ichini_sanshigo (ichini_sanshigo) wrote,

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On CBS's Elementary and Joan Watson

On Elementary and Joan Watson.

So the new CBS series opted to make Watson a woman. And I've got to admit, I think it's great, but I still had some reservations, since TV in general is not known for treating female characters well. When we'd all heard that she was no longer a veteran, and was a disgraced surgeon, and that she was hired as a caretaker ("sober companion") for Holmes, those reservations shot through the roof. But I was still hopeful, because Lucy Liu is a great actress and because it would be nice to see women in more leading roles.

I was especially looking forward to seeing a female character get in on the fun and adventure for once. Because women pretty much never get to be the adventurous ones. They are always either disapproving nags or sweetly tolerant of the boyfriend's/male friend's exploits. And by making Watson a sober companion, it looked like they were going that second route: Watson as nurturing, supportive clean-up crew for Holmes.

Then I saw the preview.

First of all, that burn? About the mirrors? That was sweet. That was Joan, showing that there was only so much shit she would take. And it's a very different dynamic from Sherlock, and a different dynamic from the books, but it kind of has to be, and not just because Joan's a woman, but because where Victorian Holmes is simply eccentric, modern Sherlock often looks like a jerk, and most people wouldn't put up with his crap, so the writers have to show us why Watson does.

The fact of the matter is, most women have to deal with a lot a bullshit under the excuse that "boys will be boys, lol!" We're pretty much socialized for it. And I think Joan, being a woman and a POC in a male dominated field, and then being someone who works with recovering addicts, has had more than her share of it. "Genius asshole" is not a novel experience for her.

For John Watson, Sherlock's brilliance is enough to hook him. The danger and adventure sealed the deal, that was the icing on the cake, but the sweet sweet chocolatey goodness of Sherlock's razor-sharp intelligence was what brought him to the table in the first place. Joan admires Holmes's intelligence, but it's not enough to hook her, not if he's going to be an asshole. Assholes are a dime a dozen, and intelligent people aren't exactly scarce on the ground either, not in a major metro area like New York. If he wants her respect, he's going to have to earn it. His genius isn't the hook, but the adventures are. She hates her job, and his is so much more interesting. That's what I got from the preview, at any rate.

It's almost a sort of inversion of the BBC's narrative, where John is hooked by Sherlock's genius and stays for the adventure. Joan is hooked by the adventure and I think she'll end up staying because he proves that there's a decent human beneath the weirdness and snobbery and ego after all. And that's an inversion of the BBC dynamic as well. Sherlock can be a good man, but his more human side has to be drawn out of him by others: John, Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Lestrade. It's their faith and love that brings out the best in him. But I think Elementary Holmes is going to have to do that emotional heavy-lifting himself. It's not going to be up to others to draw him out; after his drug abuse and assorted shenanigans it's going to be up to him to prove that he can be a better person. And it's a parallel journey for Watson as well, since she has to prove herself after losing a patient and her license and her entire livelihood.

It's interesting to me, because they also seem to being doing a bit of meta with it. Assholes aren't the only thing that are a dime a dozen. There's already a ton of shows about socially dysfunctional geniuses who solve crimes. Elementary is going to have to do something extraordinary if they want to stand out. This may be a bit of a reach on my part, but consider that scene in the preview with JLM's love-at-first-sight speech, where it seemed like the writers were blatantly poking fun at people who are paranoid that they will introduce a romance between Holmes and Watson just because Watson's a woman. Given that, I don't think a bit more meta is out the question. All in all, I'm really looking forward to seeing where they go with this.

Tags: cbs elementary, characterization, elementary, sherlock, sherlock holmes
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