For Elementary‘s Joan Watson, the road to adoption has not been without its challenges. And with serial killer Michael still at large, there’s also an element of looming danger to the P.I.’s life.
Below, Lucy Liu — who steps behind the camera for the sixth time to direct Monday’s episode (CBS, 10/9c) — talks to TVLine about Joan’s struggle to start her own family and how it will impact her partnership with Sherlock. The actress also weighs in on her character’s love life (or lack thereof) and why Michael terrifies her.
TVLINE | What have you learned about your co-stars from directing them?
They are actually fairly malleable. [Laughs] They’re very open. They don’t need a whole lot of direction. That’s the one thing that I have been very grateful for, that they are actually not people that require a whole lot of kid-handling. They’re very, very talented, and they are able to be open to taking direction, which is not always easy when you’re working with people that you’ve worked with for a long time, to suddenly have to listen to your co-stars asking you to do things. But I’ve enjoyed the process a lot. It’s been life-changing, because you can see things from a very different perspective. Once you direct, when you’re acting, you just never see things the same way again.
TVLINE | This has been a really interesting season for Joan. She decided that she wanted to adopt. What’s next for her on that journey of starting a family?
She realizes that it may not be her lifelong dream to become a detective. The idea of breaking her out of that system a little bit is helpful, because it explores who she is as a woman, and what are her options outside of this career, and what can she do in addition to that? It’s just something that she looks at, which is important for audiences to see more of a personal side to her, because we don’t really focus on her having relationships in the show.
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TVLINE | Do you like that they don’t focus too much on her romantic/love problems?
You know, I had a love interest, and he was killed off… I’ve done a lot of shows where it was all about relationships, so it’s kind of nice to not focus on them at all. But it’s nice to take a break from just the procedural aspect and actually fold in some of the personal side of the character.
TVLINE | We’ve seen that there are some challenges to her being able to adopt. First, the young student decided she was going to keep the baby. Then Joan had some issues with her lawyer. What’s the biggest obstacle that she needs to watch out for?
I think getting caught in the same world as Sherlock. That can be really difficult, because she’s not on the same level as he is. And also, his unique way of living his life [is] very specialized. You can get really immersed into that world without really having a way out. So that myopic way of thinking can create a very narrow life in the end, even though it’s a very interesting life. That’s why I think the exploration of the child is an important aspect for her.
TVLINE | I love how they’re forming this very unconventional family. How is having a child going to change Sherlock and Joan’s partnership?
The partnership is going to include a miniature plus-one that is going to, inevitably, change the way that you choose the jobs and the opportunities that you have. Sometimes you think that things are going to just stay the same, but there’s just no way to do that. Everything evolves, whether you want them to or not, and that’s kind of the beautiful thing about children. They’re unpredictable, and you can schedule things, and you can think you have an idea of what you want to do, but every child is its own personality. It would really change their dynamic, completely.
TVLINE | Did you collaborate with the writers at all on this storyline, as a mother yourself?
No. They are the ones that came to me and said, “This is something that we are thinking about doing, but if it sounds like it’s too connected or too much of a parallel to your life…” and I said, “No.” It’s obviously a modern take on Holmes and Watson, and for people that are tuning in now, there are very different ways of creating and having a family. That “nuclear family” definition is so different than what it used to be. So it’s really healthy to explore that and have that be a topic, especially on something like network television, which is much more widely seen in some ways by America. It opens up that definition of what things can be, and it makes it a little more amorphous, and hopefully, it doesn’t feel as mysterious because of that.
TVLINE | I’m concerned that we haven’t seen Michael in a while. Is there anything you can tease about how he will re-enter the picture?
The wonderful thing about the character Michael is that he’s like a tumor. Even though you don’t see him, you know it’s malignant. The way that they decided to plan him coming into the picture was that he’s not predictable, and he’s somebody that is so connected and so clearly engaged with the way Sherlock works that [he] becomes more of a natural rival for him. Because Sherlock thinks outside the box, this guy also thinks outside the box. He’s more of a force to be reckoned with, essentially. He’s not, let’s say, on the same level as all the other humans or the other enemies or the other criminals that we’ve dealt with.
TVLINE | Is Joan worried about him?
Absolutely. I mean, the guy is not trustworthy, and there’s something very terrifying about him… When you encounter somebody like that, and it suddenly turns out to be somebody who’s quite evil, it’s not a safe place to be, and that’s a very strange feeling, to feel like your home or your city or your world is not safe. That’s what [executive producer] Rob [Doherty] was trying to set up: this undercurrent of darkness, and the feeling that you can step into tar at any minute and not really know and think it’s just solid ground.