Is it any wonder I wanted in on the fun? But what new perspective could I offer? As an author and editor, my area of expertise is story structure and character development. I’ve seen a few metas that touch on dramatic story structure, such as The Long Game series by Salsify. So let’s build on that. Salsify and others reference the Five Act story structure used for ages in drama. However, that classical structure has evolved even further into one used by many modern novelists and screenwriters–and it reveals both character journeys as well as general plot.
To test this, I’m going to walk you through the story structure that films and many novels use, across genres. Then we’ll see if that structure has been used for individual episodes of Sherlock. Finally, we’ll look at what implications that structure could have for the show’s story arc as a whole.*
(*This is all predicated on there being a Series 4 and Series 5, at least. If something falls through on that front, all bets are off.)
Even if my predictions about the future of the show are eventually proven wrong, the following info on story structure should be very useful to any fiction writers: fan fiction writers, novelists, screenwriters. It’s also useful for fiction editors. And it will be fun for fans—of any fandom—because you’ll recognize these patterns over and over in movies, novels, and certain types of TV dramas like Sherlock.
This post is pretty long, so I’ve broken it into pieces instead of putting it in separate posts. Just click on the titles below, and that section will drop down and become visible. I’ve also included a glossary of acronyms and fan terminology together for anyone reading this who isn’t familiar with the lingo.
I’d love to know what you think, so feel free to leave comments below. Or catch me on my Facebook page or Twitter.
Sherlock Fandom Glossary
I’ll be using some common abbreviations and fan lingo during this meta, so if you’re not familiar with the fandom, scan through the list below:
Series vs. Seasons
Sherlock is a British TV show, and in the UK, each group of episodes that air during a certain time period is called a “series.” (Series 1, Series 2, etc.) In the US, that group is called a “season.” (Season 1, Season 2, etc.)
Life gets further complicated because in the US, a “series” refers to the entire run of a show. (The Big Bang TV series, Once Upon a Time series, etc.)
So even though I’m a US writer, I’m using the UK terminology of “series” to refer to one group of episodes aired during a certain time period. If I’m referring to the entire show, I’ll call it “the show.”
Episode Title Acronyms:
These are the commonly used acronyms to refer to each episode title. Because there are only 3 episodes per series, most fans use the actual titles instead of series/episode numbers: “A Study In Pink” not 1×01. I only use series/episode numbers for series 4 and 5 since we don’t know titles at this point.
- Episode 1: A Study In Pink: ASiP
- Episode 2: The Blind Banker: TBB
- Episode 3: The Great Game: TGG
- Episode 1: A Scandal in Belgravia: ASiB
- Episode 2: The Hound of Baskerville: THOB
- Episode 3: The Reichenbach Fall: TRF
- Episode 1: The Empty Hearse: TEH
- Episode 2: The Sign of Three: TSOT
- Episode 3: His Last Vow: HLV
Relationships and Names
In many fandoms, fans are understandably entranced by the various relationships, especially romantic ones, between the various characters. These have come to be called “ships” (as in, short for “relationSHIP”). If you are hoping a certain relationship happens, then you are a “shipper” because you “ship” those two characters (i.e. you hope they get together.
Many fans have created portmanteaus (combinations of two words into one word) to represent those various “ships.” I only use one “shipper name” in this meta:
Johnlock: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, usually meant in a romantic context
But there are others as well. See Bio’s Intro to the Sherlock Fandom for more details about Sherlock ships and other elements of the fandom.
I use one other name portmanteau common in the fandom, but it’s not in reference to a romantic character relationship:
Moftiss: Show runners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. These two are responsible for the show’s existence and direction. Their last names get squashed together because laziness.
ParentLock: John and Sherlock caring for a child
BAMF: Bad-ass Mother F***er (Usually referring to John in “Captain John Watson” take-charge mode–Sherlock loves Captain mode, and so do the fans.)
The Hero Has Two Journeys: Our Story Structure Model
In order to analyze Sherlock‘s story structure, we first have to know what story structure model we’re using.
My absolute favorite model of story structure is the one taught by Michael Hague. For any of you writing fanfic or other fiction, you really should get his DVD The Hero’s Two Journeys, or attend one of his seminars. It will transform your writing. I’ve attended his seminar twice, and I use his story structure model for my own books as well as with my editing clients.
Hague is particularly relevant for our purposes here because he analyzes story from the perspective of film. Here’s a bit from his bio:
MICHAEL HAUGE is a story and script consultant, author and lecturer who works with writers and filmmakers on their screenplays, novels, movies and television projects. He has coached writers, producers, stars and directors on projects for Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Kirsten Dunst, Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman, as well as for every major studio and network.
He has analyzed countless films to arrive at a model that fits practically any commercial or Hollywood type film. It applies to novels as well, but he originally aimed his instruction at prospective screenwriters. Screenwriting is a much stricter discipline than novel writing. Structure is everything. As Hague shows us, that structure is nearly universal for all films, regardless of genre. Why? Because it’s what works. It’s what we (the audience) like.
His model is pretty much a streamlined version of Joseph Campbell’s theory of the Hero’s Journey, which is evident even from the title of his DVD. The Hero’s Journey is based on a study of mythology and Carl Jung’s theories about mythic archetypes and how they reflect elements in the human psyche. You can read more about all that here, but the most important thing to understand about the mythic journey structure for stories is that it tends to be timeless and universal because it resonates strongly on a subconscious level, making it extremely satisfying for the audience.
In any mythic journey structure, the hero has “stages” he or she must pass through. (Since we’re talking about Sherlock here, and he identifies as male, I’m going to use male pronouns from here on out, but obviously this structure works with a hero of any gender.) These stages move the hero from his everyday, status quo life through a series of escalating challenges and conflicts, to a point of symbolic (or even literal) death, and then on to the ultimate battle and finally triumph (or defeat) and a new level of existence.
As Michael Hague points out, there is always an external goal in all this—whether it’s to win something, to stop something bad from happening, to escape, to deliver, or to retrieve. The Story Goal is what drives the external plot. It’s where all the external conflict stems from, and it leads to the Climax of the story. So basically, you can’t have a story without a Story Goal. It’s just that important.
But Hague also explains that there is always an inner journey as well. And that inner journey is equally important if you want the story to resonate emotionally with the audience. The events of the story must transform the hero in some fundamental way. In fact, he goes so far as to say that it’s when the hero fails to transform that the story becomes a tragedy, because inner transformation is what makes reaching the external goal possible.
With this background, let’s take a look at Michael Hague’s story structure model. Because he does such a fabulous job at teaching this stuff, and because he has put so much time and effort into developing his model, I’m not going to go into huge detail explaining it. I’d much rather urge you to go get his DVD if you want to learn more because it’s totally worth it and he deserves our support of his work.
