The Silent Confessional

“Once you’ve opened your heart, you can’t close it again.”

–Culverton Smith, Sherlock, “The Lying Detective”

I wonder if the frightening thing about murderers–about serial killers and kidnappers and dictators–is that they are not so different from each of us. They are motivated by the same things, or similar things, that motivate us all. The king who wanted to share prosperity. The victim who couldn’t stand one more minute of injustice. The businessman who feared vulnerability. We call them generous, survivors, human.

Of course, when the deed is done and the culprit is on trial, we refuse to see them as human. They are monsters, despicable, hardly human. But I have to wonder if the most terrifying thing about villains like Culverton Smith is that they are just like us, if we’re honest.

Culverton Smith has a dark secret–a secret despicable enough that he knows he ought not share it. Perhaps our secrets are not like his, but we hold keys to our own skeleton-filled closets. We’ve heard the relief of the confessional, of admitting the darkness inside of us. Is it any wonder that Smith feels the same?

But the Sherlockian villain faces a dilemma common to humanity: who to trust with our most vulnerable moments? The main difference between him and the rest of us (other than, admittedly, the depravity of his secret) is his means to create a confessional in which the priest cannot remember.

He gathers his friends, the people he can most trust, and confesses his sins. But he puts in a fail safe. Shortly after the meeting, not one of them can remember what he was said, or even the meeting itself. The lure of this concept is what makes Smith so compelling. We want what he was–not the villainy, but the security. The certainty that our secrets remain our own combined with the release of admitting our brokenness.


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