Tue
Jan 28 2014 5:05pm

Sherlock’s Best Man Speech is Basically Fanfic, Moffat Says He’s Absolutely Not A Sociopath

Steven Moffat had some words for Vulture on Sherlock's best man speech in “The Sign of Three,” his need to write the scene since he was a child, and Sherlock's determination to convince the world that he's a sociopath. It's an encouraging breakdown that speaks well for the character and his particular set of flaws. Take a gander...

Though Moffat hasn't ever been particularly complimentary of fan fiction, his desire to write Sherlock's best man speech basically confirms that he's in the same boat as most fans:

“I remember being a 12-year-old kid thinking, Oh, why didn’t we see Sherlock be the best man? Please, can we see that? That would be the best story in the whole world, and I don’t care if there’s a crime in it or not, because it must have been the best and worst speech of all time!

So 12-year-old Steven Moffat wanted to write some serious Holmes fanfic—he didn't even care if it was mystery-free. And when he finally got to do it, his childhood plan came to fruition, one where he decided that Sherlock would begin the speech by acting as awful as possible because, “he’d sit there and think, Everyone’s gonna think I’m gonna make a right cock-up of this. Everyone thinks I’m going to screw it up. So, I’m going to make them think that, and then of course I’m going to say something lovely.

Sherlock's involvement in the wedding planning process was also addressed by the show's production designer, Arwel Jones. He pointed out the little touches throughout the detective's flat meant to intimate how involved he was in putting the wedding together due to his “control freak” nature. Which is not only coo-inducing, but economical; just think how much money the Watson's saved by not needing a professional wedding planner.

But back to that speech: According to Moffat, Sherlock's seeming insults toward everyone at the wedding—John included—is just a bunch of BS before getting to the good stuff:

“He always is [bullshitting]. He doesn’t think that at all. He doesn’t think any of those things, but he wants to think that he does, just as he wants to think he’s a high-functioning sociopath. He’s not a sociopath, nor is he high-functioning. He’d really like to be a sociopath. But he’s so fucking not. The wonderful drama of Sherlock Holmes is that he’s aspiring to this extraordinary standard. He is at root an absolutely ordinary man with a very, very big brain. He’s repressed his emotions, his passions, his desires, in order to make his brain work better — in itself, a very emotional decision, and it does suggest that he must be very emotional if he thinks emotions get in the way. I just think Sherlock Holmes must be bursting!”

Which answers a lot of long-standing fandom questions in regard to Sherlock's true stance on emotion, his self-labelled sociopathy, and his wants versus his reality. Sherlock Holmes wants to be emotionless, he wants to be a sociopath, because he is—at his core—a deeply emotional person. (Who has been taught by his older brother that emotions are terrible and that he's the stupid for having them.)

Now we are free to ponder the implications of that to our heart's content.

23 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Freud would get a migraine trying to tease all of this out.

I don't watch either of his shows, and I'm tired of Moffatt dragging all his own issues into them.
Marilynn Byerly
2. MByerly
In other words, Moffat thinks Sherlock is really Spock with great skill at BS.

And a twelve year old thinking about Sherlock being the best man? Really? Moffat is kidding, right?
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
3. EllenMCM
Lots of twelve-year-olds think about weddings.
wakdjunkaga
4. wakdjunkaga
Ummm… you meant “the Watsons,” a simple plural. Sorry.
wakdjunkaga
5. AC Ellas
I still think Sherlock has Autism or Asperger's. I've never bought the sociopath line when the autism diagnosis is so obvious in his every interaction with neurotypical people. I say this as an Aspie with an autistic child.
wakdjunkaga
6. OgreMkV
As someone who grew up like Sherlock must have (emotions are bad), I can attest that is how people like us think. We want to be emotionless, we want to not care, becuase it hurts (physically, mentally, and emotionally) when we care.
I'm just not as smart as Holmes.
wakdjunkaga
7. ProfMel
It's always nice when your head canon is confirmed by the show runner. Of course Sherlock isn't a sociopath. But wouldn't life be easier if he were? And if everyone thinks he is, they won't notice his slips as much.
wakdjunkaga
8. ingridjane
Sigh. Of course he's normal. By the way, anyone who say's he's got an Autism Spectrum Disorder needs to re-read their DSM-5. He has almost NO signs of that disorder which includes physical ticks and repetive behaviors which Sherlock clearly does not exhibit. He shows signs that he's confused that people are intelligent while still having emotions, not lacking emotional connection.
wakdjunkaga
9. mirana
Awww, called it. Which is too bad, really. It would be interesting to have a show with a highly accurate depiction of someone who's brain works differently. This is not it, and I love it anyway, but I would be interested in one that was.
wakdjunkaga
10. Caractacus Jack
MByerly wrote:

"And a twelve year old thinking about Sherlock being the best man? Really? Moffat is kidding, right?"

