After Elementary’s strong and critically well-received first season, Dr. Joan Watson (played by Lucy Lui) has become a much beloved TV character, especially amongst women viewers. Fans took to social media to express their love of all things Joan Watson, especially her stellar fashion choices. But more than that, fans gravitated towards the relationship (and its evolution in the first season) between Joan and Sherlock because it moved away from the canonical Holmes/Watson dynamic. In Elementary, Watson becomes firmly established as Holmes’s partner – not his sidekick or assistant – as seen in her transition from sobriety counselor, to protégé and finally to Sherlock’s professional equal. More than that she is assertive, confident, and is more than willing to challenge Holmes's ego and eccentricities.
However, while season one mostly delivered on this promise of a "new" feminist-inspired Watson, season two seemed to struggle at times with how to locate Watson in relation to Sherlock, even as a major narrative arc dealt with their growing professional rift. As the accompanying clip from “An Unnatural Arrangement” illustrates, Joan becomes increasingly frustrated with Sherlock’s way of running their consulting partnership, and she sternly reminds him that “partnership implies equality.”
This unevenness in storytelling prompted many frustrated tweets by fans who criticized the writers for sidelining Watson in service of furthering Sherlock’s character development. Audience dissatisfaction prompted the hashtag Joan Watson Deserves Better which was used on social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter to bring attention to the problem (and hopefully the Elementary writers’ room). These concerns were exacerbated by a rather unbelievable romantic plot development between Watson and Mycroft (which fans disparagingly referred to as "Joancroft"), Sherlock’s estranged brother, and the general feeling that Watson had become nothing more than Sherlock’s sounding board or moral compass. The general sentiment of the #JoanWatsonDeservesBetter discussions has been that fans want more Joan, not less, and a more fully fleshed out Joan who embodies all of the complexities that Sherlock does. I want to suggest that this negative response to season two Joan offers interesting insights into how Elementary fans, fiercely protective of Joan Watson (and what she symbolizes), actively resist the traditional concept of the sidekick as less than or inferior to the hero. Gender politics are clearly an important part of this discussion, reflecting the appetite for sidekicks who transcend convention and challenge the status quo.