Sherlock! Series 2, Episode 1! Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the nation’s favourite sociopath, Martin Freeman as the nation’s favourite Martin Freeman, and Lara Pulver as the nation’s favourite crop-wielding, naked dominatrix. Yes, it’s “A Scandal In Belgravia,” or No Sex Please, We’re Sherlock. Are you excited? Would it help if Lara Pulver whipped you? Let’s go.
We begin with a recap of the Series 1 finale, in which Our Heroes found themselves up against Moriarty (consulting criminal and pimp couturist) in the London swimming baths. Immediately, there are two issues—will Sherlock and John survive (guess), and the rather more baffling question of what exactly the writers were thinking when they made Jim Moriarty a gay Irish bomber.
As Watson, Martin Freeman is still wrapped in his parka of suicide-bombing despair, and the blissful Andrew Scott is, as Moriarty, threatening to burn the heart out of Sherlock in a gloriously over-enunciated brogue.
There’s also a gun. It gets waved about, in between myriad closeups of The Face. Welcome back, Benedict Cumberbatch, he of a thousand Tumblrs.
Actually, let’s get The Face over with now. Like any good fangirl, I go sonic for the Kittenbatch: however, my high-pitched noises are less because I want to bear his tiny, snub-nosed children than because Cumberbatch, as Sherlock, sometimes looks like an overbred Persian kitten. This is not the man’s fault, any more so than being christened Bernadette Frankenstein Not David Tennant Cumbersnatch was his fault, but my god. It is an extraordinary face. Silly names and thoroughbred bone structures are the mainstay of British drama, though, and a thriving export business, so we’d better press on. To Sherlock’s (possible) DOOM.
Fortunately, just when our hero’s about to meet his maker (a racing stables and a bottle of Just For Men?), Moriarty’s phone rings (there will be a lot of phones in this ep). Moriarty’s like, so pissed off because he’s like, massively in the middle of killing Sherlock? And the caller tells him to stop? Out come the Crazy Eyes (Scott’s eyes are a joy. If you spliced The Omen with the lead in Bambi, the resulting demonspawn would resemble our Jim). Sherlock’s twitchy and suspicious, but after the standard Whale Meat Again, Moriarty strolls off wearing, sweet lord, the best shoes ever to make primetime (there will be a lot of good shoes in this ep).
The camera shoves itself up Benelux Cumberbob’s hairline (he’s had his roots done!) and our heroes are left wondering what—or rather who—changed the Boss Pimp’s mind.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Irene Adler. She’s here, she’s queer, and she’s about to have manicured BDSM sex with our very own Kate Middleton.
NOTE: this is not in any way what the programme actually says. But it’s a princess, it’s a palace, Zara Phillips Just Wouldn’t and otherwise, I’m not interested. Irene Adler a combination of From Russia With Love and everything you have ever fancied in a woman. We start with a shot of her lace-clad bottom. God bless the BBC.
TITLES! Time for a London mashup.
Hipster! London Eye! Big Ben! Sherlock Eye! Watson looking resigned and a bit confused! Bart’s Hospital! Foreshadowing at twelve o’clock!
This episode is written by Steven Moffat, Sherlock co-creator and showrunner for Doctor Who. This is the chap who gave us Matt Smith’s Eleven and Alex Kingston’s River Song, so if you’re expecting a suave and feisty woman who falls for the spoddy whizzkid… well, that’s your drinking game, right there.
Lights up. Breakfast at 221B. John’s updating his blog in a button-down, and Sherlock’s doing paper-coffee-dressing-gown while nagging for John’s attention.
Sherlock: What are you typing?
John: [tersely] Blog.
John: [more tersely] Us.
Sherlock: [beatific] You mean me.
Case montage: clients bring their problems to 221B, including a bereaved nephew who’s sure the ashes he’s holding (urned, thankfully) aren’t those of his aunt. Men in suits want files; spoddy young comics fans think their cartoons are coming to life. Sherlock sniffs at John’s writeups, then gets haughty (see above re: Persian kitten) when John criticizes his blog, 240 Ways With Stuff No One Cares About.
