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05 February 2013 @ 05:38 pm
Meta on Joan Watson  
Originally posted over here at my tumblr. But, I'm reposting to this comm because, like someone earlier in the entries said, it's better for discussion. This is a three part meta on the show, on the characters, and on their relationship with each other. There is some discussion about BBC's Sherlock, but it gets past that pretty quick. Originally titled "Reasons for why you should watch Elementary, and why it isn't BBC's Sherlock."

Spoilers for all currently aired episodes.

I've been seeing a lot of posts on tumblr and other websites talking about how Elementary is a lame attempt at remaking a British show (It's not. I've watched both shows, and I'm telling you, it's not). Or how it's not a good show. And then there are comments like, "I'm only watching this to distract myself until the new season of Sherlock comes on." While that is an okay reason for watching the show, I feel like this show has a lot more to offer than just a simple distraction. There are so many positive lessons embedded in the show, so much that I like about the main characters and their relationship. I'd like to discuss some of these things here.

The first point I'd like to address is the one about Elementary being a lame attempt at remaking a British show. Moffat himself has said that he did not give permission to CBS to recreate Sherlock, and therefore Elementary CANNOT be a remake because there would be legal repercussions. If Elementary is airing, it's because it's in no way, shape, or form like BBC's Sherlock. The two are mutually exclusive, like two books of the same genre aren't the same, neither are these two shows. You can go further and say that the shows are like two different fanfics of the same work. Just because the fanfics are based on the same work, doesn't mean they're the same fanfic. This is an important point because I feel like a lot of people go into Elementary with the idea that it's going to be a cheap copy of BBC's Sherlock. It's not. Not anymore than a fanfic is a cheap copy of another fanfic based on the same work of fiction. Which is why when I see posts about people refusing to watch Elementary just because the Americans copied Moffat, I'm sad for these people. They're missing out on a great show for inaccurate reasons. The Americans wanted to remake Sherlock. Moffat said no. So, the Americans DID NOT copy BBC's Sherlock.

This brings me to the fanfic comparison I made above, and some arguments I've heard that have to do with just that. There are some people (Moffat being one of them) that argue that Elementary isn't true to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works and that that's why they hate the show. It's true that Elementary strays from the original works, but so does BBC's Sherlock. Moffat modernized Sherlock, changed him so that we in the modern world understand him. Essentially, BBC's Sherlock is a modern au of the original Sherlock. People still gave it a go and liked it. That's totally okay. But if that's okay and people still gave Sherlock a try, then why do some people suddenly hate Elementary just because CBS decided to do some changes too. I mean, CBS's Elementary is just a modern au set in New York City with a gender bent John Watson. And if you're reason for not watching Elementary is because you don't like gender bends with setting change then, that's a valid reason for not watching Elementary. But if you're reason for hating Elementary is that it's different from the original works then news flash, Sherlock is too. There may be less changes in Moffat's Sherlock sure, but every creator has a right to play with the work the way they'd like, and the fact that there are changes is no reason to hate what they've created. And who knows, if you gave Elementary a real go as its own original spin on the novels, you might find that you like the gender bend and the setting change. Although, I should mention that, if you're looking for a strict interpretation of the Sherlock novels, you won't find that in Elementary. But, again, CBS has the right to their creative liberty.

Now, I'd like to talk about my reason for why I disagree with the idea that "Elementary is not a good show," based on what the show provides and how the changes CBS made totally work to support some great ideas/themes. Elementary is actually an AWESOME show, and I will tell you why. In three parts actually, because it's long.

Part 1:

Joan Watson as a strong, independent, likable, female lead.

This is Joan Watson. She is a 30 something year old single, unmarried, former surgeon. I would like to repeat that.

Joan Watson is a 30 something year old single, unmarried, former surgeon.

  • Why is her being a surgeon important? Well, because it sort of hints at Joan's age. Most surgeons start practicing on their own at around 30. And unless, Joan is a super genius (which would be another contribution to her overall awesomeness) then she's probably, at least in her 30s. Also, she's smart (she was a surgeon and as a former biochem/pre-med major and friend of current biochem/pre-med majors, I can tell you that you have to be dedicated and smart to get into med school. It's a lot of work).

