Mr. Holmes and Other Cold-Hearted Heroes

The Many Friends of Sherlock Holmes

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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I've noticed a trend recently in fictional characters who are brilliant, but emotionally cold. They are usually detectives of some sort. Very good at solving the case, but unaware (or uncaring) of how their words and actions affect others. The archetype has said "The game is on," and that's how human suffering is seen — as a game.
Oh, enjoying the thrill of the chase is fine, and creating the distraction of the game I sympathize entirely but SENTIMENT...sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.
- Sherlock in Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock is one of the modern culprits. Although there are other Sherlocks to choose from, Elementary's Jonny Lee Miller is too personally broken to qualify, and the Sherlock Holmes movie's Robert Downey Jr. is too needy. Although, really, Sherlock has always been needy. Starting in the books, although he lives for the "game," the game is incomplete unless he has Watson or Lestrade to pat him on the head and tell him he's clever. Still, the game is the thing, even if the playing field is Watson's wedding (Sherlock's "The Sign of Three") or his honeymoon (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows).
Sherlock: Look at them. They all care so much. Do you ever wonder if there's something wrong with us?
Mycroft: All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.
- Sherlock
Last year saw the addition of another example in Scorpion's Walter O'Brien. A genius (who's more than willing to tell you about it), he has taken it upon himself to collect and protect other geniuses who have been wounded by a world that doesn't understand the "mentally enabled." While he cares for his team, Walter's social skills are so lacking he makes Sherlock look cuddly. In the pilot, he hires a naturally empathetic waitress — in part because she has a genius son Walter would like to mentor, but also because Walter realizes he needs someone on his team who can keep him from insulting clients. Not that he cares about the clients' feelings, but because it's bad for business.
I imagine John Watson thinks love's a mystery to me, but the chemistry is incredibly simple and very destructive.
- Sherlock in Sherlock
The latest addition is Kirsten from Stitchers. The reason given for her icy personality is that she has no ability to track time (and possibly a head injury from an accident when she was a child). She can't tell if an event occurred five seconds ago or ten years ago. Her detachment from others makes her almost impossible to insult, which is an interesting twist.
Oh, do your research. I'm not a hero, I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Merry Christmas!
- Sherlock in Sherlock
This is just a sampling. I've started reading Estelle Ryan's Connections series about an art analyst who is on the Autism spectrum, and I suspect Dr. Temperance Brennan from Bones would qualify, although I've never watched the show. Then there's Patrick Jane from The Mentalist, who didn't care about other victims if they couldn't help him solve the murder of his wife and child. And, of course, a plethora of action heroes, up to and including half the cast of Person of Interest.
...What is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring!
- Sherlock in Sherlock
I've been trying to figure out why such characters are so popular. There's something sadly appealing about being clever and right and relatively untouched by the pain relationships can bring. Most of the characters mentioned do have friends they care for, and they would be upset if their friends were harmed. But either because of being neuro-nontypical or because of hubris, they don't tend to get their feelings hurt. And their dedication to the truth — to the game — outweighs any responsibility they feel for emotionally harming others. Their goal is to be right with little consideration for how it affects their victim.

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Published 8-1115