Sunday, January 26, 2014
In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Woman" is the title given by Sherlock Holmes to Irene Adler. The title is meant as a show of respect, as she is the only woman - in fact, one of the very few people - to get the best of Sherlock Holmes. In the BBC's 'Sherlock,' the character is given a new twist in the episode "A Scandal in Belgravia," where Irene is re-imagined as a dominatrix and as a woman as intelligent as Sherlock and as sexually voracious as he is abstinent. They find their intellectual match in each other, at least until the end, and then, even when Sherlock has won, he still only refers to her as "the Woman." John assumes the title means he hates her; Mycroft disagrees: "Is that loathing, or a salute? One of a kind, the one woman who matters?" Considering that Irene has been absent from Sherlock's life for two and a half years during the rest of Seasons 2 and 3, I believe another woman has found a place in Sherlock's heart, the woman to which he says, "The one person [Moriarty] thought didn't matter at all to me was the one person who mattered the most." Molly Hooper was the one who counted; now she has become the woman who matters.
In the original Conan Doyle stories, the Woman is the woman who gets the best of Sherlock Holmes. In 'Sherlock,' Irene Adler is a near-match for Sherlock's intelligence, but in the end he beats her because she relies on her heart rather than her head. She loses the intellectual battle, but perhaps she wins the emotional one, as Sherlock saves her from execution. Why? There's no logical reason for him to risk his life to try and save her; she is no longer of any use to him. This fact makes his rescue all the more significant; the only reason he had to save her was sentiment. While I'm not sure if love is the right word to describe their relationship, it's warmer than strictly admiration for the other's intellect and deeper than sexual passion. Perhaps Sherlock and Irene don't even understand their relationship, but that one selfless act shows that Sherlock is capable of love, which is momentous for a character who regards love as "a chemical defect found in the losing side." What makes Molly the new Woman, then, is how she gets the best of Sherlock through the emotions and love that he tries so hard to divorce himself from.
Molly's sensitivity and perceptiveness to others' emotions allows her to read Sherlock when no one else can, most significantly in "The Reichenbach Fall" when Sherlock is secretly worried about how his faked suicide will affect John ("You look sad when you think he [John] can't see you." Molly's display of emotional intelligence and powers of perception surprises Sherlock; it's this moment, as well as her offer of help, that allows him to trust her with carrying out his faked death. One of Sherlock's weaknesses is his tendency to underestimate people: he underestimated Moriarty's ability to blend in, and so missed it when the world's greatest criminal mastermind was standing next to him in the guise of "Jim from IT"; he underestimated Mary Morstan, and (*spoilers*) so was caught completely off-guard when she was revealed as a former CIA assassin, even when he had noticed all the clues. Similarly, he underestimated Molly and how essential she would become in faking his death as well as how important she would become to him when he returned to his life in Baker Street. For Sherlock, the most important answers are often hidden in the smallest details, the things that no one else notices; how ironic, then, that he looked right past Molly just like everyone else, and almost failed to see the quiet, unassuming hero standing in front of him. What makes Molly the new Woman is that, while Sherlock saved Irene, Molly saved Sherlock. She was the key in helping him fake his death as well as keeping his greatest secret. She put her career and even her life on the line to help him. Why? Because she loves him.
Molly's love for Sherlock has been clear since the very beginning. We've watched that love grow from hopeless infatuation to a selfless, pure affection that nothing, not even his own terrible behavior towards her, can shake. While at first she idolized him, fortunately she has matured in seeing him for who he truly is - a brilliant man who can be an asshole, and more often than not doesn't care that he is - and loves him, anyway. Of course, his earlier, hurtful treatment of her has toughened her a bit, and so we've watched her grow from a silly young woman mooning over her crush to an assertive woman who isn't afraid to slap some sense into Sherlock - literally. In a way, this unexpected action draws a parallel to the original Woman, Irene Adler, "the woman who beat [Sherlock]." Like Irene whips Sherlock with her riding crop in "A Scandal in Belgravia," in "His Last Vow" Molly slaps Sherlock, not just once, but three times, and again when she appears in his mind palace. Even then, the rhythm of her words match Irene's: while Irene says, "I - said - drop it!", Molly commands, "I - said - focus!" Sherlock has now been beaten by two women, the first out of fear over how he is planning to defeat her, the second out of disappointment, anger, and concern for him after he relapses into drugs. Even when Molly resorts to physical violence, it's out of love for Sherlock, who she doesn't want to see destroy himself with his addiction.
For Molly, emotion is not a weakness, and love is a strength. This complete contradiction to Sherlock's own beliefs, I think, is what draws him to her. While he tries to build up walls and lock his emotions away, she is completely open and honest about her own emotions, which allows her to get the best of him and break down those walls. Her openness allows him to engage with his own emotions; this change is most noticeable in the scene on the stairs in "The Empty Hearse," where he is neither sarcastic nor manipulative, but, in fact, seems completely genuine, which happens with no one else.
As the original Woman, Irene Adler helped Sherlock see that he is capable of love; as the new Woman, Molly Hooper has shown him how to love someone, whether they reciprocate that love or not. While Molly may not be what some would call an extraordinary woman, I believe it's in her ordinariness that we find something extraordinary. Her seemingly ordinary persona hides an extraordinary love that never ceases, lasting through heartbreak and secrets and two years of silence from the man she loves and whose life she helped save. Out of the few people Sherlock loves, I believe the woman he trusted through his life, death, and resurrection will be the one to make him question his dismissal of love and all its assumed detriments. Should that ever happen, as the Woman, that would rest as one of Molly's most astounding accomplishments.