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Why Mary Did Not Intend to Kill Sherlock


As  follow on from my previous article: Why Mary shot Sherlock.

I explain in more detail:

1. How we know that Mary did not intend to kill Sherlock from the position of the bullet wound. She shot him in the liver not the heart or the lungs.

2. Why she chose that particular spot above all other organs, she was not trying to kill him slowly.

3. Why Mary is a morally interesting character, and much more than just another villain

4. Why Sherlock forgave Mary

5. Why Mary was unhappy when she heard Sherlock had lived

Thank you to everyone who sent in questions, submission etc. My inbox is now overflowing. I aim to answer all you questions in one post.

The Anatomy of a Killing

To fully understand the reasons behind Mary shooting Sherlock and his subsequent survival, we must first work out where the bullet landed.

From the pictures of “dead” Sherlock in the scene, we can see that bullet hole is slightly to the right of the midline and under the nipple line. The nipple line in a man usually corresponds to the fifth intercostal space (i.e. the space between the 5th and the 6th ribs).


Estimating from the photographs of "corpse Sherlock", the bullet hole is around 1-2 cm right of the midline and at least 3-4cm below the nipple line. This is at least the 7th rib or the 7th intercostal space. This means that the bullet penetrated the upper part of Sherlock's liver, not his lungs and definitely not his right ventricle.

Even though both the lungs and the heart move down during inspiration, they do not move down that low even with very deep breaths and, if you look at the episode, Sherlock remains calm all the way to being shot. He is not taking any deep breaths at all. Therefore I do not buy the idea that because he was breathing in when he was shot, the bullet at that place would pierce his lung.

The liver is a vascular organ, though not as vascular as the spleen. From a surgical point of view, controlling liver bleeds is not extremely difficult, as evidence by the high survival rate of bullet wounds to the liver. At the position the bullet penetrated Sherlock’s body it is unlikely to have hit a major artery because the main artery supplying the liver (hepatic artery) splits up into many small arteries within the liver.

Most bullet wounds to the liver do not damage a major blood vessel, and can be managed conservatively or with simple surgical techniques.

In an analysis of 153 gunshot wounds to the liver: 105 patients (70%) the injuries to the liver were minor I.e. Did not produce life threatening bleeding. 93 patients required no treatment and 12 patients required simple suture of bleeding vessels. The mortality rate for the entire group attributed to liver injuries was 8% (12). Thus the chances of surviving a shot to the liver are 92 percent. Compare this to a thoracic gunshot wound which has a mortality rate of around 20-30%. Of the patients with wounds that did not damage a major blood vessel the survival rate of 100 percent.

Thus out of the all the organs Mary could have targeted, the liver provided the best survival rate.

If Mary truly wanted to kill Sherlock, she would have just shot him in the heart. It would only require her to change the angle of her gun by a fraction of a degree and she would not miss from that distance. If Mary was truly sadistic she would have shot Sherlock in the gut and thus give him acute infectious peritonitis on top of the blood loss. Mary did neither of these things.

The precise location of the shot was also very important. The liver is divided into eight surgical segments. Mary aimed for the left side of the liver, specifically the left most segment (number 2).  The inferior vena cava usually runs to the right of segment 4a which is on the right of segment 2. The IVC usually travels 2.5 to 3 cm right of the midline. Unfortunately for Sherlock his vena cava was evidently further towards left and towards the midline than one would expect in a normal person, because the bullet must have hit his inferior vena cava in order to precipitate his cardiac arrest.

If the bullet hit a large vein instead of a large artery, there would not be great gush of blood but the wound will produce a thick steady flow, which is what we see in the episode.

The Logic of a Shooting


Now, if Mary didn't intend to kill Sherlock why did she not consider the position of the inferior vena cava and shoot Sherlock in a more lateral location?

The important thing to remember is that even most doctors do not remember precisely where the IVC runs in relation to the midline. I spent an entire year of my life studying anatomy in excruciating detail but I don't use that knowledge in my daily life as a doctor. I had to get out my anatomy atlas to find out where the IVC should be. I would not expect an assassin or a part time nurse to know this information off the top of their head and be able to use it accurately at such a stressedful time.

I do believe that Mary only remember that shooting someone in the liver had a very good survival rate. She did not remember the exact position of the IVC.

