Archive for Writing

On the Exit of Mary Watson

An Image of Abbington as Mary Watson

Abbington as Mary Watson

 

Let us be clear from the outset, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes, from the original texts penned by Doyle to the “what the h*ll were you thinking” Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (Google it, I dare you) to the modern incarnations of Elementary, Sherlock and, of course Guy Ritchie’s bombastic cinema spectacles.  So while the originals will always be, to me, the “true” Sherlock Holmes, with all of it’s promise and problems, I do have a very high tolerance for f*cking with the source material.  But to me, the eventual death (implied in the originals) of Mary Watson was a given. Having Mary in the mix took the edge off, made everything just a little too easy.  Having guest geniuses is fine, but Mary was written to approach Sherlock in deductive skill and while the riffing between the two characters was delightful, it changed the nature of the show.  Had this been any other showrunner, I would have expected her to last just long enough to get “fridged”, a single Sherlock-length episode would have been standard, in fact.

But, like most of the women in Sherlock, I feel she went out in a way that was entirely within her own agency. Mary Watson and Irene Adler both prove themselves to be on a par with either Holmes or Watson (and they give Mycroft a bit of trouble as well). They were both dynamic, aggressive women, not given to the satisfaction that comes from serving others, but rather in engagement with themselves and their broader possibilities.

Mary Watson went out in a way that was suited to the character we had come to know. International assassin, spy, mother, she made a split second choice. A choice that in many instances would have been relegated to a male character. Women get sacrificed, they do not sacrifice in the same way men do so often in film and television. There is a distinction there and an important one.  So important, in fact, that the writers feel compelled (or perhaps they thought we would all miss it) to have John Watson repeat it out loud to the camera at the reconciliation in the second episode.

Steven Moffat and the stories he is the caretaker of are often said to have problems with female characters. I cannot say I agree with this assessment.  Can one see the underpinnings of stereotypes in them?  Sure, but that can be said in equal parts of all the characters in the show, including the titular Sherlock. There are problematic moments, to be sure, Ideas that probably seemed awesome in the writer’s room but then when brought into the light turn out to have a poor intersection point with reality, that trigger something unexpected in the audience.  His female characters almost always have agency, they have deeper backstories than you’d think (“You’re not my first smackhead, Sherlock Holmes” will always be a favorite line from now on) and to me that is one of the most important elements.  I’m far less concerned about whether or not a character is wearing short skirts or is prancing around bare*ss naked than I am about the character themselves and how they fit into the broader picture.  I’d go so far as to say Moffatt and Gatiss fairly accurately represent many of the complexities of *being* female (whether you are born with the requisite hardware or not) right now.

 

Before Leia dropped the “Princess”

I have to admit, when I was younger, I always hated Princess Leia (I knew nothing of Carrie Fisher, the person, until decades later so for me, at the outset, there was only Leia). Perhaps not the most popular idea right now, when so many women are coming out and citing her as their inspiration, their role model, the quintessential “non-princess”.  As her character evolved (and I grew older), my opinions of that character certainly changed for the better (particularly when she took out Jabba the Hut), but for a very long time the idea of Leia was tainted by how she was translated into real-life.

Princess Leis in her detention cell.

Post the release of Star Wars, this was the only subject on which all the kids in the neighborhood could agree to play.  Every group game became Star Wars, no more Cowboys and Indians, no more Firefighters and Forest fires, which was AWESOME for a while.  Everyone on the block had seen the movie (some had actually seen it TWICE, which was almost unheard of) so we all had a common world to build on.

Except for that annoying “Princess” thing.

In practical application, Leia got categorized with every other Princess (note the Capital “P”). Nobody remembered that she was the only one other than Han who could shoot straight.  Nobody remembered that she had kept her secrets under torture, that she was the one who stepped up to lead when Han and Luke’s half-baked rescue plan unraveled.  She had Princess in her name and that meant one thing only.

Whomever played her had to sit on the sidelines and wait until someone bothered with a rescue.

So for a very very long time, I HATED Princess Leia and would simply bow out of any game that involved her.  There was never a win to be had, I had to be Leia because I was the girl.  Fortunately, the boys in the neighborhood took the hint and we eventually agreed on an “invisible” Princess who would wait and do all the boring things until the game came back around to rescue-time (yeah, okay that may not have been a “better” solution per-se, but we were little and it solved the immediate problem).

I feel that a lot of people forget where the world was back in the 70’s when this film was first released.  That girls were still supposed to be “girly” and boys were supposed to be “heroes in training”.  The value (to me) in the Star Wars franchise, is not that they provided a strong female character to identify with in science fiction, because at the outset they didn’t, not in real concrete terms.  Instead over time that character evolved.  The writers and showrunners learned and grew and took a character that was supposed to be a slightly more exciting Girl in a Tower and turned her into force to be reckoned with.

 

Cersei Lannister takes the stage.

 

 

If you’re a Game of Thrones viewer, and you haven’t seen the S5 finale yet, come back later.  If you have, please carry on.

 

Cersei Lannister. Being smug.

 

Cersei, Cersei, Cerei, Cerei.

D*mn.

I’ve seen a  number of posts in the past few days, some loving this last GoT episode, some hating it.  One observation has been made that, pretty much every person in power right now (save Jon Snow and the new King of the sea-people, but that may change) in Westeros and it’s surroundings is a woman.

But what I *haven’t* seen anybody notice is that Cersei is now playing a Man’s game.

She has been the not-so-subtle, behind the scenes power since Season One. She has been playing what most of us recognize as the “woman’s game”.  You’ve heard this old saw before, “Behind every great man is a good woman.” Cersei has been that woman, she has ruled (with middling effectiveness) though her husband and children as proxy up until the point that the Tyrell family moved in.  Then they out-woman’d her.

Over the course of the show we have seen Cersei grind her teeth in frustration at being a woman, at being treated like a woman.  When the city is being attacked and she is told she must hide in the tunnels rather than stand on the walls.  When her father informs her that she is to be married off again, her only value being in the binding of other houses to his through matrimony.  This has been a long time coming.

Once she was cut off from Tommen, she was effectively out of the game. She was relegated to the sidelines, shut out of every meeting, told more or less to her face that she was done.  Over.  Powerless.  No longer worthy of fear.

Sunday night was her fait accompli.  It would be easy to say she’s simply gone mad.  That losing the last of her three children to this grand Game was the final straw.  But I don’t think that’s it.  She SEIZED power in a grand and clear gesture.  Much like those who sat the Iron Throne before her, she has proven herself to be ruthless.  To be willing to blow the h*ll out of a sizeable chunk of the city in order to cow her enemies, take her revenge and seize the throne.

Cersei is the experienced one out of this entire group moving forward.  She’s been observing and playing this Game her entire d*mn life and now the gloves are off.  She is no longer using men as her proxy, she is WIELDING POWER as she has always seen it wielded.  She is a ruler in the traditional sense of the word (the guy who beat up all the other guys to get to the fancy chair).

The really interesting question is going to be whether Dany and her “leave the world better than we found it” philosophy is going to be able to stand up to that when the parties finally meet face to face.