Tag Archive for Sherlock

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.


A Sherlockian Future

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like an empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has difficulty in laying his hands upon it.” -Sherlock Holmes

It’s an interesting idea, keeping only the information you *need* in your head at any given point in time. How efficient would we be, how situation smart, if we only had to remember the useful things, and we could dump the rest. Like everyone knows, as much as you might like to dump that entire year of Freshman Algebra, sooner or later you’re going to need it (IMHO “solve for X” may have been one of the top ten most useful bits of information I retain from my ill-spent youth).

And now, with a mobile device on every hip and search algorithms that can unbend even the strangest of search parameters, we are at a moment when this is entirely possible. We can stuff our brains with the information we need to have on hand every moment of every day and we can find an expert answer to any new question as long as we have an active internet connection. Yes, at the moment it seems that most people are taking advantage of this to keep the names of the newest pop sensation’s six toy poodles at top of mind, or are using the power of search to look for shirtless pics of the newest teenage boy-band, but keep in mind that we are truly in a transitional phase, as a society. Like microwave ovens and horseless carriages, the rational use scenarios for always on wireless access are still evolving.

With all this specialized information at the tips of our fingers (quite literally, in some cases) are we looking at a next step in the way society views the utilization of information? Will ones measure of education no longer be a reflection of what they can hold in their head, but how quickly they can find, and apply, the correct solution? Within recent memory we have gone from pages of long-form division and multiplication to being able to properly execute these forms on a calculator. Websites and Wikipedia are acceptable sources of reference in many classrooms (I remember the first time I tried to quote an online source **yikes**)

Finding the good information (the “good” sources) is an art unto itself. Being able to act upon that, to actually internalize and put the information to practical use is another skill set entirely. But right now, they are add-ons. They are “stealth” skills that are nice to have, but are not exactly the kind of thing you can put on a resume. It’s like being MacGuyver, you might be able to save the world, but trying to put that skill set on a resume just gets your paper run through the shredder a little bit more quickly than the next guy.

I have the good fortune to know a couple of these people. Their skills are knows, mostly, via anecdotal evidence and word of mouth. It’s their reputation that precedes them, rather than their education that defines them. So think, for the moment, we are looking at something that is hugely valuable in an employee, in a work partner, but it’s still something that is hard to codify. Once we do figure out how to select for it though, then we may be looking at a shift.

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.