I have recently started watching the BBC’s Sherlock. Set in present day London, this adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective stories features an exceptionally intelligent and sarcastic Sherlock Holmes with his quiet and loyal friend Dr. John Watson. Revolving around the amazing and entertaining Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and the talented Martin Freeman (of The Hobbit) as Watson, the show is smartly written and full of unexpected turns! It tips its hat to Doyle’s stories, while giving them a modern (and sometimes darker) twist.
It is not just the witty British humor and the literary connection that has me hooked. It is the relationship between Sherlock and Watson that really reels me in, and this relationship between one of literature’s most famous duos has recently taught me an important lesson about true friendship.
In the first episode, Dr. John Watson returns home from military service and through a series of events ends up living on Baker Street with the irritatingly intelligent and arrogantly blunt Sherlock Holmes. When the two first meet and Sherlock deduces all sorts of personal facts about John’s life and family, Watson is amazed. Riding in the cab together, he applauds Holmes for his skills, raving about how brilliant and unbelievable all the things he said were. Sherlock really doesn’t know what to do with this positivity. Used to being introduced as the “freak,” he cannot believe that someone would not be antagonized by his ability to observe and deduce crime solving information from the most ordinary facts.
As the series continues, Dr. Watson grows in appreciation for Sherlock’s mind–with its almost magical ability to remember, to connect, and to explain. He becomes protective of both Sherlock’s gift (punching one man in the face for calling him a weirdo) and his personhood (putting his life on the line to save his friend). The same is true for Sherlock in his own way. Unemotional and lacking in personal warmth, Sherlock too comes to value John for his calm strength and companionship, making sacrifices (both physical and emotional) for his friend.
It is an unlikely friendship: a quiet and rather somber veteran and an eccentric crime-solving consultant, but in its own way, it works. I think this is because Watson and Sherlock have discovered one of the core values of true friendship: authenticity.
They are both utterly and dysfunctionally themselves.
John Watson is recovering from PTSD. He can’t keep a girlfriend. He can be passive aggressive and sometimes follows when he should lead. However, Sherlock not only accepts his flaws, but he also recognizes his strengths. Watson is a caring human being. He is a good man with a great desire for justice and truth to prevail.
Sherlock Holmes is self-centered, and his ego has no match. He is terrible with people, preferring facts to human relationships. He sees all emotion as a waste of time. While sometimes fighting irritation, Watson too appreciates the quirks that make Sherlock Sherlock. He tells him often how amazing his brain is. He recognizes that while sometimes cold and methodical, Sherlock does indeed have a heart for the people in his world.
That’s what true friends do. That is the spirit of true community (community in the best sense of the word!). The people that we should be in relationship with appreciate the quirks that make us who we are. They appreciate our individuality and our authentic selves–our talents, our flaws, our strengths, and our struggles. They realize that human beings do not come on a buffet line, that you can’t pick and choose which qualities you take and which you leave off your plate. We are package deals. Not only do they appreciate our authenticity, but the truest friends are protective of it. They want us to be the best versions of ourselves, and do not allow the world to water us down. Often times, they also push us to be our best.
This is true with Sherlock and Watson. Sherlock helps Watson reconnect with life. He teaches him to be more observant and to follow his gut. He pushes John into fast-paced but fulfilling work. On the other hand, Watson helps humanize Sherlock. He teaches him the need for friends and for companionship, and through his patience, glances, and loudly vocalized objections, Watson helps Sherlock navigate an unknown realm for even a genius such as himself: human emotion.