In fact, John’s interweb activities are really disrupting marital flatmate harmony. Displeased, Sherlock changes his dressing gown and flounces about like Byronic, sulky otterface he is (don’t believe me? Have a meme). And then takes it out on some child-clients:
Tiny Blonde Moppet: They wouldn’t let us see Grandad when he was dead. Is that ‘cos he’d gone to heaven?
Sherlock: [unseen] People don’t really go to heaven when they die. They’re taken to a special room and burned.
John: [on behalf of the nation] SHERLOCK.
Jump cut! A plane has crashed over Dusseldorf, and one of the passengers has been found dead. Except not in Dusseldorf: he’s in a car boot on Some Industrial Estate, complete with boarding pass, and Our Heroes have been called in to investigate! With Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves, frantically disclaiming his Merchant Ivory heritage, and doing great things in charcoal wool).
Any ideas? Nope, us neither.
Back to blogging. John’s totally blowing Sherlock’s internet-cool and it’s got him 1895 hits (happy canon glow). Sherlock’s in dressing-gown number three and is Doing Science between bitchfests. When John’s mean to him, he sulks off to play with his blowtorch (bow chicka bow bow).
Nevertheless, the blog’s gone viral and Sherlock has to cope with the pressures of fame. This all sets up a visual gag with headgear: that’s right, Sherlock in a deerstalker (John gets a down-to-earth cloth cap. Because he is Everyman).
Back at the love shack, the fabulous Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs, for life) is distressed by her tenant’s unreasonable habit of leaving severed thumbs in her fridge. The explanation that he does it For Science! won’t wash (nor will the fridge).
Just when she’s busy dry-heaving, a man stumbles in and faints at her feet.
Flashback: 14 hours earlier, fainting-man breaks down in Some Lakeside Setting. The car backfires. When he looks back, a rambler, seen alive moments previously, is dead on the grass. The client’s suspected, and scared.
Back to now: Inspector Carter (the local policeman in charge of the case) is waiting for Sherlock to arrive at the crime scene. Unfortunately, he only gets John: Sherlock can’t be arsed, and is at home in a bedsheet. Naked ‘tec by Skype (or other leading videolink provider)! With John wielding the laptop, Sherlock’s started deducing, when two suits turn up and abduct him, breaking off the video link (just go with it)! Back at the crime scene, a confused John Watson taps at the Skype (or other leading chat client) screen, wondering where his boyfriend has gone, when literally the most unfeasibly pretty supporting artist ever seen trots up and asks Watson to step into the helicopter that’s landed back in shot…
Turns out, abducting naked!Sherlock isn’t going so well. He won’t put the clothes on that the possible kidnappers have chosen for him (their sartorial choices make the Kittenbatch SAD). He sulks in his sheetgown while the slightly butcher flunkie tells him that “Where you’re going, you’ll want to be dressed.” Looking the man over, Sherlock realizes he knows exactly where he’s going; meanwhile, John, hovering over the Mall, is also starting to get the idea…
It’s Some Buckingham Palace! It’s probably not Buckingham Palace. In any case, John is led through Some National Trust Property to find a pile of Sherlock’s clothes…. and Sherlock, still in his sheetgown, and looking of a brat prince than the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas will ever manage. With a look that says plainly, “You are the source of all that’s not serene,” John joins him on the sofa.
John: [Looks down at Sherlock. Regrets it.] ….are you wearing any pants?
And then they get the giggles, and as Martin Freeman lols and Bernardine Cumberface looks such a HAPPY little pantsless otter, my heart warms anew to this show. Sherlock’s pantsless in the palace, the boys are back in town, and Sherlock is giggling (because sitting naked on the queen’s sofa will always be funny).
John: [still chuckling] Are we here to see the queen?
[Enter! Mycroft Holmes, brother of Sherlock, twirler of umbrellas and wearer of waistcoats!]