No, I don't think he's kidding. Read interviews with writers like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Clive Barker, William Gibson, China Mieville, or name your favorites --and you find that even at a young age they had a tendency to experience or think about the fiction they read in ways that were markedly different from the average person. It's no doubt one of the things that leads people like them to become writers.
wakdjunkaga
11. Shan
@ingridjane As someone with numerous family members on the autism spectrum, and who works in disability services, I can say that it's not always as obvious as movies like Rainman would lead you to believe. You really think knowing 42 different varieties of tobacco ash isn't a sign of an obsessive interest? Or the fact he was fixated on the Carl Powers crime when he was a child to such an extent he became a consulting detective? You don't think that his continuous low monotone could be considered a tick? The some of the main signifiers of someone on the spectrum are:

· Average or above-average intelligence
· Difficulties with high-level language skills such as verbal reasoning, problem solving, making inferences and predictions
· Difficulties in empathising with others
· Problems with understanding another person’s point of view
· Difficulties engaging in social routines such as conversations and ‘small talk’
· Problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety
· A preference for routines and schedules which can result in stress or anxiety if a routine is disrupted
· Specialised fields of interest or hobbies.

While some of the above clearly don't apply to Sherlock a good argument can be made for most of them. Also the spectrum isn't an all or nothing deal. People on the autism spectrum are not cookie cutter definitions. One particular trait may not apply to you, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t on the spectrum. Also you can have autistic tendencies without having them be so extensive that you would require diagnosis. Tony Atwood, one of the leaders in the autism spectrum field compares Asperger’s to a hundred piece jigsaw puzzle. A person who is neurotypical will naturally have twenty pieces of the Aspie puzzle. To be diagnosed you need at least eighty. So naturally there are individuals with more pieces than the average joe, who still wouldn’t need diagnosis. You can just be aspie-esque.

Also people on the autism spectrum DO have empathy. They just sometimes fail to pick up on the signals that would cause them to have an empathetic reaction, or try to react in a way they think is appropriate but is entirely unsuited for the situation. For instance, my brother when he was younger was in a class where the teacher was angry with the student’s for misbehaving. My brother (who has aspergers) could see the teacher was upset, and thought about what he could do to fix the situation. He smiled at the teacher, because he thought that smiling was a friendly thing to do and would make her feel better. He got yelled at by the teacher because the teacher thought he found the situation funny. This is the difference between Aspergers and Sociopathy. One is where you have no empathy, and the other is where you don’t have the social language to interpret empathy properly.

There are many other disorders that could be argued for Sherlock as well as well as his original incarnation. Bipolar, OCD, ADHD of the Hyperactive/Impulsive type, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Schizoid personality disorder, have all been suggested to varying degrees, and this is completely avoiding the question of comorbidity.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that Sherlock has very clear signs of not being neurotypical. And well… duh. That’s kind of the point of Sherlock Holmes, isn’t it? It may not be autism, sure, but he doesn’t think the way the majority of the population thinks and that’s why he resonates with people on the spectrum and those with so-called mental illness’. It’s nice when a hero isn’t always a likeable or sociable individual. Many people are reinterpreting characters like Gatsby or Heathcliff to be of mixed race or Nick Carraway to be gay. Why can’t people on the spectrum re-interpret Holmes as one of their own?

Also “Normal” as you said in your original post is a bit of a presumptuous term, don’t you think. Who gets to be the arbiter of what sort of thought patterns are considered normal?
Ursula L
12. Ursula
#2 a twelve year old thinking about Sherlock being the best man? Really? Moffat is kidding, right?
Kidding? I don't think so. This is a man who has made a career of fanfiction. Tintin, Doctor Who, Sherlock.

More than that, he's made a life of story-telling and story-creating. He married a woman who has made a career of turning stories from words on paper to television. And his mother-in-law does the same, and both have seen the value of his story-ideas, and worked to transform his ideas from words on paper to stories on television.

Moffat is an Amilia Pond, a person obsessed with story, who found his Rory Williams in Sue Vertue, who has the practical skills to make the obsession into a lifestyle.

Moffat's life story is not merely the story of someone who has made a career of telling stories. It's the story of someone who is utterly obsessed with Story, and who always has been.
wakdjunkaga
13. NL
@ingridjane: Sherlock has remarkable difficulty reading social cues and understanding social norms. He has trouble empathizing and connecting with others, and struggles with small talk. He has very few friends and relatively little interest in socializing, as he prefers to focus intensely on his special interest - to the point that he often forgets (or doesn't bother) to eat or sleep. He has some mannerisms and habits that could be interpreted as stims. High intelligence and natural musical ability is also common among people with an ASD.

