Liss and Ana Talk About Elementary

[Content Note: Spoilers for the most recent episode of Elementary.]

image of Natalie Dormer as Moriarty and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes sitting on a couch with a giant portrait of Joan Watson sitting between them in the background
"Sherlock, I'm worried that Joan is coming between us."

Ana: It's a Natalie Dormer episode!!!

Liss: Yay Natalie Dormer!

Ana: I'm kinda pissed, lol, because I had finally decided to ride out my Amazon Video season pass and then not bother with Season 3, but then they dangle Natalie Dormer at me.

Liss: There's no resisting Natalie Dormer, lol.

Ana: I was super-concerned at the beginning when Sherlock was writing to her about Joan, because that's personal stuff and it seemed wrong for him to share it without her permission. (Especially since Joan is the one who caught Moriarty and revenge is a possible concern here. Let's maybe NOT share personal details that could be used to hurt her.) But I was glad that Joan pointed out that was wrong and very uncool, and he seemed uncomfortable about his own actions, so…okay? He's not perfect, and he messes up, but he's still trying, I guess? I don't recall if we got a real apology over that, though.

Liss: It's interesting to watch Sherlock start to navigate boundaries within a friendship. Like the stuff about sharing details about Joan's personal life—it's like he's at this point where he wants to share things because he cares about her and finds her interesting and all that, something that's a new experience for someone who never had much use for friends before, but he still doesn't understand that caring about someone and having access to hir life doesn't give you ownership of it.

Ana: Yes. I did very much like the themes of change and being a better person because you don't want to harm others, especially people who you care about. (I might be reading this through my own biases; I could see how the message is being a better person because you care what people think about you, but I'm going to be charitable here because I still want this show to be good, lol.) I liked that Moriarty wasn't really the villain like we were led to believe, which I thought was a good twist. I liked that this wasn't an episode about breaking her out of prison—she didn't try to run, she just did what she needed to do and then called Sherlock to pick her up with the police.

I liked that she didn't need Sherlock's help to save her daughter. This was really HER episode. I liked that she didn't bother trying to see her daughter—I thought it was an interesting touch that she cared about the safety of her daughter, but wasn't seeking a personal relationship with her. They didn't try to force her into an Emotional Mother role. (And I thought it was also a sensible move on her part and in keeping with her genuinely smart character; she seemed to recognize that trying to find the girl while dealing with her injuries would have just scared her and made things worse. I like that Moriarty is actually smart and not faux Smart Girl smart.)

Liss: I liked all of that stuff, too. And the code sent through the sketches! So clever. Yes yes yes to Moriarty being actually smart. I also loved the reveal at the end that the coordinates were to a vault where seeds are stored. LOL. It was just perfectly absurd, but also it was terrific that she knew exactly where that vault is.

Ana: NOT THAT THIS EPISODE WAS PERFECT. (We were musing that we would probably have liked this episode less if the previous ones hadn't been So Bad.) I don't think the episode passed Bechdel, and I was terribly disappointed that (once again) Moriarty and Joan can't think of anything to talk about except Sherlock. They're both supposed to be very smart, and in very different ways, you'd think they might have something to talk about beyond That Guy They're Bickering Over. (Also: The Painting. I'm just not 100% on how I feel about Moriarty painting Joan. It didn't give me good feels.)

Liss: Uh-huh. It's so frustrating how the show is ostensibly committed to not making Joan and Sherlock a romantic couple, but still puts Joan in positions where she looks like a jealous girlfriend. If you're not going to make them a couple, stop making her behave like one-half of a couple! Surely there is a way (I can think of several ways, in fact) to write Moriarty and Joan being competitive as Sherlock's priority/partner that doesn't look like two women competing for a man.

Protip to the writers: Just imagine the characters aren't female, and you will stop writing them like jealous girlies!

Ugh, the painting. Gross. I didn't even understand what the point of that was. We already knew Moriarty is a skilled painter, so nope. We already know Moriarty is trying to get under Joan's skin, so nope. We already know that Joan is creeped out by Moriarty, so nope. What was its narrative purpose? It just seemed to sit there, trying to communicate Something Big, but failing.

Ana: And Moriarty's insistence that Sherlock will move on when Joan stops being a puzzle just reminded me that Joan DOESN'T puzzle him anymore, and I'm disappointed at that—she's started to feel like mini-Sherlock instead of qualitatively different in her manner of thinking.

Liss: Yeah. I feel like they've just gotten lazy with Joan's character development this season.