Sherlock: Oh, apparently yes.
John and Sherlock: LOLLING FOREVER.
Mycroft is displeased, which makes him put his chin in the air and hate them with every thread in his primrose silk tie. It’s displeasing that his rubbish younger brother is being naked on the Queen (the PROPER ONE)’s sofa, and it’s disappointing that his SUPPOSEDLY PATRIOTIC BOYFRIEND (John was a soldier with raging PTSD, although apparently the helicopter trip didn’t touch that…) is laughing along too.
Mycroft (Mark Gatiss, whose ginger roots have been disguised less successfully than Cumberbang’s) wants his brother to Put His Trousers On. Sherlock is a sulky sculptural sheetface about this and John tries not to get too many horrific insights into their childhood. Enter Harry (Some Gay Diplomat), a friend of Mycroft’s (like a Friend of Dorothy’s, but via the Civil Service Fast Stream) who does a lot of cod le Carre hedging about the name of the client who needs Sherlock’s help. Sherlock, garbed like a pasty T E Lawrence, tells his brother he doesn’t DO anonymous clients, at which Mycroft puts a foot on the edge of his bedsheet and holds him fast.
Sherlock: Get off my SHEET.
Mycroft: Or WHAT?
Sherlock: [otterflounce] Or I’ll just walk away!
Mycroft: I’ll let you.
At this point, we’re all trying not to have horrific insights into their childhood.
John: Boys. Please. Not here.
So, naturally, they all sit down for tea.
Mycroft: [spritely] I’ll be mother!
[Note for the benefit of non-UK readers: this is just Mycroft offering to pour, rather than offering a terrifying revelation re: the gender dynamics of the Holmes nursery.]
Sherlock: And there is a whole childhood in a nutshell.
[Although, you know…]
The case: Someone Royal needs something hushed up. The culprit? Irene Adler, ravishing princesses since 00:00:01. Mycroft briefs his brother: political scandals and adulterous ladysex. Professionally known as The Woman. Dominatrix. All caught up? Good!
Sherlock: [meditatively] Dominatrix….
Mycroft: [condescending smile] Don’t be alarmed. It’s to do with sex.
Sherlock: SEX DOESN’T ALARM ME!!!!111
Mycroft: [smirking] How would you know?
While Some Gay Diplomat rethinks Mycroft’s presence on the Some Gay Secret Service squash ladder, Sherlock flicks through photographs of Irene as The Woman… intercut with shots of Irene, flicking through photos of Sherlock on her smartphone. She and her cheekbones look pleased.
Meanwhile, in the palace, Mycroft explains that The Woman has images of a high-ranking Royal—a young and female Royal—pictured in an imaginative variety of compromising positions. (John, put your cup back down. Your face has said OMG LEZBEAN for the past five minutes.)
But Sherlock is not to be SWAYED by talk of LESBOTIC FORNICATIONS. He is ABOVE ALL THAT. He lives the life of the MIND. On the other hand, power-play with the Royals and a dominatrix sounds rather fun, what’s Miss Adler’s address?
In fact, Miss Adler is already expecting him. Wearing a sheer green ensemble which I can only describe as Downton Porno, Adler sashays through a walk-in wardrobe.
Sherlock, bless him, is also trying to decide what to wear. He considers a high-visibility jacket, but then decides it’d be easier just to have John punch him.
We cut back to the Irene and the Hot Redhead having sex. Or applying Irene’s lipstick, I can’t even tell anymore.
Then back to John and Sherlock. It’s dissolved into headlocks and wrestling. Basically, see above.
Irene’s doorbell rings. Sherlock, who is a forensic genius but also an incredibly shit actor, needed John to punch him in order to buzz Irene Adler because help help he’s been mugged??? And he needs to use her PHONE?? DID HE MENTION HE’S DRESSED AS A VICAR NOW??