We must also remember that Sherlock was fully clothed at the point when Mary shot him. She needed to use his suit and the buttons on his shirt as landmarks to guide her estimating of the underlying anatomy. I am sure that as an assassin she knows how to use closing to estimate anatomy better than any doctor because we always have the option of asking patients to take off their clothes. If she chose to shoot Sherlock in a more lateral point, she would not have the guiding landmarks of his suit lapel or the two sides of the buttoned up shirt. She would only have a mass of black coat without close identifying landmarks to guide her eye. Therefore, from Mary's point of view it was safer to shoot Sherlock more laterally so she could aim as close to the guideline landmarks as possible.

Besides, as Mary wasn't intending to kill Sherlock but needed to incapacity him, she didn’t exactly have a great deal of choice in where to shoot Sherlock.The liver was the best choice out of a lot of bad choices.

She needed to incapacitate him, so that he couldn’t tell John and his injuries would hold John up enough for her to deal with Magnussen. Therefore she couldn’t just shoot him in a limb because he would still be able to function. The least dangerous alternative would be the chest/abdomen.

The heart must be avoided at all costs and shooting Sherlock in the lung would give him a tension pneumothorax (which is very deadly). Therefore there is only the abdomen to consider.

The most important thing to avoid in the abdomen is the abdominal aorta. It is largest artery in the body and even a small nick could kill Sherlock almost instantly. This is why Mary couldn’t shoot him straight in the middle of the abdomen because there would a good chance the bullet would go straight through him and hit the aorta in his back.

Now that the middle is out, Mary has a choice of left or right. To the left is part of the stomach and the spleen; to the right is the liver. Lower down are the intestines and the pancreases. Mary clearly wanted Sherlock to have the best chance at surviving, which is why she didn’t touch the stomach, the intestines or the pancreas. If any of these organs were damaged, Sherlock would develop life threatening inflammation inside his abdomen on top of the blood loss.

The spleen is quite hard to aim for, particularly as some of it is behind the stomach. Unlike on a model of the human body, your abdominal contents actually move around quite a lot. It is impossible to tell how much your stomach may be lying to the left or the right. The spleen needs an even better blood supply than the liver and bleeds just as much if not more than the liver when damaged. It also has a tendency to die rather quickly if there a lot of bleeding which is why when spleens are damaged we usually just take the entire organ out rather than just the bullet. It is perfectly possible to live without a spleen but you will have a deficient immune system and have a higher risk of dying from a blood clot.

This really only leaves the largest organ in the body – the liver and because it is so large, it is also much easier to aim for and you can function perfectly well with only half your liver. Thus Sherlock should not have had any long term problems relating to the bullet wound.

Moral "Neutrality"


I have received many very emotive responses, mostly accusing me of defending a murderer

Firstly, Mary didn't murder Sherlock because Sherlock never died, he had a cardiac arrest which is very different from actually being medically dead.

Secondly, I am not suggesting that Mary's actions are morally acceptable. The point of my essay is to point out that her intentions were not to kill Sherlock.

As much as the scene is shocking, and disturbing, I specifically did not take my own personal feelings into any of my analyses. However I have been asked to do so in this case.

Being able to see that Mary never intended to kill Sherlock is important from a psychiatric perspective. Both Magnussen and Moriarty are classic and different examples of people with psychopathic personality disorder. Mary is not.

She makes a very good contrast to the two main villains of the series who are suffering psychiatric illness. Mary presents us with both a moral and ethical challenge.

In her love for John, we see a woman that we can related to and yet when she shoots Sherlock we see a killer.

The pivotal shooting scene shows us the two sides of Mary coming into conflict. She could have intentionally shot Sherlock somewhere more lethal but would still leave him alive for long enough to tie up John, but she didn't.

In less than a minute between Sherlock walking in and the shot, she had already made up her mind that she couldn't kill Sherlock. However she also could not afford to let him talk to John. In true Mary style she opted for the middle option.

As a very wise man once said: "The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict".

Mary is definitely not morally neutral from our perspective but in her view she is choosing the "neutral" path. One that does not require her to compromise her security but would also limit damage to others.

Yes she could have talked to Sherlock, she could have trusted and she could have laid her secrets at her mercy. We know that he is a good man but she didn't. She didn't have the courage to place her trust in Sherlock, but she also didn't have the psychopathic ruthlessness to simply kill Sherlock to protect her secret.

Mary may not be a reformed character - but she is on the road to reformation and this is why I personally like her.

She is very flawed and very human. She shows us all that the road to redemption is rocky and littered with failure, but we can get there.

To Forgive is Divine.

Many readers have also asked why Sherlock forgave Mary so quickly. If we look at the two characters, they do share a great many similarities, or at least Mary and the old Sherlock did.

Although Sherlock was always on the side of the angels, he was never one of them. He has made several morally dubious choices that we have seen and most likely many more before he met John.