But briefly, here are his six stages and five turning points that are present in practically every film and almost every commercial novel, along with the percentage marks of where they hit in a story, especially in film where structure is very strict:
Stage 1: Setup (first 10%):
The hero is shown in his everyday world before he is plunged into the extraordinary events of the story.
In regards to his inner journey, at the beginning of the story, the hero has what Hague calls an “Identity”—it’s the persona he shows to the outside world. It’s emotional armor meant to protect the hero from the pain of the hero’s own wounds and fears.
At the start of the story, the hero is completely wrapped in this identity. The inner journey of this character is to change from that persona to the person he has the potential to be if he lets go of his fears and his emotional armor. Hague calls that potential the “Essence” of the character—who he truly is or could be if he lets himself.
Turning Point 1: Opportunity (around 10% mark):
Something happens to the hero that has never happened before, and it gets the story going. It creates in the hero a desire to move to a new situation. It’s important to note that this desire is not the Story Goal. Not yet.
Stage 2: New Situation (10-25%):
Now the hero is getting acclimated to this new situation. It often involves the hero literally changing physical location. He may meet new people, he may be pursuing that desire, or mini-goal, that prompted the change to begin with. But the main goal and conflicts haven’t shown up yet.
For the inner journey, it’s somewhere in this stage that the hero gets a glimpse of what he could become if he allows himself to transform. He’s not ready to do it yet, but the universe is nudging him in that direction.
Turning Point 2: Change of Plans (25%):
About a quarter of the way into the story, something happens that makes the hero change course and start pursuing the actual Story Goal.
Stage 3: Progress (25-50%):
Once the hero has decided on the Story Goal, he’s going to make a plan to reach that goal. This stage is the hero implementing the plan and going after the goal. He seems to be making progress. There is conflict introduced, but mostly it can be avoided or overcome. He appears to be moving forward.
For the inner journey, the hero cannot pursue the Story Goal until he moves into his essence. That’s terrifying because it leaves him exposed and vulnerable, so he retreats to his identity. During this stage, the hero vacillates between the two, likely unconsciously.
Turning Point 3: Point of No Return (50%):
At the half-way mark, the hero makes some bigger commitment or some out loud declaration that this is what he wants. This can also be an action that he takes that shows a greater commitment. This declaration or action will eliminate the possibility of returning to the life the hero was living before.
This is a key moment for the inner journey as well because in order to make this commitment, the hero must abandon that identity and embrace the essence of who he really is.
Stage 4: Complications and Higher Stakes (50-75%):
Almost immediately after the Point of No Return, the outside world comes crashing back in, bigger and badder than ever. The hero’s commitment is tested and pushed to the limit. The stakes are raised, the pressure escalates. It becomes much harder now for the hero to reach the goal.
The inner journey is similarly tested here. The hero’s commitment to living in his essence is pushed to the breaking point. His fears grow stronger.
Turning Point 4: Major Setback (75%):
About 3/4 of the way through the story, something happens to make it seem like all is lost. Now there is no possible way for the hero to achieve the goal. It’s so big and so defeating that triumph seems impossible.
For the inner journey, the hero breaks and retreats to his identity (that emotional armor persona) one last time.
Stage 5: Final Push (75% to Climax):
This is the hero’s last ditch attempt to achieve the goal or die trying. Everything is put on the line, no holding back. The conflict and the stakes are cranked up practically as high as they can go.
In the inner journey, the hero has chosen once again to embrace his essence or fight his way back to it, because he has realized that the identity no longer works for him. Remember, he can’t achieve the goal without being in his essence.
Turning Point 5: Climax (anywhere between 90-99%):
This is the event that finally resolves the main conflict. It’s the final battle. The hero doesn’t have to succeed—sometimes there is a tragic ending. But regardless, there is resolution.
After the hero has achieved goal, we need to see the new life the hero will live after completing the journey. Often the hero is back where he started, but he is transformed.
The inner journey is complete now, and the audience gets to see the hero rewarded for choosing to live in his essence.
This structure works for everything from adventure or fantasy to romance or coming of age stories. Hague estimates that as much as 95% of Hollywood movies follow this structure.
Sherlock and The Hero’s Two Journeys: ASiP
So does Sherlock use this structure? Let’s find out by applying the model to “A Study In Pink.” And oh, as if it’s necessary to point out, there will be spoilers.
Sherlock is filmed very cinematically. I heard one screenwriter refer to shows like Sherlock as “destination TV”—meaning people sit down and watch the show like they would a movie. Moftiss themselves have indicated that one of the things they like about shooting three 90-min episodes per series is that it’s like shooting three movies. I’ve read brilliant metas discussing the cinematography, lighting, and music choices that are made for this show, and it seems they are on par with any full-length feature film.
So we should be able to analyze the structure of a Sherlock episode based on film story structure, right?
Let’s take a look.
If we follow Hague’s model, we should get the following framework for most episodes (I’m using a base of 90 minutes per episode, even though most of the episodes are slightly shorter):
- Setup (first 10%): 0-9 minutes
- Opportunity (10%): minute 9-10
- New Situation (10-25%): 10-22 minutes
- Change of Plans (25%): minute 22-23
- Progress (25-50%): 23-45 minutes
- Point of No Return (50%): minute 45
- Complications and Higher Stakes (50-75%): 45-67 minutes
- Major Setback (75%): minute 67-68
- Final Push (75% to Climax): minute 68 to climax
- Climax (anywhere between 90-99%): Somewhere around minute 81-89
- Aftermath (90-100%): Everything after climax, to minute 90.
The minute markings are approximate, and of course some of the turning points will take longer than one minute, so when we start looking for those points in an episode, we have to search in the minutes before and after the exact mark. We also have to take into account the final editing cut, which could be shorter than 90 minutes and could throw off the timing a bit. But it should be pretty close in most cases.
So with this in mind, let’s look at A Study In Pink:
Study In Pink: 88.06 minutes
ASiP is filmed mostly from John’s point of view, so I’ve assigned the inner journey to him. We really don’t see much of Sherlock’s inner journey in this episode, so the transformation clearly belongs to John. However, the Story Goal is shared by both Sherlock and John.
I’ve marked out the time range for each stage or turning point, as well as the approximate percentages for each.
Outer Story Goal: Stop the serial killer
Inner Journey: John moves from traumatized soldier tag-along to a worthy partner for Sherlock
Here we see our first glimpse of John and the dreary, unhappy life he’s leading (inner journey). He’s traumatized, closed off emotionally, has trust issues, and is utterly alone. All that is manifesting physically in a limp and a hand tremor. I’d say that’s a pretty clear “Identity”—the persona he is presenting to the world and his own emotional armor.
