Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson have one of the most unique relationships on television. As consulting detective and sober companion turned apprentice, they make an undeniably compelling duo. Their friendship is central to the CBS drama Elementary, which puts a modern spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But could there be something more between these two extraordinary characters? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
From the moment they meet, Sherlock and Joan share an immediate connection. Joan is originally hired by Sherlock’s father as his sober companion, to help him stay clean after leaving rehab. But it soon becomes clear she is far more than just his caretaker. Joan has an uncanny ability to see through Sherlock’s eccentricities and call him out when needed. She is one of the few people who can truly challenge him. For his part, Sherlock recognizes Joan’s keen intellect and takes her on as his protégé, teaching her his methods of observation and deduction.
Together, they make an incredibly effective team. Joan sees details that even Sherlock misses, and she provides an empathy that perfectly balances his cold logic. Over time, the two develop an incredibly close friendship and working relationship. They rely on each other both professionally and personally, through every twist and turn of their partnership.
Their Care for Each Other
More than just colleagues, Sherlock and Joan genuinely care about each other. Sherlock is protective of Joan, while she provides him emotional support and guidance. They often put each other’s needs above their own in small but meaningful ways. For instance, Sherlock frequently brings Joan coffee and snacks when she’s working late. And Joan once missed an important job interview to help Sherlock through a crisis with his father.
They are also comfortable showing affection through subtle physical gestures. A hand on the arm to provide reassurance, leaning against each other on the couch, even falling asleep together when exhausted. While they bicker at times, any tension is quickly forgotten. No matter the situation, they have each other’s backs. Their steadfast loyalty and devotion is unmistakable.
Perhaps most significant is the depth of understanding between Sherlock and Joan. They know each other’s quirks, habits, strengths and flaws. Joan is well-versed in the inner workings of Sherlock’s brilliant but messy mind. She anticipates when he needs solitude versus company. Likewise, Sherlock recognizes Joan’s smallest facial expressions and can deduce her thoughts and moods.
This insight allows them to communicate volumes through just a look or subtle gesture. They share personal details about their lives and families to a degree that requires complete trust. Even when apart, they think of each other often, evidencing a true emotional connection.
Moments of Romantic Tension
For all their closeness, Sherlock and Joan’s relationship remains nebulous for much of the series. But there are certainly hints of something more. One of the first comes in Season 1, when Joan meets Sherlock’s former lover, Irene Adler. His strong reaction makes clear he still has feelings for Irene, causing quiet jealousy from Joan.
In another early episode, Sherlock and Joan go undercover as a married couple. They find themselves enjoying the charade a bit too much, sharing some romantic moments. Later seasons see them posing as lovers again. They appear quite comfortable in the role, with natural physical affection.
Sherlock also shows rare vulnerability when expressing concern for Joan’s safety or fear of losing her. And Joan is noticeably upset when Sherlock returns to London, refusing to see him off at the airport. These events suggest suppressed romantic feelings on both sides.
Why They Remain “Just Friends”
Yet despite these hints, Sherlock and Joan never officially become a couple. There are several logical reasons why.
Firstly, their relationship began with Joan in a quasi-therapeutic role as Sherlock’s sober companion. Crossing lines into romance would have been ethically questionable at first. By the time those boundaries dissolved, they had already established a comfortable rapport as trusted partners and friends.
Both characters also exhibit an emotional guardedness when it comes to romance. Sherlock is married to his work above all else. While he cares for Joan immensely, he may resist deeper entanglements. Meanwhile, Joan is highly independent and focused on her career goals. Committing to Sherlock could distract from her ambitions.
There’s also the risk of ruining a great thing. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sherlock and Joan’s fantastic working relationship and ironclad bond could be jeopardized by adding more complexity. When something already works beautifully, it’s understandable to not want to tamper with the formula.
Sherlock and Joan clearly love and care for each other deeply. The true nature of their feelings remains ambiguous, but that is also the beauty of their relationship. Not everything needs to be defined. What matters is they have forged an unbreakable connection through mutual trust, respect and understanding. Their dynamic partnership and flawless teamwork speaks for itself.
So are Sherlock and Joan in love? In the romantic sense, it’s unclear. But they do love and need each other, in a way that transcends traditional categorization. Maybe “soulmates” is a more fitting term than “couple” for these two extraordinary characters. Either way, their bond is unmistakably the heart of Elementary.