[Analysis] - Who Is Mary Morstan

Courtesy of the BBC
Back in March, Benedict Cumberbatch seemed to confirmed a fourth series of Sherlock had been confirmed, saying "All I know at the moment is that I'm doing these three and another three." This was officially confirmed yesterday by producer Sue Vertue and Steven Moffat, who stated, “Rather excitingly, Mark and I, for no particular reason, we just got out of the rain and sat at the top of the production bus ... and we just started plotting out what we could do in the future... And we plotted out the whole of series four and five. The ideas we had that day, I thought were the best we’ve ever had."

The future of the series, which the BBC is no doubt desperate to keep around considering it's level of success on both sides of the pond, is dependent entirely on the availability of stars Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, who bolstered by the success of the series, have become two of the most active actors working (Freeman will shortly appear in the FX minseries adaptation of Fargo). They both seem to enjoy their roles on Sherlock, and seem open to continuing the series, when they can.

In universe, what is less certain is the future of the new Mrs. Watson, Mary Morstan, played by Martin Freeman's real life partner Amanda Abbington. Introduced only two episodes ago, she suddenly seems as integral to the series as either of the two leads, or at least as necessary as Lestrade or Mrs. Hudson. So, as we move forward to the series 3 finale this Sunday, I look at what we know of her thus far, and what Conan Doyle's stories might tell us about where Moffat and Gatiss plan on doing with her. And I might float some crackpot theories of my own, in anticipation of having them well and truly debunked come Sunday evening.

Hit the jump for the analysis, which contains spoilers for Sherlock Series 3 (Americans beware), and for the century old stories on which it is based.

Who is Mary Morstan? The literary version was a client of Holmes and Watson, the precipitator of the second Holmes novel, The Sign of Four. Here, she's a governess seeking Homes help in the mysterious disappearance of her father years earlier. Over the course of the adventure, Watson falls in love her, and in appropriate Victorian fashion, by the end of the novel they have become engaged. Morstan is referred to in several of the short stories that followed and were later collected in The Adventures and The Memoirs, but these appearances were usually little more than the Watson's having a quite night in when Holmes comes calling, and Mary gives her husband leave to go have an adventure.

Upon Doyle's return to Baker Street in 1903 with The Adventure of the Empty House, Mary is absent, which freed Doyle from the creatively suffocating need to get John out of the house at the start of every tale, and move him back into Baker Street. Mary is not referenced by name, and is in fact given only a single sentence departure: "In some manner he had learned of my own sad bereavement." This statement is never elaborated on by Doyle, and Watson apparently remarries before his and Holmes' association ends, though this new wife is never described or named.

The televised version of Mary has had far better characterisation, but remains far more of a mystery. An orphan, Mary met John at some point during the two year gap during which Sherlock faked his death, and works now as the receptionist at his practice (whether she was first his receptionist then his girlfriend, or vice versa has not been revealed). John certainly intimates that, despite their short courtship (in a modern context), she was instrumental in helping him overcome his grief from loosing Sherlock. On Mary's part, she has proven to be a resolute supporter of John, putting up with his moustache, being a fan of his writing, and actively encouraging his crime-fighting hobby.

Personality wise, she has proven to be exceptionally clever. She easily decoded the message that lead to John's near immolation. In the planning stages of her wedding, she was shown to easily manipulate both John and Sherlock into doing what she wanted. She, somewhat uniquely, is able to identify when Sherlock is lying. She's also shown to be emotionally intuitive, being able to make leaps based on human reaction with as much accuracy as Sherlock makes his deductions. In the classical Id/Ego/Super-ego divisions, she's the Id (to Sherlock's ego and John's Super-ego): the emotional strengths and desires that drive human interaction. Importantly, what she's hasn't proven to be at all is empathetic. She is manipulative, directing others to share the emotions she's experiencing rather than letting others effect her. Possibly a defence mechanism developed in her youth as an orphan. It might also be a clue as to her and John's short courtship, if she manipulated John into sharing the emotions she was having about him. If she was intent on becoming as much and as important a part of his life as possible in as short a time as possible, it seems like that would be something she'd be capable of doing.

