(By Silver Adept, Practitioner of the Dark Library Arts)
[Added] The “Elementary” in the post title refers to a CBS television program of that name starring Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes, Lucy Liu as Joan Watson, Sherlock’s assistant and singer companion, and contains characters including NYPD Captain Tobias Gregson, Detective Marcus Bell, Alfredo, Sherlock’s sponsor in his 12-Step program, and Randy, who has Sherlock as his sponsor in this same program. This post has nothing to do with the BBC show Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. Apologies for any confusion. [/Added]
Sherlock is ostensibly working a twelve-step program to stay sober from his drug addictions of the past. The way the writers treat him, he can tell Marcus Bell and others that he is definitely an addict, the writers hint that some of the behaviors of an addict may not be under control (with the way he treated Detective Bell without apparent empathy during his recovery from being shot), but it’s not always clear, by what we see and hear from Sherlock, whether he thinks his program is effective, and whether we are supposed to believe his program is effective.
So, based on how the writers are writing Sherlock, I wanted to compare it to the listed steps of Narcotics Anonymous and see if Sherlock is working that program in a recognizable way. Given that addiction and recovery are unique to each addict and their circumstances, we can only guess by what we see about Sherlock and the steps. What goes on in his life off the camera is anyone’s guess. And what goes on in his mind that isn’t narrated aloud is also only speculation. With those limiting caveats in place, let’s look at the steps.
1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Season One and some of Two have shown us glimpses into what Sherlock was before becoming sober and having Joan, the sober companion, in his life. The apparent death of Irene Adler was a strong shock to Sherlock and started him on his path to sobriety. Before that, even as a detective, Sherlock would use, believing he was a lot more lucid than he actually was while on drugs.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This is where things get a little less… traditional. Sherlock clearly doesn’t believe in any conception of a deity as the people around him would define it, except perhaps to troll others, but I think he does believe in a power greater than himself. Reason, Logic, and Science are the things Sherlock always trusts, even when they lead him in strange-seeming directions. They anchor his insistence that he is and will remain sober.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
If we substitute Reason for God, Sherlock is still on track, as the consulting detective requires himself to be ruled by Reason and Science if he wants to solve cases. It takes Joan, however, to get Sherlock to start attending meetings, as Sherlock’s conception of God doesn’t include social components.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
*recordscratch* Here’s where things start to run off the rails. Captain Gregson, Joan, and Detective Bell regularly point out where Sherlock’s personality and his mehods result in physical consequences. There’s an entire Season Two episode devoted to Sherlock’s Protagonist Centered Morality soon after Detective Bell is shot, with a microcosm of that morality appearing in the episode – Sherlock has nothing but contempt for some police practices regarding warrants and searches, yet will not utilize his deduced knowledge that the prosecutor is an addict herself, because that would be unethical in his moral sense. Captain Gregson encourages this behavior in Season Two with an explicit declaration that he cares about results more than personality conflicts. When pushed, or when Holmes clearly crosses boundaries that can’t be handwaved, Gregson will rein Holmes in, but not before.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
And this is where things look like the train has jumped the rails and are headed for he nearby town. Sherlock may believe he has shortcomings, but those he will acknowledge he believes he can erase through the application of more reason, logic, knowledge, and science, no gods, capitalized or otherwise, necessary. If we take the tack that Reason is Sherlock’s Higher Power, it’s possible that Sherlock is working these steps exactly as he feels they should be worked – study, work, science, so that shortcomings will be removed. Although there’s very little of “humbly” involved in any of this. Season One Joan often acted as the working social compass to point out to Sherlock where his defects were and what he could do about them, but Season Two Joan seems to be slowly losing this ability and starting to see the world more as Sherlock does.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Sherlock does quite well here, although it can take significant prompting from Joan before Sherlock actually does anything about this. The storyline with Detective Bell’s injury shows Sherlock working these steps the most clearly so far – it takes a while for Sherlock to actually admit what he feels about Marcus and his injury, but once he becomes willing to make amends, he tries to do so directly. Being Sherlock, his attempts often don’t look very direct, and it takes Marcus a significant amount of time before he is willing to accept the amends. Forgiveness is a difficult and individual thing, and it would not be unrealistic if Marcus never fully accepted Sherlock’s attempts to make amends.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sherlock can admit when his theories of the crime, or his understanding of the motives, or his inquiries into the case have been wrong, but he does not admit his wrongs willingly or well when the are exposed. Joan, he says, is exceptional, and so he makes exceptional effort for her. For the rest of us, though, including the tribunal on his methods, there is no such admission. We are lesser beings, and so do not get the benefit of Sherlock admitting to mistakes.
11.We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Taking Reason as Sherlock’s Higher Power, he certainly has a line of work that improves his conscious contact, and would probably consider his uncovery of the truth of crimes to be both the knowledge of the will of Reason and the power to carry it out, a power which rests upon the privileges he has regarding wealth and free time, allowing him to choose which cases he works, And the liberties he takes regarding the proper procedure of the law and collection of evidence, which are backstopped by Captain Gregson willing to justify his means with his ends. Marcus Bell could not do what Sherlock does, nor could Joan Watson.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
And this is kind of a zigzag. As I think I’ve shown here, the “practice these principles in all our affairs” part isn’t necessarily being done by Sherlock, at least as we would probably understand it. Perhaps to Sherlock, he is doing these steps well. The “carry this message to addicts” part, on the other hand, seems to be working well for him. Of those he encounters, Sherlock usually makes a brief mention of the place he went for treatment (Season One) or a comment about being able to find meetings (Season Two).
The sponsorship episode should be a logical extension of the steps, a signifier that Sherlock has been working the steps well enough to understand them and help someone else stay sober. The way it actually plays out on screen, though, is to make it look like Alfredo is pushing Sherlock into sponsorship and trying to guilt him into doing it, while Sherlock, the only person who knows whether Sherlock is ready, is trying to tell Alfredo that he’s not prepared for this. It seems like a match made in hell, especially after the speech Sherlock gives about what kind of sponsor he is going to be.
Then, as of the end of “Dead Clade Walking”, we see how Sherlock is as a beginning sponsor. He’s starting to appear to understand the need for empathy in working with others, and leans heavily on Joan’s experience as a sober companion to try and provide a coherent way of being a sponsor to Randy. Sherlock still doesn’t want to be involved with Randy, in the terms of knowing things about his life that are unrelated to his sobriety, but he does show concern for Randy in a paternalistic way, and as a reflection on him (he’s aware of his vanity, but it doesn’t seem to change his approach). Sherlock is still choosing to express his empathetic responses though others, whether by taking to Joan or by suggesting going to meetings with Randy. While Sherlock continues to want to frame his relationship with Randy as strictly about his sobriety, the question that remains is whether Sherlock will be able to genuinely express his empathy to anyone not named Joan Watson.
Before opening up for comments, I want to mention again that addiction is a completely individual experience, and that we can only talk about the things that we explicitly see on the screen. The writers for the show for Season Two seem to be less interested in showing us the way the recovery and sobriety process are working for Sherlock and more interested in the mystery elements. In doing so, we think they’re missing out on a lot of things that made the first season interesting.