Ana: The whole "I'm screened to resist her" conversation was painful. Painful that Gregson took so long to catch on; someone as smart as he and seemingly pretty okay and tolerant shouldn't think gay people are magic unicorns that only exist in the land of dreams and fairies. And, really, the whole conversation seemed to enforce that—how hard would it have been to say "I'm not interested in women" instead of mysteriously saying he's Been Specially Screened like he's psychic or a Time Lord or something Rare and Amazing. I dunno, I always love seeing more queer people on television, but this felt like it was making him exotic and rare rather than just the best guy for this job for bunches of reasons including the fact that he's not going to fall for a seduction gambit.

Liss: I didn't find it that awful, personally—I actually thought it kind of highlighted the awkward position in which heterocentrism and the assumption of de facto straightness can put queer people. Like, the guy was trying to communicate information without disclosing his sexuality in the middle of a professional environment, and the straight people around him made it weird. I found it effective, but I understand why you and others might view it a different way.

It was also an interesting set-up to the latter part of the episode when Moriarty overwhelms him and escapes—because the assumption in the earlier scene is that her only way out is seduction. But whoooooops your reductive stereotype about a woman! She gets out care of smarts and brute force.

Ana: Coming back to Joan, I'm more than a little tired that we're still beating this bland drum about how her dating life sucks. Why can't she be having a nice time, meeting new friends, having nice sex (if that's what she wants), and flourishing? Why does she have to be lonely and unhappy? Is that really adding value? It seems like it just serves to isolate her and keep her focused on Sherlock, and that just…bugs me. Even if they don't take it to a sexual level with Sherlock, it still bugs me. It might be interesting to explore IF the reason she's having trouble with men is because they're intimidated by her genius (because then we might explore sexism and how people react different to Joan than to Sherlock in part BECAUSE she's a woman of color and he's a white man), but we're not even really getting that—it's just "oh, online dating is so bland and full of losers."

And I'm sort of troubled by the implication that she's looking for a Life-Mate right from the first date, as opposed to just having fun and enjoying meeting new people. I'm not saying that her approach is wrong, but it doesn't feel quite right for my picture of Joan. She's radically changed her job twice in the last couple of years, and has been wonderfully open to making new life plans and pursuing things she likes without being Tied Down Forever to them, so it seems odd to me that she seems to be using coffee dates to search for the guy she wants to be with for the rest of her life the end. That seems at odds with her flexibility about her future.

And so it sort of comes off like the writers think this is the only way a woman does/should date: husband-shopping, instead of enjoying herself. I'm troubled by that. It would, I think, be fixed if we could move away from this Smurfette situation and we had more women (HEY REMEMBER WHEN WE HAD MS. HUDSON FOR A WHOLE EPISODE THAT WAS NICE) but we're not getting that. And the fact that Sherlock overlaid all the opening with more OH GREGSON'S MARRIAGE IS A SHAMBLES complaining brought home, again, that we're seeing monogamy as the only model here. Sherlock has Moriarty, Joan is husband-shopping, Gregson is married. Where are our sex-positive characters who aren't monogamous? Is that a thing we can have?

Also-also? John Watson is happily married in canon. Like, pretty much right off the bat—he falls in love, gets married, lives apart from Sherlock, is happy, still comes along on cases but has a whole separate life from him. It's making me really pissy that the Elementary writers have backed away from a lot of the awesome Season 1 stuff BECAUSE CANON, but they're still happy to trample over canon in order to isolate Joan and make her unhappy. I call shenanigans on that.

Liss: Yep yes yeah totes. And, like, whatever happened to Joan's self-defense training? Maybe we could see some more about that? More scenes with her mother or brother? Meet her dad? More ladies' nights out (where her dating life isn't the center of the conversation)? Lots of threads that could be picked up, but are just left.

And let's be honest: It isn't because the cases are oh-so-sophisticated this season that there's no room for a short scene of Joan being an autonomous human being with a life. I mean, even this episode, I saw the whole thing about the girl being Moriarty's daughter coming from fully one million miles away.

I don't need to know that Sherlock hid the letters in the beehive to enjoy this show. I do need to know that Joan's life isn't a garbage pile because she made the choice to work and live with Sherlock. The little scenes are important.

Ana: So, in conclusion: Natalie Dormer: Yay! Joan Watson: Feels like we're not getting the same rich, vibrant character we had in Season 1 and that makes me sad. Queer People: Not rare butterflies that have to be specially screened via rainbow netting.

Liss: LOL! Fin.

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