We especially see John’s Identity in his relationship to his therapist and in how he interacts with Mike Stamford. It would be interesting to ask what John’s “hero’s wound” is. A hero’s wound is “an unhealed source of continuing pain.” It leads the hero to subconsciously form a belief about himself, and that belief is what creates fear in the hero and makes transformation so difficult.
I am not sure that we know exactly what John’s true hero’s wound is. It could be the emotional trauma of battle, or it could be something that happened long before he became a soldier. I don’t think we are given enough of his backstory to really know for sure, but it’s an interesting question.
We also get our first look at what will become the mystery of the serial suicides (external plot). We have the confusion of Scotland Yard established, and we get a hint that there is an unusual someone waiting to help them.
Opportunity: 8:17-9:30 (right around 10%)
This turning point starts as John asks “who would want me for a flatmate” and Mike says “You’re the second person to say that to me today.” John replies, “Who was the first?”
Cue Sherlock’s face as he unzips the body bag. Shortly after, John and Sherlock meet for the first time.
John’s desire here is that he wants to stay in London. In order to afford that, he needs a flatmate. Notice how this desire gets the story rolling for him, but it ultimately isn’t the Story Goal.
New Situation: 9:30-22:10 (takes us right up to the 25% mark)
John is getting oriented to the new world that is Sherlock—complete with breathtaking deductions, riding crops, taxis, 221B Baker Street, scarves and coats with collars turned up. Remember I said that during the New Situation, the hero catches a glimpse of what he could become if he transforms? Here, John gets a whiff of what he could be (Sherlock’s partner) when Sherlock rushes off to the crime scene, leaving John behind, sitting in a chair. (“Damn my leg!”) Sherlock comes back and invites him to come with.
But as we see, tagging along with Sherlock isn’t the same as being his partner. John struggles to keep up because of his limp (which, remember, is the physical manifestation of his “Identity”).
As I said previously, the New Situation often involves a change in location. Here, John changes locations by going to 221B for the first time, as well as being invited to come along with Sherlock on a case. Notice, though, that Sherlock invites him as an observer at first —“Want to see some more?”
In regards to the case, since they haven’t yet determined for sure that the suicides are actually murders, they haven’t yet set the Story Goal of “stop the serial killer.” At this point, what is driving the plot is Sherlock’s desire to solve the case.
Change of Plans: Begins at 22:10 (25%)
John steps under the police tape almost on the dot at 25%, effectively going from barely an acquaintance and potential flatmate to something more. It’s a simple action, but that crime tape is an important gate, and crossing it is really a life-changing event for John, though he doesn’t likely know it yet.
He is introduced not as an observer, but as a “colleague.” I believe at that moment, John decides that’s exactly what he wants to be, even if he can’t figure out how to do it.
This turning point lasts until 29:33 when Sherlock deduces that the crime is murder, a serial murderer. This completes the turning point because now their outer goal becomes to find this serial killer.
Progress: 22:10-40:53 (25%- 46%)
I’m overlapping this with the above turning point a bit because John’s inner journey turning point (stepping under the police tape) happens a few minutes before the outer turning point (when Sherlock realizes there’s a serial killer). It’s okay to have a little overlap like this.
John helps with the investigation, and then when Sherlock rushes off, John heads out alone only to be “kidnapped” by Mycroft.
For the outer Story Goal, we see Sherlock is making progress on the case and John is helping him. We find out later that after Sherlock leaves John, he continues to make progress on the case by searching for and finding the suitcase.
In this section, we see John is going back and forth between his destiny as Sherlock’s partner and his current status as hampered by his past (limp) and an outsider. The moment where he leaves the crime scene alone and limps down the street is heart-breaking. But within minutes, he is calmly answering creepy phone calls and bravely getting into mysterious cars with darkened windows and taciturn women obsessed with cellphones.
We see John’s Essence peeking through in how he faces down Mycroft and refuses the offer to spy on Sherlock. He’s still limping, but the real John Watson has made an appearance.
Point of No Return: (starts about 46% and continues through about 58%) 40:53-51:54
This entire section is a series of key turning points. I think the reason it’s so long is that it’s probably a turning point for the entire show, so it is elongated. This is the point at which John chooses Sherlock. Without this section, there wouldn’t be a show because really, what fun is Sherlock without John Watson?
In this section, we see a series of declarations or actions John makes indicating his commitment both to the Story Goal and to his inner journey. We see him embrace his Essence as a worthy partner for Sherlock and letting go of the Identity he had at the beginning.
- 40:53—John tells Anthea to take him to 221B Baker Street. He returns to his bedsit to retrieve his gun at 41:14. This is a decisive choice he makes to call Baker Street “home”—and it’s significant that he’s embracing his role as partner by stopping off “somewhere else” (his current abode) to grab his gun.
- 44:00 —The literal half-way point (based on 88 minutes): Sherlock has asked John if he was offered money to spy on Sherlock, and John says no. This is John letting Sherlock know where his loyalties now lie. In spite of “trust issues” he is declaring his trust in Sherlock.
- 45:06 —John sends the text to the murder. This is half-way point if basing off 90 minutes, so I think it’s significant. It’s the first time that we see John functioning on Sherlock’s behalf—not just as a “colleague” (someone he consults with as an expert in something) but now as a partner.
- 51:54 —This is that memorable shot of John’s cane, forgotten in the restaurant. Key, key moment, and the dramatic resolution to this whole section.
Side note (for now): It’s no accident that the iconic restaurant “date” scene is embedded in this section. This is a turning point in their budding relationship. More on that later.
Complications and Higher Stakes: (about 58% to about 72% ) 51:54-65:17
We’re given no time to celebrate John’s transformation. The outside world comes crashing in—literally, in the case of the cars that almost run them over as they chase the cab. The stakes are higher now, and they aren’t so easily resolved. We have a cab chase that ends up fruitless (or so they think), a drugs bust scene which complicates their investigative efforts and challenges John decision to trust Sherlock. They also seem to have reached a dead end with the case—efforts to track the phone have led right back to 221B Baker St.
Then the creepy cabbie arrives, and everything turns chaotic. Sherlock suddenly leaves without explanation while everyone else is yelling at each other.
Major Setback: (72%-77%) 65:17-68:50
The setback occurs when Sherlock chooses to get into the cab alone. He abandons John, and in the following minutes we see the fallout from that. Lestrade and his team give up and go home, and we know Sherlock has put himself in mortal danger because it’s clear the cabbie is mentally “enchanting” him into committing suicide.
It’s a setback on the inner journey too because John is relegated to nothing, not even a colleague at this point. Sally Donovan voices their collective disappointment at being abandoned by him—he always lets them down.
- 67:00 “You know him better than I do” and “So why do you put up with him?”—John is retreating back to trust issues. Sherlock has let him down.
- 68:05 The cabbie points a gun at Sherlock. Then he puts it away because he knows he doesn’t need it with Sherlock. Sherlock is so in thrall at this point that it’s as if he has no will of his own left.
