The Evolution of Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

This episode of Sherlock–I hesitate to say that I really like it but I do, despite my problems with it. My problems can be summed up in one name: Irene Adler.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with The Woman in general, just with how Steven Moffat and company decided to portray her. In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the actual Sherlock Holmes story, Irene Adler is a woman with a compromising picture of the King of Bohemia, with whom she’d had a fling. The king, soon getting married to someone else, wants the picture so no hint of scandal touches him. Irene’s not particularly keen on giving it up, so the king hires Holmes to get it back. He almost succeeds, but in the end Irene Adler outsmarts him. Turns out she’s getting married too–and she simply wants a happy life with her husband. Presumably neither Holmes nor the king ever hear from her again. But Holmes always remembers her as The Woman, the only woman who ever outsmarted him, ever matched his intellect.

Irene Adler with the King of Bohemia.

Irene Adler with the King of Bohemia. From my favorite Holmes adaptations, the Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett. He’s the best. Even better than Cumberbatch.

Where the Irene Adler from “A Scandal in Belgravia” intersects with the original, I have no objections. She’s a woman with compromising pictures, she’s just about as intelligent as Sherlock and outsmarts him in some ways. Otherwise, I think she’s as far away from her origin as possible. I’ve mentioned this before in an earlier blog post, but I’ll try to reiterate it here more clearly. In “Sherlock” Irene Adler is a bisexual, or at least lesbian, “dominatrix,” having S&M sex with people for a living. She’s also a bit of a criminal in a way, which the original Irene never was that I recall (although her past is less than savory and I suppose criminal activity may have been an implication in that).

Even aside from the moral problems I have with “Sherlock’s” Irene, the focus on Irene’s physical sexuality detracts from the portrayal of her character. She was never sexually antagonistic to Holmes in the story, and she was not vulnerable in the way the “Sherlock” Irene is. The latter chooses to make her living through aberrant sexual behavior and collects national secrets to ensure that she won’t get gypped. The former doesn’t have to flaunt her sexuality to be noticed, admired, or respected. Her prowess is not sexual but intellectual. Not that the print-story’s Irene was any great shakes, but at least you’re not hit over the head with sex-sex-sex and subjected to unnecessary non sequiturs.  (John and Irene in the warehouse, where she teases him about he and Sherlock being a couple. John says, ‘I am not gay’ and she responds with ‘Well I am.’ Okay. We know that. We figured you were at least bi if you’re a dominatrix for both genders. That has anything to do with what’s going on in the episode how?)

Laura Pulver as "Sherlock's" Irene Adler.

Laura Pulver as “Sherlock’s” Irene Adler.

Which brings me to the love story of sorts. I understand that this is for all intents and purposes a reinterpretation of the Sherlock Holmes universe but the series has generally kept to the spirit of the characters. I’m all for a good love story, really I am (have I mentioned I’m a romantic?) and I see the appropriateness of using Irene Adler as love interest, but because she’s been reduced almost solely to a sexual counterpart of Doyle’s original character, I have to say I don’t like it as much as I might. Thus this quote from an article in the Guardian comforts me very much (despite Moffat sniffing that love stories are mundane. Good one’s aren’t.):

So is Sherlock in love? Moffat and Gatiss bristle at the suggestion, describing A Scandal In Belgravia as a “non-love story”. This isn’t Sherlock in love, claims Gatiss, but rather Sherlock and love. “It doesn’t have to be as mundane as a love story,” sniffs Moffat.

As does Sherlock’s absolute lack of sexual interest in Irene. I’m not saying it’s impossible or even bad for Sherlock to be sexually attracted to someone, but with the way sex and sexuality are portrayed as weapons within the episode, I just don’t think Irene is the best person for Sherlock to be attached to. Her character really shouldn’t have been done that way and now has the potential to obscure the real message of this episode–though perhaps it may actually highlight it (fingers crossed that it does the latter). 

That message is love.