. I am sure he has done bad things  for purely selfish reasons in the past in pursuit of solving a case. Sally is completely right when she said that Sherlock does not solve cases out of pure alturism, he does it because he gets an addictive high from them.

Sherlock understands what feels like to sacrifice your morals on the altar of necessity. He was just as flawed as Mary once, though we have never seen him shoot anyone.

Sherlock has almost completely his hero's path, but Mary has only just begun her journey. His empathy is one of a fellow traveller who understands all the pitfalls of the journey ahead.

The Aftermath


Several commentors have pointed out that Mary doesn't look particularly pleased when she hears that Sherlock is alive but let us dissect this scene:

John tells Mary that Sherlock has pulled through, she is obviously smiling at this point. He then tells her that "Mary" was the first word out of Sherlock's mouth when he woke up. They proceed to hug, and Mary, out of sight of John, looks less happy.

Mary was surprised that Sherlock pulled through, not because she had intended to kill him but because she must have been updated by John about Sherlock's dire state. She must have then realised that her bullet wound was worse than she had planned and Sherlock could die, in fact he had cardiac arrest. That would be enough to worry Mary because now instead of simply incapacitating Sherlock, John views the shooting as murder (admittedly the attempted sort).

However she does not look very worried or perturbed by John's news that Sherlock has pulled through. She can now go back to her previous plan. She is more rattled by the fact that Sherlock had recovered his powers of speech enough already to say her name. John hasn't figured out the connection yet, but she is running out of time to put the rest of her plan into motion: intimidate Sherlock into keeping silent,

Mary is a master of the shadowy word of violence and intimidation, she is doing what she knows and what she does best. There was never any doubt in her mind that she could make Sherlock keep silent.

Mary must have planned to be there before Sherlock woke up from the anaesthesia/opioid painkillers the doctors would have unleashed on him. She could then wake him up (by turning down that morphine pump) when John was conveniently out of the room and start their conversation at a time to suit her. Mary would not have been happy when she found that she had timed her visit a little too late and that Sherlock was at least partially conscious.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 2nd, 2014 07:37 pm (UTC)
new BBC Sherlock desktop wallpaper
User marta_bee referenced to your post from new BBC Sherlock desktop wallpaper saying: [...] further, this is one very interesting analysis. http://wellingtongoose.livejournal.com/28988.html [...]
Feb. 2nd, 2014 08:45 pm (UTC)
I just want to say that I absolutely love Mary. She is flawed, and I think that if she had a choice she wouldn't have shot Sherlock in the first place. In the previous episodes we see her pushing him and John together. She actually does like Sherlock and he likes her enough to share John.

I honestly don't care that she shot Sherlock, I'm not upset about it. I can't explain why. I just thought that part was particularly interesting. *shrugs* I'm pretty weird. So….yeah. I liked it.
Feb. 3rd, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC)
You know what? I feel the same.
I absolutely wanted to hate Mary before S3 started.
I wanted to scream and shout at the tv and hate her with all my heart.
But, from the moment she appeared, I didn't; I couldn't.
I liked her.
More than that. As episodes went on, I warmed to her. I liked her!
So much so that HLV didn't change that. My heat went out to her and I didn't hate her even when I perhaps should have.

Whether that was right or not, maybe only season 4 will tell...
Feb. 4th, 2014 04:23 am (UTC)
They make her so hard to hate, for me at least. She was just lovable form the beginning. And she did it because she didn't want to loose John. CAM was threatening her life with John and she just go tubber protective. I loved that. And I think Sherlock totally understood. And he's been through shit in the past two years. I think he understood why she shot him and that's why he forgave her so easily.
I think fandom would hate her if she'd gotten in-between him and John but instead she pushed them together.
There is nothing to hate about Mary. She did the thing that was the lesser of the two evils.
Feb. 10th, 2014 01:22 pm (UTC)
I agree....I liked Mary as shipper-on-deck, too, but I adore this version of her. I will savour every moment she is allowed to life and I really hope that the writers will take the time to explore the new dynamic.
Feb. 10th, 2014 09:55 pm (UTC)
She is also perfect for John. I understand why she lied. She wants a normal life but she can't have one under her real name, people will kill those close to her because of reasons. I think John understands that she's trying to protect him. I loved her from the beginning too. I'm glad they did it that way, so that when we did find out what she was we wouldn't hate her so much.
Feb. 2nd, 2014 11:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your character analysis here, very interesting!

Mary may not be a reformed character - but she is on the road to reformation and this is why I personally like her. She is very flawed and very human. She shows us all that the road to redemption is rocky and littered with failure, but we can get there.

