Why Sherlock is so Compelling

*Spoiler Alert (If you haven’t watched the first 2 episodes of the new series, proceed with caution!)

There’s a poignant scene in the latest Sherlock episode where John Watson and Sherlock Holmes come to blows in a hospital room. They have come to the hospital to confront the wealthy philanthropist and entrepreneur whom they suspect of being a serial killer, but amidst the confrontation, the camera shows a wild-eyed Sherlock begin to wave a scalpel menacingly at the philanthropist. Normally Sherlock is the picture of cool, calm, and composed, but in this vignette he has become a shadow of his best self, and Watson has to restrain him to keep him from doing anything crazy.

If you watched the first episode in Series 4, you know why Sherlock has deteriorated. In the final scene of the last mystery, Watson’s beloved wife Mary took a bullet for Sherlock, and as she let out her final breath, you knew a seismic shift had occurred in the relationship between Watson and Holmes.

In the hospital scene, as John restrains Sherlock, he pushes him up against the wall and knocks the scalpel from his hand. But he doesn’t stop there. In a fit of pent up anger and resentment, he begins shoving and hitting Sherlock, yet Sherlock doesn’t fight back. After Watson steps back for a few moments, you hear a subtle exchange that defines the reality of the shattered relationship between the two. Sherlock, wiping blood from his nose, whispers, “It’s ok, I killed his wife,” and the camera shifts to a stony-faced Watson who replies “Yes, yes you did.”

The metanarrative of the rest of the episode concerns that obvious question: Will Sherlock and Watson be able to come to a place of reconciliation? Will John find it in his heart to forgive his oldest and best friend, and will Sherlock be able to forgive himself?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock character is a portrayal of the war within the man of modernity. Birthed out of the onslaught of the Enlightenment, Sherlock represents the tremendous gains that mankind had made in that era, depicting the expanding belief that everything can be explained. His heightened intelligence isn’t without its dark side, though. While he notices even the slightest clues like a scientist looking through a microscope, he is as bad at relationships as he is good at solving mysteries.

This fault line is precisely where so many of us find ourselves in the 21st century. In the increasing gains we’ve made technologically as a society, where we have information at our fingertips, we are largely unschooled in how to maintain and grow healthy relationships. Proverbs 13:20 says: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,” and Proverbs 24:3 affirms: “by wisdom a house is built.”

In the biblical sense, wisdom is different than knowledge. While knowledge is helpful and profitable for life, when disconnected from wisdom it loses its power. This is why Sherlock is such a compelling character. He possesses a supremely keen mind, but lacks wisdom in daily life. He can solve the most confounding mysteries but be totally stumped by relational problems.

As an audience, we want Sherlock and Watson to reconcile. We want them to be able to find wisdom beyond their intelligence. We want Watson to recognize his need for Sherlock and that forgiveness is something he has to be willing to give, and we want Sherlock to be able to communicate his need for others, especially John.

As the episode unfolds, the mystery beyond the mystery is given greater shape, and we slowly wait for reconciliation. This is just a tiny portrait of a greater truth embedded in all the great stories: we all yearn for reconciliation. This desire for reconciliation is at the heart of living in the fallen world, where creation itself is groaning for ultimate redemption (Romans 8:22). Whether it is in our personal relationships or our relationship to God, we all yearn for a different kind of reconciliation, one that is lasting and permanent, one that comes only from God, through the blood of Jesus. This is what we all long for, whether we know it or not.