John: Actually, I've got a date.
John: It's where two people who like each other go out and have fun.
Sherlock: That's what I was suggesting.
John: No it wasn't. At least, I hope it wasn't.
(With thanks to Ariadne.)
My inner Socratic always wants to jump up and dance around at that exchange, because it's precisely the kind of bad "definition" he'd dismiss in the early sections of a Platonic dialogue. That may describe a date, but it hardly defines one. Particularly as Sherlock's precisely right: here, what he was suggesting does meet that definition. He later throws in another criteria: that part of a date was trying to get off with Sarah. But if the only difference between friends' night out and a date is the possibility of sex? That seems cold, somehow.
I wanted to stay away from this scene because I'm trying to experience the show as something other than a slowburn John/Sherlock romance. And this scene, following so closely on the heels of Sherlock's firting with Molly to get access to those corpses (which means he does at least understand romantic code), is pretty damningly TJLC. , That, or queerbaiting, at least at first glance. So I'm not sure how comfortable or fun this particular conversation will be for a lot of people, or helpful to my project of "seeing a story other than TJLC.
But I think there's something important going on here.Because I think canonically (as in, Doyle stories), John and Sherlock love each other even if they don't love romantically or want to have sex. (Which to be clear, I'm also quite open to as a way of understanding these characters.) I think that would have worked reasonably well in Victorian times, when men and women operated in such different spheres; but today, it is harder to make space for a close friendship, even one where there's no romantic competition - a girl friend for a gay married mane, or a male friend fo a hterosexual, for instnce. I mean, we all need friendships and I wish it wasn't this way, but a really close friendship can seem to intrude on the emotional territory of a marriage, because we expect more of that within the marriage than we did 150 years ago.
What this means is the most straightforward answer to the problem raised by Doyle!Mary -- have her and Watson have their own world off-screen, and Holmes and Watson's adventure pose no more a threat to that than regular nights with the men at the club -- doesn't work in the modern times. I'm sure I'll be talking quite a bit about this as we get to S3 & 4.
But for now, what fascinates me is that John and Sherlock don't even have the framework for a close friendship that's distinct from a date. Doubly complicated by the fact that I really and truly think Holmes is meant to be gay or at least not-straight. The problem here is grammatical, they don't even have the words. And if that's not frustrating in the most beautiful of ways!
(Also a bit "persistent," to put it politely, because if Sherlock doesn't pop up like a game of wackamole, time and again throughout the evening. Yes, a big part of that is Sherlock not being great with social boundaries and being as stubborn as kudzu; but I think there's also a big element of neither of them knowing how to make space for the realistic, necessary friendship that seems to be growing between them, that's important and matters at least as much as John's romantic love with Sara but isn't really being validated at that moment.)