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Gridlock Potterlock talk

Just for fun, I’m going to interpret the Sherlock-Moriarty relationship using a Harry-Voldemort reading and speculate on Mary’s story arc by identifying her with Snape. Let’s see if that gets us anywhere interesting.

I.O.U. Did anyone else have trouble figuring out what Moriarty meant by “I owe you a fall”? What fall? When did Sherlock make Moriarty fall? A fall from grace? A fall from power? “The Reichenbach Fall” had at least nine instances of “IOU” through dialogue and props and graffiti tags.

I base my reading on the final iteration of that theme, John at Sherlock’s gravestone saying, “I was so alone, and I owe you so much.”

Oh. A fall from innocence, then.

Boredom is fatal in this universe. Moriarty contemplates dying of boredom. John gets dangerously depressed when bored. Sherlock throws tantrums. What is the cure for boredom? Before John, Sherlock had no cure at times when he didn’t have a case. Moriarty is no better: “All my life, I’ve been searching for distractions.”

The solution to the final problem starts when these characters understand that boredom is sometimes an innocent term for loneliness. Human attachment, and the struggle to manage its destructive powers, guarantees that one is never bored.

For most of the first series, Sherlock and John are still becoming friends, their attachment not yet complete. The pivotal moment comes at the pool. Moriarty had discounted John until then for being ordinary and therefore ultimately inconsequential to Sherlock. Moriarty assumed Sherlock was unattached, like himself, and incapable of attachment; that the closest thing Sherlock could have to a friend was an enemy, and therefore Moriarty could be his closest friend.

But he was shocked by his jealousy when he saw how Sherlock and John behaved when they thought no one could see them. When John offered to die for Sherlock, Moriarty was amused. But when he witnessed their reciprocal joy at being alive together, followed by their agreement to die together, he learned that someone as extraordinary as himself could have attachments.

He hadn’t thought that was possible. His fantasy had been that he was more than a man, set apart because of genius to have no attachments, and therefore he could feel comforted that his isolation was evidence of superiority.

Yet here, the genius Moriarty identifies with most loves an ordinary person and is loved in return.

How did that sight affect Moriarty?

If I apply the reading that I have for Voldemort in Harry Potter, it almost tore him apart.

In Deathly Hallows, Voldemort stands in the Potter home in Godric’s Hollow, “immersed in memories of his greatest loss” (345). What did Rowling mean by “his greatest loss”? Voldemort goes on to recall, “He had killed the boy, and yet he was the boy….” It was the loss of Voldemort’s innocence of how much he missed by being born loveless, through no fault of his own. The sight of a baby who was supposedly his equal and the ordinary mother who died loving him got past his defenses, too similar to the fantasies he had divided his soul in order to deny.

In Goblet of Fire, he told his followers that the rebounding curse caused him “pain beyond pain. […] I was ripped from my body, I was less than spirit” [653]. A fragment of his disembodied soul latched onto Harry through his scar, and through that momentary connection, before he fled from it, he could not help but feel the love he was missing.

Moriarty had a similar fall: a fall from the innocence of not knowing he was lonely. Seeing that Sherlock was different from him meant Moriarty was truly alone again. No wonder he wanted to burn the heart out of Sherlock. He has to punish Sherlock for the love in his life: the genius brother who would sell queen and country to protect him, the friends who know Sherlock for his true self, yet draw closer rather than backing away. He wants revenge for his pain with an equivalent fall: Sherlock’s knowledge that his friends may die because of him, the same strategy that Voldemort uses to entrap Harry.

Mycroft knows this and employs misdirection against Moriarty as we once saw him do with John, planting ideas by stealth while distracting the other person by feeding into their agenda. With John, Mycroft fulfilled his obligation to keep Adler’s fate confidential by charging John with responsibility for Sherlock’s feelings. With Moriarty, Mycroft plants the conviction that Sherlock is unable to resist cleverness while giving fodder to Moriarty’s fantasies of getting the Ice Man and the Virgin to betray one another.

Before the pool scene, Sherlock was an irritation and a diversion to Moriarty, but after the fall, it turned personal. The same thing happened in Voldemort’s mind when baby Harry turned from just another victim to the one person who might have answers for him. Sherlock and Harry have love, a power that never made sense to Moriarty or Voldemort until witnessing it broke the hearts they didn’t know they had.