I'm not really sure, though, that the show treats her like a person who is only beginning her redemption journey. I think one of the things that bothered me most about the episode was that in the scene at Baker Street with Sherlock, John, and Mary where they discuss the shooting, Sherlock seemed to be telling the audience that what Mary did was basically necessary and not that bad. Sherlock changes the narrative from her shooting him to her 'saving' him. She says "I'm sorry" to Sherlock at the moment she shoots him, but clearly what she meant was "I'm sorry it came to this," not "I'm sorry, I should never have done what I just did and I repent of my action." The latter is what she needs to say in order for me to get past what she did -- she needs to admit that what she did was wrong and that her safety and inability to trust did not justify her in causing Sherlock's terrible pain and near death. She doesn't. And the episode doesn't seem to feel that she needs to repent for what she did. In the end, John says her past is her burden to bear and that her future is one he still wants to share, but he never addresses what she just did to Sherlock. She never retreats from the "morally neutral" view of what she did, as you put it, and the episode along with Sherlock and John seem to accept this view. As an audience member, I could not adopt this view, which is why I found the 'forgiveness' arc of the episode unsatisfying. In summary, to the extent that the script addressed what she did to Sherlock it seemed to excuse her rather than have her repent and be forgiven, and that disturbed me.

Mary is a master of the shadowy word of violence and intimidation, she is doing what she knows and what she does best. There was never any doubt in her mind that she could make Sherlock keep silent.

Yeah. Again, she needs to change this attitude/behavior before I can like her. Her sadness all seemed to be rooted in being found out by John, not in regret over the way she herself had morally regressed into assassin-like behavior towards her innocent friend.

In order to have a redemption arc, I need her and the show to acknowledge the seriousness of the ways in which she went wrong, not in the distant past, but in the present, in this episode.

Edited at 2014-02-03 12:08 am (UTC)
Feb. 3rd, 2014 04:17 am (UTC)
P.S. -- I just want to say thank you again for your very thoughtful articles. It's really great of you to create a respectful and welcoming environment for fans to chew over some of the most controversial and complicated elements of the show. I know from some of the things you've said before that it can be emotionally wearing to be in the middle of so much heated debate, and I just want to make sure you know that, just because my subjective reaction to this storyline was different from yours, I in no way dismiss your own take on things -- thank you for sharing your interpretation and your personal reaction; I'm glad you enjoyed Mary's character throughout.

Even in my own head, there's no clear logic behind which kind of fictional flaws work to make a character more interesting to me and which damage my appreciation for a character. For example, I had the same negative reaction as you did to Sherlock's emotional manipulation of John at the end of The Empty Hearse. I know many other fans who were able to enjoy the train scene and read it in their own way, seeing Sherlock's manipulation as a sign of how important John was to him in much the same way that many fans read Mary's actions in this episode as proof of her love for John. For me, because I liked and cared about both Sherlock and Mary, watching them be unexpectedly cruel (Sherlock in TEH, Mary in HLV) was a disappointment which I felt emotionally, and that colored my view of their flaws in a way which put them more in the 'problematic for my enjoyment' category, rather than in the 'deliciously increasing their complexity' category, which I imagine is what the writers were aiming for and which clearly worked for many other people.

And yet I am totally capable of accepting Sherlock shooting Magnussen without losing my love for his character, even though in real life we all know vigilante murders are never okay. I don't understand my own approach to morality in fiction, sometimes :) At the end of the day, we all see what we see and feel what we feel! Thanks for letting us all talk it out with you!
Feb. 3rd, 2014 09:00 am (UTC)
I have a reeeeally hard time coming to terms with Sherlock shooting Magnusson... but I can think of three things that might make it easier to forgive him than Mary:
1) We know Sherlock better. We had 8,8 Episodes to grow attached to him before he shoots someone. We know what he's been going through to protect John, and what it must cost him to see that threatened.
2) We see him suffer for it. We see the look on his face after the shooting, when he knows that he has just sacrificed his freedom, his work, possibly his life for the well-being of the man that is most important to him. We see him saying goodbye for John for the last time, boarding a plane that he thinks will bear him on a suicide mission. In short: There are consequences (or at least there would have been, if not for the last-minute twist).
3)Sherlock's shooting is being made much more palatable by making Magnusson as revolting as possible. True, you don't get to shoot someone just for being vile, but it does make it hard to get worked up about it.

