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What is Sharklock? Benedict Cumberbatch’s Legendary Cheekbones

What is Sharklock?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…it’s SHARKlock! Whether it’s an aquatic homage to our favorite sleuth set in an aquarium or a picture of an actual shark wearing a blue scarf, there are shark references scattered throughout the BBC Sherlock fandom. And almost no one – if anyone – knows where it first came from. So did this fishy meme influence crucial parts of season 4? Weirder still, could it have inspired a children’s book series? We’ll get to all that and more but first—what does a shark have to do with Sherlock anyway?

Why a shark?

Any fan of the show knows that Benedict Cumberbatch has legendary cheekbones. The sharpness, the angles, the pale skin…well, some people find all that very appealing. However, to put it bluntly, other people think that Benedict’s cheekbones make him look like a shark, specifically a hammerhead shark.  Check out this portrait by Sneer Campaign to get an idea of what they mean.

So when did people first start making this comparison? In an interview for Masterpiece Mystery  promoting season 1 of Sherlock, Benedict talks about starting swimming and bikram yoga to lose weight and “get those cheekbones sharpened and interesting.” Maybe it was the combination of references to swimming and sharpness, but fans  immediately started making shark comparisons, starting with webcomics like “The Adventures of Sharklock and Jawn” by tumblr user misskeshra.  This comic and others like it star Sherlock in shark form and often feature John in his famous hedgehog form.

Before long, the Sherlock fandom was hooked on Sharklock. It rapidly gained new artist fans who put their own spin on the maritime meme.  Tumblr user silia made an adorable chibi-style drawing of Sherlock and John riding a hammerhead shark (and accompanied by their skull and hedgehog).  On DeviantArt, fan IncenteFalconer took this meme to the extreme with the comic-styled “The Adventures of Sharklock Holmes” featuring Shark!Sherlock and Hedgehog!John – IN SPACE!. On the other end of the spectrum, artist khorazir has created an elegant pencil drawing called “Aquarium” featuring Sherlock, John, and a prominent hammerhead shark. You can even get your own Sharklock t-shirt with a design featuring the famous BBC Sherlock line “I don’t have friends” from The Hounds of Baskerville.

Was “Sharklock” referenced in the show?

Almost certainly! As early as the season 3 trailer fans were making jokes about the shark-like appearance of Sherlock’s silhouette as he appeared in the doorway of 221B everywhere from tumblr to Buzzfeed .Was this moment in the trailer intentional? A little wink to the fans over the shark meme? It’s hard to say for sure, but we know that the showrunners love to include in-jokes and references in the show whenever they can.

When it comes to sharks, however, there was nothing subtle about the references in season 4. Rachel Talalay, director of “The Six Thatchers”, shared a picture of both the early sketch for and the final version of the crew t-shirts on her Twitter account. In the early sketch a shark, perhaps representing Sherlock, is capturing a bust of Margaret Thatcher with the number 6 superimposed over the image. In the final design, a dog (perhaps the bloodhound from that episode or even Sherlock’s childhood “dog” Redbeard) is chasing a shark. Talalay also shared a graffiti-style shark fin image on her Twitter account on the day the episode premiered. The episode itself kept the shark references coming. There’s a beautiful shot in the episode of Sherlock walking through a glass tunnel in the London Aquarium where a shark swims right over his head.  And of course, the final dramatic scenes of The Six Thatchers take place in the eerie glow of the shark tank as Sherlock and Vivian Norbury have their final showdown:

Vivian Norbury: This was always my favorite spot for agents to meet. We’re like them. Ghostly, living in the shadows.

Sherlock: Predatory?

Vivian Norbury: Well, it depends which side you’re on. Also, we have to keep moving or we die.

Sherlock: Nice location for the final act, couldn’t have chosen it better myself. But then I never could resist a touch of the dramatic.

Benedict has also referenced the Sharklock meme, most memorably in a Saturday Night Live sketch where contestants compete on a fake game show called “Why is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?”  When it’s Benedict’s turn to answer the question, in his typical self-deprecating fashion he answers: “I don’t know either. I mean, some people say I look a bit like a hammerhead shark… or a lizard man. I think I look a bit like Sid the sloth from Ice Age.”

Did Sharklock inspire a children’s book series?

This might sound a little fishy (sorry, couldn’t resist) but in 2011 an author named John Leone started writing a series of mystery stories for young children featuring a detective named “Sharklock Bones.” Sharklock and his sidekick, Dr. Flotsam, solve simple mysteries in short books chock-full of puns and jokes. The author credits the original Holmes stories for inspiration on his website, but since Sherlock began airing in 2010 and the Sharklock meme became popular soon after, the timing fits for a certain blue scarf-wearing hammerhead to have partially inspired the book series too.

That’s it for Sharklock! Want to be in the know in all your favorite fandoms? Sign up to our mailing list to get more meme explorations, fandom-specific term rundowns, and themed recommendation lists.

Already signed up? Stay tuned for next week’s post: Not our division!

Need more to read now? Check out these posts!

John Watson’s Jam? Where Did It Come From?

Why Is Sherlock Holmes an Otter?

John Watson Slowburns

Why is John Watson a Hedgehog?

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ThinkingViolet has been an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes since she first read The Hound of the Baskervilles at age 7. She loves baking, kickboxing, and trivia nights with friends. ThinkingViolet is currently writing a Labyrinth fanfiction called "A Friend in Need.

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