  • Her age is important because it highlights a couple of things. Joan is at an age where society, unfortunately, dictates that she should be married. I'm not saying that I think everyone should be married by 30. Nor am I saying that you, personally, think that (or you might, I wouldn't know). I am simply saying that it's an accepted fact that women will get married, and will have children. I don't agree with this, but unfortunately and overwhelming majority of people still feel this way. Anyway, back to Joan. She is unmarried and in her thirties. She is, for the most part, single. She has no children. Did I mention Joan likes baseball, which is a sport, which she watches? Yeah, Joan is a woman who watches sports. Women watch sports. Revolutionary, I know. Anyway, Joan is essentially a huge fuck you to all the preconceived notions about women, and what they should be doing. I'm not saying she's the only one. I am saying that Elementary is giving us one more strong, independent woman who breaks preconceived social norms, and we need as many of those as we can get.

She does whatever she wants simply because she wants to do it, regardless of whether others approve or not.

  • A couple of notes here. Joan decided to be a sober companion because someone died on her operating table. However, this was her decision. No one forced her to quit her job, and she did it even when her parents didn't approve. She did what she did because she wanted to. And I love that, the idea that as long as what you're doing is fulfilling, and makes you happy, there's no reason not to do it, even if others are telling you you shouldn't.

  • Joan also decided to stay with Sherlock even after her contract was up, and even though her therapist advised her not to (see "The Red Team"). We can argue that she did it because she cares about Sherlock, and wants to be there for him, but I think we can't forget that Joan's shown an interest in the work itself (see the conversations she has with her mom in "The Leviathan," and her own deductive skills in "The Deductionist" when she figured out that her landlord was trying to evict her on purpose). Joan enjoys figuring things out, and I read her staying, as both wanting to help Sherlock, and wanting to keep doing something she enjoyed doing. Her therapist said no (see "The Red Team") and Joan still stayed, because she wants to.

She is a fast learner, intelligent, and she learns from her mistakes.

  • I feel like coming back to the idea that she in intelligent is important. I'd like to highlight this, because although Sherlock is the clever deductionist, Joan isn't just sitting on the back burner. She's a contributor. Her medical skills actually come to play, and in many cases, genuinely help Sherlock, because what he doesn't know, Joan does.

  • Not only that, but Joan learns from Sherlock. She's not just an observer, she's an active learner. This I think is seen best in "You do it yourself" with Watson absolving her ex, on her own. With skills, that can be argued, she picked up from Sherlock. We see this again in "The Deductionist," when Joan discovers her landlord's plan to evict her. Basically, Joan has learned a whole lot about solving problems/cases.

  • Now that last point, about Joan learning from her mistakes, is my favorite. The patient dying at her operating table was not intentional, but Watson saw it as her mistake. Because she sees it as such, that's the way I'm seeing it too. What I admire about Joan is that even though she made this mistake, she got over it. It took time, yeah, but eventually she took up another job, met Sherlock, and learned that mistakes happen, but you can't let them shape you. Joan has her issues but she doesn't let them define her. And I love, love, that.

Joan also knows how to take care of herself. She doesn't need no man.

  • I just want to refer you to "The Deductionist." Joan didn't ask anyone to go speak to her landlord for her. She got up, went to him, confronted him, and demanded that he pay her back for having her evicted. And he did. Joan is a badass. Enough said.

Take a look at the amount of amazing in a single woman, and sure, Joan has her issues. She can be a bit nosy (she poked around until she found out about Irene, even though Sherlock wasn't ready to share), and she has her character flaws, but that's okay because she's human. Flaws and strengths are what define a person, what make them interesting to watch. And she is a woman. She is a well-rounded, dynamic character who's changed over the course of fifteen episodes. I think that alone is reason enough for me to stick with Elementary, because I want to know where Joan goes, how she continues to change, what's going to happen to her and Sherlock once they find Morarity, or once Sherlock finds out Joan isn't being paid anymore. I want to hear what she has to say, how she contributes. I love her as a character, and I will continue to love her forever, and ever. Amen.

(This has been my contribution for today. I will post up the last two parts, and link them all by the end of this week. Thanks for reading all of this, guys.)

Unovisunovis on February 10th, 2013 06:04 pm (UTC)
I like the show a great deal, especially for its characters, but also for its three main actors. Joan, Holmes, and Gregson are three-dimensional, believable, and well developed. We've seen some growth and change in them and their relationships.
It isn't like ACD book canon. In fact, it's so far away from canon that it's more like a modern detective series in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes than it is a true adaptation or AU. For me, it's just not Sherlock Holmes. But again, I love the characters within the Monk, Psych, House, Philo Vance, et al. genre.