There's probably more, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head.
Feb. 3rd, 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
Good points. Personally, I think a major factor for me was also that I have known the original ACD story for twenty years. In "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," though Sherlock does not pull the trigger himself, he watches the murder take place without interfering, he allows the murderer to escape, and afterwards when Lestrade asks him if he wants to work on the case he flat out refuses, even though he's already deduced the identity of the killer, and says explicitly that he's on the killer's side and morally approves of what they did.

So it's actually been canon for 100+ years that Sherlock was complicit in this character's murder and morally approved of it. It was not a very large step, in my mind, from that to having him pull the trigger himself. They actually presented his action as much more troubling and morally serious than the original story ever did. So, I guess I had a long time to be prepared for it and I was also expecting something like that to happen ever since they announced what story they were adapting for episode 3. In ACD, vigilante justice is generally presented with a lot of sympathy.
Feb. 3rd, 2014 07:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for being instrumental in starting up wonderful debates. I really love LJ because people are generally respectful, rational and we can have direct debates. I always enjoy reading your comments, they give me lots to think about so please keep posting!
Feb. 3rd, 2014 07:58 pm (UTC)
Mary and a lack of action
Before The Sign of Three came out, I wrote an extensive piece on how Mary is a central character and yet she never does very much in her own right. I never published it because Sign of Three came out and I was too busy laughing that the murder method.

I completely agree with you that Mary never did anything to atone or redeem herself for what she did to Sherlock. Unfortunately this is a consistent pattern whereby Mary (even though she is supposed to be a central character) end up as a sideshow for the never-ending dance consisting of only Sherlock and John.

John and Sherlock are central characters, but they don't have to be the central characters. I was very excited about the introduction of Mary because we have for the first time a female central character in her own right. Except Mary never was as a character in her own right. She certainly had a lot of potential but it was wasted.

Her back story existed only for the purpose of ultimately allowing Magnussen to blackmail Mycroft. Although she finally does something independent from John and Sherlock, we never see that momentum of independence carried forwards. Like you pointed out, Mary did nothing afterwards apart from own up to her past. The issue of her shooting Sherlock is not dealt with well.

As much as I agree with Sherlock that Mary didn't intend to kill him, she still shot him in the liver. That is not a morally acceptable thing to do, and she knows that.

As a central protagonist, Mary also goes on the archetypal hero's journey. Except the writers took her back story to the extreme. I mean what is a more extreme way of revealing Mary is an assassin than by having her dress up in black and shoot the main protagonist? It certainly served a dramatic purpose but in using her as a dramatic plot device the writers have made her take a huge step back and never gave her the opportunity to then make up for lost ground.

As much as this story is about Sherlock's hero journey, its simply not gratifying for him to be the only character that progresses. I think the writers really loose sight of the fact that both John and Mary need progression. Whilst John got to have some demonstrated progression in his forgiveness of Mary, which I felt showed incredibly moral courage. We never see the same progress in Mary.

As much I love the setup of her character as someone on the journey to redemption, I find that the shooting is one huge bump in the road that Mary's characterization never really recovers from.

Of course its very easy to criticize the writers as I'm not responsible for writing the script. However I really do believe that the entire shooting scene and then over-dramatic resurrection of Sherlock wandered into the territory of the melodramatic and it really didn't have to. The whole point of the scene was to dramatically reveal that Mary was an assassin. There are other ways of doing that than having Sherlock walk in on her about to kill Magnussen and then get shot. It was merely the best way to wring a big emotional response from the audience and I personally do not enjoy shows that almost blackmail me into experiencing emotions and give me no choice in the matter.

As the seasons have progressed Sherlock has definitely lost its previous subtly. Although ACD often wrote action packed and dramatic scenes, he kept a tight reign on his drama. A lot of his best scenes were breathtakingly simple and devoid of exotic setting. They don't take place in dark glass office with a psychopath and an assassin, they take place in Baker Street by the fire - no one gets shot but the tension is even more palpable.

I think my main problem with season three really is the fact that it has to hammer everything home as though we are incapable of enjoying nuances and instead must be told exactly how to feel and when to feel it.

Edited at 2014-02-03 08:09 pm (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2014 05:21 am (UTC)
Re: Mary and a lack of action
Very interesting thoughts!

I suspect that John and Sherlock actually are the only central characters in the show -- that doesn't mean that other characters can't at times play important roles, and it certainly doesn't excuse poor characterization or lack of agency in secondary characters, but I personally consider everyone but the two leads to be secondary characters (Mycroft, Lestrade, Molly, Mrs. Hudson and now Mary being the most important ones, and not counting guest characters like Magnussen or Irene who are central for a single episode).

Her back story existed only for the purpose of ultimately allowing Magnussen to blackmail Mycroft.

