Sunday, November 17, 2013

Girls and guns.

Elementary's odd choice of head-thwacking singlestick has been on my mind of late. The impractical side of martial arts in an age of handguns comes on strong with that one, especially when the Holmes-imitator captaining Elementary seems to insist his Watson needs to know it above all other self-defense measures. Because when one thinks of Dr. Watson and self-defense, one usually thinks guns.

Dr. Watson has packed heat since the start.

"I have my old service revolver and a few cartridges," Watson offers in A Study in Scarlet when Holmes lets him know a killer might be coming to their place. He doesn't get to use it in that tale, but when BBC's Sherlock updated it as "A Study in Pink," the good doctor definitely showed he was more than able with a gun.

When CBS created Elementary, much ado was made about their shiny, new female Watson, and as much as I've criticized their Holmes for not being Sherlock Holmes, I've always left Joan Watson alone. The sexism charges were flying fast and furious back at the show's start at even a hint of displeasure from critics regarding Joan Watson. And I do like Lucy Liu a lot. Just the chance to see a favorite actor at work like that will always get a few free passes. 

But this goofy singlestick thing just makes Joan Watson's lack of a gun stick out all the more. And one has to wonder if she doesn't get to use a gun just because she's a girl.

While the choice of a female Watson might be all non-sexist, putting her in short skirts and not letting her be armed in a role that puts her in constant contact with murderers is sexism in the extreme. And if one is going to have a female Watson, for Doyle's sake, let her be freakin' Watson.

Watson is the solid friend at Holmes's back. He or she is everything a consulting detective needs in a partner. Including someone who can deal with dangerous men in a way other than smashing some porcelain over their head, in that stereotypically girly self-defense ploy. And Watson gets to use a gun.

Now, I'm not talking pro-gun or anti-gun here for society as a whole. Just Dr. Watson. A classic character who's been around for a very long time. What's a little amusing is that our modern British Watson is a gun guy in a country with gun control, while the modern American Watson is non-gun in what seems a pretty gun-loving country. One would think it would be the other way around . . . except for that girl thing.

Is this American Watson not getting to shoot people just because she's a girl?  Adding that factor to her complete failure as a medical professional, her total income dependence on the Holmes family, and the possibly-too-short-for-her-age skirts (though I may just be an old fuddy-duddy on that one, if the use of the term "fuddy-duddy" hasn't already closed that case), it would seem like changing Watson so much along with the sex change is the most sexist route of all.


  1. THANK YOU! This is exactly my problem with the character. I was one of the few who did mind a female Watson in particular. I was mostly offended that CBS pretended her to be the first one (despite already doing it twice already themselves in the past) and that the female Watson had nothing to do with Watson at all. And every change they made seems to be based on "No, a FEMALE Watson can't be an army doctor or good with guns or voluntary choosing to live with a male flatmate"

  2. How often is Watson going to be attacked by a murderer while she is carrying a singlestick, me wonders. As to the skirts, they can never be too short!

  3. Many things don't ring true for me with Elementary, among them are characters and story lines that are gratuitous and only marginally canonical; mostly included for impact rather than telling a story. The show does not even attempt to connect with Sherlockian viewers. If we get a female Watson, then make her the best kick-ass Watson the world has ever known. This would include a gun. A big honking gun. The Lucy Liu Watson is Natalie Teeger to Monk--not even the ballsy Sharona--basically the wall against which "Holmes" tosses his idiosyncrasies and buckets of Crazy. I would love to see Watson be more like Edward Hardwicke's Watson, taking no prisoners while admiring Holmes. But Lucy Liu would have to drink the Elementary koolaid to convince me that she admires the Holmes we get in Jonny Lee Miller.

  4. The problem with Elementary is that it is a completely new story with familiar names and the occasional plot trope. And that's why Joan is never going to be allowed to "be Watson" like that - she was never meant to be that person. She's not the muscle, she's the medical knowledge. For all my own distaste of the show, that is one thing that Joan gets right. She's allowed to be more of a doctor than canonical Watson was allowed to be.

  5. One thing to keep in mind: while the US is indeed "a pretty gun-loving country," Elementary is set in New York City, which has probably the strictest gun laws in the country. The likelihood that Watson, even as consultant to the NYPD, would be able to get a gun permit is slim. Also, as fans of John Steed will recall, singlestick skills work really well with an umbrella.

    1. I considered that NYC angle, but given the other great divergences from reality that Elementary and the other procedurals get away with, I didn't think local statutes would apply so strongly. (Besides, BBC Watson flat out murdered a guy in the first episode. Definitely laws against that.)

    2. And fans of Mrs. Emma Peel will recall her lissome baritsu skills...