Joan is such an appealing, strong character. I love that she was given a realistic but functional family and a Chinese-American mother who was opinionated but wasn't demonized. I like that Joan was shown to have women friends and a social life outside of her life with Holmes. I like that her dedication to her new profession is serious, bright, and presented respectfully and not as maternal. I haven't seen a female partner in crimesolving shown so well since Beckett in the first season of Castle.
fall down. get dirty.: Notebookstatic_abyss on February 10th, 2013 10:04 pm (UTC)
Exactly, I love that about Joan. I think that CBS did an excellent job at making her background believable. I've never seen Castle, but I'm sure that I'll love the show if the characters are as awesome as the ones in Elementary. I was pleasantly surprised with this show to be honest. I wasn't expecting as great character development as we got, mostly because many shows tend to stereotype women even when they try not to. But, I am glad Elementary is doing a good job so far.
Unovisunovis on February 11th, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
Castle is something of a sundae with wet nuts and hot fudge-- it was considerably better in its first season or so. It's a contemporary take on the old, glossy detective shows that depended on humor and flash rather than reality. Kate Beckett (detective) in those early seasons was treated with respect for her job and her expertise, with Richard Castle (flashy novelist, politically connected, who's following her around and bases a new protagonist on her) actually backing off and letting her do her job. Early on, there were four main female characters whose lives didn't revolve around men. Castle had a very smart and independent daughter of high school age, with whom he had a good relationship. That changed, with the changing of writers etc., and Beckett and the other women were degraded, even though a somewhat stereotypical Chief was added.

It's still a show I watch, for Nathan Fillion and affection for the original characters (unlike Elementary so far, there are two charming and interesting detective partners working under Beckett), but it's not as good.

ETA: HOWEVER, a recent show that took place primarily at a ComicCon clone event was the most positive representation of fandom that I've seen on dramatic TV. It showed women of various ages as a major component of fandom without mocking them. Beckett revealed herself as a former cosplaying fan of a cheesy Sci-Fi show and then set Castle back by declaring how much her admiration for one of the female characters meant to her. Obviously Fillion's knowledge of and affection for his/Firefly's fans contributed to the way the episode was written and conceived.

Edited at 2013-02-11 02:39 pm (UTC)
some chick named shelly: elementary - joan sits and listensvenusinthenight on February 10th, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC)
fall down. get dirty.: Notebookstatic_abyss on February 10th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
Bless you for reading it.
rabidsamfan: liu watsonrabidsamfan on February 10th, 2013 07:06 pm (UTC)
I'm really enjoying Joan Watson -- definitely one of the reasons I've kept watching. And I like it when she's shown to be athletic as well as intelligent. It's nice to be able to take time to unwrap the characters more slowly than can be done in a three show season.
fall down. get dirty.: Notebookstatic_abyss on February 10th, 2013 10:26 pm (UTC)
I love the way this show is developing their characters. I honestly feel like there's been major changes in Joan's character, and Sherlock's as well. Joan is hands down my favorite character because I like that she's not your typical stereotyped woman, and she can take care of herself. Everything CBS does with Joan's character has been amazing so far. And I love the relationship Joan has with Sherlock.
Ms Dref: EMIT - cuteness overloaddref22 on February 10th, 2013 08:26 pm (UTC)
I love the show, this meta, Joan and Liu's portrayal of her.
fall down. get dirty.: Notebookstatic_abyss on February 10th, 2013 10:27 pm (UTC)
omg, yes, exactly. Lucy Liu's portrayal of Joan, and Joan in general. Just, yes.

Edited at 2013-02-10 10:27 pm (UTC)
c_lou_bc_lou_b on February 10th, 2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
Great post that has actually inspired me to join LJ and post a comment!
I wanted to discuss/address some of the comments you made in the opening paragraphs about similarities/non-similarities etc. I am a big fan of the original ACD stories. I started reading them about age ten when the Granada (UK) series first aired starring Jeremy Brett. This was an absolutely fabulous series that was very true to the novels and short stories and was superbly acted by Brett who I would say is the definitive SH. When I first heard about the first Downey Jr movie, I cringed. How could they choose an American to play such a very British part, but I must say, those two movies are excellent in their own way - similar to the ACD character but with differences.

