Essential Empathy

Sherlock Series 1 Finale

Sherlock Series 1 Finale

Sat with hubbie watching Sherlock this evening, for only the second time (the finale to series 1 it seems and yes, I know; we’re always behind the times!), and I’m not enjoying it as much as the first episode I watched (which I think was series 3).

In this episode, Sherlock is tracking down someone who has set him puzzles to solve in a set time or he will blow up random strangers strapped to explosives. (Sorry, loglines have never been my forte!)

Sherlock has no empathy for the lives of the strangers, barely even registering them as people. It is difficult to watch. He explains to Watson that sympathising with the suffering of the victims wouldn’t help him solve the cases. I find his lack of emotion disturbing and, for me, it makes his character hard to relate to. The clever language and problem solving still make it compelling viewing, but empathy is essential to me. It’s interesting that, under ‘strengths’ in my character crib sheets, my female protagonists generally list empathy first.

Sherlock reminds me of Psych, another problem-solving drama, where the lead has exceptional powers of observation (which he explains away as being due to psychic powers). Psych, however, is much more lighthearted and the lead character, for all his occasional idiocy, has a big heart.

My latest read

My latest read

Maybe I am noticing it more because I have started reading The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. The story is written from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. It offers a unique insight into the mind of someone who understands “very little about human beings.”

Thinking about the characters in books and films that I love the most, they are all people with huge hearts (often despite hard exteriors): Gibbs in NCIS, for example, or Daniel in SG-1. People who understand people and not just so they can manipulate them.

Maybe Sherlock has a journey to go on. Perhaps I liked the series 3 episode better because he showed some heart. Certainly the hardest thing in fiction is portraying growth in a character and still being able to make them sympathetic characters before they start on their journey. Many a chick lit book has started with a protagonist I wanted to slap.

It’s a great excuse to keep watching Sherlock: to see if he grows, to see if he finds some empathy. To learn to write better fiction. And of course because you can’t beat clever TV.

2 thoughts on “Essential Empathy

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