There are aspects of his character that are open to interpretation, including whether or not he is autistic. I would not argue that he definitely has an ASD - but to say that he "has almost no signs of it" is inaccurate, as he does, in fact, have many characteristics in common with autistic people. Also - I think it is important to remember that just because someone is autistic doesn't mean that they are going to have all of the symptoms and characteristics associated with autism. (So, for example, a person could have no obvious "physical ticks" and still be diagnosed with autism, even if stimming is a common symptom.)
Alan Brown
14. AlanBrown
Regardless of what labels we try to pin on Sherlock, I myself thought this was a great episode, and loved the mix of humor and seriousness that the speech brought to the proceedings.
wakdjunkaga
16. XW
I disagree that Mycroft told Sherlock that 'emotions are terrible, and he's stupid for having them'. What Mycroft has said is that he worries about Sherlock 'constantly', and he told Sherlock that losing him would 'break my heart', so he's hardly emotionless himself. He's said caring 'isn't an advantage' and he's right - it isn't helpful to Mycroft that he cares so much about his little brother, but he does. I think both the Holmes brothers have learned to repress their emotions precisely because they feel those emotions so keenly, and it can cause them a huge amount of pain and get in the way of their great intellects.

When Mycroft says 'Redbeard' to Sherlock at John's wedding, he's reminding his brother of how Redbeard's death upset him so much and how being so close to John will hurt him in the end, too, because Sherlock has become emotional about John, just as he was about Redbeard the dog. Mycroft is right, too - Sherlock's association with John does end up hurting him, although Sherlock might think it's worth it. But if John died the effect on Sherlock would be as devastating as losing Redbeard clearly was. Mycroft, far from telling him he's stupid and that emotions are terrible, is reminding him just how much he hurts when he gets close to people, because they both know just how painful their own emotions can be. I actually think that both Holmes brothers feel on the same extraordinary level as they *think*. They've had to shut that down to a certain extent just to cope in the everyday world. And Mycroft's advice, in that context, might actually be rather wise.
Constance Sublette
17. Zorra
I'm hesitating to pronounce Sherlock has lost me as audience definitively until after watching the 3rd episode, as the three are to be considered as an arc, if I understand correctly.

Bad portent: watching The Vow I got up and did other things. This doesn't seem, so far, to be about anything, i.e. story-telling or character development, just a series of manufactured and self-congratulatory dramaration. Personal experience has shown that those who are forever going on about how very superior they are to everyone else due to their intelligence, are not very intelligent in the areas that matter. Just like those who are forever going on about other men not being manly and how rough and tough they are -- they aren't.
wakdjunkaga
18. Lektu
@nl: "Sherlock has remarkable difficulty reading social cues and understanding social norms. He has trouble empathizing and connecting with others, and struggles with small talk. He has very few friends and relatively little interest in socializing [...]"

That is not supported by his behavior. It's clear that he likes people to think that he has difficulty reading social cues, but 3x02 and 3x03 make perfectly clear that that's not the case. As for "trouble empathizing", the whole 3x03 is about him empathizing. Connecting with others, having few friends? No, he doesn't have any trouble with that at all (just count how many people is willing to leave everything to help him, starting from Lestrade in 3x01).

I think people doesn't realize that the big problem with Moffat's Sherlock character is that it could be argued that he's not an adaptation of Doyle's Sherlock, but of Dr. House (himself a Doyle's Sherlock rip-off).
Ursula L
19. Ursula
This season seems very much more of an arc than previous seasons.

In the first episode we have the setup. Sherlock has disappeared, John has moved on, and met and fallen in love with Mary.

In the second episode, we have a question and conflict set up.

On the one hand, there is what Mrs. Hudson has to say. That marriage changes everything. That the event of the marriage means that Sherlock will be shut out of John and Mary’s lives. That it is sad that someone would leave a wedding early. That there is something wrong with Sherlock for being the person he is – the person who chooses to dance in private rather than on a crowded dance floor, the person who leaves when he’s reached the limit of his social energy.

On the other hand, there is John, Mary and Sherlock all insisting that the marriage won’t change things. There is the fact that the major changes happened while Sherlock was in hiding, not at the point of the marriage ceremony. There is Sherlock’s observation that what is happening is that two people living together are going to attend church, throw a party, go on a short holiday, and continue living together – that the major lifestyle changes, in contemporary marriage, are not tied to the marriage ceremony.

