Those of you familiar with Sherlock Holmes already recognize the name. Joan Watson is not only a gender-bent John Watson, but a race-bent one as well. In Elementary, John Watson is re-imagined as Joan Watson, a Chinese-American surgeon. Instead of a military career, Joan has instead accidentally killed a patient during surgery, which led to her abandoning the profession to become, at first, a sober companion. This is how she meets Sherlock Holmes.
That Joan gravitated towards the career of sober companion highlights one of her most significant traits: her compassion. When Joan first began working with Sherlock her kindness and empathy for those around her was a striking contrast to Sherlock’s cold logic. Rather than belittle her for this, the show makes it a point of strength, and in the first season’s finale, Joan’s emotional intelligence is a key factor in catching the Big Bad of the season.
Eventually, and after a lot of thought, Joan realizes that her path in life is to become a detective like Sherlock, and so she becomes his apprentice. Soon enough, Joan is competent enough to work on her own, but her partnership with Sherlock is one of the best things about the show. They have a friendship that, at its core, is rooted in deep respect for one another. In very few Sherlock Holmes adaptations does Sherlock venerate Watson like he does on Elementary – more than once Sherlock states that he is good at what he does only with Watson at his side, and that she makes him better. The show emphasizes that Holmes and Watson are two halves of a very effective whole; they are true partners and equals.
The writers have done a spectacular job fleshing Joan out; she becomes a character in her own right, with her own backstory, outside of Sherlock. Her parents are Chinese, and this is not forgotten, but neither is it fetishized; the show finds ways to subtly make nods to Joan’s cultural heritage without pandering to a white gaze. Unlike most incarnations of Watson, Joan is not Sherlock’s sidekick or cheerleader; she does not worship him. She sees him as he is, flaws and all. In another fresh twist, Watson, despite being compassionate and empathetic, finds her romantic relationships mostly unsatisfying, and prefers to focus on her detective work, much to the concern of her friends and family.
Joan shatters stereotypes of East Asian women as demure or docile; though she radiates calm she is possessed with a fierce independence and a will of steel. You can often find her setting Sherlock straight or threatening people who hurt those she cares about (including Sherlock’s ultra-powerful father). With her grace, serenity, and quiet strength, Joan Watson is an absolute tour-de-force of a character.