Worst. Episode. Ever.
"A Scandal in Belgravia"

Writer: Stephen Moffat

The Most Ignorant Aspect: Sherlock Dealing with Romantic/Sexual Love

This one is particularly painful to me.

Two writers have the best asexual character ever to hit English-language television. (Yes, I have seen The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon Cooper's flaws in this regard would be a different article.) They keep him really, believably, and sympathetically asexual for 321 minuties (if you count the pilot). It was a joy to me, as an asexual person, to see them doing it. Benedict Cumberbatch is even reported in Sherlock: The Casebook (Guy Adams, BBC Books, 2012) as saying that someone came up to him on the street and thanked him on behalf of all asexuals. I am grateful to that unidentified person for doing so. I only hope Mr. Cumberbatch appreciated the significance of the accolade, especially since the writers of his dialog did not.

Apparently because the writers are sexual people themselves, don't respect their character's orientation, and have failed to do basic research on it, they, figuring that he must after all really be sexual because everybody is, ruin it all. It reminds me of that bit in the film Milo and Otis, when the two title characters meet, and Milo (the cat) says, "Oh, yes, a dog, I see. But aren't we all cats, deep down?"

To which Otis memorably replies, "No. Deep down, I'm a dog."

Deep down, Sherlock Holmes is asexual.

It's not just fear of intimacy or some other problem. The vast majority of those who think asexuality isn't possible because it is antireproductive would be ashamed (as well they should be) to make the same argument about homosexuality. Sherlock and other asexuals really aren't plugged into that whole extravagantly energy-sapping, ecologically destructive, game-playing realm. We've got better things to do.

Of course, sadly, the best scene proving the point is in the unaired pilot. (It's one of the many ways that the pilot is better than the "A Study in Pink" episode, although that's better than the pilot in some ways, too.) John, after checking to see if Sherlock has a significant other of either gender, says, "So you don't do anything?" (by "anything," he means sex, of course). Sherlock answers, "I told you: everything else [other than his brain] is transport."

Sherlock understands the sex game in an intellectual way, as a behavior of the animal whose doings principally fascinate him, but he doesn't feel it. He shamelessly flirts with Molly, sometimes for information (as in "The Blind Banker"), sometimes just for amusement (as in both versions of "A Study in Pink," when he teases her about her lipstick). Nonetheless, he either cannot or will not sustain the the act as long as wisdom dictates: in "The Blind Banker," when Molly begins to turn her back, although keeping a sympathetic, interested expression would be a wise safeguard against her turning around again, Sherlock instantly resumes his deadpan. It is just not natural to him. He does turn on the charm once again in the next scene, when he asks to see the corpses' feet.

At the circus performance in "The Blind Banker," Sherlock really cannot understand why John considers his date more pressing than helping with the case, although John considers the reason so obvious that he does not articulate it for several exchanges. Granted, I would think that an asexual person of Sherlock's age would have grasped the overwhelming obsession of the sexual set. (Although I would've probably said the same things, I would have been quite snide in their delivery because I would have known very well what was distracting John—okay, I maybe shouldn't be snide in those circumstances, but the sexual shouldn't be so dead certain that everyone shares their fixation!) Still, Sherlock seems genuinely mystified by John's refusal to get with his program.

Sherlock reveals himself again in "The Great Game." When Molly introduces her new boyfriend, Sherlock thinks he's doing a genuinely kind act by destroying Molly's illusions about "Jim from IT." He sees a romantic relationship as something that has a specific purpose (sex), and that if that's not a go, the emotional trappings are beside the point and therefore Molly would be grateful to Sherlock for setting her straight. That would be the logical conclusion, but sexual people do insist that sex isn't logical and Sherlock should've remembered that.

Really, one only has to compare Sherlock to the sexual "Sherlock" of CBS's Elementary (aka to me as "Clive") to see what Sherlock would be like if he were sexual and thereby prove he is not. Clive sees sex as a physiological need that he has to take into account, a logical conclusion for a sexual person and one to which Sherlock would've come if he had a desire for sex himself. He does, when not on a case, eat and sleep, but he does not include sex in his taking care of the "transport." Therefore, he must not need sex. (Meretricious.)

So insisting that Sherlock must deal with an emotion for which he is not wired violates him at his most basic level and should not have been attempted at all. It's no different than expecting a homosexual person to have heterosexual sex or vice versa. It's not surprising that the fanfic crowd do it continually—violating any character trait that those "authors" don't like is their raison d'être—but I would've thought Sherlock could've expected a little appreciation for who he is at the hands of his creators. If they didn't want him to be asexual, why did they create him so? Elementary didn't make Clive that way. While most humans are sexual, it is not necessary for each one of them to deal with sexual love in order to be human, and in Sherlock's case, it's radical abuse to his character. There is no good reason to destroy Sherlock's integrity by doing so in "A Scandal in Belgravia."