Dr. Watson goes to borrow Irene Adler’s First Aid kit (and, given her line of work, I imagine it’s pretty comprehensive) while the Reverend Otterbatch waits in Irene’s palatial lounge (is cream the most practical colour for a sadist?). As she enters, his charming hostess expresses her sympathies for his hurt. And now, we see, it’s her turn to be naked.
Irene: Mmm, look at those cheekbones. I could cut myself slapping that face.
…I’m not really sure how to recap this bit. Basically, Lara Pulver is naked. Benedict Cumberbatch manages to fully inhabit the character of a snub-nosed virgin indelibly scared of girl bits. John comes in with FIRST AID ITEMS to find Irene Adler naked with Sherlock’s fake dog collar… in her mouth.
John is astonished.
Irene Adler sits in an armchair. She is still naked. She knows they’ve been to the palace. Where they had tea (John had tea too. He wants Irene Adler to know this. And look at him. And be naked). Sherlock and Irene are staring at each other. Sherlock can’t read her. It’s all the nakedness. So he lends her his coat (lucky thing) to make the (confusing) nakedness GO AWAY.
Miss Adler settles down for a chat. She wants to know about the hiker with a bashed-in head. I want to know if there’s any likelihood that an honest life of academia will ever lead to me sitting in my Belgravia mansion wearing Christian Louboutins. “I like detectives,” Adler tells an enthralled John, “and detective stories.” I want to know if there’s any likelihood of Irene Adler being real. “Brainy is the new sexy,” she purrs.
BKJFAKEJRHLAKEJR, says Sherlock. Well, exactly.
Sherlock begins to solve the case for her, while John deliberately sets the fire alarm off. In the first instant of anxiety, Adler glances towards the mirror; where those all-important photos must be. A button in the mantelpiece reveals a safe; Sherlock’s starting to gloat, when a gang of CIA-trained killers suddenly burst in. He’s not the only one after Irene, but he’s the only one who can crack the safe code; it’s that or have John shot.
Now desperate, Sherlock turns back towards the keypad…
…and gets it right first time. OBV. Except there’s a gun, pre-loaded, inside the safe—Sherlock anticipates this, evades the bullets and slo-mo pistolwhips the lead killer, while Irene Adler takes out his sidekick. A quick call to the police (five bullets in the air) and Sherlock’s back in front of Irene, her Blackberry (CAMERAPHONE, that is, cameraphone, it is definitely not a recognisable branded product) in his hand. The screen says I AM LOCKED.
Irene’s not happy—but Sherlock’s off upstairs, where the redhead’s out cold (“God knows she’s used to that,” shrugs Irene, and we watch while John tries not to ACTUALLY DIE). Oh, and then Irene drugs Sherlock with a handy dressing-table syringe. When Sherlock won’t drop her phone, she beats him three times with a riding crop. While still nude except for Sherlock’s army greatcoat (all fanfiction is now officially redundant).
John’s understandably appalled to find Sherlock drugged and gurning on the floor. Irene disappears via backflip out the window and we swing into Sherlock’s drugged nightmare. Irene solves the hiker case, all cheekbones and awesome, and a disoriented Sherlock wakes up alone.
Poor old Sherlock—he was beaten by a Mean Girl and John put him to bed and NOW HIS PHONE IS MAKING SEX NOISES. I’m not making that up. His coat is returned (The Woman, again) and now Irene’s changed all his text alerts to sounds of her, mid-coitus.
Sherlock’s phone is still making sex noises at breakfast, when Mycroft drops by to discuss, in detail, his brother’s massive FAIL.
Mrs Hudson’s NOT HAPPY; poor widdle Sherlock, sent in to get shot by horrid CIA killers, what was your big fat brother even thinking—
Mycroft: Oh shut up Mrs Hudson!
John and Sherlock, simultaneously: MYCROFT.
(Hearts for eyes.)
Mycroft ducks out for a quick spy babble on his mobile (“Bond Air is go… check with the Coventry lot”), then abruptly warns Sherlock to drop Irene altogether; the Royals no longer need his help. Sherlock responds by playing him out with “God Save The Queen.”
