The Treatment of Women on Elementary
by Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)
When Elementary was announced as a part of CBS’s new lineup last fall, many Sherlock Holmes fans were outraged. They couldn’t believe the showrunners would even think to turn Sherlock’s right-hand man into a woman, making the classic John Watson become Joan Watson. A lot of people even said they would boycott the show because of it. The joke’s on them, however, because Elementary became CBS’s number one new show of the season, thanks in part to the exact reason many said they wouldn’t be tuning in – the show’s portrayal of women.
In the original Sherlock Holmes, there weren’t many fleshed-out females. In this reimagining, Joan’s history has made her a capable, strong, and smart character, while altogether disregarding her gender. She’s just as apt to lend a hand as the original’s John Watson. Joan’s background as a sober companion was what developed her relationship with Sherlock, but it was her intelligence that promoted her to become his partner.
In multiple cases, Joan’s observations have been the catalyst that solves the mystery. The show creators have set her up to be talented all on her own, many times multitasking an assignment and babysitting a Sherlock who gets into everything he shouldn’t.
Because of the partnership Joan and Sherlock share, they will never be romantically involved. Will-they-won’t-they relationships have been more than played out on television and it’s nice to finally have a show where it’s known they will never go there.
In the last three episodes of the season, Irene Adler was introduced. She only appeared in one story in the original book series, but is widely regarded as one of the few people who can beat Holmes at his own game. On Elementary, that was taken one step further when she was revealed to be the villain – murderous criminal mastermind Moriarty. She even speaks to the fact no one would ever expect a woman capable of going toe-to-toe with the brilliant Sherlock Holmes. She considers herself superior to him, though her feelings for him from their past turn out to be her downfall. Despite that fact, she leads him and the police on a good chase, keeping them on their toes until the very end.
To gender-swap these well-known characters was a risk, but one that paid off. The portrayal of women on Elementary is one of the best on network TV, due to their representation being equal to that of their male counterparts. They are multi-faceted people who stand on their own. By taking traditionally male characters and turning them on their heads, the show’s creators have broken through expected stereotypes, proving initial detractors wrong and producing a show that is a unique, worthy additional to the Sherlock Holmes legacy.