Tag Archive for BBC

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.


Thoughts on Moffat’s Sherlock (BBC)

It’s interesting, the way this new, more modern version of Sherlock is evolving.  Steven Moffat and his mad crew are putting together something that, not only does a very interesting job of translating the original material, but it modernizes the stories in a different way as well.  It’s become a story of enablement, a story as much as, or maybe even more so, about the people who surround Sherlock, who compensate and open the doors for his many quirks (this is also reflected, by the way In Guy Richie’s Holmes, which I like equally well, but Moffat is going deeper).  The shining moment is always Sherlock’s, but he doesn’t get there without the support structure that he has somehow managed to gather (in spite of himself).

In sharp contrast to this, Moffet has given us his version of Mycroft Holmes, which throws both brothers into sharp relief.  Mycroft is what Sherlock might have become without that support structure.  Mycroft is always shown as being a solitary being.  We see him on Christmas Eve, alone in front of a fire in a somewhat dark and cavernous space, in contrast to the dysfunctionally cozy gathering at 221B.  We see him again, when he receives the call from Moriarity revealing that the game is up.  From his reaction, the news is devastating, but he is completely alone, the only warm body in a large and empty room.  The spaces he inhabits, that Moffet *chooses* to show him in are all places designed to be inhabited by lots of people, but are singularly empty, even of passersby.  Sherlock, however, almost invariably, is surrounded by people.  Moffet may draw the camera tight, but we can still see or feel them there, John Watson looking through the door in the background, the out of focus voices from the hallway.  When Adler’s impending death is revealed to Sherlock, he is surrounded by friends, and when Mycroft calls Watson to tell him that it may be a “danger night” (a presumed reference to Sherlock’s smoking addiction and the possibility of a relapse) after Sherlock identifies Adler’s body, the depth of that support structure is revealed.  Mycroft’s affection for his younger brother, that fact that he keeps tabs on and supports him through Watson suggests that Mycroft himself sees the value in the people who surround Sherlock.  He himself has bought into the “enabling” role the same way that Watson, Molly, Ms. Hudson and the rest of the crew have.

Now, it’s nice to think about the ebb and flow of a project, how things “take on a life of their own” as it were.  But the constrained nature of the series (3 episodes, 1.5 hrs each just over a year ago, with another 3 now, and so on) means that everything in here is planned.  Happy accidents are going to be few, relationship arcs will be mapped outbeforehand and the meaning (I love BBC productions because SO MANY of their directors really grok the idea of building symbolism into the background) is deliberate.  So I am curious to hear all of what Moffat is saying about this relationship between the Holmes brothers, and whether one way of life is, in fact, superior to the other.