Sherlock – A Study in Personality

Bit of a different kind of post today, but one that I wanted to make so I could record my thoughts about something that struck me. The BBC recently released an Original British Drama trailer which included a peek into the next series of Sherlock – undoubtedly, one of the best shows in recent memory.

Following this, I wanted to rewatch The Reichenbach Fall (my second favourite episode) because… well, because why not? The mystery of how Sherlock survived his fall is still unanswered with the wicked Mr Moffat saying that there’s something we’ve all missed, I wanted to see whether I could spot it, but instead found myself embroiled in a completely different aspect of the story…

ImageI refer to the scene where Sherlock meets the journalist, Kitty Riley, in the toilets while testifying at Moriarty’s trial. I never really understood this scene before because of how horribly disgusted Sherlock is by Kitty, when previously he’d just blown off the press by ignoring them and telling John about how indifferent he felt about what they say about him. But it’s only now that I think I get what they were going for with this…

First of all, Kitty tries to trick Sherlock. Right off the bat, that’s a pretty significant insult to his genius since he can see right through her. But it’s not just that she tried to trick him, rather how she went about doing it – making herself out to be a ‘fan’, his biggest fan. She pretended to be somebody who liked and adored him when, as Sherlock points out, she was just trying to use him for “her first big scoop” in the papers. He was nothing more than a tool to further her career and she was pretending to like him to do it (I could, at this point, talk about how this is applicable to some modern journalists but that’s a whole different topic).

Despite the fact that Sherlock had seen right through her façade, she continued to try to get him on her side by feeding him affection.

“There’s all sorts of gossip in the press about you. Sooner or later, you’re going to need someone on your side. Someone to set the record straight.”

This added further insult because they both knew that she had absolutely no pull whatsoever.

It was at this point that I wondered how many people had done this to him in the past? You may recall a character from Series 1’s episode The Blind Banker by the name of Sebastian Wilkes who did the same sort of thing. He’s in need of help and sends Sherlock an email being all like “hey buddy, how’s it going?”, but when Sherlock and John arrive at his office he just tells John about how much he hated Sherlock at university. How everybody hated him, which is a pretty consistent theme throughout the show as John, Mrs Hudson, Molly and Lestrade are painted as being the only friends he has in the world.

Remembering this scene made me feel pretty bad for Sherlock because he flinches and looks away like he’s reliving the memories of how he was bullied. He also calls him “Seb”, as opposed to “Sebastian” or “Wilkes” which one could interpret to show that he tried to be his friend but was pushed away for being so different. ‘Seb’ pretty much proceeds to throw money in Sherlock’s face as an incentive for him, obviously doubting that he’d help out somebody who loathed him…

It’s at this point that the true importance of his friendship with John becomes clear. How many times in the past do you think Sherlock told himself he could never be loved as a friend? John comes along and he discovers that there is somebody who values him as a person rather than a tool to get a job done, he can be loved.

And then Kitty Riley comes along, dressed to impress with deerstalker and all, and tries to pull the same act on him that everybody else has. And it’s at this moment that Sherlock got to say what he’d bottled up for all those years. He got to walk right up to her, look her in the eye and say to her, to everyone who had ever knocked him down that he doesn’t need false affection or empty promises of loyalty, he already has the people he needs in life who will always be there for him, and he said it in three simple words.

“You. Repel. Me.”

About haruspis

Writer and aspiring teacher who cares and talks far too much about fictional universes.
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6 Responses to Sherlock – A Study in Personality

  1. Mark Dolan says:

    I don’t think Moffat would deviate so far from the original concept of Sherlock not being interested in friendship as to make this possible. I’d argue that Sebastian’s plea for Sherlock’s help simply appealed to Sherlock’s desire for new cases, he gave no thought to previous personal relationships with his client.

    • haruspis says:

      I’d recommend you rewatch The Blind Banker because it’s made pretty clear that what little we learn about Sherlock’s past ISN’T constrained by the source material. When Sebastian says that everyone at university hated him, as I said you can see that Sherlock looks completely stricken. Almost every interaction with Sebastian in that episode shows Sherlock as being almost ‘needy’ and eager to impress a former peer – being quick to parade John to him as his friend, and he lies about his deductive ability because Sebastian thinks it’s weird.

      There’s also the matter of how he interacts with DI Dimmock, how he’s frustrated by him because he wasn’t taking him seriously. When someone (like Lestrade) considers Sherlock’s ideas and listens to him, he has a fine relationship with them. A Sherlock who doesn’t care that he’s different or need friends would have no need for John, who we’ve seen Sherlock actively look to for feedback and relies on to help him respond to people ‘appropriately’ (such as the opening segment of The Reichenbach Fall where he’s being rewarded for his various successful cases) – attempting to better understand the complexities of emotional attachment and responses.

      A Sherlock had no interest in human relationships before John wouldn’t have the warm relationship he has with Mrs. Hudson, or the mutually respectful relationship he has with Lestrade – both of which, as you know, predate John. And a Sherlock who refuses to be interested in people and friendships would have deleted Sebastian’s email without a thought about it and not had the urge to impress an old school friend to show that he ISN’T the waste of space everybody thought him to be at uni.

      The official Sherlock page for Sebastian Wilkes ( states that it’s only recently that he’s heard that Sherlock became a consulting detective having been “eight years since he last clapped eyes on him”. It’s evidently beyond a simple appeal to his desire for new cases because not only was Sherlock relatively unknown at the time, he hadn’t heard a peep from him for almost a deacde.

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