This is a meta both on the third season of Sherlock and the fic I have in progress, Truth May Vary. It contains spoilers through the current chapter (chapter 14) but none past that; it also contains spoilers for series 3 of Sherlock.




I started writing Truth May Vary well before series 3 began to air--and I had it fully plotted before it had an announced airdate. I had figured out that Mary Morstan was going to be in the new series, but I decided I wasn't going to try to predict what she'd be like. Instead, I wrote a Mary Morstan--in my version, Maryam Murstani--of my own.

The figure of Mary Morstan can pose a problem for those who ship John and Sherlock, as do canon female love interests in lots of canons; she comes between the characters we want to see together, and we have to choose how to approach her, how we might get our ship together with her in the picture.  But the bigger issue, for me, is how many fans go about this: by attacking these women, belittling them in fic, and turning them into caricatures. I didn't want to do that, because it's a symptom of a whole bunch of bad trends in media and society, and often leads to misogynistic behavior and speech. At the same time, I did want to write a post-Reichenbach fic where John and Sherlock got together, which included Mary and John's relationship ending.  My goal in writing TMV was, at least in part, to make Mary a sympathetic, well-rounded character who has her own motives and goals, and to portray her as a protagonist in her own right.

What I find particularly interesting, in comparing my Maryam to the Mary of BBC-verse canon, is the ways that they parallel each other, despite being different people in different stories.  In fact, I think they illuminate two very important things: first, that Mary/Maryam serves as a reflection of Sherlock in both texts, and second, that the difference between the two Marys demonstrates the difference between Moffat and Gatiss's John and mine.

To lay this out, let me first talk about Mary as she appears in series three. I think that Mary serves as a reflection of Sherlock from the beginning.  It starts in TEH, with Mrs Hudson talks about John "moving on" to a new partner, with Mary and John bantering in a way reminiscent of Sherlock and John bantering, and with Mary and Sherlock joining forces to save John from the bonfire.  It gets cranked up to eleven in TSOT, where John and Mary both explicitly equate John's relationship with her to his relationship with Sherlock--Mary saying "Neither of us were the first," John saying there are two people who have completely turned his life around, the posing of the three of them in photos, even Sherlock's ridiculous, adorable parallel wedding vows.

And then there's HLV.  Now, there are lots of places I could go here, but let me talk about two. First, Magnussen: both Mary and Sherlock are horrified by what he does, and want to stop him. Mary is willing to shoot him to do this, but it's Sherlock who takes the shot at Appledore.  The second is the terrible, horrible, brilliant scene at 221b after the empty house, where Sherlock explains to John that Mary is dangerous because John wants danger, and that Mary's danger explicitly parallels Sherlock's.  It's what you like, Sherlock says, and both Mary and Sherlock have what John likes.

The tragedy of series three (for me at least) is that John has these two people, frighteningly similar in some ways but very individual, who both adore him, would do anything for him, and who he loves in return...and he acts as if he can only ever have one of them at a time. He steps away from Mary to help Sherlock announce his return; he steps away from Sherlock to dance with Mary at the wedding ("there are limits," he says, and we watch Sherlock's broken heart bleed down his chest); he doesn't talk to Sherlock for a month after his wedding; he takes Sherlock's hand to say goodbye on the tarmac and to start his life with Mary.  John thinks he can't have them both, and so Sherlock loses him, and I collapse in a puddle and weep for a week.

So, how are Maryam and Sherlock parallel in Truth May Vary? It's less clear than in canon, but what is similar about them first is that both of them provided a structure for John's life.  Whereas in BBC canon, Mary provides emotional stability for John after Sherlock's death, while he figures out his life, in TMV, Mary presents him with an alternative life full stop: a new partner, a child, something to organize his life.  Just as becoming Sherlock's blogger gave John's life meaning after the war, becoming Maryam's husband and Naz's father gave him purpose after Sherlock's death.

But here's the second parallel: if the reason John likes both Mary and Sherlock is that they're dangerous, the reason he likes both Maryam and Sherlock is that they're brilliant.  Mary is a fantastically successful person: she's a high ranking public servant (chapter 2), has written and edited books in her field (chapter 12), is able to place her writing in major public forums (chapter 1), is regularly invited to meetings across the UK and abroad to speak on her work (chapter 13, inter alia).  Her career was her priority in her twenties and thirties, and becoming a mother didn't stop her from being highly career driven.  Maryam is a brilliant woman, and doesn't try to obscure it at all.

And John positions himself as her--well, her assistant.  Not at her job--she has minions for that sort of thing--but at home.  John takes on primary childcare duties. He builds a career with flexible hours to facilitate that. He does the necessary housework that someone working a sixty hour week couldn't get to.  He's the underemployed spouse of a highly successful professional, the support team behind the star.

And this is exactly what he was to Sherlock all those years: backup, cleanup, picking up the pieces.  Sherlock didn't need someone to change the sheets or pick up the kid from school, but he needed someone to answer clients' email and be prepared to shoot when necessary.  John Watson likes being surrounded by genius; he likes being instrumental to the work of brilliance.  As a conductor of light, he is superb, and both Sherlock and Maryam benefit from that.

This suggests that my John, the John of TMV, is different from the John of canon.  He can give up danger; he liked it, but he's older now, and settled. What he can't give up is feeling an integral part of something; he needs to be part of something bigger, something he can devote himself to. It can be being a British soldier Sherlock's blogger, or Maryam's husband, just as long as it's worthwhile, as long as he's important to it.

And the tragedy of TMV is not that John makes himself choose between Sherlock and Maryam, rather than accepting his role with both of them. It's that he can't actually have them both. While Mary and Sherlock in canon appear to be willing to share John, to be equal partners in his life (and each other's), Maryam isn't ok with that.  She needs John to pick who his primary partner is, and she's not going to let him try to make it be both of them.  John tries, so hard, for so long, to balance them, to care for them both without actively neglecting either--but Maryam isn't willing to settle for that.  And that's her right; it's fair of her, to expect to be her spouse's primary partner, to not expect this other person to insert himself. The Mary of canon doesn't mind.  Maryam does.

So, Mary and Maryam are different women, making different choices, reflecting different sides of Sherlock and attracting different facets of John.  These are all writerly choices that one makes, and the Moffatt/Gatiss choice is as plausible as mine.  But the only criticism I would make toward them, if we were having a conversation about it, is that my characterization choices are actually compatible with being a parent, whereas theirs are not, not in real life.  How they will resolve this is a mystery to me.

How John, Sherlock, and Maryam will resolve their differences, luckily, is not.

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