Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

Sherlock: “Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.”

Tonight’s episode was without doubt the most enjoyable ninety minutes of television I’ve seen in years. It took everything that worked about season one, turned the humour up to eleven, added some extra sauce (which caused ructions in the morning press), and chucked in a plot so complex, it would have left even Einstein scratching his head. Seeing the two greatest (albeit fictional) minds of the Western world jousting for intellectual superiority, was like watching Odysseus and Athena do battle. Who won? It’s hard to say -- especially when the game may still be afoot.

The first fifteen minutes was stuffed to bursting with enough Holmes references to keep even the most ardent fan happy. Some were subtly tweaked: like 'The Geek Interpreter' instead of 'The Greek Interpreter,' 'The Navel Treatment' (AKA the belly button murders) instead of 'The Naval Treaty,' and 'The Speckled Blonde' instead of 'The Speckled Band.' Others, like 'The Illustrious Client' and 'The Singular Affair of the Aluminium Crutch' (imagine what Howard Overman could have done with that one), were left mercifully intact. And then, of course, there was the woman.

In 'A Scandal in Bohemia', it was a disgruntled Holmes who first called her the woman. In 'A Scandal in Belgravia', Adler -- now reimagined as a lesbian dominatrix -- wears her professional name with pride. Could there be a better foil for Cumberbatch’s purportedly asexual detective? In the original story, Adler managed to fool Holmes once. Tonight, she kicked his arse so many times I’m surprised she didn’t hobble. She threw every trick in the book at him, and just as Holmes seemed to be getting the upper hand, she’d respond with an equally brilliant counter. Was her ultimate defeat a kick in the lady parts for feminists everywhere? (As post-episode debate would have us believe?) Personally, I thought Moffat's Adler showed more intelligence, cunning and ingenuity than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's ever did. Sherlock's ultimate victory may have changed the short story's ending, but it in no way diminished Adler's mental prowess.

Holmes' reaction to Adler parading around in the buff was comically subdued. Rather than turning him on, her nudity seemed to baffle him. Clothing, to Holmes, is data. Without data, Adler was nothing more than a blank slate. A non-entity. Which was likely the desired effect. It wasn’t until they started trading intellectual blows that the chemistry between them became apparent. Tonight’s story didn’t exactly alter Holmes’ asexual status -- but it surely challenged it. Even Mycroft seemed uncertain of his younger brother's sexual preferences. The question is: what exactly does Holmes feel for Adler?

Being a high-functioning sociopath may restrict Holmes from experiencing the full range of human emotions, but it shouldn’t prevent him from feeling sexual desire. In 'A Study in Pink' Holmes explained away his lack of interest in the opposite sex by claiming to be 'married to his work' -- which suggests he’s celibate by choice. It may be he just suppresses certain emotions, deeming them detrimental to objective deduction -- or maybe the thrill of pitting his highly trained wits against a worthy adversary is more appealing to him than sex. How his condition affects his personal interaction with others is perhaps harder to determine. He seems to exhibit some affection for both Watson and Mrs Hudson. (Albeit expressed in his own inimitable style.) And he did travel all the way to Karachi to rescue Irene. Did he risk his life just to see justice done... or was there subtext to that smile?

Adler, is a different kettle of fish. Despite professed sexual leanings towards women, can there be any real doubt that Holmes' superior intellect produced a sexual response within? She may claim it was all just 'playing the game', but her heart and eyes told a different story -- as did her incessant texting. Her interest in him seemed to spike after he managed to deduce her safe combination from nothing more than her birthday suit (32-24-34). For Holmes, the change seemed to come after his first defeat. From that moment onwards the sexual tension between them was palpable. Even Watson couldn’t help but comment on it. ('Hamish... in case you were looking for baby names'.)

I don't think I've seen a more enjoyable on-screen paring. Lara Pulver was the perfect choice to play Holmes' raunchy nemesis: she positively oozed malice and sex appeal. (Even when fully clothed.) Cumberbatch also seemed to raise his game. I don't think I've ever seen Sherlock so up for a fight. His performance was impeccable -- in fact, virtually everything about this episode sparkled. The script was par excellence, the acting superb, the plot twists endless. Will Adler ever return? Obviously, the door's been left open. Moriarty was only ever in two stories, yet seems to have developed an identity outside of the source material. There's no reason why Adler can't do the same.

