She Has Come a Very Long Way: Kitty Winter in Elementary

Besides spoilers for the most recent season of Elementary, this article also contains references to potentially triggering topics like rape and assault.

I totally geeked out when I heard Kitty Winter was joining Elementary. A few summers back, I binge-read The Complete Collection of Sherlock Holmes, and Kitty Winter was one of the characters that stuck out in my mind. She was fiery, clever, and one of the few women to make a positive impression on Sherlock Holmes. Irene Adler’s not the only special snowflake.Kitty3Going into Season 3 of Elementary, of course I had questions. Sherlock and Joan had parted ways in the S2 finale; Joan moved out of the brownstone to find her own space, and Sherlock took up an offer from MI6 to work in London.  So how were they going to reunite in New York again? Where was Kitty Winter going to fit in to all this? Frequent readers here know I try to look on the positive side, especially during contentious fandom moments. After her first episode, the general fandom reception to Ophelia Lovibond’s character was dislike. The reasons ran the gamut from from her attitude to being labeled Watson 2.0. But after “The One Who Got Away”, I’m pleased to report  Kitty Winter surpassed all expectations.

KittyWinterACDIn the original Arthur Conan Doyle canon, Kitty Winter was the ex-mistress of a murderous and philandering Baron. She eagerly teams up with Holmes and Watson to prove what a scoundrel he is to his fiance, informing them he has a book of conquests. More than once during the story she indulges her rage against him, the most memorable of which is when she scars the Baron’s face with vitriol. Let’s get something straight – ACD!Kitty was not a ‘proper lady’. She freely and unapologetically admits to Holmes and Watson that she loved Baron Gruner and slept with him when no proposal of marriage had occurred. He tossed her aside and left her a ruined woman hell-bent on revenge. Some readers argue she became a prostitute out of necessity or was forced into the sex trade. Regardless, she’s cast in a very sympathetic light in the text. The Granada Holmes adaptation takes this a step further, with Kitty (Kim Thompson) having originally been burned with vitriol at Gruner’s sadistic hands.

In Elementary, the circumstances differ. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) first meets Kitty when she notices the young woman’s been following her. The second time, they engage in a baton battle, and Watson realizes they’ve been trained by the same person – Sherlock. “I’m his partner,” Kitty defensively claims after she’s bested by Watson. “Protege,” Sherlock corrects when he finally reunites with Watson on a case. He crossed paths with Kitty several months back  in London and saw her potential as a detective. Living with him in the brownstone and assisting him in his cases with the NYPD is the next part of her training. Kitty has great instincts, but she is impatient with some of her mentor’s methods. Regardless, she flourishes in New York under both Sherlock and Joan’s influences. They provide different perspectives for how she can move on from her traumatic experience.

Two years ago, Kitty was kidnapped, raped, and tortured. She managed to escape, but her attacker was never caught. She changed her name and tried to start a new life. She meets Sherlock while trying to bring a detective’s attention to her theory about a kidnapped child. Working with the consulting detective gives Kitty a sense of purpose, with the eventual goal in her mind being that she will find the man who hurt her and bring him to justice. Joan thinks that Kitty isn’t fully dealing with her trauma and encourages attending a support group. Kitty does so because she values Joan’s opinion, and they gradually become friends. Joan advocates for Kitty when Sherlock gets overprotective, and Kitty advocates for Joan’s right to share her experiences when “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes” manuscript is found on Watson’s old laptop.

Despite their early antagonism, Joan comes to view Kitty as "family".
After an antagonistic start, Joan comes to view Kitty as “family”.

Despite her growth with Holmes and Watson, Kitty does have a recurring character flaw: vengeance, with a tendency of resorting to less-than-legal means when she wants a particular result. When Captain Gregson is in a moral pickle – firing his daughter’s police partner for hitting her and thus airing her personal business to world, or to swallow his pride and shake the man’s hand in a public apology for slugging him – Kitty tells him that “she shouldn’t have to appear weak if she doesn’t want to”. Gregson heeds the advice and shakes the man’s hand, only to find out that said police officer is resigning because Kitty spoke to him.