You may be right about this. However, I assumed (perhaps over-optimistically, only time will tell) that the writers gave Mary that backstory as a way of solving the problem with ACD!Mary. ACD!Mary was a character who was written under the influence of ACD's Victorian gender expectations, and he never envisaged her as being able to participate in the kind of adventures that Holmes and Watson pursued. As a result, once he serialized the Holmes mysteries she became a literary roadblock which he had to dispose of before he could get his plots started. She was forever away visiting relatives, or ACD would set his stories in the time period before Watson's marriage, or he would write a quick scene at the Watson breakfast table where John would get a terse telegram from Holmes and Mary would tell him to go ahead. But it was cumbersome to have to get Watson back to Holmes at the beginning of every story, and eventually Doyle just killed her off because it was simpler to just have Watson living at 221B as a full-time assistant to Holmes and not having to constantly skive off from another relationship and profession.

I think the BBC writers may have given Mary the background they did to make it very clear that she is willing and able to participate in future adventures/excitement/danger along with John or Sherlock, and that she is not going to become a roadblock either to the plots or to the John-Sherlock friendship. I think they may also be planning to use the baby both as a way of giving her a reason not to participate in every adventure (because they know people want to see their fair share of Sherlock-John as a duo), and as a way of showing that this is a permanent change in John's life and a simple kill-her-off decision wouldn't put a no-strings-attached John back at Baker Street the way it did in ACD. In short, I think perhaps they have characterized Mary this way as a message of intent: I think they will probably depart from the canon and not kill her off. Or if they do eventually kill her, I think it won't be for a long time, and that there will still be the baby to deal with.

This speculation may all be proved laughably wrong very quickly, but that is how my expectations are leaning at this point.

However, I don't think it was at all necessary to give Mary such a melodramatic backstory in order to accomplish those ends. She didn't have to be an assassin in order to take part in John and Sherlock's adventures. And as we've discussed, it was a mistake to reveal everything by having her shoot Sherlock and then try and excuse her for having done so. That meant we were getting her backstory at the cost of her characterization as a decent person on the road to redemption and at the cost of badly damaging her relationships with Sherlock and John.

As much I love the setup of her character as someone on the journey to redemption, I find that the shooting is one huge bump in the road that Mary's characterization never really recovers from.

I completely agree. I also agree with your comments on how the series has lost subtlety as it has gone on. Very regrettable.
Feb. 10th, 2014 01:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Mary and a lack of action
Ironically though, when "Mrs. Watson" was still around, the beginnings of the cases were more interesting. Because ACD had to work to get Watson involved in the case, he came up with some interesting scenarios. Later on it was the ever repeated "we were in Baker Street and a client showed up/forgot something/Holmes told me about an old case".
Feb. 4th, 2014 05:45 am (UTC)
Re: Mary and a lack of action
I have just a few small thoughts on this question of Mary's lack of action. As I think more about it, I remember the famous Sherlock Holmes deduction about the dog that didn't bark in the night-time, and the lesson that sometimes we need to think about actions that aren't taken as well as actions that are.

The one thing I will say for Mary is that, after her secret was discovered and she was forced to come clean, she actually gave John two things that he deserved: space and time. She did not push him for quick forgiveness, she did not attempt further lies or emotional manipulation, she did not manufacture a crisis or use the baby as leverage to guilt John into coming back to her. She accepted his silence and waited for him to make his own decision in his own time. She clearly wasn't happy about having to do that, but she did it.

Perhaps I appreciate the actions she chose not to take in that instance because her 'passivity,' as some have seen it, contrasts so noticeably with Sherlock's problematic pushiness in The Empty Hearse. He didn't give John space or time, he manipulated him, he manufactured a crisis and he pressured John into quick forgiveness.

However, Sherlock also did what Mary did not manage to do: in The Sign of Three he publicly admitted both that he understood the damage he had done (he has suffered...tragic loss) and he straightforwardly and sincerely apologized (so sorry, again). And, in his talk with Major Sholto, I sensed that Sherlock had learned a real lesson about not repeating that kind of hurtful behavior. Sholto said that he thought he and Sherlock were similar, suggesting they both wanted to face death as a challenge they could meet on their own terms. Sherlock agreed, but stressed that they would never choose to make a dramatic, hurtful exit to satisfy themselves when the cost would be John's happiness (not at John's wedding. We would never do that, would we?) I read a subtext of reflection and reform regarding Reichenbach in Sherlock's behavior, and that went a long way towards helping me get over his bad treatment of John in TEH.