If I had to be critical, I'd say the cliffhanger resolve was a bit feeble. But what it lost in plausibility, it probably made up for in audacity. Saved by the Bee Gees! Preposterous -- but, also kind of fun. The numerous info dumps also felt a little unwieldy, but they were punctuated by such lovely character beats -- Christmas and New Year at 221B Baker Street; Holmes playing festive tunes on his violin; Holmes embarrassing himself in front of Molly; Watson forgetting Jeanette didn’t have a dog -- that I think we can forgive them. Without the lull in pace it would have been impossible to keep up anyway.

Moriarty, I thought, fared better tonight than he did last season. He hardly annoyed me at all. Whether that’s because the rest of the episode was so good, or because he was in it less, I’m not sure. Admittedly, him blowing a raspberry at Big Ben had me shaking my head, but by and large, I found Andrew Scott’s performance much improved. Moriarty’s anger and unpredictability were fascinating. Despite being Holmes' equal in terms of intellect, the rest of his personality -- his demeanour, his motivation, his capriciousness -- are at complete odds with Holmes' more controlled genius. If he can just keep a lid on the Graham Norton impersonations, I'll be more than satisfied.

That last minute reveal of Sherlock guessing Adler's phone password (Sherlocked), and him saving her from decapitation, had me almost throwing my hands in the air and cheering. Did she know he would save her? She seemed able to predict just about everything else. I love episodes where even the smallest detail is important, and this was an episode in which the minutiae paid off beautifully. With Moffat at the helm, what else can you expect? As with last season, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson have a tough opener to follow.

Bits and Pieces:

-- Since when has Mrs Hudson been so kick-ass? I love the relationship that’s developing between her, Watson and Holmes. They're becoming like a family.

-- That dead guy in the field’s eyes totally moved.

-- @thewhiphand actually exists. Try it and see.

-- 'The Singular Affair of the Aluminium Crutch' isn't part of the Canon per se, but was mentioned in the 'The Musgrave Ritual' and never written.

-- Poor Molly. I thought she looked rather fetching in her party dress. Sherlock’s got a lot to learn about social interaction.

-- Didn’t Kate used to work for Mycroft? I wonder what happened there?

-- I loved those shots of Holmes looking at semi-clothed photos of Irene whilst she looked at semi-clothed photos of him. Both disinterested in the external. Both turned on by the cerebral.

-- Moriarty’s ring tone is 'Staying Alive' by the Bee Gees. I think I prefer Sherlock's.

-- The Internet's now a big part of Sherlock's method. The advent of wifi means he doesn’t have to leave 221b Baker Street for anything less than a seven. Holmes and Watson also seem to have become minor Internet celebrities. They'll be appearing in videos with iJustine and Ray William Johnson next.

-- Lovely deer stalker on Cumberlord. Very fetching.

-- There was much flapping in the press this morning over Irene's pre-watershed nudity. The Daily Mail was so outraged, it felt compelled to publish screenshots... you know, just to show how disgusting it all is. Can anyone say hypocrite? Check out the story here. Oh, and can anyone explain to me what "racfy" mean?

-- Apologies for the length of the quotes section. There were too many to pick from so I used them all.

Quotes:

Moriarty: “So, if you have what you say you have, I’ll make you rich. If you don’t, I’ll make you into shoes.”

Watson: “You wearing any pants?”
Holmes: “No.”
Watson: “Okay.”

Watson: “Buckingham Palace... right. I am seriously fighting an impulse to steal an ashtray."

Mycroft: “I’ll be mother.”
Holmes: “And there is a whole childhood in a nutshell.”

Holmes: “Yes, punch me, in the face. Didn’t you hear me?”
Watson: “I always hear punch me in the face when you’re speaking, but it’s usually subtext.”

Holmes: “Okay, I think we’ve done enough, John.”
Watson: “You’ve got to remember, Sherlock, I was a soldier. I used to kill people.”
Holmes: “You were a Doctor!”
Watson: “I had bad days.”

