Well, I have discussed how the most important females in the Sherlock Holmes stories are usually portrayed in adaptations, I have discussed the treatment of females in general – but what about the last group of characters, those, who are added in adaptations?
This is the point at which I am running in a little bit of a problem. There are so many adaptations and once in a while, there are indeed pretty well-written female original characters in them. It is pretty much impossible to make a sweeping statement about all of them. Therefore I will focus on how “Sherlock” is doing this time around.
The answer: All in all not too badly. I have some grievances with Sarah Sawyer, but there is nothing outright offensive about her. Sally Donovan, though created as an antagonist, is actually a fairly rounded character in that I see where she is coming from when she complains about Sherlock not playing by the rules. Unlike Anderson, she is never portrayed as incompetent, but as Lestrade’s trustworthy right-hand. Sherlock’s mother turns out to be the actual source of Sherlock’s and Mycroft’s incredible intelligence, when the show could have easily attached this ability to the father. But what summons up the show’s approach to female characters the best, is the scene when Sherlock talks with the victims of the Mayfly man.
It might be strange to compliment a scene in which we see a bunch of woman who were duped by a man, but what I appreciate about it is the diversity presented. For example the experience with the Mayfly man reach from “just cuddling” to “kinky sex”, dependent on the personality of the woman in question. Body types and interests of them are totally different. In a media landscape in which the phrase “strong female character” is confused “she has to be a martial artist without any flaws whatsoever” it is really refreshing how different the woman in “Sherlock” are.
The best example for this is Molly, though it took some time for the writers to get there. In the first season, Molly is basically a punch-line. She exists to show what a careless and manipulative a-hole Sherlock can be. And it is easy to slip into the “well, she deserves it” mind-set, because she is so hung up on a guy who treats her like a doormat. This thought goes right out of the window when the second season rolls around, and Molly actually calls Sherlock out for treating her that badly. Suddenly there is a shift and the show seems to say: There is nothing wrong with being a nice person, and you should respect people who are this way. They are the ones who take over your shift during Christmas so that you can be with your family. They are the ones who will be there for you when everything falls apart. Don’t disrespect them. Be glad that they exist.
In the end that’s what it boils down to: Respect. In most shows or movies, there wouldn’t be any respect for a character like Molly. In “Sherlock” though, she is a key character. Without her, he wouldn’t have been able to fake his death. And when she doesn’t add to a case in real life, she is walking around in his mind palace.
That doesn’t mean that I agree with every decision the show made regarding her character. I expressed my feelings concerning women slapping men before, and this is a case in which it doesn’t work at all. It doesn’t really fit Molly to be that aggressive and it is pretty clear that the scene exists to give her a badass moment she doesn’t really need. I am also kind of sad that she isn’t able to move on from Sherlock. I was okay with it in the beginning, in fact, it made her character even better that despite her being so nice, she was not above showing off her new boyfriend and trying (without success) to make Sherlock jealous. She would be boring if she were perfect. But after all this years her feelings towards Sherlock come off more like an unhealthy obsession than a crush.
This is especially problematic because Molly is portrayed as very perceptive, she knows very well that Sherlock will never care for anyone as much as he cares for John. In fact, it is that knowledge which makes her so compelling. Her best scenes are easily in “The Reichenbach Fall” when she reveals that she knows that something is going on with Sherlock. The person who Sherlock overlooked is suddenly the person who has an incling what is going on in his mind. She is wrong, though, when she says she doesn’t count. She is the kind of person we take for granted but miss deeply as soon as they are gone.
At the end of the day, Molly works so well because she is us. Most woman aren’t hyper-competent martial artists. We are just normal people, who do our jobs, dress in whatever we consider comfortable and spend our days doing what has to be done. But we all like to think that we would step up in a time of need the way Molly does in “Sherlock”. She is not the heroine we wish to be, she is the heroine we could be.
Quote: “Well, we all do silly things.”
Well, this concludes my article series about Sherlock. I haven’t decided yet what I will do next. I have one or two ideas. But if you have suggestions, feel free to drop them. I promise I will consider them. Just remember that I don’t cover female children characters, they have to be at least 14 years old for consideration.