And not sexual love. Though the idea of sex is ever-present in the episode, it’s not what’s most important. Ironically it’s Moriarty’s nickname for Sherlock that helps to shed light on the detective’s human development. While Mycroft is known as the “Iceman,” Sherlock is termed the “Virgin.” One can only assume from his previous disinterest in woman-kind that he is in fact physically speaking a virgin. But he’s also a virgin in other ways: he’s socially inept, he’s not used to having friends, and he’s dealing with how to care about other people. He’s definitely learning, though. His masks slips at the end of “The Great Game” and his slightly frantic tone says that he definitely cares for John (and no, not in a gay, Johnlock way. Why am I even using that shipping name?). So does his frantic protest near the beginning this particular episode, when the CIA have a gun pointed at John’s head. But the two instances that really show a change in the detective have, strangely enough, to do with women.

Moffat you troll. -_-

*ahem*

Both incidents involve some nastiness but both have some nice elements to them that one can greatly appreciate. For instance, when Sherlock goes all badass on the CIA agent who semi-tortured Mrs. Hudson. And beats him and throws him out a window repeatedly. The last part isn’t so good–the whole beating him up and throwing him out a window–but the fact that he did it because Mrs. Hudson was hurt warms my heart. And I had to smile when he said, “Mrs. Hudson leave Baker Street? London would fall!”

Mrs. Hudson 1

The second incident is really good too, with much less of the morally problematic violent nastiness. At a Christmas party at 221B Baker Street, everyone is enjoying drinking and talking (except Sherlock who keeps trying to rile someone up). He finds the perfect victim to insult in Molly Hooper.

Now I know Molly isn’t perfect. She could be a lot more confident. But she, like everyone else, is a human, and has flaws. She’s not perfect. And she has plenty of virtues as well: kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, love, generosity, perseverance. Sherlock, extremely irritable likely due to Irene, launches into a deduction about how Molly’s trying to attract a man. He grabs the gift he deduces she’s going to give this man–and then stops talking. I think it’s rare for anyone to actually render Sherlock speechless. But what happens next is even more amazing: he gives the gift back to her, says, “I’m sorry, forgive me” then leans in and gives Molly a kiss on the cheek while saying “Merry Christmas, Molly Hooper.” This shows that instead of just pushing Molly around and trying to use her feelings for him to get something, he’s genuinely nice to her, recognizes her as a human being and apologizes. Not only apologizes, makes voluntary physical contact. All of this seems new for Sherlock–at least new to doing it sincerely and not as part of an act for a case or something.

Molly Hooper Gif 2

His conversation with Mycroft helps reveal the changes in his character. He wonders whether he and Mycroft are missing something by “not caring.” Mycroft takes a very cynical view–“All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.” The problem is, I don’t believe either Mycroft or Sherlock would do anything if they didn’t care. Mycroft cares about Sherlock, obvi, and Sherlock DEFINITELY cares about John.

[That’s not to say his methods aren’t sometimes problematic and that he doesn’t get selfishly sidetracked like we all do. For instance, in “The Great Game” he doesn’t give Moriarty one of the answers as soon as he solves it, leaving the person with the bomb strapped to them in unnecessary danger. To be fair, I think he keeps the person’s safety somewhat in mind when he asks the question, “Will caring help me solve this case faster?” That question, though, is beside the point.]

Furthermore, despite the fact that Sherlock says sentiment is from the losing side and bad and unhelpful etc., he never usually acts that way. He saves John; he saves Irene. Heck, he pretends to kill himself even though it hurts him and others because it will save his friends. He’s learning to care and show his love in deeds. His way of caring may not manifest itself as it does in normal people–I don’t expect him not to be a snark or to be less socially awkward or abrupt, but in all the important ways he’s changing.

And I can’t leave out Mycroft’s words from near the end: Sherlock has the brain of a scientist or philosopher, but chooses to be a detective. And when he was young he wanted to be a pirate. Mycroft takes this as something strange. I take it as saying that he has quite a bit of imagination (he wanted to be a pirate. Come on!) and that you need that to be a scientist or philosopher. That’s why he can make the connections he does, and that’s why he’s Sherlock and not Moriarty. So he’s definitely a scientist, and his questions to Mycroft after seeing Irene’s body shows that he’s got a bit of the philosopher in him too.

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