process of making in the above statement was that we can't always take Sherlock Holmes at his word -- in the Canon or in Sherlock. You'd think we'd know that by now, with all the tricks Sherlock pulls on other people. But those are other people, of course, and you know how they are.

I have to admit a little disappointment that they drug out the "high functioning sociopath" line again in "The Sign of the Three. (Note that I stick the added "the" in there to continue the tradition of The Sign of the Four's title variations.) My first thought was, "Oh, stop! He's not a sociopath," and people are going to think he's serious. Because they have in the past.

So I was glad to see Moffat pointing out that which should be plain, probably for not the first time. Sherlock Holmes is a very emotional person. Probably more emotional than Watson. Sure, he talks a good game, he puts on a good show, and Watson goes along with both for the sake of his narratives, but really? A machine? Not so much.

In the sixties, we all though Star Trek's Mr. Spock was like Sherlock Holmes because they both dealt in logic, but here in the 2010s, we can acknowledge the deeper similarity. Both held to reason and logic by damming up emotions that would naturally find moments to come bursting forth. With Vulcans like Mr. Spock, it was the climax of the seven year cycle of pon farr, when the need to mate suddenly had them cutting loose as angry, violent madmen. Thanks to pon farr (and it being the sixties), nobody ever accused Mr. Spock of being a sociopath.

Sherlock wields the "high functioning sociopath" as just another verbal blade to make the occasional conversational nick, just like Mr. Spock would sneak in the occasional wry comment that only an emotional person would feel amused enough to toss out.

Sociopaths aren't nearly so much fun.


  1. Seen this?


    While I never bought the sociopath and was pretty sure he *had* emotions (probably far too many of them to be comfortable), I rather like the suppressed mode of them which is one of the reasons I'm not entirely happy with S3.

  2. Thank you for that...I really can't count how often I had to explain to someone that all the labels which are used for Sherlock just that, meaningless labels which just illustrate how much our society nowadays lows to stick persons which are different in certain boxes and be done with them. Sherlock is just Sherlock. And the most interesting puzzle in the whole show. (Btw...I loved the scene in TSOT, especially the deliberate maniac grin after that)

  3. In another interview Moffat said the same, (https://goo.gl/hT3AmT)

    "It’s funny how people are always wanting to prove me wrong on this one. They say: ‘But he’s not a high-functioning sociopath.’ I never said he was! Sherlock Holmes tells people he is. Why would you listen to him? Nobody can define themselves. That’s what he’d like people to think he is. And that’s it–and I think he probably longs to be one. I think he loiters around prisons for the criminally insane, envying them their emotional detachment. He knows emotion is a problem to him. A man who has decided to suppress all his emotions in order to be better at what he does clearly has an awful lot of emotion. That’s a very simple deduction. It clearly is a problem for him. So, in itself, that is an emotional decision."