Episode 22: Risk Management
Not only that, the voice hires Sherlock to do some detecting. What a lark!
Sherlock: “For what it’s worth, he’s not bringing his wife, either.”
Nice nagging dig, Mr Holmes. (But Joan totally is his platonic work-wife. So there.)
Also, Captain Gregson asks Joan if she could become the sober companion for the daughter of one of his friends — which doesn’t go over that well. Joan may not be formally committed to Holmes anymore, no, but she’s emotionally and professionally committed to him; and it’s a bond that won’t be broken, but it’s also not one Joan is willing to try and test with a separation of several months. One, because Sherlock has never been so close to catching Moriarty, and he needs her help, on so many levels. Two, because, well, she just doesn’t want to leave, neither Sherlock nor the work she finds even more rewarding than her (excellent) work as a sober companion. I find Gregson’s immediate reaction to this quite amusing: he seems bemused, pensive, and not a little concerned. He probably realises that he’d underestimated the strength of her friendship with Sherlock. Their relationship is rarely commented on by other characters, so this is one of the few precious moments of mirroring and reflecting that comes from the outside in; and it’s a very telling one. Gregson knows that Joan is his best gauge of how to deal with Holmes, as evidenced by their many brief exchanges and meta-communications about Sherlock and him asking her for help. He knows that she knows him best, but this tells us that he still attributed her staying to her professional concern about Sherlock. This idea also comes after Sherlock packing her medical bag with legos, so he probably inferred that she wouldn’t be too worried about leaving him for a while now. Gregson acknowledges their commitment to each other by saying that it would only take her away from New York for a few months, implying that she would be back — back with Sherlock — soon enough. Her reaction to his proposal such as it is, however, tells him that it’s not just Sherlock’s state of mind that prompted her staying, but her own.
Later, we actually get to the meat of the question: Gregson’s been pushing her to take the job because he’s worried for her safety. Being with Sherlock doesn’t exactly mean a tranquil life, and with Moriarty closing in, Gregson would rather Joan were somewhere out of the immediate line of fire.
Joan: “You’re in the danger zone also!”
Gregson: “I’ve been a cop for thirty years, I carry a gun.”
Joan, under her breath: “And a penis.”
Gregson: “You think this is about you being a woman. […] He probably doesn’t even recognise the danger you’re in. I do.”
Except… Sherlock does. He does, very much. Remember how he visibly and audibly panicked when Joan and Rhys were at the house with a dirty cop and he heard gun fire? Sherlock cares, more than Gregson realises — and more than Joan realises, at first.
Joan: “Well, there are ways to hurt you that do not involve hurting… you.”
Sherlock: “Watson, you know that there are risks entailed in the work that I–that we perform. You cannot do the work without undertaking those risks. But know this: as far as Moriarty is concerned, I will never allow any harm to come to you, not ever.”
Joan: “You can’t promise that.”
Sherlock: “And yet I have.”
Sherlock Holmes, the “I am so logic I’m fabulous and all there is to me in life are facts” dude who’s always the cleverest guy in the room, just made a promise that cannot be made, an emotional promise that is built on trust and affection, not on facts. And of course he lied to Watson about Poplar Street — except Joan has some trumps up her sleeve: she cloned the phone. You see, that’s another great thing about Elementary: Sherlock always tries to protect Watson, but like it or not, recasting the character as a female brings with it psychological and cultural baggage. Neither Gregson nor Sherlock think any less of her for being a woman, but she rightly accuses them of trying to shield her more than they would a dude, and of thinking that they know what’s best even if that interferes with her decision-making. That’s where one of the differences in characterisation lies: in many adaptations, danger is the chief incentive for Watson. Joan isn’t wired that way, but she accepts the risks as part of the work. That, however, is only half of the equation: in turn, she wants to be afforded the same front-line position whenever and wherever she chooses it. It’s her decision, and as remarkable as Sherlock’s affection for her is, it’s not conducive to her not being put on the sidelines. She’s very well aware of the gender dynamic, and she won’t have the men she works with make the important decisions for her, no sir. There’s no malice in their actions, but it shows you, very powerfully, how gendered human interaction is, and how much slips through no matter how hard we try. Bravo, Dr Joan Watson.
Also, here is the quote about Irene, in full, because it’s a powerful indicator of how Sherlock felt about her, and who she was — or, well, is. It’s also remarkable to compare his way of making exceptions for Irene with his way of making exceptions for Joan. Both of these women have surprised him in the best way possible; and while the shapes his feelings for them take are entirely different, they’re equally valid, which is a great statement the show is making about platonic friend-/relationships and romantic relationships (aside from not reducing Joan becoming a woman to making her a love interest that the networks and narrow-minded viewers won’t mind): they’re different, but equal in value and bond.
“She was difficult to explain. And I mean that as a compliment. She was American. I held it against her only briefly. She was an exquisite painter. She made her living restoring Renaissance paintings for art museums. She travelled extensively because of her work. She was highly intelligent, optimistic about the human condition. I usually consider it a sign of stupidity, but with Irene, it seemed…almost convincing. She was, to me, the woman. To me, she eclipsed and predominated the whole of her gender. She’s the only one I ever…”