Mycroft: “Don’t be alarmed, it’s to do with sex.”
Holmes: “Sex doesn’t alarm me.”
Irene: “How do you know?”

Irene: “This is how I want you to remember me. The woman who beat you.”

Mycroft: “Oh shut up, Mrs Hudson!”
Holmes and Watson: “Mycroft!”
Mycroft: “Apologies.”
Mrs Hudson: “Thank you.”
Holmes: “Though do, in fact, shut up.”

Watson: "I’m not stupid, you know?”
Holmes: “I do get that idea.”

Holmes: “You’ve got a photo of me wearing that hat.”
Watson: “People like that hat.”
Holmes: “No they do not. What people?”

Molly: “You always says such horrible things. Every time. Always. Always.”

Irene: “I would have you right here, right now, on this desk, until you begged for mercy -- twice.”
Holmes: “-- I’ve never begged for mercy in my life.”
Irene: “Twice!”

Molly: “How did Sherlock recognise her from not her face?”

Holmes: “Look at them. They all care so much. Do you ever wonder if there’s something wrong with us?”
Mycroft: “All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.”

Holmes: “Urgh! This is low tar.”
Mycroft: “Well, you barely knew her.”

Watson: “Sherlock always replies. To everything. He’s Mr Punchline. He will outlive God trying to have the last word.”
Irene: “Does that make me special?”
Watson: “I don’t know, maybe.”
Irene: “Are you jealous?”
Watson: “We’re not a couple.”
Irene: “Yes, you are.”

Holmes: “I hate being outnumbered. It makes for too much stupid in the room.”

Mrs Hudson: “Oh, that was right on my bins.”

Holmes: “Shame on you John Watson.”
Watson: “Shame on me?”
Holmes: “Mrs Hudson leave Baker Street? England would fall.”
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

21 comments:

Juliette said...

I really enjoyed it. I've read a couple of pieces since pointing out that it's not exactly a friend to feminism (not because Adler is naked, but because she's betrayed by her crush on Sherlock, needs rescued by him at the end, and unlike the book, doesn't, in the end, win) but I really enjoyed it anyway. Daft but so much fun.

Sooze said...

Hey Paul -

Someone has probably asked this before, but I can't find a related post...

Can this be watched in the US?

Paul Kelly said...

Hi Sooze. I don't think it's due to air in the US until May, 2012. Sorry :o(

Mark Greig said...

Brilliant! Wonderful! Magnificent! Amazing! Superb! Astonishing! Glorious! Fantastic! Marvellous! Terrific! Tremendous! Extraordinary! Stunning!

And that was just the first fifteen minutes.

Gus Brunetti said...

I didn't enjoy it as much as you did, Paul, but it was a great lot anyway. I'm not as familiar with Holmes's mythology (I'm an Agatha Christie man), so much of the enjoyment went over my head.

I was also left with a "that's it?" impression on how the cliffhanger was resolved. It would have been much better to get over it last season and close it more neatly.It reminded me of the terrible way True Blood episodes tend to and (and begin).

Watson was funnier, which is always good. That "subtext" joke was priceless. And it's sad to see he's not really into his relationships.

Molly was beautiful in the Christmas party. I agree with you that she must be smart; but there are many kinds of smart, and she's not the kind that attracts Sherlock.

“I’ll be mother.” I looked it up, but couldn't find what it means.

Paul Kelly said...

Hi Gus. I'm not sure there's much to say about Mycroft saying "I'll be mother". It's a throwback to the days when mothers were in charge of the household and were responsible for pouring tea from the teapot. We still say it in modern times -- just like Mycroft did, particularly when there's a teapot involved -- but him saying it was more a comment on Mycroft and Holmes' childhood than anything else. I think there's also some sort of fertility superstition about people pouring from the same teapot.

And I agree with the cliffhanger resolve being weak. In fact, I don't understand why they bothered with a cliffhanger at all last season. It felt hopelessly wedged in there.

Michael said...

Best episode ever! Sherlock single handedly saved the festive season, which has been dire beyond belief. But why only three episodes? And more Irene please, BBC. Yum!