- 68:32 John’s theme music plays as he is back at 221B, alone.
- 68:45 He has his cane in hand—symbolically returned to his previous existence.
Final Push: (77% – 87%) 68:50-78:47
- 68:50 John puts his cane down to look at the blips on the MePhone website. The fact that he puts the cane down is significant—that cane represents his identity, and he’s setting it aside again.
- 68:57 He sweeps up the laptop and goes rushing out of the apartment. Not only is he back in the game, he’s acting on his own, as an equal to Sherlock.
- 69:23 We’re not really following Sherlock’s inner journey in this episode, but I think we catch hints of it in a few spots. Here, Sherlock says “No I’m not” in response to the cabbie’s statement that he’s going to die here. This is the first time since he went with the cabbie that he has asserted himself, so maybe he can fight the psychological manipulation after all.
Climax: (87%-90% ) 78:47-81:38
- 78:47 I’m counting the climax as beginning the moment Sherlock shuts the door at the school in response to the cabbie goading him about which bottle he would have picked. The murder mystery was wrapped up, but the real showdown between him and the cabbie is just starting.
- 80:31 Gunshot! BAMFJohn to the rescue!
- 81:23 “Moriarty!” Sherlock never got the answer about the pills that he wanted, but he got something even more important. This name will echo throughout the rest of the show’s arc, I believe, as we will discuss more later.
Aftermath: (90%-100%) 81:39-88:06 (end)
The mystery is (mostly) solved, Sherlock is safe, and he deduces that John killed the cabbie to save Sherlock. So John has been transformed into a partner for Sherlock, and they have established something of a friendship.
This episode clearly follows Michael Hague’s model—which, as you will recall, is simply a very good description of how 95% of movies are structured. Hague didn’t invent this model. He just verbalized it.
I haven’t analyzed all the episodes, but I suspect that if we did, we would find them all to comply with this general structure.
Sherlock and The Hero’s Two Journeys: TSOT
So what about an episode that many people felt was a total departure from previous episodes? I’m referring, of course, to series 3’s “The Sign of Three.” Does it, too, follow the Hero’s Two Journeys structure? Let’s find out.
The Sign of Three (85:49 minutes)
The structure here is more complicated because we have a “frame story” involved. A frame story is when you tell a story within a story. So here, the frame story is the events of John and Mary’s wedding day. The story within the frame is the events (including the mysteries) leading up to the wedding.
In order to preserve the story structure that a film requires, the structure for this episode has to involve both the frame story and the story-within-the-story even though this necessitates some jumping around with the chronology. But I think you’ll see that there is still a definite structure and a clear inner journey that emerges. You just can’t get thrown off by the flashbacks.
As a side note, there have been some fabulous metas written discussing Sherlock’s relationship with John in this episode. What I’m analyzing here is not specifically their relationship or whether or not it is romantic. My analysis should be valid regardless of how anyone views that relationship (though for the record, I do ship Johnlock!). We will get to a discussion of the relationship later, I promise.
Also, this episode follows Sherlock’s point of view more than John’s, so the inner journey belongs to Sherlock this time.
Outer Story Goal: As best man, make sure John’s wedding is perfect.
Inner Journey: Sherlock goes from an aversion to emotional commitment (scornful of weddings and refusing to admit the significance) to choosing to be intimately involved to the point of making his own vow to John (and Mary).
Stage 1: Setup: 0:00-8:12 (0-9%)
The setup stage ends when the bridal party exits the church. In this setup, we see Sherlock trying to convince himself and Mrs. Hudson that the wedding isn’t a big deal, yet we see that it obviously is, and that Sherlock is already missing John. We also see him determinedly getting ready for the wedding, as well as Sholto’s preparations.
We see Sherlock’s “Identity” for this episode in how he downplays the importance of the wedding to Mrs. Hudson, and the comparison of his donning his wedding suit and Sholto’s donning of his uniform as getting ready for battle.
Turning Point 1: Opportunity: 8:12-9:14 (9-10%)
The opportunity here is the first few minutes after the wedding ceremony where he participates in the wedding photos and the reception line and converses with Janine. All this propels Sherlock into a new situation—that of a married John Watson, and Sherlock’s pending best man speech.
Stage 2: New Situation: 9:15-22:06 (10%-24%)
John is married, and there are reception lines and a reception and lots of people eating lots of food. This is all a new world for Sherlock, and it obviously is alien to him. He even calls Mycroft for some support.
For the inner journey, we catch glimpses of Sherlock as Best Friend/Man here in his interactions with David and the ring-bearer. This is who he is on his way to becoming—someone deeply invested in this marriage and committed to it. But he’s not totally there yet.
Turning Point 2: Change of Plans: 22:06-23:39 (24-25%)
This is the scene where John asks Sherlock to be his best man. Note that it occurs right around the 25% mark. Even though the chronology is off, this is definitely the change of plans for Sherlock because he never in a million years intended to play a big role in John and Mary’s wedding.
This is where he sets his external goal—to successfully carry out John’s wedding, exemplified by the Best Man Speech.
In his inner journey, he is being invited into John’s personal life in a way he wasn’t before. But in order to complete the Story Goal (make John’s wedding perfect), he has to commit emotionally in a way he never has had to do before.
Stage 3: Progress: 23:40-44:32 (25-48%)
At first the speech doesn’t seem to be going well, but he pulls it out and manages to charm everyone in spite of offending them.
- 26:59 HUG! And we can also see here how very much he wants to get it right when everyone has teared up and he asks John “Did I do it wrong?”
We see in this section both the wedding planning and the beginnings of the Invisible Man near-murder case, as well as glimpses of other cases. Sherlock can’t solve the Invisible Man case, but he’s not letting that slow him down, and so far the speech is going well, and so is the wedding.
- Inner Journey: He is putting his whole effort into being John’s best friend, but he still has moments where he pulls away or doesn’t understand what John needs. He has Mycroft telling him don’t get involved, and he’s trying to counter that, but it’s still a struggle.
Mycroft has always been Sherlock’s voice of logic as well as his example of Not Getting Involved. But never it is more clearly seen than in this episode. Mycroft is a physical symbol of Sherlock’s Identity, and as we will see, John is the physical symbol of Sherlock’s Essence.
Turning Point 3: Point of No Return: 44:33-49:05 (48%-54%)
I wasn’t clear at first about what the Point of No Return for this episode was, but once I took a look at what scene landed in the middle of the episode, it made total sense.
This is the stag night scene, up until the point where Tessa shows up. This is a “point of no return” for Sherlock because it’s a greater level of commitment to and vulnerability with John. It’s not just part of the external goal—getting John married off (though it’s an important step—a proper Best Man must give a stag night)—but it’s also a step forward for Sherlock—a social evening for just the two of them that isn’t intended to solve a crime. (Like…a date maybe?) They move forward in their relationship in a way that can’t be erased no matter how hard they try.