It is easy to assume that, considering the vague but ultimate fate of her literary component, that Sherlock's Mary is in some way doomed. Whether in this series or the next, and through death or other permanent separation, it seems unlikely that Watson's happiness will last any great length. The manner of Mary's fate remains in question. Though considering that the finale episode takes it's title from his dialogue, we can assume that Sherlock's Last Vow will come into play: “Mary and John, whatever it takes, whatever happens, from now on I swear I will always be there, always, for all three of you.”

The Sign of Three was strangely lacking any reference to series 3 Big Bad Charles Augustus Magnussen, unless the internet theory is correct, and the telegraph Sherlock read from Cam, expressing regret that her family couldn't be there, was in fact from Magnussen, using his initials. Which, if correct, would suggest a connection between Morstan and Magnussen. Her immediate and distraught reaction might have been to the memory of her long lost family, or might have been an indication of something more sinister, something His Last Vow will undoubtedly illuminate. However, we might be able to glean some idea of the direction of the episode, and Mary's fate from the canon of Doyle.

The episode takes it's titular inspiration from the last chronological Holmes story, His Last Bow. Set in the build up to World War One, the story sees Holmes operating at the behest of the British Government, helping to dismantle a German spy network, and feeding the enemy with false information. While we've seen the modern Sherlock get involved with spies work, and be in the government employ in the past, it is likely that these events will inspire the episode far less than an earlier story, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. It is from this story that the character of Magnussen has been drawn. Milverton was a sinister blackmailer, who refuses to acquiesce to a request from Holmes. In response, Holmes and Watson  break into Milverton's home with the intention of destroying the materials he is using to blackmail Holmes' client. While there, they witness Milverton being murdered by an unknown woman. The pair's escape unwittingly makes them suspects in the murder, and Holmes must use his talents to dissuade Lestrade from investigating their involvement.

From this, I will make the following predictions concerning the finale. This prediction will use, but is not dependent upon, the assumption that Mary is in some way in league with  Magnussen. In that regard, I suspect Mary to have been a mole planted by Magnussen to get close to Watson, under the assumption that Sherlock Holmes was still alive, and that if anyone in the world knew it would be his best friend (and considering that his brother was completely inaccessible). Magnussen, as a keeper of damning knowledge, would certainly be interested in the fate of the one man capable of undoing his work. Mary, despite herself (or perhaps, because of the pregnancy), will betray Magnussen in favour of her husband. Thus, the dependency of Mary's involvement with Magnussen ends.

In any case, Magnussen will become a threat to Sherlock and John, and Mary's familiar bliss. Taking matters into her own hands, Mary will kill Magnussen, and require Holmes' skills to cover up the crime, or at least her involvement in it. The act itself, or the revelations of the former theory, will cause a rift between her and John. Perhaps the spiral of lies required to keep Lestrade off of Mary's trail will collapse, and for her (and the child's) continued safety, she will be spirited away by Mycroft or Sherlock's own agents to places unknown. We already know that Sherlock can fake a death (his own, Irene Adler's). And Watson will suffer a loss as great and as real as if Mary and the child actually died. The child is important, as it has no basis in the literary canon. It's existence is a complete creation of Moffat and Gatiss, and it's fate is completely up them as well.

Whatever Mary's fate, whatever her intentions, and however this series ends, what must be celebrated is the resounding success of the character. As I have mentioned before, Gatiss and Moffat have introduced a character, and in only two episodes has fit in as naturally as if she'd been there fro the beginning. the memory betrays you as you watch the completely organic ingratiation of the character in to the story; you'd almost think she had been there from the start. If she goes, it'll be sad to see her leave. But her time on Baker Street has been the best demonstration of the strengths of this remarkable series.

Now, let's see how wrong I got it, shall we?
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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