And THEN IT’S CHRISTMAS. I don’t know why. Go with it.
All the Scooby Gang are at 221B for a party, which is entirely unbelievable but redeemed by John Watson’s historically horrific Christmas jumper. And John has a girlfriend! Hurrah! Except Sherlock can never remember John’s girlfriends (selective amnesia). There was Sarah, Mary, Hairy, McLairy, and—who came after the boring teacher?
The Boring Teacher: Nobody.
Sherlock: [triumphantly] JEANETTE!
Molly’s here, too, and there’s a heart-rending scene where everyone’s favourite sociopathic self-aggrandisingly deduces that Molly’s got all dressed up and gift-wrapped a present for some LOVERMAN she totally FANCIES lol lol isn’t that HILARIOUS??
Of course, the man is Sherlock and the present’s for him.
Chastened, Sherlock apologises, kisses Molly’s cheek, and wishes her Merry Christmas. It’s a step forward, but… still totally not okay.
A cursory glance across the internet will tell you that lots of British fans and bloggers were unhappy with this episode’s treatment of women, especially Adler herself. To me, the tendency to treat Molly Hooper as forlorn Eponine figure is much more insidious.
Of course, Sherlock’s a git to everyone, not least John: but with John there’s a reciprocity of love and need we don’t see elsewhere in Sherlock’s relationships. Apart from the dotty Mrs. Hudson (a mother-figure, with hints of the comedy landlady), Molly’s the only woman in the recurring cast.
The strong crime-writing, lush visuals, and queer sensibility mean I’ll forgive Sherlock (if not Sherlock) a great deal—but not the way the show writes Molly. Having seen the rest of Series 2, I think Molly’s trajectory somewhat improves, but I could do without the misogyny and power differential thus far.
Anyway, back to the sex noises. Sherlock’s 57th (John’s counting) text from Irene has arrived, directing him to the mantelpiece, where an “appropriately” gift-wrapped box contains another Christmas token.
It’s Irene’s phone: her insurance, and thus a virtual suicide note.
Sombre, Sherlock rings Mycroft, who’s home alone at Baronial Chateau Despair. As Mycroft (Mark Gatiss has slipped into a Harris tweed I suspect him of owning IRL) stares miserably into the fireplace, remembering childhood Christmases spent treading on his brother’s bedsheets, Sherlock tells him that he’s going to find Irene Adler dead tonight.
And it looks like Sherlock might have some Feelings about that.
On Christmas night, the brothers Holmes take these Feelings to the mortuary (again, probably an attempt to relive their childhood experience of the holidays). There is indeed a body. The face is, Molly tells them (OH MOLLY, I want to buy you a round-the-world cruise and a fellowship and a gigolo), unrecognisable, but Sherlock asks to see the rest of the body, confirms it’s Irene, and bolts.
Outside in the corridor, Mycroft catches up with him, and for the first time this episode, they look like brothers. Pallid with unreality, all skulls and shadows in the half-light. Mycroft offers Sherlock a single cigarette (“Just one….Merry Christmas”) which is either a comically abortive attempt at emotional outreach, or (and I hope you’re seeing the pattern here) another horrifying insight into their childhood.
Sobbing fills the corridor. The brothers Holmes turn, and we see, through a panelled door, another family weeping over a Christmas death; this is a mortuary, after all. The camera cuts back, and now we’re voyeurs too, watching Mycroft and Sherlock fail to comprehend familial grief.
“Look at them,” says Sherlock, “they all—care—so much.” A pause. “Do you ever wonder if there’s something wrong with us?”
“All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.”
Okay, so it’s just the viewers who wonder.
Sherlock’s exit gives Mycroft a chance to call John. Everyone’s panicking: the offered cigarette was a test, and that Sherlock (an ex-smoker and clean drug addict) took it indicates his fragile state. John and Mrs. Hudson have both been searching the flat for anything that might help him be unsafe. John asks Mycroft if he’s sure tonight’s a “danger night,” and instantly the gaps between series, between episodes, are filled in. Sherlock has periods where he tries to harm himself; perhaps he succeeds. So John isn’t just his friend—sometimes he’s also a carer. This love story is suddenly also about a very different sort of love.