This is Sherlock letting go of his tight control over himself and getting totally, messily involved in John’s world. He’s doing what “normal people” do, and he wouldn’t be able to carry out his Story Goal of making John’s wedding perfect if he didn’t have this moment. And if we view John as symbolic of Sherlock’s essence in this episode, this entire scene is tightly focused on John. Sherlock is choosing almost literally to embrace his essence.
Stage 4: Complications and Higher Stakes: 49:05-66:15 (54-73%)
The first complication is that Tessa shows up with a case. So now, their “just the two of us” evening is ruined by the outside world crashing in. A second complication is that he’s too drunk to successfully investigate the case. Even worse, he and John get thrown in jail to sober up, and they both agree that the stag night was “horrible.”
But he is drawn into Tessa’s case, and then in the middle of the speech finally realizes that the case is connected to the wedding.
- Inner Journey: He’s fully connected to John now, to the point where he lets John into his memory palace workings. This is deep emotional connection for him.
But that commitment is being tested the whole time because the drunken stag night investigation and resulting hangover are a painful reminder of what happens when he chooses emotional commitment over cold reason and logic.
Turning Point 4: Major Setback: 66:15-69:22 (73-76%)
Sherlock realizes that the Mayfly Man is at the wedding. This is a setback because his goal was to get John successfully married, and now that is all threatened because he realizes there is a murderer at the wedding.
He’s suddenly thrust out of his role as Best Man and is forced to retreat back to being the consulting detective, even though it’s going to ruin his speech and the reception, and could ruin the entire day.
For a moment, he despairs—he can’t be both detective and best man. If the murder has already happened, John’s wedding is destroyed. He retreats to Mycroft (his identity), who is shouting in his head to narrow down the murderer. But he can’t get enough data to do that. He’s missing something, and everything is going to be ruined because he can’t go back completely to that emotionally disconnected person.
Stage 5: Final Push: 69:22-74:40 (76-87%)
- 69:22 “John Watson you keep me right.”
Sherlock regains his mental footing by focusing on John. John, remember, symbolizes Sherlock’s Essence—emotional connection and intimacy. He banished Mycroft, who wanted him to focus on finding the murderer. Instead, he listens to his internal John who urges him to focus on saving the life.
That’s the key to making his deduction work properly this time—instead of trying to deduce the murderer, deduce the victim. Go for the personal connection.
He commits himself to finding a way to both salvage the wedding as well as prevent a murder. He figures out that Sholto is in danger and then has to figure out how to save him. All this while trying not to let the reception descend into chaos.
- Inner Journey: He reconnects to John, letting John be his guiding voice.
Turning Point 5: Climax: 74:40-76:45 (87-90%)
Sherlock has to convince Sholto to accept help so that he doesn’t die at John’s wedding. He succeeds in doing that, and thereby saves the wedding.
- Inner Journey: During this entire scene, Sherlock is totally connected to John, totally involved, to the point where he allows John to be the goad that drives him to complete his mission and solve the case. He also is able to set aside his jealousy about Sholto’s past closeness to John—in this moment, saving the life is all that matters.
Stage 6: Aftermath: 76:45-85:49 (90-100)
The wedding now a success, Sherlock sends John and Mary off in style with both a waltz he composed and his own vow. It’s all him being deeply, deeply involved, open, with practically no walls still remaining.
But he is devastated when he realizes that once the best man has made his speech, he is no longer needed. He opened himself up to John, made that connection, and then realizes that the marriage (and pending baby) are barriers that can’t be got around. He pulls his own walls back up, disconnects, and leaves the wedding alone.
This crushing blow at the end is what gives this episode a tragic feel. Remember what I said earlier—if a character fails to transform, the story becomes a tragedy. In this episode, Sherlock does transform, and that’s why he’s able to make the wedding a success. But instead of being allowed to reap the reward for that transformation, the reward is snatched from him, and that throws him back into emotional pain and isolation. Not a very satisfying ending, but it is an ongoing series, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t get complete resolution yet.
I think as we look at the show’s story arc as a whole, we’ll see that this quasi-tragic ending makes sense in the larger structure of the show.
Sherlock’s Story Arc and The Hero’s Two Journeys
Given what we’ve analyzed of two pivotal episodes in the show, what can we deduce about the show’s overall story arc? What might this tell us about series 4 and 5?
First, we have to ask if it’s logical that Moftiss might choose to apply the same Hero’s Two Journeys model to the show’s arc as they have to individual episodes. I say that makes the most sense. When I plot out a series of novels, I use the Journeys model to structure each novel, but I also use it to structure the whole series. Why bother with a whole different model when the Journeys model is already so effective?
If this show were being written like most network TV dramas, especially in the US, in which there is never any clarity about how long the show might run or how many seasons it will eventually be renewed for, I would be much more doubtful that we could apply this kind of structure to the show’s story arc. A model like this requires the entire story to be plotted out in advance, with a clear end game, so that events line up properly.
But given that Sherlock is a British show, which means the number of series is likely smaller to begin with and most shows don’t go beyond 5-6 series anyway, and given that Moftiss have said they’ve got series 4 and 5 sketched out, chances are very good that this story arc will end after series 5.
It’s possible they could do additional series or maybe one-offs now and then. But for now, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that series 5 will bring us the conclusion of the story arc the show is currently working through. As cinematically and meticulously as this show is produced, and as committed to quality as it is, I would think that they would much prefer planning for 5 seasons with a strong story structure and clear end point to the story line instead of just making it up as they go along and risking letting the story arc wander away from them.
Additionally, Moftiss have said that they had Moriarty’s story line planned out since at least pre-production of series 2. This tells me that they are plotting well ahead and likely have a specific story arc they are working toward.
An interesting note: I recently watched the unaired pilot of Sherlock, and it was fascinating for what it left out, compared to the final ASiP episode. 1) Moriarty was never mentioned. 2) John never got “kidnapped” by Mycroft–in fact, Mycroft wasn’t in the pilot at all. 3) There was much less focus on John’s inner journey. Basically, the pilot lacked a lot of the key elements that are now foundational to the show. These elements were deliberately added in when they redid the first episode–and in my opinion, that is further evidence of a larger story arc spanning the entire run of the show.
So I’m working on the assumption that
- they are planning for five series, and
- that they are applying the same general structure to the show’s overall story arc as they do to individual episodes, and
- that each series will continue to comprise three episodes of approximately ninety minutes each.
