Sherlock: The Value of Human Life

Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly one of the most famous characters in literary history. His popularity continues to grow as modern storytellers adopt and reinvent his character in cinematic spinoffs like the Robert Downey Jr. films, CBS’s Elementary, and BBC’s Sherlock. The latter is arguably one of the greatest reinventions of the classic stories, as it brilliantly combines the characters from the original books with the technology of the modern world. The final episode of the most recent season (released in 2017), appropriately titled The Final Problem, was an intense, uncomfortably dark story that tested the series’ heroes more than any episode so far. In it, we are acquainted with Eurus Holmes, Sherlock’s insanely brilliant but sadistic sister. She has been, as we come to find out, the mastermind behind the evils that have plagued Sherlock Holmes, even dating back to his early childhood. She has had her hand on almost every heartbreak, every terrible, tortuous event that happens to Sherlock during the course of the series, and in this episode we get to see her work up close.

Eurus manages to lure Sherlock, his best friend John, and his brother Mycroft to the prison in which she has been held (or rather, as we discover, has come to control) for the majority of her life. For reasons not completely clear, she puts the trapped heroes through a series of sadistic games. Is it insanity? Yes. Hatred? Probably. Revenge? Maybe… but it’s also pretty clear she just enjoys it. She has finally encountered people who have a chance of standing up to her intellectually, but they are limited by morality, by love for each other, and by a regard for human life. Her goal is to exploit these so-called “weaknesses,” and to test the power it gives her over them.

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This episode of Sherlock explored, perhaps more than any other previous episode, the fundamental differences between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Never before have we seen so evidently two radically different types of characters and what it looks like when they clash. The fundamental root of their differences lie in one key area: the way in which they recognize the value of human life.

To Eurus, the value of human life is limited the use of men as tools, playthings even, to be manipulated and exploited. Her intellectual – almost godlike – capabilities give her the means to use, abuse, and control. And in her own universe, why should that change?

Sherlock and his companions, on the other hand, see human life in a completely different light. When faced with the gut-wrenching choice to shoot one man to save the life of another, neither John nor Mycroft can do it. And when Sherlock must choose which of his companions to murder to get to the next segment of Eurus’ “game,” he threatens, to his sister’s shock and dismay, to end his own life instead.

Why does Sherlock put such a high – and equal – value on individual human life, regardless of physical or cognitive ability? Doesn’t survival of the fittest dictate that the strongest and the most intellectually competent will and should survive at the expense of their weaker counterparts? Euros herself publicly claims this worldview when she declares the following:

There’s no such thing as bad. Good and bad are fairy tales. We have evolved to attach an emotional significance to what is nothing more than the survival strategy of the pack animal. We are conditioned to invest divinity in utility…’

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So what keeps Sherlock, one of the few people in the world with the intellectual capabilities to defeat his sister, balk at the thought of ending the life of someone else much weaker than him (even to the point of sacrificing his own life)? It’s a question I believe translates well to our own lives. While Sherlock finds himself in a fictional world, the reality of his worldview (that human life, regardless of its perceived usefulness, is sacred and of the utmost value) is highly relevant today. And it’s directly contradictory to the survival-of-the-fittest mentality that many claim to hold.

Why do humans demonstrate such a strong regard for human life, sometimes even at the expense of their own lives? I believe the answer is this: as humans created in the image of God, we are created with a subconscious understanding that human life has value. And, I would argue, the reason it has value is that God gives it value.

One of the earliest decrees given by God in Scripture can be found in Genesis 9:1-7. In it, the Creator gives humankind dominion over all other creation. He sets them apart, per say. He goes on to declare: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

From the beginning, God has chosen to give men value. And, as creatures all created by God, we have ingrained in our consciences an understanding, an instinct, that we don’t have the right or authority to take something of such incredible value as human life.

