I didn’t like it. I won’t go into all the reasons why, since spoilers are unfashionable and Sherlock doesn’t deserve that much of my energy anyway. Still, one aspect of Episode 2, “The Lying Detective” just bugged me.
That aspect is called Sherlock’s drug use.
For those who haven’t seen the episode (and in the least spoilery summary possible), the gist is that John is mad at Sherlock, so Sherlock takes SO MUCH COCAINE that he is literally weeks from death. By the end, we find out that Sherlock’s dangerous drug use was a ploy to trick John into rescuing Sherlock from the bad guy and himself. John then realizes how silly he was to be mad at Sherlock and they live happily ever after. The end.
To be clear, it is not so much the cocaine that bothers me. The canonical Sherlock Holmes dabbled in cocaine, and most other Sherlocks do, too. I’m reluctant to say cocaine is “fine,” but last semester I read High Price by Dr. Carl Hart—it addressed harmful assumptions about drugs and racism in the United States, so I don’t want to perpetuate those. Suffice it to say that while cocaine can bring iffy baggage with it, there are totally ways to do Sherlock Holmes that incorporate his drug use and are still awesome. (Plenty of renditions have already succeeded—I love Elementary and the Robert Downey Jr. movies. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro comes to mind as well.)
“Sherlock uses cocaine.” Whatever.
“Sherlock uses cocaine to destroy himself and manipulate his best friend.” How ‘bout no.
There are psychological rules for what counts as manipulation. This might not meet that definition. Nor was this exceptionally odd for Sherlock. We know Sherlock nearly kills himself over his cases more than is healthy. And I’m sure there are people out there who found “The Lying Detective” perfectly acceptable—to be fair, it was much better than its predecessor. Shouldn’t we leave room for drama? Don’t we want to see Holmes and Watson at their limits?
I’m not going to say no. But I am going to say that Sherlock played with John’s brain. Even if he had good-ish intentions (don’t think Mary is off the hook for all of this), this was a plan to get what Sherlock wanted—not necessarily what John wanted, or even needed. Respect for John’s time, emotions, and even safety were thrown out the window.
Sherlock invaded John’s boundaries. Sherlock forced John to be responsible for his life—if John never stepped in, Sherlock would have died. It would be “John’s fault.” Which means Sherlock essentially threatened to kill himself to maintain their relationship. I don’t count that as a good thing.
I struggle with the end of this episode. John was mad at Sherlock for a silly reason, so some element of forgiveness was necessary. But good friends also don’t abuse drugs to resolve their disagreements. Not like Sherlock did. That was a breach of trust, and so I’m still kind of mad about what that behavior took away from the friendship. How can John really trust Sherlock after that? BBC Sherlock shouldn’t make it harder and harder for me to say that Holmes and Watson are an amazing team, but it seems like each new season proves me wrong.