That’s fifteen episodes, for a total of roughly 1350 minutes. We’ll use those figures to calculate percentages of the entire show’s arc. However, for a story of this scope, I’m going to assume there is a little more flexibility in when turning points hit, similar to a novel. Also, some of the key turning points would fit better from a dramatic standpoint at the ends of episodes or ends of series. So if I were plotting this story, I would fudge those strict percentages for the show’s big arc so that I could maximize the drama.
Ok, here we go! First, we need to define what the external Show Story Goal is and what the whole Inner Journey is for our hero.
For purposes of analyzing the Inner Journey, I’m going to call Sherlock the show’s hero. Even though John is pivotal to the story as well, and even though he goes through inner transformation too, the showrunners have stated that this is a “show about a detective.” That means the structure of the show is probably driven more by Sherlock’s inner journey than by John’s.
The other issue that comes into play here is that the show is clearly structured as a romance. As I said before, I do ship Johnlock, but even without that, a story can have a romantic structure without being an actual romance. (The King’s Speech is an excellent example of this.)
Romantic structure works for lots of other types of relationships because it is the story of two people coming to love each other—regardless of the type of love. In a romantic story structure, they face obstacles that threaten to ruin their relationship, and they must answer the question of whether or not their love will be enough to triumph.
For our purposes here, this means that we actually will have two external goals. One relates to Sherlock’s mission in life of being the Consulting Detective. The other relates to his relationship with John, which is set up as the central relationship of the whole show.
His relationship with John is NOT his inner journey. Winning someone’s love is an external goal. His inner journey is what will make it possible for him to reach his Story Goals, remember. From analyzing the show so far, I think we can describe the outer Story Goals and Inner Journey this way:
Outer Story Goal(s): Defeat Moriarty, Win John’s love
Inner Journey: From emotionally disconnected, antisocial and “machine-like” to connected and able to love, fully human.
Stage 1: Setup (0-7%): ASiP
In ASiP, Sherlock meets John, but for most of the episode, he is functioning on his own. We are introduced to his world of being the Consulting Detective, and we are shown what that means. But at this point, he doesn’t have a larger purpose. As crazy as his world may seem to us, this is status quo for him.
When he meets John, he’s definitely interested enough to deduce him thoroughly. He invites John to come along as an observer/colleague, and maybe partially because he’s trying to solve or fix John’s psychosomatic limp. But it’s pretty clear from his attitude and behaviors that he doesn’t view John as an equal player yet in either his work or his life.
The “I’m not his date” scene at the restaurant is an important part of the set-up because it establishes one of the Big Story Questions of the show: Will Sherlock remain “married” to his work, or will he allow John into his life? Sherlock shuts John down pretty hard in this scene, but that’s what the story demands at this point–he is still totally in his “identity” and this is all the Set-Up stage getting Sherlock ready to go on his Journeys.
Emotionally, Sherlock is extremely disconnected, and fully in his identity as someone who is antisocial and heartless. As Lestrade observes, he’s a great man, but maybe not so much a good one.
Turning Point 1: Opportunity (about 7%): End of ASIP
I believe the Opportunity comes at the end of A Study in Pink—when Sherlock realizes that John was the one who shot the cabbie. This is something that has never happened before. It changes the way that Sherlock thinks about John, makes him consider the possibility that John could be in some way a worthy, equal partner for him. He lets John into his life on a personal level.
Sherlock also hears “Moriarty” for the first time. (Outer Journey) He doesn’t yet know how significant that name will become to him, but it does move him out of his previous status quo and gets the story rolling.
Stage 2: New Situation (7-20%): TBB, TGG
The New Situation covers The Blind Banker and most of The Great Game. Sherlock and John adjusting to living and working together, they catch some glimpses of what they could be together if they let themselves.
Throughout these two episodes, the meaning and exact threat of “Moriarty” is unclear. The audience is aware that there is a threat, but the goal of “defeat Moriarty” has not yet been set.
For Sherlock’s inner journey, we see him still mostly functioning in emotional isolation. We see glimmers of the pain he has experienced in the past—the rejection and mockery for being different, the way he has learned to manage and deflect others’ negative reactions to him.
He may desire to have a partner, but he doesn’t really know how to function with one, and this is the cause of a lot of the friction between him and John in these early episodes.
Turning Point 2: Change of Plans (20%): End of TGG
The end of The Great Game is the big turning point that sets Sherlock and John on the Story Goal path for the rest of the story arc. Moriarty reveals himself to Sherlock, threatens both Sherlock’s life and John’s, and Sherlock finally realizes the scope of what Moriarty is capable of.
When Sherlock says “Catch you later,” this obviously is a lot more than a casual farewell. He is verbalizing his new Goal—to bring down Moriarty, to defeat him. As much as Sherlock is fascinated by his new arch nemesis, there’s no doubt that he intends to destroy Moriarty.
Additionally, this moment propels Sherlock into a new phase with his relationship to John. John offered up his life for Sherlock, and this visibly rocks Sherlock’s equilibrium. It’s probably safe to say that no one has ever done that for Sherlock before, and once again, he is forced to view John in a different light. I think it’s the moment that makes him choose to pursue John relationally—in whatever form that ends up taking.
Stage 3: Progress (20-50%): ASiB, THOB, TRF, TEH
The Progress stage is often one of the most packed stages, both in terms of plot and character development. Remember, this is the stage in which the hero makes a plan to reach the Story Goal and then begins to implement the plan. It’s also the stage where in order to pursue the Story Goal, the hero must give up the identity and embrace the essence. That’s a frightening proposition, so the hero unconsciously bounces back and forth between identity and essence. Change is always very difficult.
During this stage, it seems that Sherlock is succeeding against Moriarty—and, in fact, in TRF, it appears Moriarty is defeated. There are some challenges and set-backs, but in terms of the overall goal of defeating Moriarty, it seems that he is successful. Moriarty appears to be dead, and his network is dismantled.
When the show’s story structure is viewed this way, it suddenly becomes clear why Moriarty may be making a comeback in series 4. If the Story Goal is to defeat Moriarty, and that Goal is reached by the half-way mark, then we have some serious structural issues in the story. You can’t reach the goal until the Climax, which is not until around the 90% mark. Defeating Moriarty by the 40-50% mark is absurd.
But the hero can certainly BELIEVE that he has achieved the goal. Totally fair game.
This understanding of the structure helps put the Reichenbach Fall into better perspective. To Sherlock, this was simply another step in the plan to defeat Moriarty. He returns in The Empty Hearse thinking that he will get his hero’s reward and welcome, not understanding that he’s nowhere near achieving his goal yet.
His second external goal—winning John—is a bit more erratic. In SiB, we see him becoming interested in John as a person, learning about him, curious. And John is reciprocating by being jealous of Irene. In THoB, Sherlock realizes he hurt John’s feelings and is able to try to correct that by calling John his one friend. In TRF, he is now so emotionally connected to John that he gives up his own life (in a way) to keep John and his other friends safe, as well as to pursue the goal of defeating Moriarty. And in TEH, he fights to regain the ground he lost with John, even though Mary is now in the picture.