I think both Sherlock and Mary did some things right and some things wrong when it came to seeking forgiveness and redemption. Neither of their storylines felt satisfying on that score, which is a shame. But both of them got SOME things right, which is a consolation.
Feb. 3rd, 2014 02:22 am (UTC)
Love your analysis of what Mary did. As for the reasons why Sherlock forgives Mary so easily - this is pretty much an addendum to what you wrote already: Sherlock knows what it is like to love and being loved by John Watson (in whatever sense of the word is suitable), so I am sure he can relate to Mary not wanting to lose John's love, no matter what. Like you said, Sherlock is further on his hero's journey so if his and Mary's roles were reversed, he probably wouldn't have shot her because he didn't want to make John go through that loss (again). But he would no doubt have considered doing it, if only for a split second.

I like Mary a lot and I love that they made her such a complex character!

Edited at 2014-02-03 02:22 am (UTC)
Feb. 3rd, 2014 08:29 am (UTC)
Really enjoyable meta, as always.

I can see how you would come to the conclusion that Mary is a complex character occupying a moral middle ground - there is certainly space for that reading.

I can't quite get to that place, however. My problem with the way she's being written is a) that we know so little about her past, and b) that she's so passive from the moment John knows.

Regarding a): All information we have about her past is really vague. We don't know why she took up her past career, we don't know why she ended it, we don't know what exactly she did. Was it morally grey stuff? Like killing mob bosses/Magnussen-like characters? Or was it darker, less easy to excuse - did she torture 15-year old Pakistani boys to get information on their maybe-terrorist uncles? Did she murder people like Edward Snowden for the CIA? We just don't know. We can make up a compassionate backsory for her - or not.
She says that John wouldn't love her if he knew her past; Magnusson calls her very naughty... does that mean her past really is that bad, or does she misjudge John and Magnusson is just trying to rile him up?

(BTW, the one thing we do know about her is that she was an "assassin" - and that means that she is a murderer. The question is, is she the kind of murderer that we can forgive and root for or not)

Also, was she forced to end her assassin career or did she do it because she wanted to? Did she try to make amends for any harm she caused? Does she regret it, or is she basically fine with that part of her life but now wants to move on?

And regarding b):
"Mary may not be a reformed character - but she is on the road to reformation and this is why I personally like her. She is very flawed and very human. She shows us all that the road to redemption is rocky and littered with failure, but we can get there."

I would have loved to see her her way to redemption. To see her work with Sherlock and John to bring down Magnusson, to make some sacrifices herself, to be given an active role. But we don't get that. All she did was 1) let Sherlock tell her story (and then repeat his points); give John the USB stick to do with as he pleases; 3) wait and see what happens.

This is not taking the rocky road to redemption. This is not a troubled, flawed human being working to become a better person. She doesn't give John access to her past because she decided after a long deliberation that it is the right thing to do. She only did it when it was her only option.
Now, I'm not asking her to beg for mercy on her knees or suddenly become this perfect kitten-rescuing super-human. But I don't see her moving along any kind of road.

Again, it's absolutely possible to read her as a sympathetic character, if we fill in all the gaps with the right story (I do the same thing for Sally Donovan - the text doesn't give us much, but with the right backstory, she's a great character). But honestly, right now, I need a little more prompting from the text to be so generous.
Feb. 3rd, 2014 05:35 pm (UTC)
Hit the nail right on the head as to why Mary's character bothers me so much. I would love to believe that there's a bigger picture to unfold in future seasons but I'm generally a pessimistic person so I'm not holding out. Honestly, I would LOVE her to be the big bad next season, she has so much potential. Obviously she's a master of deception, and Sherlock and John seemed so quick to write her off as being good and trustworthy DESPITE that she had them completely fooled for so long. I know John wouldn't talk to her for a long time while he processed everything, and then everything is good and okay and he throws the USB in the fire. And we don't know what was on that USB stick. Hoping against hope this comes back to bite everyone on the ass because that could seriously get interesting.
Feb. 3rd, 2014 05:50 pm (UTC)
The reason why she is a character in her own right, is because she is very different to both Jim Moriarty and Magnussen. I completely agree that Mary doesn't do very much. For a central character, she is incredibly passive.

The only real piece of action she got throughout the entire series is shooting Sherlock. The show would have definitely benefited from more action from Mary particularly in the form of some kind of redemption after shooting Sherlock.

However I do not think that John and Sherlock's decision to trust Mary is bad writing or a setup for Mary to be the ultimate villain. I see the forgiveness as testament to the sacrifices we will endure for the ones we love. Both John and Sherlock have been wounded by Mary but they chose instead to put their faith in her. It takes a great deal of courage to trust someone who has betrayed but if you truly love them, it is the right thing to give them a second chance. This shows us that Sherlock has progressed along his archetypal hero's journey.

