Tag Archive for Cumberbatch

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.


Poking Holes in Time

If you scratch a bit, like you do with a penny on a Lotto ticket, you can see something else.  Not winning numbers, but an underlying corruption.  A sense that the rebooted Starfleet is, in essence, a reflection of our own, modern-day society.  Sure the spaceships are bigger, the architecture more daring.  But the same essential flaws are there.  People and governments willing to do Bad Things for what they perceive is the Greater Good.  And, as much as I enjoyed the reboots, I think that something has been lost, or perhaps is simply getting subsumed in all the lens flare and flashy explosions.

Roddenbery’s Star Trek was about the best in us.  Not just that humanity evolved and matured between now and the shining future, but that we were *still* able to continue to overcome our internal and external conflicts.  Granted, Roddenbery’s future without pockets has been bagged on over the years, it still remains the only shining, hopeful future out there.  When StarWars hit the screens, then Blade Runner, the future got grittier.  Every film or show had rust under the paint and clouds in the sky.  Stories focused on doing “the best we can” as opposed to becoming the “best we can be”.  They tried a bit of that in Star:Trek, the Next Generation, and threw a bit more in during DS9 and Voyager, but it never quite stuck.  You didn’t watch Star Trek for the gritty “realism” or the dystopic adventure.  You watched it because it showed the potential.  It gave us a version of the future where we didn’t irrevocably f*ck everything up.

I worry a bit that the new generation of Star Trek writers is more interested in showing us the flaws, in exposing the impossibility of a Utopian society, than they are in building new stories in a world where it is not only possible, but that it is *probable* that people will do the Right Thing.

Irene Adler and the Unattainable Male

That’s a THING, right?  The stereotypical “unattainable” male protagonist in film and television.  We see it in literary works all the time, but the broader discussion online seems to center around more recent developments in media-centric storytelling, rather than in the written tradition.  I think it could easily be argued that the more modern re-visitations of Sherlock Holmes ought to fit neatly into this category.

A great many of the arguments I have been hearing of late seem to center around Irene Adler.  In the three more prominent Holmes reboots, she is seen as; a sociopathic dominatrix (who needs to be rescued at the end), a pickpocket and con artist (who may or may not be dead, but whom also needed to be rescued) and a Plot Device (since she was murdered before the show opens and is, instead, used as a driving force rather than a character).

And, while I have seen a great many analyses of how the original Irene Adler was a much more powerful female than any of her modern variants, I find that nobody has brought up what I feel is one of the more interesting aspects of the entire story (especially considering the time-period it was written in/for).

There is, in “A Scandal in Bohemia” possibly one of the neatest bits of role-reversal ever.  The idea that Sherlock Holmes, the quintessential “unattainable male” has fallen into the exact same trap.  He has, in his own turn, fallen for the unattainable female.

Outside of the fact that she feels the need to evade her stalker, Miss Adler has very little interest in Holmes.  In fact, she is far more interested in her own situation than in directly interacting with Holmes on any real level.  Instead we are left with Watson’s observations that to Holmes, she is always “The Woman”, which, combined with the fact that she is mentioned in future stories, though always in passing, suggests that she has continued to retain his attention, something we don’t see from many other subjects save Moriarty.