For the most part, he appears to be succeeding in all this as well. Mary is a potential setback, but then she seems so supportive of Sherlock and John’s relationship that Sherlock is almost immediately won over.
His inner journey takes the extreme swings that we predicted it should for the Progress stage. He goes back and forth from disconnected and machine-like to connected and more human, but overall is moving toward being more fully human.
Turning Point 3: Point of No Return (50%): TSOT
The Point of No Return is all about the hero making a greater commitment and embracing his inner journey destiny. We see this clearly in Sherlock in TSOT—his determination to be the best Best Man John could ever have, as well as the meaning and importance he places on being John’s best friend.
Remember what I said earlier? At the Point of No Return, the hero makes a declaration of his greater commitment. What do we get in The Sign of Three? More than any episode so far, we have a fully human Sherlock who is expressing his very deep love to his friend. The entire episode revolves around a wedding—commitment is an underlying theme throughout.
This culminates in a Vow. A honest-to-god VOW. How much more obvious does it need to be that we are indeed on a Hero’s Two Journeys type structure?
And what is the content of this vow? He promises to be there for “all three of them” no matter what. He’s taking all his emotions and his very heart, the essence of who he is, and binding them irrevocably to John and John’s family. This is a vow he will not allow himself to go back on, no matter what the cost.
That vow is a major turning point for the whole show. He is so deadly serious about it, it can’t help but impact the rest of the show. His dedication here is so much greater than even his dedication to The Work (the game). He chose John, and by extension Mary and the baby. And he’s leaving no back door for escape.
There’s no Moriarty in this episode (that we know of at this point, other than theories)—but the Vow will cast a long shadow over whatever happens with Moriarty next.
His relationship with John has reached a new level—not just because of the vow, but even with the poignancy of the upcoming wedding, there’s an emotional openness (the hug, the stag night, the acknowledgement of love on both sides) that has never been there before.
Stage 4: Complications and Higher Stakes (50-75%): HLV, 4×1, 4×2
After the warmth of TSoT culminating in the Vow, reality crashes in immediately, even as the last words of the vow leaves his lips. That first crash is at the end of TSoT when Sherlock deduces Baby Watson and then is left alone at the reception. It’s a shocking end because the separation is so abrupt. This is why that episode feels tragic at the end—we weren’t allowed to savor the emotional high point of the Vow. We were plunged immediately into the next stage of the story, and it hurt.
In HLV, it seems like Sherlock has regressed a bit emotionally, but keeping it in perspective of the whole arc, it’s just another one of the rising challenges. He is struggling to keep his vow and to find a way forward with John. His handling of Mary and the shooting, though, show that he is still choosing to be connected and as fully human as he can be.
He and John are facing mounting obstacles in their relationship: marriage, baby, wife who shot Sherlock, and the looming threat of Magnussen.
The problems keep increasing, leading to Sherlock murdering Magnussen and being exiled. These are much higher stakes than earlier in the show. But we’re not at the top of the hill yet—his exile lasted 4 minutes only, and now he’s back.
And that’s because Moriarty is back. Now the Outer Goal of defeating Moriarty is back in play, along with trying to find a way to be with John, and completing his inner journey of becoming fully human. He is going to now be tested as he’s never been tested before, and HLV is just the beginning.
Deducing the Future: The Rest of the Journey
Predictions for the rest of the show’s arc:
Thus far, the story seems to fall very neatly into the Michael Hague type of story structure. Given that pattern has been established on the episodic level as well, we’re probably safe in making some predictions about what series 4 and 5 will hold.
I think 4×1 and 4×2 will continue to ratchet up the stakes and the complications. Things are going to get harder, and darker, and more difficult. Sherlock’s relationship with John is going to get more stress piled on it until it can’t handle any more. Will we get Johnlock? I alway hope so, but I honestly can’t say for sure. But if they hold true to the structural model, we should definitely get a lot of tension between them and yet we should see them connecting emotionally, too.
It seems more and more likely to me that Moriarty is actually back. As I said earlier, to have a Story Goal of defeating Moriarty be reached even before the Point of No Return just makes no sense from a structural standpoint. We also never really got to see Sherlock defeat Moriarty himself in some climactic struggle. Moriarty’s suicide kind of stole that moment from our hero. I don’t know how I feel about the idea of double fake suicides, but I suspect that’s what we have. I could be completely wrong—maybe they’re planning to complete this story line in a way that doesn’t involve a physically alive Moriarty—but I feel confident enough to call it: he’s back.
I think in the first two episodes of series 4, Sherlock’s vow is going to get a work out, as is his determination to be human and to be involved and connected. However in this stage, he is fully in his essence, so I think we will see him try his best to maintain emotional connection with his friends. It would be nice to get some great emotion-rich scenes with him and John to show the increasing connection they have, even if it is under attack, but I have no idea if we’ll get that or not.
If Moriarty is back, I think it would be a huge missed opportunity if Mary the Assassin was not somehow connected to him. I mean, really—how perfectly balanced would this story universe be if Moriarty’s second in command and Sherlock’s second in command were married to each other?
If there is a connection, I would expect this to come out in 4×1 and 4×2. I don’t know what that means for Mary as a character exactly, other than that she’s already been established as a morally gray character. Gray characters are always so wonderfully rich and intriguing. I would be very disappointed if Moftiss didn’t capitalize on the possibilities with her. I would expect that her secrets will be unraveled in these two episodes and that those secrets will have serious implications for Sherlock and John.
I think Baby Watson will be born in 4×1, so as to free up Mary physically to be involved in the remaining two episodes.
Turning Point 4: Major Setback (75%): 4×3
I expect Sherlock to reach his breaking point at the end of 4×3. The show’s 75% mark will be reached about 22 minutes into the episode (the episode’s Change of Plans moment). But I think they’ll wait until the end because the dramatic impact of placing the Major Setback at a series finale should prove too tempting to resist.
I think it’s going to be a very bleak series finale, and fans should be braced for it. Fans who don’t read meta will be wailing and gnashing their teeth, so it’ll be up to the rest of us to try to keep them calm.
Things I think will happen by the end of 4×3 that we haven’t seen before:
- Moriarty will appear to have won. The Major Setback is often also call the “dark moment” where all hope seems lost. We haven’t seen anything like that to this point—there’s always been a last minute save (HLV) or glimmer of hope (TRF) or simply a cliff hanger (TGG). I’m not sure we’ll get any such comfort this time. If it were me doing the writing, we wouldn’t! (Or if I did offer any hope, it would be very subtle.)