For Sherlock and Harry to beat murderous geniuses who are obsessed with them, they must become unpredictable: by being, as Sherlock says, not themselves. Harry learns the danger of predictability at the beginning of Deathly Hallows, when he uses his signature spell during the Flight of the Seven Harrys or when he walks into Voldemort’s trap by speaking his name. Sherlock learns the same lesson when Irene Adler, working on Moriarty’s advice, tempts him three times: with sex, which doesn’t work; with friendship, which gets him to crack a little; and finally, predictably, with cleverness.

Fortunately, Snape and Mycroft can help. Remember Snape’s speech from the first day of Defense class?
"The Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible. […] Your defenses…must therefore be as flexible and inventive as the arts you seek to undo" [HBP 177].

Or, as Moriarty would put it: “I’m soooo changeable!” Therefore, Sherlock must be, too.

Throughout Deathly Hallows, Harry learns to be flexible and inventive. He suppresses his dominant traits: to speak the truth, to defend others, to rush into action. He develops his secondary traits, traits that come more naturally to Slytherins, such as the ability to judge the right moment for morally questionable or wrong actions, like lying to Griphook or withholding information from Ollivander. He even manages to witness the murder of Snape in silence, though he has to bite his knuckles hard enough to draw blood. In mastering these skills, Harry grows up.

Sherlock, too, becomes not himself in “The Reichenbach Fall.” The man who gets thrown in a holding cell because he can’t turn cleverness “on and off like a tap” has to pull off the out-of-character act Steven Moffat alluded to at the end of Series 2: he has to pretend, convincingly, to fall for Moriarty’s puzzles.

The act works. Moriarty believes Sherlock fell for the key code. But to hide his cleverness comes at a cost: Sherlock fears his friends will not love him anymore. He’s afraid Lestrade and John will believe his detractors. He even asks Molly, “If I wasn’t everything that you think I am – everything that I think I am – would you still want to help me?” Lestrade’s steadfastness, John’s retort that Sherlock is an annoying dick, and Molly’s intense “What do you need?” – they all tell him that he is seen and loved for himself, not his genius.

This is a phenomenon that confounds Voldemort and disgusts Moriarty. Voldemort continually asks his informants if there is anything extraordinary about Harry Potter and gets back the frightening answer: nothing, my Lord; he is a tediously mediocre child. Moriarty is desperate to see Sherlock remain extraordinary, remain Moriarty’s mirror rather than become John’s friend. He’s disgusted and disappointed when “ordinary Sherlock” appears to cave under threat to his pressure points, taking all the fun out of the game.

But there is a saving moment for Moriarty, too. The tearful thank-you, the smile, the bizarre handshake on the rooftop: those are genuine, a response to the gift that Sherlock gives him. Sherlock says he is prepared to burn – to have the heart burned out of him. He knowingly accepts the pain of causing grief to John. He promises to shake hands with Moriarty in hell: by accepting the fall that Moriarty owes him, the price Sherlock pays for having love, he agrees to experience a pain equivalent to Moriarty’s. At last, someone again will be experiencing the same things Moriarty does. This promise of companionship in his fallen state is what brings tears to Moriarty. When he holds out his hand and Sherlock grasps it, Moriarty must seize the moment and shoot so he does not have to die alone.

Accepting that John will think Sherlock fell for Moriarty’s game, or that he could have done something to prevent the suicide, means that Sherlock has to endure John calling his name, John checking his pulse. Harry, too, had to permit his loved ones to suffer for a ruse:

“Any moment, the people for whom he had tried to die would see him, lying apparently dead, in Hagrid’s arms. […] The scream was the more terrible because he had never expected or dreamed that Professor McGonagall could make such a sound. He heard another woman laughing nearby, and knew that Bellatrix gloried in McGonagall’s despair. […] Ron’s, Hermione’s, and Ginny’s voices were worse than McGonagall’s; Harry wanted nothing more than to call back, yet he made himself lie silent…” (DH 729-730).