When BBC's Sherlock first started airing I didn't watch it. I'll admit I was out of the loop and didn't get at all caught up in the fandom. The idea - modern take - interested me, but I just never got around to watching it. Then I noticed Reichenbach Fall being aired and decided to give it a try as I was interested to see how they did the modern take on the famous story. The story itself was interesting, but I hated the characters. SH is not supposed to be a twat but I found the way it was played to be a complete turn-off, while Watson's character seemed weak and almost insignificant. You won't be surprised to hear that I've been completely put off watching any more of those.

So to Elementary - how could a character I love 'work' well in a different city? London is a wonderful city, but then so is New York and there are infinite possibilities for great backdrops where the city streets are as much a part of the show as the characters themselves. Unfortunately, this hasn't exactly been the case yet in Elementary. It could really have been filmed anywhere - so as an aside it would be nice to 'see' more of NYC in the series. But I was very happy that SH is played by a Brit and JLM is excellent in the role. The character portrayal of SH in Elementary is, in my opinion, far more true to the original ACD characterization than what I saw of SH in Sherlock, so how Moffat can say that Elementary isn't true to ACD's works - but presumably he believes Sherlock is - I find laughable. Surely getting the characterization right and developing stories around that character is far more true to ACD than what BBC's Sherlock does - which I see as creating a character who's an absolute a-hole but it's okay because the stories are based on the originals. Hmmm...

As for a female Watson - I didn't exactly have any strong opinions on this before the season started, but Joan Watson is excellent. She has a very strong character and the way the whole background to her being there was developed is genius - the whole sober companion thing - it gives her an excuse to be the mother hen that Watson was (partly) written as in the original ACDs, but she's now growing beyond that. Developing her own skills as an investigator, not just an observer or bystander, and as we go on she's going to become more and more invaluable to Holmes, giving her own take, helping out with medical info etc.

We're now getting more nods to the ACD stories too, and I love that. As you said, static-abyss, you won't find a strict interpretation of the novels in Elementary and some ACD fans may find that hard - I don't, because I truly believe that this is an excellent show that successfully takes a popular and well known character and modernizes him, unlike - imo - the BBC series does. Yes, Elementary is an awesome show and long may it continue!!

I'm now going to read the other parts of your original post and will start posting my own comments on my LJ profile if I can figure out how to work everything :-)
fall down. get dirty.: Notebookstatic_abyss on February 10th, 2013 10:42 pm (UTC)
Okay, so I think you made excellent points here, and actually a lot of what you've written is what I've thought myself, so I'm going to go ahead and discuss some of this in this comment.

SH is not supposed to be a twat but I found the way it was played to be a complete turn-off, while Watson's character seemed weak and almost insignificant.
I've spoken to a lot of people who seem against this idea, but I for one, can totally see where you're coming from with this. I feel like the John in Sherlock is way too passive. I mean, it's like he doesn't even try to understand. He just stands there and doesn't understand things. And yes, Sherlock is essentially a jerk with the way he treats people. I especially hated the way he treated the girl who worked at the morgue and helped him when he needed to go there. Also, I just think Moffat thinks way too highly of himself. The way he talks about his projects, as though there's nothing better is putting me off from watching stuff he's written.

As for the filming in NYC. As an American, and a New Yorker, it felt to me like the show was doing it for the benefit of Americans, so that they'd feel closer to the characters. I mean Sherlock is British, so having him in New York makes him more relate-able to Americans. And yes, I do feel like CBS could do more with the NYC streets, but then it's also really expensive for them to use NYC landmarks in their filming. But then as a New Yorker I think it's really awesome that they film there because I can recognize the places they go to, and that just makes this show so much more interesting in terms of location. I feel like maybe this could be the same for people who watch Sherlock and live where the filming takes place, because it's kind of awesome to be able to recognize streets, makes you feel closer to the show in a way.

Yes, to everything you said about Joan. I have no complaints about her character, and I love that she's actively learning, and participating, instead of just wandering around lost after Sherlock..

I cannot wait for you to post your own comments, because this has been fun. I've never been particularly good at meta for other shows, but I feel like this show is so great in it's own right, that it just inspires thought. And I absolutely love discussing this with you, so thanks for that.
c_lou_bc_lou_b on February 11th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
I'm pleased to hear that you feel the same way about John Watson. I imagine you've watched multiple eps of Sherlock and can speak from experience. I don't like to judge a show based on watching just one ep, but really it would take a lot to persuade me to watch another, I disliked it that much.