- I think Mary will either be killed or will have to permanently disappear/leave. I know a lot of fans are predicting this, and it makes sense from a cannon standpoint as well as a literary standpoint. She’s a morally gray character. It seems that one of the best ways to redeem such a character is to have them die in a way that makes them unambiguously heroic. Think Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books. If they off Mary, it’s possible they will follow this pattern and have it happen in a way that shows her finally being truly unselfish in her love for John.
- This could extend to Baby Watson too, but I think a more interesting turn of events would be for Baby to get kidnapped by Moriarty. This would serve the same emotional purpose, raise the stakes even higher, and also would be a way to keep Baby out of the picture for Series 5 without killing her. Pure guessing here–the story structure doesn’t give us exact plot clues.
- I suppose Mary’s death/removal could happen sooner, or not at all, but I suspect it will be here, and that it will be because of Sherlock in some way. Reason is: his vow. He bound himself to all three of them, and he already has demonstrated he takes it seriously enough to kill for it. So if I were the writers, I’d be hunting around for a way to test that vow to the breaking point. I’d put him in a position where he must choose between his commitment to defeating Moriarty or keeping his vow. I’d make it impossible for him to keep his vow to all three of the Watsons. I’d make him have to choose, and that choice would result in the loss of Mary (and possibly Baby). I’d give him zero good options.
- That leads me to the next prediction. It’s a toughie, I’m warning you: In a romantic story structure, the love interests MUST be torn apart at the Major Setback. It’s the “boy loses girl” moment in the old formula. So yes, I’m predicting right now: Sherlock and John will “break up.” This hasn’t happened before. They’ve been forcibly separated or emotionally distant, but I think this time one or both will deliberately walk away, seemingly for good. My bets are on John doing the walking, because the story is being driven by Sherlock’s goals and inner journey. And I suspect it will be in connection with Mary being removed from the story, and that it will be Sherlock’s fault, as explained above. I think Sherlock is going to be forced to do something that he knows will utterly destroy his relationship with John.
Yes, we writers are that cruel and sadistic. I have a friend who writes fantasy novels, and her motto is “You do NOT want to be my hero!” But we write stories this way because we know it will make the pay-off at the end for our readers so much more satisfying. We put our heroes through hell…because we know you like it.
- If neither man walks away from the other, then the other alternative could be that John will be mortally wounded. I would hope and assume that they won’t go down this road with Sherlock, since that’s a well-worn path by now, so that’s why I’m saying it could be John. Considering how many other faked deaths and almost-deaths there have been in this show already, I hope they don’t do this.
- We have yet to really see Moriarty follow through on his threat to “burn the heart” out of Sherlock. If anything, his heart is in the most alive shape its ever been in by TSoT. Forcing Sherlock to betray John (by betraying Mary or baby) in order to save him would have been foreshadowed by TRF, but the fallout this time would be a million times worse and far more personal if it involved Mary and baby. I think we will finally get the follow through on this promise.
- We will see Sherlock and John retreat to who they were at the beginning of the show—closed down, disconnected, isolated. It would be interesting to see if they give John’s limp back to him, or maybe sustain a real injury that causes an actual limp as a way to show this retreat back to who they were.
If these things are actually what happens, it’s going to be a rough, dark episode. But this has to happen from a story standpoint—they need to hit rock bottom before they can roar back to win. Triumph is so much sweeter when it has come at greater cost.
So basically, anyone addicted to angst is going to love this episode. Everyone else is going to be furious. But fans just need to hang in there, because the story isn’t done yet.
Stage 5: Final Push (75% to Climax): 5×1, 5×2
I’m not going to speculate on exact story lines, but I would expect that the beginning of 5×1 will show Sherlock and John dealing with the fallout from 4×3 separately. I think something early on will happen to get them both out of their funks, and then we’re going to see them find a way to claw themselves back toward each other and toward the goal of defeating Moriarty once and for all.
I don’t think we should expect a full reconciliation at this point, but instead, a tentative movement toward each other as they see that they can’t defeat Moriarty unless they work together.
It would be nice to have some actual emotional scenes between them, but may not get that unless the writers decide to let them finally start speaking about feelings. Regardless, I think we’ll see Sherlock reconnect in whatever way he can and become stronger than ever.
During the final push, Sherlock will have re-embraced his essence, which is emotional connection and humanity. Even though we aren’t tracking John’s inner journey for this discussion, I would expect that we’ll see him opening up as well because he will have to in order to win.
Turning Point 5: Climax (anywhere between 90-99%): 5×3
I think the climax will be in the middle of 5×3. I hope that it won’t be at that episode’s 90% mark where the episode climax would usually be because that will make the aftermath incredibly rushed. But I also don’t think it would make sense to have the Story Arc Climax during 5×2 (the show’s 90% mark is the Point of No Return for 5×2) because then 5×3 would be all wrap-up and that wouldn’t be as interesting. (Unless, you know, they decided to give us an entire episode of shameless Johnlock. But alas, probably not going to happen!)
So 5×3 it is, then. I expect the main focus will be the final battle between Sherlock and Moriarty, and John should be right at Sherlock’s side.
There will need to be a relational climax too—a full reconciliation that involves either a declaration of romantic love (please!) or of their utter devotion to each other. Whatever it is had better be huge emotionally or it just won’t be satisfying. I could see this happening first, shortly before the final battle. Or perhaps there will be an emotionally cathartic moment just after the Climax. (Haha, all you gutter-minded people…I know what you were thinking! Literary climax! Literary!)
Stage 6: Aftermath (90-100%): end of 5×3
I think the Aftermath will be Sherlock and John together forever at 221B. I hope romantically, but regardless, they should both be transformed. Sherlock will be fully human, and will have figured out how to balance reason and emotion, hopefully in a way that makes him even better at The Work than he was before.
They will probably leave room in the resolution for future one-off episodes or even a future series, so all may not be totally wrapped up with a bow. If Baby Watson is still around, then I think we will get implied ParentLock that could be set aside or dealt with for one-offs. That would fit the mirror that was set up with Sherlock’s parents, where mom gave up her work for the kids. Not saying I agree with that message, but at the same time, reality is that parenting requires personal sacrifice, so from that standpoint, it would make sense.
An interesting note: I recently watched the unaired pilot of Sherlock, and it was fascinating for what it left out, compared to the final ASiP episode. 1) Moriarty was never mentioned. 2) John never got “kidnapped” by Mycroft–in fact, Mycroft wasn’t in the pilot at all. 3) There was much less focus on John’s inner journey. Basically, the pilot lacked a lot of the key elements that are now foundational to the show. These elements were deliberately added in when they redid the first episode–and in my opinion, that is further evidence of a larger story arc spanning the entire run of the show.
So those are my predictions. I know it seems like forever before we’ll see if I’m right, but the time will go fast. Meanwhile, let me know what you think in the comments, ‘k?