Aha! I've been working on a response to something you've said, Toby, I can put it here! Thanks!
This was over in the "is John Sherlock's best friend" thread....
... I have from the very beginning never understood why anybody thinks of John as either "kind", "caring", "cuddly" nor "normal".
I don't know about cuddly (I think maybe Mr. Freeman in other roles seems cuddly, but as John Watson?) but for the other three; in S1&2, at least, I think I perceive him as kind and caring because of several scenes. Such as: when he tells Sherlock something's a bit not good instead of calling him a freak; the way he is with Sarah after her near death experience; way he speaks to Westie's fiance; the way he tends to Mrs. Hudson after the CIA guys have had a go at her; the way he tries to gently draw Sherlock out about Irene; the way he goes after Mycroft when the latter seems to be throwing Sherlock to the wolves. And although his (understandable, imo) irritation with Sherlock often seems to take precedence in S3, John has two of his best moments there; when he brings himself to confess that Sherlock is his best friend, and when he starts to tell Sherlock that the two people most important in his life are Mary and him (altho the "dickhead" rather spoils that moment. )
And I regard John as normal, because those behaviors are ones I like to think most decent, adult men display. Also, he goes about his business with courage, self-reliance and dignity, whatever the business may be; and that seems fairly normal to me, especially in men John's age or older.
Having said all that, I do understand what you mean; John can be impatient, snarky and even angry with Sherlock during his more outrageous stunts. I don't think of that as making John less kind or caring, though, it just sort of makes him more real to me; he'd be too saintly without that balance. And it definitely makes him more normal! I can't imagine anyone being in proximity to Sherlock for long without snapping at least once; the guy's a crazy-maker par exellence. It's part of what makes him fun to be around, even when you want to kill him for it.
What's unkind to me would be if John was intentionally hurtful; dismissive, like Mycroft, or verbally abusive, like Donovan, or derisive, like Sebastion in TBB. I think John misses when Sherlock is emotional, sometimes, because he doesn't expect him to be, and because John himself is pretty stoic. But I don't think that's due to lack of caring or kindness; it's more a deficit of sensitivity to feelings. A normal man, in other words.
What I do find absolutely amazing about John Watson is his willingness to believe in Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock has consistently abused his trust, and made some horrible errors, but John refuses to lose faith in him. (Here be consequences?) That, I think, is pretty extraordinary.
Actually, I see now that you went on to make a similar point:
...The other reason I think is that John really, truly believes in Sherlock Holmes and continues to do so when everybody else, his own wife included, has learned to see through him. For John, Sherlock is a hero, someone bordering on superhuman. It doesn't occur to him that he might be unable to solve a puzzle, that he might not have a plan or that he might be internally bleeding. John constantly forgets that Sherlock is human, and he becomes upset, to the point where he's hilariously accusatory about it, when it turns out that Sherlock is as frail and fallible as the rest of us. Personally, I think those moments scare John. He looks up to Sherlock as his "commanding officer" (that line and the Sholto comparison were not strewn in for nothing), and as an army man who tends to rely on hierarchy and the stability it brings, when his commanding officer is out of his depths, that means the situation is really dire, and he becomes scared, and when John is actually scared or sad, it comes out as anger.
So, my point is, if I have one, that the main reason why John behaves the way he does towards Sherlock is that he loves him, and that leads to intense hurt and also an idolization which borders on ridiculous.
I'm glad you brought this up, because I've always had trouble understanding how the Sholto storyline tied in with the overall story; but putting it in terms of hero worship, it suddenly makes sense to me. I think I have trouble seeing Sherlock as a commanding officer, because he so often barely seems in command of himself, let alone able to command others. But I do see that John still harbors a healthy dose of adulation for both men, and why. And it makes sense to me that someone like him would be that way. Same with Mary; he wants to believe in these people, doesn't he? I like to think that's because John himself is such a decent, well-meaning guy that he just assumes anyone he cares for is, at bottom, the same way. And he may be right; I don't know about Mary or Sholto, but I do believe that Sherlock, in his heart of hearts, aspires to be a really decent person. He just doesn't want the rest of us to notice.