Anonymous said...

You weren't the only one who cheered at the end. What could have been a depressing ending was suddenly transformed into something spectacular. Perfect use of music, bringing a perfect ending to the perfect episode.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... here's a much more critical take:
http://mickhartley.typepad.com/blog/2012/01/a-scandal-in-belgravia.html

Patryk said...

HBO and Showtime should learn from the BBC about nudity (explicit or not) being story relevant and not just show it because they can. :P It was a great strategy to confound Sherlock's deductive abilities at least initially.

The episode was spot on, can't wait to see more and at the same time don't want to see more becasue there are just 3 eps in the season.

Dijon said...

Jeanette was played by Oona Chaplin... Perhaps named after her famous grandparents? (No, I haven't Googled her yet... Just a deduction. Oona. Chaplin. Just too much of a coincidence. And here's another one: The "other" Sherlock actor played Chaplin, of course... I think the producers are playing with us).

And yes, I almost feel sorry for Mark Gatiss for having to write the episode that followed this one...

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes and I get a bit tried programs resorting to sex to and next is predictability... I loose interest quickly. I am not a prude I enjoy more than most but I like the intelligent get a workout.

Unknown said...

I can think of a much better foil for Sherlock than this bogus interpretation of Irene Adler. How about a clothed, independent Jewish woman with a mind of her own, like in the original story. See http://cialuna.blogspot.com

Josie Kafka said...

I absolutely loved it.

I'm not quite understanding the idea that Adler lost: sure, she lost her phone. But she completely evaded punishment and even managed to twist Sherlock around her finger enough to get him to help her do so. Isn't that winning, even if Sherlock isn't the one losing?

Anyway, it was delightful. I'd add a quote:

"I thought you were taller."
"The benefit of a good coat and a short friend."

loveycats said...

Josie Kafka

"But she completely evaded punishment and even managed to twist Sherlock around her finger enough to get him to help her do so. Isn't that winning, even if Sherlock isn't the one losing?"

Yes, this is Moffit's take on the who won/lost thing. Also-- question to anyone-- are there any critiques/comments posted regularly after the US showings? And--note to PBS--**Stop**editing**the**US**
episodes** It's incredibly annoying.

Josie Kafka said...

Hi loveycats,

Good to know Moffat and I are on the same page. :-)

We're not going to have an American review, if that's your question. We're featuring Paul's reviews on the front page of the site so they're easy to find, too.

loveycats said...

Hi Josie

I enjoy Paul's reviews; I guess I'm looking for an American fan site (like the Fringe site) where fans can post comments, debates and questions. I know there are British site out there but since the Sherlock previews in the UK earlier than it does in the US, all posting there has been and done. Thanks

Sooze said...

Brilliant. I loved everything about it. I laughed every time the phone sighed. I know nothing about the original Sherlock stories, so I do miss all the references - but it also means I have no issue with the reworking of characters.

TeenSuccubus said...

I've been watching the show on Netflix Canada.Just finished season 1 a yesterday and I couldn't wait until season 2, so I watched it yesterday as well. This episode was fantastic, the best yet. The chemistry between Lara and Benedict was off the charts.I'm crossing my fingers that she some how can come back to the show for a multi-episode arc.
But, she'll have to remain a badass character. I'll be highly disappointed if they bring her back and they change her.

Great review!

Mark said...

For the whole winning or losing thing, it is a bit ridiculous to say that Adler is only a feminist if she always wins. I'm reminded about Spike said in "Fool For Love": it doesn't matter how often the Slayer wins, if a single bad guy ends up having one good day. She outwitted Sherlock enough times, he was entitled to a few victories.

I'm guessing that the decision to make Adler a dominatrix was largely to create the pun where she knocks the (drugged) Holmes to the ground with the crop, and says that she had just "beaten" him.

Marianna said...

I also liked Sherlock looking at the man who hurt Mrs. Hudson and identifying all the places he could be hurt. Then when Sherlock called to report a burglar falling out of the window made me cheer! (Not to mention "Exactly how many times did he fall out of a window?") It goes to show Sherlock isn't as detached as he often seems and really cares for Mrs. Hudson.