We’re two episodes into Elementary now, and the series is proving itself to be a solid procedural. For other shows that follow a case-of-the-week format, that would be well enough, but as a modern reinterpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic characters, the more pressing concern for Elementary is nailing the dynamic between Holmes and Watson. On that front, the series is still finding its way. The friendship between Holmes and Watson is an essential element in any Sherlock story, and I believe Elementary has the potential to give the iconic partners’ relationship a fresh spin– they just haven’t fully committed to their friendship yet.
Let’s start by discussing what works: the chemistry between Lucy Lui and Jonny Lee Miller is terrific. The actors are adept at both bantering and digging into the broken aspects of these two characters. Holmes and Watson are damaged people; she is riddled with guilt and he’s compartmentalizing the messier aspects of his life in a way that could prove to be destructive. We get the sense that together they have the opportunity to heal, and the series has done an excellent job of demonstrating that these two people already understand each other. I’m thinking specifically of the scene toward the end of the pilot where Watson tells Holmes she won’t tell his father about the crash. Even at this early stage, she can read him. She gets that the brownstone is a haven for him, just as she understands that he can connect with people, but he has been hurt too much and done too much hurting to allow himself to let anyone in. Likewise, Holmes knows that Watson needs something in her life worth waking up for in the morning and he also recognizes that she is carrying around a great deal of guilt, just as he is.
I’m also impressed by the way the series has thus far sidestepped the romantic issue. Many were concerned that by genderswapping Watson, the series was angling to create a will-they-or-won’t-they style relationship between Holmes and Watson. Female/male partnerships on television almost always fall into the UST (unresolved sexual chemistry) trap eventually, but Holmes and Watson’s chemistry doesn’t feel sexual. It’s intimate on an entirely platonic level, which is as it should be. Holmes and Watson’s friendship is iconic for a reason. They operate as partners, confidantes and eternal BFFs– there is no reason we need to add lovers to that list simply because this Watson happens to be a woman.
While I am enjoying watching their friendship develop, I also find myself frustrated by the professional distance making Watson Holmes’s sober companion necessitates. Watson’s job title changes their dynamic in a very specific way, making their presence in each other’s lives a matter of duty. I understand the reasoning behind it: having Holmes’s father hire Watson creates a source of conflict in their relationship. The problem is I don’t need a source of conflict between Holmes and Watson, I would much prefer their friendship grow from a place that isn’t rooted in distrust. It’s also distractingly similar to the first season of The X-Files when Scully was initially tasked to snitch on Mulder. It didn’t take long for creator Chris Carter to realize his characters worked better as a united front, and I’m hoping the Elementary team will be reaching the same conclusion about theirs soon.
Luckily, the writers already seem to be on the right track. The day when Holmes and Watson are allowed to move past this initial friendship-by-necessity storyline seems to be fast approaching. Holmes mentioned that if he stays drug-free for six weeks they can go their separate ways, but what that really means is that in six weeks time the duo can choose to continue their partnership because they wish to, not because they are obligated to. There is always a chance that Holmes will suffer a lapse in his recovery and Watson will be forced to stay, but I much prefer to think that by then Watson will have fully earned Holmes’s trust and Holmes’s exciting lifestyle will be too alluring for Watson to pass up. Then the real fun can begin.
What do you think of the way the show is building Holmes and Watson’s friendship so far? Do you like the sober companion angle? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter in the comments!
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