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The issue that arises, then, is that both Euros and Sherlock should have this value of human life ingrained in their consciences. So why do they demonstrate such radically different worldviews and actions? The answer appears to be this: both had the choice to to follow the moral framework provided by God since the foundation of the world—the moral framework that goes completely against a survival-of-the-fittest mentality and instead commands: “Love your neighbor.” Sherlock chose to adhere to that moral framework. Euros did not.

While Sherlock, a self-proclaimed atheist in this series, might not claim to believe in a higher power, his actions indicate that he subconsciously answers to one. He recognizes and adheres to a moral standard that places tremendous value on human life, and I doubt he could provide a solid explanation as to why that is. But I believe, as Christians, we can. Our value as humans is found in one thing—

a loving Creator who has provided a moral framework that gives human life immense worth for the glory of His name.

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Rebekah Martin is a college student who loves Jesus, movies, and dogs. She’s passionate about stories, and loves unpacking deep (often spiritual) themes in movies and television. You can read more of her work at watchingwithapurpose.weebly.com

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4 thoughts on “Sherlock: The Value of Human Life

      1. hamlettethedame

        Because it feels like it jumped the shark. Actually, the whole series jumped the shark for me when, instead of keeping Mary as a smart, witty, grounded, refreshingly REAL female character, they turned her into a teenage boy’s fantasy superheroine. Totally not needed, ruined the character for me, and I feel like the show as a whole has been stumbling ever since.

        And in this one is all just mind games and trying to mess with the audience’s heads over and over. I hate it when I can feel the writers behind a story while I’m experiencing it for the first time — eventually, a well-written book or movie or show will make me want to flip the whole thing sideways and peek in to see how it works. But the first time, I shouldn’t be able to feel the writers pulling strings and minipulating me. The story should work as a story, internally functioning with or without me there, and this episode didn’t work that way at all. It was more like a fancy little writing exercise than a good story.

        So I own the first three seasons and merrily re-watch all but the Milverton ep with some regularity. And I’ve grown fond of the Abominable Bride too, mostly. But the only ep in season 4 I liked at all was the Lying Detective because that one went back to what made me love the show in the first place — taking a canon case and updating it for the modern time and these new versions of the characters. If I see season 4 at the thrift store some day, I might pick it up just for that ep, but otherwise, nope, don’t have the spare money or the spare shelf space for something I only enjoy 1/3 of.

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        1. Charity Post author

          Fair enough.

          I feel the show became problematic when it cast the actor’s girlfriend in real life at Molly, and then it felt like the writers had to cater toward making her Relevant and Larger than Life. And then they killed her off, I presume because their relationship ended. (Never a good idea, casting a “couple,” for the very reason that most of them don’t stay couples. :P)

          But as for the series finale… I liked it, because it tore off their false faces, and exposed the truths these characters had been hinting at but in denial about, from the very start, especially about Mycroft. He has been, from the very first episode, going on endlessly about always doing the rational thing, even though his actions showed the exact opposite — in denial about how much his love for his brother (and, as it turns out, his entire family) influences all his decisions; bragging about how cold and ruthless he can be… and then along comes Sis and guess what, it’s all rubbish. He kept her alive for reasons of “Sentiment.” He can’t shoot someone to save his own life, so he’s not the lean, mean non-virtuous bad-ass he pretends to be. And the irrational thing to do is to volunteer to die, so Sherlock doesn’t have to kill John. That’s purely an emotional response. John isn’t the smart one, Mycroft is. If they want to get out of this alive, pure rationality says he and Sherlock must survive. But no, he’s willing to fall on his own sword.

          Sherlock comes to a crisis which shows us the different man he has become, through his friend’s influence — a man that, suddenly, cares about how Molly feels where he never did before; the episode shows his maturity and emotional growth, as a direct influence of his friendship with John and all that has come before him. So, I liked it for Emotional Dynamic reasons, even if it really was just a fanboy mashup of Hannibal Lecter and the “Saw” franchise.

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