And don't give me that "romantic love is the highest form of love" nonsense. Sexual people think that because they're sexual. They don't get that they're psychologically compensating for being driven by hormones that are driven by genes trying to get perpetuated. (Of course, genes don't have consciousness and don't "try" to do anything, but since professional scientists use that kind of language about them, I can, too.) Looking at relationships honestly, one can only conclude that a nonsexual friendship is actually the highest form of love: the participants' genes gain nothing, their hormones gain nothing. It is generally assumed that they will not support one another financially now or in their old age. They may help each other perpetuate their culture(s), but it is not a necessary part of friendship or something that is usually sought in friendship, the way it is in the parent–child relationship. Nonsexual friendship is two people coming together because they genuinely like each other and come to care about each other. Every other kind of relationship has at least one very practical payoff. (Note: Trading favors—political, financial, or any other kind—is business and not friendship.) Granted, every relationship (used in its broadest sense) has some kind of payoff; otherwise no one would expend the energy it takes to maintain even the most minimal one. But nonsexual friendship is the relationship with the fewest practical payoffs involved.

Therefore, Sherlock already has the highest kind of love he (or anyone else) could find in life in his close nonsexual (note that, fanfickers!) friendship with John. Saying that he needs to be sexually attracted to someone because that's a higher kind of relationship and he won't really have dealt with "love" until he has is an intolerable, cheap insult to that friendship. The "highest form of love" nonsense would not be an excuse for "A Scandal in Belgravia," even if the Sherlock team were to offer it.

Given that Mark Gatiss says that nonsexual friendship lies at the heart of Sherlock (Sunday Times, 1/1/2012), it's just incredible to me that Mr. Gatiss and Mr. Moffat would consider "A Scandal in Belgravia" the episode on love to fit their plan for that series (that plan being, according to the extras on the series 2 DVD set, that Sherlock would face "love, fear, and death" in those episodes). (Mr. Gatiss's statement in the same Sunday Times article that such friendship is "very much a men's thing" is so blatantly misogynistic that I'll just let it stand on its sickening own and get on.) Obviously any of the many kinds of love Sherlock does feel would have been just fine for the purpose, and if they wanted the most intense one, that would be what he feels for John.

That Sherlock's behavior is believable for an asexual person in the given situation I find impossible to believe. A friend of mine says that Sherlock is only pretending to be at all sexual in the episode, and yes, there is some evidence for her opinion. The "big romantic scene" between Sherlock and Irene proves to be no such thing; it's just Sherlock checking Irene's pulse. Sherlock is clearly blind-sided, however, by Irene's dismissal of him in the airplane scene. Also, I do know that asexual people are not entirely without sexual impulses, but I am having trouble seeing that save Sherlock's behavior either. After all, the asexual people I know tend to run screaming from actual humans we're attracted to lest they realize we're attracted to them and expect us to do something at all sexual. I grant that Sherlock is working a case and so wouldn't run screaming even if he is attracted to Irene, but his sexual behavior just doesn't wash for me. I hate to critique a piece of writing as flawed based merely on something as vague as my impression of what the author was trying to do, but it reminds me of a creative writing class during which another student said my story was unbelievable ("People don't act like that") and I defended it on the ground that it had actually happened. My instructor said that was irrelevant because it was my job as the writer to make my readers believe in the characters in the story. I find the episode as a whole too ambiguous to accept that Sherlock is clearly still asexual in spite of what we see him do and say, and if Mr. Moffat was trying to accomplish that, he failed.

Mr. Moffat and Mr. Gatiss could only have mauled both the original Miss Adler and their own Sherlock for one of three reasons: to gratify their own libidos, to gratify those of the more infantile of their fans, or some combination of the two. That's not good enough. Character integrity must be preserved regardless of what the fans want to happen, but for some reason no one seems to get that in television writing, despite centuries of literary criticism on the point. I call this the "Trouble with Tribbles Effect," after the classic Star Trek episode in which all the characters acted like parodies of themselves rather than their actual selves, much to the horror of anyone who understands character development and, of course, to the sickening delight of the fans, who would rather hear a cute quip and see a little skin than develop characters in a believable and interesting way. Yes, that approach does make for great ratings, but it produces lousy writing and should win no awards. Again, Mr. Moffat deserves no pats on the back for this error alone.