Does marriage harm the relationships that one has other than with the person one is married to? Or does it help those relationships grow, by expanding the larger network of relationships?

Mrs. Hudson says that Sherlock will be harmed by John’s marriage. John, Mary and Sherlock say that their relationship as friends will not be harmed by the marriage.

This episode sets up a test – John and Mary both promise (before the ceremony) that Sherlock is welcome in their lives, and Sherlock promises to be loyal to both John and Mary, and to protect their relationship. (It reminds me of Eleven as patron of Amy and Rory’s relationship.)

Is Mrs. Hudson right? Is this marriage a crisis, where Sherlock is being shut out of John’s life by Mary’s presence? Or are John, Mary and Sherlock right, in that they will have a strong friendship of three, growing from John and Sherlock’s friendship as two?

That’s the question we’re left with at the end of the second episode of the season. And that’s the question that the third episode needs to answer, for the sake of the season’s arc. Who is right, Mrs. Hudson, or John, Mary and Sherlock?
wakdjunkaga
20. NL
@Lektu: There are times in which Sherlock may know but not care about the impact his words have on others, but this behavior has lessened gradually with each season - likely due to John's influence. The fact that he is making at least some effort to be considerate (such as not mentioning the more than coincidental resemblance Molly's new boyfriend has to Sherlock) and act "normal" (ex: his attempt at small talk in 3x02) actually makes his social awkwardness even more obvious in the third season. It's not that he is just rude or doesn't care (though that is sometimes the case) - it's that he genuinely doesn't get people or how to interact with them (as he admits to Mary in 3x01).

A very clear example of this is during his best man's speech: he truly does not understand why people are crying in response to the sentiment he has expressed; he looks slightly panicked and asks John if he did it wrong. Another example is when John brings up the topic of Sherlock being his best man - Sherlock interprets the question literally and completely misses the point. He also frequently demonstrates his lack of understanding in regard to social norms, and has trouble regulating his behavior to meet the expectations of those around him.

Sherlock is capable of caring very deeply, but being able to empathize is not the same thing as caring for or loving another person. Empathy implies the capacity to understand another person's emotional state from their perspective and feel as they feel. This does not come naturally to Sherlock. Even if he cares, he often fails to understand a situation from another person's point of view. (Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Sherlock's reunion with John in 3x01. He doesn't expect John to be angry, and even after realizing that he is, he doesn't really seem to fully understand John's perspective: "Okay, John, I'm suddenly realizing I probably owe you some sort of apology.")

And I guess this is a matter of opinion, but from my perspective at least, Sherlock does not have many friends. John appears to be his only close friend. Mary could probably be considered a friend as well, but that is more an extension of his friendship to John. Molly has become a friend, but I don't see them really spending time together without a specific purpose (i.e. work). Lestrade has perhaps been upgraded from acquaintance to friendly acquaintance. Aside from John and Mary, Sherlock's interactions with others have revolved pretty exclusively around work (with an occasional exception here and there). As John accurately pointed out in 3x02, people tend not to like Sherlock. Most people find him strange, unrelatable, and even a bit scary. Because of this, and because of his obsessive focus with his work, he simply does not make friends as easily as most people.
wakdjunkaga
21. Savannah L-Breakstone
I find it amusing that Moffat is so anti-fanfic when his job has become essentially professional fan fic scripting. Like. There's Moffat posts from the 90s on fan boards that are basically "yes, this should be true for Doctor Who!" and lo! now that he is the the Powers that Be those... are things in Doctor Who. And here we see that the same is true when it comes to SHerlock Holmes. Interesting.

Also am I the only one that is reading this as "Mycroft actually is a high functioning sociopath and Sherlock looked up to his brother enough at one point to internalize that as ideal?"
wakdjunkaga
22. Eck138
He’s repressed his emotions, his passions, his desires, in order to make his brain work better — in itself, a very emotional decision, and it does suggest that he must be very emotional if he thinks emotions get in the way.

So, he's basically Spock?
Jan Kafka
23. JanKafka
I think it's obvious Sherlock isn't a sociopath, and not just because that's not a recognized diagnosis in either the US or the UK, and not a separate diagnosis from psychopath in the US. It sort of irks me whenever it comes up in the script. (The overall cleverness, the performances, and the love for the original stories usually wins me right back.)
And Sherlock's not a human to diagnose anyway - he's a character where the writers can take a bit from Column A (Aspergers) and a bit from Column B (Eccentric Genius) as it suits their story - so arguing about what he is is completely moot.
As to the "Doing it wrong," part in the Best Man's speech - didn't he actually get it the wrong way around? I thought you started with funny stories and wound up with the moving personal testament.

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