Sherlock offered this sacrifice to Moriarty to enjoy, as Bellatrix enjoyed McGonagall’s grief. Like Voldemort, Moriarty forced Sherlock’s attention by cornering him and holding his loved ones hostage; like Harry, Sherlock faked death and went under cover to take out more attackers. In Potterverse terms, Sherlock was going under the invisibility cloak, “the true magic of which,” according to Dumbledore, “is that it can be used to protect and shield others as well as its owner” (DH 716).

Unlike Harry, though, Sherlock’s cover had to last for years. Somebody was keeping watch, even after Moriarty’s death.

Enter Mary.

I do subscribe to the theory that Colonel Sebastian Moran is one of the feeder characters for this Mary. We know she was hiding a pre-existing connection to Moriarty because of her line, “But he’s dead. I mean, you told me he was dead, Moriarty.”

You’ve probably heard the Mary Moran theory before, but for the sake of completeness, here are further correspondences that lead me to map this assassin onto Moran the tiger hunter, from “The Adventure of the Empty House”:

“Moriarty […] used him only in one or two very high-class jobs, which no ordinary criminal could have undertaken.”

“So cleverly was the colonel concealed that, even when the Moriarty gang was broken up, we could not incriminate him.”

This is compatible with Sherlock saying he has gotten the last of Moriarty’s network and Mycroft making no response. Moran was unconnected to Moriarty’s other associates. If Mary was Moran, then Moriarty would have hired her to watch the rooftop confrontation independently of the snipers trained on Sherlock’s loved ones. She would have been assigned to make sure Sherlock died and been charged with finishing the job if Moriarty couldn’t, taking on an I.O.U., parallel to canon’s Moran throwing rocks at Holmes’s head at the Reichenbach Falls. This would have been why it was important for John to believe Sherlock dead: for someone like Sherlock, who could fake death, John’s grief would be a more reliable indicator of his death than a body in the morgue. Sherlock was unable to detect an independent monitor outside of the network he dismantled, so he would have returned to 221B ready to explain the “why” as well as the “how” to John – until John got abducted and Sherlock realized it was not yet safe.

How many Potterlock fans saw “secret tattoo” and thought “Dark Mark”? Perhaps Mary was like one of those Death Eaters who felt relief when Voldemort disappeared and hoped their Dark Mark would not burn again.

If Mary had the job of tracking John’s grief, she would have befriended John to confirm that he was still grieving and Sherlock, like Moriarty, was really dead, releasing her from her I.O.U. That origin story of their romance would certainly be enough to shake John’s love for her.

So what revelations might we expect about Mary’s backstory and motivations? I’m going to give this the Snape treatment and see where that takes us.

We’ll start with the Snape-like way that Mary is portrayed. Is she evil or is she good? Sherlock says to trust her, even though she shot him: can we trust Dumbledore’s judgment, or did that Avada Kedavra mean that Dumbledore was deceived? Is Mary motivated by loathsome selfishness, or is she hiding her truth, accepting that she’ll be thought a monster, in order to protect others?

Sometimes the effort of hiding wears her out and her true self breaks through: “He would have needed a confidant. Sorry.” That moment when Sherlock confronts her and she says, “You were very slow,” she nearly burns with angry pride at being recognized, finally. I feel the same thrill of self-revelation as I did with Snape: Look at me. Sherlock tells John to look at her. Mary tells John he did see her. Don’t get too caught up in the details. Look at the true self to know the story. And whatever her name, there is a true self behind the machinations. What is the one truth about Mary that is consistent from every angle? She loves John. That much is real. Just as Snape felt true remorse and Dumbledore was certain of this, Mary loves John and that provides a stable emotional core that Sherlock can trust.

If I apply a Snape reading, here’s what I speculate about Mary’s story:

I think she is a double agent like Snape, pretending she has only faked love for John in order to get close to Sherlock. Like Snape, if she lets this façade crack, it would result in death not only for herself, but probably many innocent people as well. Her best bet for eliminating the threat and protecting herself, John, and even Sherlock is to maintain her façade. This would explain the necessity of shooting Sherlock as though to kill in front of Magnussen, once Sherlock and John disrupted her plan.

