Oh look! It’s Sherlock (“what’s this “personal space” you’re talking about?”) and John (“WHY THIS ISN’T EXTREMELY INTIMATE OR ANYTHING FOR GOD’S SAKE OMG WHAT AM I DOING WHAT SORT OF RELATIONSHIP IS THIS GOING TO BE OMG THAT’S A NIPPLE ISN’T IT YES YES IT IS OH GOD WHAT HAS MY LIFE BECOME WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME YES I LIKE HANGING OUT WITH YOU I LIKE IT A LOT BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN HERE’S YOUR DAMN PHONE YOU ASSHOLE NOW I’M HAVING AN IDENTITY CRISIS JESUS CHRIST”).
Really? Wow. Really!
A whole story, yes: well, there’s story for each of them in that scene, and at that point they’re in very very different places in their lives, and there’s no harmony between them, so they are divergent stories.
I’ll start with Sherlock, because that’s simpler.
Why does Sherlock even ask? I presume it was probably meant to show us that Sherlock has very different values around okay and not okay. He has no time or respect for conventions, particularly social ones. He doesn’t care about whether or not something he needs is deemed too intimate. If he wants something, he’ll just ask.
We have the unaired pilot line about “transport”, and I think this scene also underscores how little attention and care Sherlock affords his body. He doesn’t appear to sexualize himself in any way; I suspect, if his phone were in a pocket on his lap, he would still ask John to fish around in there without a thought. It’s a nice demonstration of Sherlock’s absence of any sense of boundaries, but also in how completely he’s embraced John as part of his process. John is like another set of his own hands. I think that’s affectionate on his part. In sum: Sherlock needs his phone. So his phone will be got. John can get it. That’s largely it.
John, however, is painfully aware of meaning and how prematurely and possibly inappropriately intimate Sherlock is with him, and he’s clearly conflicted about it. (In series one, at least.) On one hand, yeah, he doesn’t want to be pushed around, but I don’t think that’s the issue here. John agrees that the work comes first. He is in awe of Sherlock’s abilities, and very much values what it is Sherlock does, so he sees that he can be helpful and wants to be. He wants to help and protect Sherlock, and that’s what he does.
What I find uniquely wonderful about John as a character and Martin Freeman’s performance as him is that it looks to me like there’s always a battle going on in him about what’s going on between them and how close he really should get. And it’s like you can almost see him thinking, well, that would be crossing a line, but…oh well. Fuck it. Here we go. So while Sherlock asks for things pretty much on the nose (he wants to spend the night in some woman’s bedroom with John, then he’ll just say so), and it’s John who parses out all the multiple meanings of things and decides how far he wants to go. This scene is one of those early moments. He could have said no. But he doesn’t. He says: okay. Yes. I will reach into your inner pocket and fish out your phone. I think he’s uncomfortable with this level of intimacy at this point, but he definitely doesn’t reject it.
You can see at least the majority of the resolution of John’s conflict in series 2. He no longer agonizes about how intimate things get with Sherlock. And we know they get pretty damn intimate. They share a room in Hounds, and while John is a bit (a tiny bit) uncomfortable talking about it, he’s clearly not uncomfortable with the facts on the ground. In Scandal, this is the man who leans over, peers at Sherlock’s crotch, and asks him if he’s wearing pants. They share a level of intimacy that probably took John a while to get comfortable with. But he is so incredibly happy in series 2. Happy and largely at peace with the awkwardness of it all. Because it isn’t awkward for them, and that’s all that actually matters.
I like to think, through the whole of series 2, that John is constantly gauging whether or not he’s about to be in an actual relationship with Sherlock, and what that would even mean. I’m a slasher so of course I would say that, but look: John’s last girlfriend is basically a female version of Sherlock (angular face, taller than him, dark hair, etc). But he ignores even her. That’s how it is with John: no one can compete with Sherlock for John’s attention, because Sherlock will always get it. You have to feel some sympathy for him: Sherlock completes him the way no one else ever will. What are you supposed to do with that? It’s complicated.
(And I am a slasher, so I’ll just say it: I’m pretty convinced, given this progression of intimacy and John’s constant battle to adjust to it and not reject it, that if Sherlock crawled into his lap one afternoon and started making out with him, he would probably just go with it. In the first series I thought it was Sherlock who had fallen for John, but series 2 for me is all about John throwing in the towel and just saying, yeah, you know, whatever makes us happy. Life is fucking short.)
There’s that beautiful moment in Reichenbach where Sherlock asks why John cares what people say, and we all know the answer. And John knows the answer, obviously, and he looks uncomfortable being asked so plainly. I love that part of John’s character, how he’s always gauging things, always trying to stay standing on this particular balance beam. And I don’t know that he’s completely sure about where he’s going to end up. But he’s okay with that. He ducks and weaves. He rearranges the universe to make it all make sense.
He’s not a doormat. He’s very, very brave. He’s rewriting the rules of this friendship every ten minutes. The warzone isn’t just the streets of London: it’s Sherlock. The incoming projectiles really never stop.
[This ask in reblobbable form, as requested by serissime, good idea.]