Anyway, look out for a post on my journal...
asymptote: [elementary] my dear watsontree on February 10th, 2013 09:01 pm (UTC)
actually, joan is 40-something, not 30-something. both LL and JLM are in their 40s.
fall down. get dirty.: Notebookstatic_abyss on February 10th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
Even better then because she's 40 something and she hasn't given in to social expectations.
Fish Eye no Miko: SH:  eyesfenm on February 10th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
There may be less changes in Moffat's Sherlock sure.

Except... when you get down it, I'd say not really. While there may be fewer changes to the basic premise (it's still set in London, Watson is male) they make huge, in some cases fundamental, changes to the stories themselves. They had to change a character's NAME (Henry Baskerville -> Henry Night) because they changed so much about a story. And Moffat's one to talk abut changes; his Irene Adler is nothing like her canon counterpart. In some ways, I kind of prefer Elementary creating its own stories instead of taking canon and twisting it to the point where it's pretty much completely different anyway.

As for Joan, I really love her. I love that she's enthusiastic about The Work, and that she's GOOD at it. I love what we see her observe things in a very Holmesian way.

Also, and I don't think this is a small point: In an era where Asians STILL often get shafted for roles--even in stories about real, living Asian people--CBS cast an Asian woman for a role that could have easily gone to woman of ANY color/ethnicity. I think that's awesome.
cc: warm comfortjardindemavie on February 11th, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)
This is great. I found Sherlock to be moderately entertaining (although I haven't watched the last 2 episodes and zoned out a bit at the rest of them -- they're too long!), but I really love Elementary. I love Jonny Lee Miller and his take on Sherlock and this version of Watson as a woman (of colour too!) is fantastic. She definitely doesn't let Sherlock walk all over her just because he's the 'smart' one (putting that in quotes because Joan is quite smart too and because while Sherlock seems to see that as his one defining role in life, she doesn't let him only be that person, she stretches him).
honor_reid: Joanlockhonor_reid on February 11th, 2013 04:39 am (UTC)
Great meta. I love Joan Watson, because of so many reasons, which you said so much more eloquently then I could. I especially love how she doesn't allow Holmes to walk all over her and calls him out when he is being insufferable. Can't wait to see where the show goes next.

Thanks so much!
(Deleted comment)
Tazlet: chariot of the suntazlet on February 12th, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC)
Comparing Joan and the Johns (ACD and BBC)

Both John Watsons enter Holmes' life as wounded in events they had little control over. They are both isolated, recovering veterans - ACD specifically states that Watson becomes curious and begins to study Holmes as a way to distract himself from his pain and depression (in BBC we see the same thing happen in shorthand). Holmes is amused/flattered/charmed and invites Watson to along watch him work - a professional relationship develops..Both Johns are normal guys, who act as our interface with an extraordinary personality. It's a situation that allows BBC to get away with a lot of throw away allusions to known cases - the degree of charm you find in this will vary.

The question of Joan being wounded is still open. We are told something happened - a patient died during an operation - but that didn't necessarily have to end her career (she was suspended, and I would like to have been a fly on the wall of that morbidity hearing). A surgeon, with a supportive family! Yet she chooses to quit and become a sober companion. But, as a result, she enters Holmes life in a position of comparative power - her negative report could cost him his home. We see her become fascinated by his work, but, unlike John Watson, her interior life is as still much of mystery - we can wonder but she's not telling - it's actually Holmes who tells us what's going on her. Yes, he does that in ACD/BBC canon, as well, but John Watson effectively controls both of those narratives. (One reason I do not see BBC's JW as passive.) By staying on under false pretenses, she's made herself interestingly vulnerable, but she's not controlling the narrative. More than anything that may make the show ping as 'Not Sherlock Holmes'.

Elementary depends us identifying with Joan's curiosity about Holmes (and ours in her) and, in the course of the cases, Detective Bell's frustration. But it deploys Toby Gregson (Yay), and Alistair, and Rhys, and occasionally Holmes himself, to tell us what we need to know about what goes on with the man.

It's smart storytelling and I'm eagerly awaiting developments. YMMV

Edited at 2013-02-12 04:03 pm (UTC)