Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dear "Elementary"

Dear "Elementary,"

A friend and I watched several episodes of your show last night at  Five episodes, I think.  I tell you this up front so that if you want to say, "Hey, five episodes from our whole body of work is nothing!  You don't know a thing about our show!" then you can step away now.

If you're still here, let's continue.

Something bothered me early on, and I kept watching with the hope that it had been an inconsistency.  But, no, it was consistent throughout the episodes: the Watson character is called "Miss Watson," not "Dr. Watson."

There have been many, many incarnations of the Sherlock Holmes characters over the years, several of them very popular and mainstream, but this is the first time to my knowledge that we've had a female Watson on regular prime-time television.  What you're doing is kind of a big deal, and I suspect that you're aware of it.

Therefore, it is also a big deal that you've taken away the title of "Dr." and instead issued the title of "Miss."

Calling her "Dr." would put her on par with all of the other Watsons.  It would make reference to her education and canonical profession.  It is a title with social cachet.

Calling her "Ms." would strip away her education and canonical profession, would emphasize her femininity, yet would also be perceived by the audience as quasi-feminist.

Calling her "Miss" strips away her education and canonical profession while emphasizing that she's a single woman.  It also implies youthfulness.  You're communicating to your audience that she's feminine and available.

Is this a nod to the patriarchy?  A sort of: I know that you're uncomfortable with us casting Dr. Watson as a woman, but we'll make it more palatable to you by emphasizing her femininity and sexual availability over her canonical credentials!

Is this a nod to feminists?  A sort of: That's right, we cast Dr. Watson as a woman!  And so that no one can mistake what a woman she is, we'll call her "Miss" so that she's gendered female at all times!

Here's how two of your audience members perceived it last night: You took a terrific step forward in casting Dr. Watson as a woman, and then you took a step right back again by taking away her title.  It's a real disappointment for me, one of those nagging problems which make me uneasy as I watch your show.

I thought to myself, before I sat down to write this, that I should be fair.  I should stop and do my research and investigate why the character is titled "Miss."  Likely it's some interesting back story, something integral to the character's history.  But, no, I'm not going to do my research, because it doesn't matter to me what your rationalization is.  You created her history how it pleased you, and you could have written it any which way you liked.  You could have written a back story which leads us to "Dr. Watson," but you chose a back story which leaves us with "Miss Watson," and that was a deliberate choice on your part.

It's like pointing out a problem with World of Warcraft and being told, "But that's the lore!" as if that's the end of the conversation.  The lore is not some sacred, authentic, historical text; it's whatever the writers say that it is.  You wrote a character and you gave her a history and you labeled her "Miss Watson."  You could have written her any number of other ways and given us "Dr. Watson."  Maybe you're proud of her history, maybe it makes terrific story-telling, maybe you're trying to build an intensely compelling character and I'm missing out on something great.  Maybe.  What is definite, though, is that you wrote [what is perceived as] a risky, groundbreaking role and instead of giving us a female Dr. Watson, you gave us Miss Watson.

I would rather have a female Dr. Watson from episode to episode than Miss Watson's compelling back story which hasn't come up in any of the episodes I've seen.  I think that the weight of hearing Sherlock (and everyone else) say "Dr. Watson" onscreen every episode would be an interesting, important, cultural step forward.  This was a chance for that, and you've robbed us of it.

I wonder if you'll tackle the Strange Case of Miss Jekyll and Miss Hyde next.

With love,
Frank Lee

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