I’m not the first person to question Steven Moffet’s female characters, and I’m sure I won’t be the last, but the opening scene of the Sherlock season 3 finale (pictured above) struck me as particularly revolting. I’ll admit to being a bit behind on the times, but I’ve had this on my mind this week and need to get it out.
Sherlock SPOILERS ahead
Of course they wanted to make their newest villain terrible, and the message came across loud and clear, but another message was sent out as well. Of course, as always, it’s nearly impossible to know another person’s opinions on something from subtext in something they create, I’ve noticed the message of women as secondary – and subsidiary – characters come across in much of Moffet’s writing (Sherlock, Doctor Who, and to a different tune, Coupling)
Reading into the subtext, women – even women in power – are always going to end up submitting to whatever men want. This message comes across clearly to me, but it subtle enough that it isn’t the first thing commented on. Instead, the idea simmers on the minds of viewers without them even realizing it. And because it more or less matches what the rest of society is telling us about a woman’s role, it’s easily falls into subconsciousness.
Even past the opening scene, we see a Mary Watson in a new light. Mary is a powerful woman filled with mysteries that we will probably never really know. She was able to fool Sherlock, which (him being the all-powerful, male protagonist) is no easy feet.
When we are first introduced to this new version of Mary, I was excited. Finally. A female character who is pure strength. Who doesn’t used her sexuality as her defining tool. Finally, some progress has been made and we get to see a new type of lady from Moffet’s pen.
My dream is dashed when John confronts Mary. Instead of seeing a couple who deals with the emotions of a relationship partially built on a lie, John (literally) throws the information into the fire. He claims that he doesn’t care what her past is. What I hear instead is that he couldn’t deal with the idea of what she might be. Mary is an assassin. She is likely a foreign intelligence agent gone rouge. She is a great match for Sherlock and would make a great addition to their team.
And who knows, maybe she still will be a part of the thrilling team that John and Sherlock have become. But the question of Mary’s past and the story of what forced her into hiding, it’s probably never going to be told. And that’s so frustrating to me because I want to know!
The question becomes – since there are many fantastic elements to Sherlock and his adventures – should we submit ourselves to these subliminal messages to be entertained for a few hours with a fantastic mystery? Once these messages are seen, how can watching and supporting the show be justified if the goal of equality is ever going to be reached?
I don’t know the answer, but I ask questions like these constantly. In fact, Sherlock is only the most recent television show to bring the question up. Similar questions can be asked about the majority of written, produced, and distributed content. A combination of ‘how can they make that?’ and ‘how can I support it by consuming it?’