That character flaw rears its head abundantly in “The Illustrious Client” and “The One Who Got Away”, the two-part conclusion of Kitty’s arc. When evidence turns up suggesting that Kitty’s assailant is in New York, she’s determined to track him down. She goes so far as to intimidate a suspect’s sister in the privacy of her own home so that she will talk to the police. Later, when they determine the real culprit is Del Gruner but can’t prove it, Kitty takes the law into her own hands. She kidnaps Gruner, planning to torment him the way he did her, then kill him and dissolve his body so he’ll never be found. Sherlock finds her, but doesn’t stop her. He admits that he can never understand the way she feels about the situation, but he will stand by her no matter what choice she makes: whether it’s killing Gruner or leaving him to the police.

kitty the right thing kitty the right thing 2

Kitty takes the middle ground. She frees Gruner, but only after irreparably burning his face. It’s shocking, and Kitty will have to face the consequences if she’s caught, but it’s also the right conclusion for her character. This is a woman whose whole story is about taking back control and being allowed to make her own choices. And I don’t mean just as a sexual assault survivor, I mean as a whole person. The really great thing about Kitty is that her survivor status never defined her. We aren’t subjected to graphic scenes to sensationalize her history or even to glorify her actions against Gruner. What really defines Kitty Winter, and what I can’t fully describe, are all the little things: her friendship with Joan, her friendship and mentorship with Sherlock, the fact that she made friends and was finally having some semblance of a real life again in New York.

I thought about comparing the BBC Sherlock series to Elementary in this article, but it doesn’t seem right. Elementary has done some things better than BBC Sherlock, and vice versa. But the Kitty Winter arc has been done so, so right, it just may have given this American adaptation a leg up on its English cousin.


One thought on “She Has Come a Very Long Way: Kitty Winter in Elementary

  1. Great analysis. I’ve really liked Kitty’s character and her dynamic with Sherlock and Joan. I think that, procedural wise, it could have been written better, with writers finding more balance between the three detective and their methods, but I’ve enjoyed the development of Kitty’s character and the way her arc played out. Very true to the canon yet unique in it’s own way without disputing anything that we’ve learned about Kitty up to that point. I hope that we will see some more of her in season.

    Speaking of season four, I have my own idea for the premiere, that would also be an adaptation of an original Sherlock Holmes story. 
    It turns out that Sherlock didn’t relapse, despite getting very close to, but he actually ended up murdering Oscar in self defense. There was no evidence to prove that the murder wasn’t self defense, but the police had their suspicions, causing him to be put under suspension and possibly face drug possession charge at least, since he had disposed of the narcotics that he had stolen before calling the police but it was later recovered with his fingerprints on it. He was not only facing legal charges, but was upset greatly over what had happened. Joan was the one to contact Sherlock’s father, causing him to go back to New York and try to help Sherlock.
    Due to an investigation and helped by his father’s influence, Sherlock ended up getting cleared of all charges and being free to get back to work, but still decided-and was advised- to “take a break” from his work as a consultant and a detective, and started taking some psychiatric sessions.
    The premiere episode opens in September, with Sherlock resuming his work, to an apparent dislike from his father, who, apparently, sees this situation as an opportunity to get Sherlock move back to London (and yes, I know that the talk about that in season two was a ploy from Mycroft). Sherlock takes over the case that detective Bell and captain Gregson had been working on in the past, but had never solved: a young, healthy woman was found dead in her house; the cause of death hadn’t been determined, and in weeks prior to the murder she had reported a suspicious man moving around her house at night, as well as hearing weird, whistle like noises under her bedroom window. Police had investigated those claims, but hadn’t gotten very far. Shortly before her death, she had sent a text message to her sister, reading simply “A Speckled Band”. That happened late in 2011, when Sherlock was at the height of his addiction and wasn’t working for NYPD yet, neither was that keen on studying the cases happening throughout the city. Now, almost four years later and with the anniversary of the victim’s death approaching, the victim’s sister, living in a completely different neighborhood,  also reports seeing a strange man moving around her house at night and hearing whistle like noises. The suspects include their abusive stepfather, the victim’s possessive ex boyfriend and a registered female sex offender who lived close to the victim in 2011 and is now living close to the victim’s sister.
    Obviously, that would be an adaption of “The Adventure Of The Speckled Band”.
    I also hope that they will explore Sherlock’s bond with his father more and that we will learn more about his character, but that he will not be in the show for more than, like, first five episodes.
    I doubt the writers will follow through on that idea (though they would have my full permission, no rights demanded!-please) but I hope that they will give us a great season premiere.

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