Now if she was cast as the ultimate villain in season 4, it would be a very interesting situation not because of what Mary can do, but because of Mary's character. All the major villains we have seen so far are portrayed as entirely irredeemable. Magnussen is made up of pure vileness with absolutely no redeeming qualities what so ever. Jim in the end was both evil and completely unhinged, so there is no redemption possible there either. Mary is not solely bad, in fact we have seen that she does love, she does care and ultimately there is a conscience there even if she compromises her morality as easily as shooting a fifty pence piece.

Edited at 2014-02-03 06:09 pm (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2014 10:00 am (UTC)
Thanks for your thoughtful analysis.

a)that we know so little about her past. It's always very hard to judge a character that we do not know enough about. Perhaps when we do get Mary's backstory it will change our perspective but even if we never know about Mary's back story it doesn't change what we know she had done. She has exited that world, she has married John and she definitely loves him. We may not know her past or her motivations for leaving the assassin's world but we do know why she stayed. If John finds suburban life dull, I can only imagine what Mary is going through. That is enough for me to believe that Mary is at least prepared to make the effort to leave her past behind. I think this shows a great deal of resolve and courage. If anything she lasted longer than John - who couldn't help but go into a drug den and beat up some junkies.

Yes, Mary does eventually relapse and what she does is very difficult to forgive. However, both John and Sherlock do forgive her, which is an essential part of their character development.

Of course the rest of His Last Vow would have mean more meaningful for Mary if she actually did something to redeem herself for what she did to Sherlock. She gave John her entire past and the space he needed at such a difficult emotional time. I completely agree with you that we don't see her doing anything for Sherlock.

I do see this lack of agency as an ongoing problem in Sherlock. Mary is not a main character, she's not the lead but she is a central character. Certainly more central than any other female character and yet she still doesn't function as a central character in her own right. The only truly independent act she did throughout the whole series was shoot Sherlock. I like the idea that Mary is morally grey because apart from Mycroft we don't really have other characters like that. However I don't like that fact that this is thrust upon us with such extreme melodrama. There were so many better ways of unveiling Mary as an assassin that don't involve her shooting Sherlock and then having Sherlock "come back from the dead".

The entire scene was designed to wring the maximum amount of emotion out of the audience. However this came at a cost to Mary's characterization. It setup Mary as a woman on the road to redemption and then knocked her right off it again. She never even got the chance to actually do something to redeem herself for what she did to Sherlock.
Feb. 4th, 2014 09:29 pm (UTC)
I do see this lack of agency as an ongoing problem in Sherlock.
Hallelujah amen.

She never even got the chance to actually do something to redeem herself for what she did to Sherlock.
Yes exatcly, and the thing I don't for the life od me understand why. It could have been a perfect set-up for a suspenseful dramatic rest-episode-3, a gigantic cliffhanger, and a suspenseful, dramatic series 4.

Imagine if Mary, John and Sherlock would have been allowed to remain in this "she lied about her past, but she loves John, but she shot Sherlock, but she tried not to kill him and had her reasons, but she was an assassin, but John loves her, etc."-situation for a while longer, with the threat of Magnusson looming in the background. The characters agree that they need to work together in order to defeat him, safe their lives, protect the Empire and so on, even if they have a ton of interpersonal conflict. But circumstances force them. You have the genius, the assassin and the soldier-doctor pooling resources to bring down the big bad. Mary works for her redemption. We get to see some part of her assassin character. John and Mary develop a newfound respect and understanding for each other, even if they don't quite forgive each other yet. All three hatch a brilliantly dangerous plan, which in the end goes (semi-)wrong and we get a cliffhanger (Sherlock has to decide whether he saves John or Mary; Mary and John have to team up to save Sherlock, whatever).

Magnusson survives and is the big bad throughout series, during which we get Mary and John's eventual reunion, maybe Mary saving Sherlock's life for real, and in the end the defeat of Magnusson.

Point is: it was the ideal set up for high-quality drama and action, including believable character development and emotional tension. I just don't understand how they could throw this away.

(Sorry for derailing. I think I just started outlining a fic ;)
Feb. 3rd, 2014 01:08 pm (UTC)
A neat analysis that has given me much food for thought. Thank you!
Feb. 4th, 2014 01:47 am (UTC)
I have received many very emotive responses, mostly accusing me of defending a murderer *sigh*

Always enjoy reading your metas.
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