As for her backstory, I suspect that unlike Snape, she never truly signed up for evil. This is because I get a sense that she is unconflicted about being a match for John. There’s a kernel of conviction that her true self is good, not the sense of guilt and atonement in Snape’s self-perception. When she snaps that people like Magnussen are the reason there are people like her, it signals that she lives by a strong moral code. I’m guessing that “going freelance” and “bad girl” tell us she followed CIA orders until they commanded her to back off from a destructive person similar to Magnussen, for the same reason that Mycroft tells Sherlock he doesn’t hate Magnussen – that person never threatened anybody big enough, and A.G.R.A. believed that ordinary people also deserve protection. Faced with knowing that someone ordinary would be destroyed if Mary obeyed orders, I think she decided to leave behind her life and loved ones, commit the murder and hire Moriarty to help her disappear. David would have been a shoulder to cry on after this romantic homebody, a cat lover who bakes her own bread, gave up home country and loved ones to protect someone else. We know from his behavior that she broke up with him – sentiment – perhaps for his protection when Moriarty called in his debt by assigning her to watch John. And when she got to know John, she recognized his devastation from her own griefs and provided the same life-giving comfort that David once provided for her.

Once Magnussen threatens to alert the people who want to kill A.G.R.A., she has to confront the unfinished business from her former life. Maybe she will turn out to be R.A.B. and sacrifice herself because she is the only one who can stop a danger. Maybe she, and the baby, will have to disappear and start a new life elsewhere. Whatever happens, I would bet that she, John, and Sherlock will undertake this adventure together. Sherlock vowed to be there for them and John has accepted the problems of Mary’s future as his privilege. I see them setting out as a trio to meet the new players in this never-ending game, with John carrying the Elder Wand, protective Sherlock the invisibility cloak, and Mary the Resurrection Stone, summoning the ghosts from her past.

Presented at Gridlock, August 16, 2014.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 18th, 2014 02:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for posting this, D! As I said earlier, I wasn't able to catch everything, and I'm glad for the chance to re-read certain lines and think about it a little more. I'll be back to comment soon. M.

ETA: Fascinating, D. I think a part of what drew me to this when I first heard it was the immediacy of your analogies--no analytic discussion of "the villain" or "the morally ambiguous character," just "what if Moriarty were Voldemort and Mary Snape?" It really worked for me, because the analytical approach would have left me free to nitpick, as I tend to do, and the analogies let the similarities resonate without insisting on perfect equivalence. I don't read enough meta to know if this sort of approach is used elsewhere (?), but it's an incredibly effective strategy for this particular argument, which asks the reader to empathize and imagine, and for your lyrical writing style.

Anyways, on the the content. I loved the passage about boredom as an innocent term for loneliness and human attachment mitigating against boredom. It tied the Sherlock-Moriarty relationship to the Sherlock-John relationship together through the idea of a fall from innocence (and perhaps also a kind of grace in human attachment) in a way I hadn't considered before. I do hope you're right about Mary; I've seen various theories about her role as a double agent before, but I was intrigued the way you present the details about her fierce pride and hidden personal morality shining through as Snape's did in the end (Look at me! People like Magnussen are the reason there are people like me!).

Again, thanks for posting! This was an essay to read through slowly and think about, and I'm glad to have had the chance. M.

Edited at 2014-08-19 03:24 am (UTC)
Aug. 23rd, 2014 02:32 am (UTC)
But when he witnessed their reciprocal joy at being alive together, followed by their agreement to die together, he learned that someone as extraordinary as himself could have attachments.

Oh, suddenly this makes sense!

The man who gets thrown in a holding cell because he can’t turn cleverness “on and off like a tap” has to pull off the out-of-character act Steven Moffat alluded to at the end of Series 2: he has to pretend, convincingly, to fall for Moriarty’s puzzles.

Thank you so much for explaining this, and Mycroft pretending to betray Sherlock, thereby fulfilling Moriarty’s wishes for Sherlock to be friendless and unloved (like him). And the connection between Sherlock and Harry pretending to be dead to temporarily fool their loved ones (but for a greater cause) and the A.G.R.A/R.A.B one, those were such brilliant connections.

Thank you so much for this write-up. It was fascinating, and I adore all the connections between HP and Sherlock (my two beloved fandoms). I’m really dying to see where the writers take Mary’s character. She’s totally fascinating (just like Snape).
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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