Um, it’s also a love story that’s massively incompatible with the love story John’s been trying to have. Jeanette (remember her? The boring teacher) tells John sourly that he’s an excellent boyfriend. To Sherlock.
He is. We cut to the morning of 31st December, and Sherlock (apparently unharmed) is playing his violin. When John tries to get him to open up, he refuses.
On the way out, a frustrated John asks Mrs. Hudson if Sherlock’s ever had any kind of … [counselling? therapy? psychotropic medication?] girlfriend, boyfriend, anything? Nobly restraining the obvious rejoinder (“What, apart from you dear?”) Mrs. Hudson’s equally stumped.
Needless to say, John doesn’t make whatever errand he’s off on, because there’s a hot brunette and a big sleek car awaiting him. Tersely pointing out that Mycroft could just ring, John clambers in.
Except it’s not Mycroft. Waiting for John at Some Battersea Power Station is… Irene Adler! Fully-dressed, and not at all dead.
…I don’t know if you’ve got any sharp, or indeed moderately blunt instrument to hand, but you’ll need it for the next five seconds as Martin Freeman makes you gouge out your heart. The quality of the casting in Sherlock is such that each actor is doing exactly what they do best. So now Martin Freeman, Everyman looks directly and simply at Adler, and offers a plea: “Tell him you’re alive.”
She won’t. Instead, she asks John if he’s jealous of Sherlock’s obsession with her; yet again, John insists they’re not a couple. “Yes, you are,” she corrects him, but texts Sherlock anyway: I’m not dead. Let’s have dinner.
John persists: for the record, he isn’t actually gay.
Irene: Well, I am. Look at us both.
From the shadows of Some Power Station, Sherlock is looking; and then he bolts. Shock follows shock: back at 221B, the door’s been forced, and upstairs, the CIA henchman (from Irene’s house! Do keep up) is holding Mrs. Hudson at gunpoint. She’s bruised and bleeding. A furious Sherlock maces him with some furniture polish (domestic hero!) and is a bit swoonworthy in his tender concern for Mrs. Hudson.
By the time John gets back, Sherlock’s holding the CIA chap at gunpoint. By the time the police show up, the henchman’s accidentally fallen from the window. Repeatedly. And Mrs Hudson kept Irene’s cameraphone hidden in her blouse. Yay! There’s a touching Baker-Street-tableau of familial togetherness—and then, at midnight, Sherlock texts Irene to wish her a Happy New Year.
Not long after, the lady herself turns up; she’s on the run from something much worse than the Royals. She and Sherlock have sex all over the lounge—no. No they don’t. But they DO reciprocally outwit each other, and for these two it’s virtually the same (John even offers his middle name, “Hamish”, if they need something to call their firstborn).
Irene knows she’s being hunted for an encrypted code she stole from an MoD lover, and stored on her phone; in seconds, Sherlock’s decoded the line to reveal seat allocations for a 747 jet, shortly flying Heathrow to Baltimore tomorrow evening.
Irene: I would have you right here on this desk, until you begged for mercy, twice.
…..John looks up the flight numbers. It’s flight 007… and, if you haven’t died of all the cheekbones and eyesex, you’ll have solved it by now! Sherlock, unusually, is taking a few seconds longer, giving Irene a spare moment—duplicitous filthy sexbomb that she is—to text the flight details to (you should have guessed this as well)… Moriarty, currently skulking through Parliament Square.
Eventually, Sherlock remembers Mycroft’s phonecall—“Bond air is go”—but by then Moriarty’s texting Mycroft. Who collapses, ashen, at the table of Chateau Despair. Whoops.
Sherlock and Irene settle down for some fireside exposition. Sherlock (who doesn’t know she texted Moriarty), glosses Mycroft’s earlier reference to “Coventry”; in World War II, Allied codebreakers discovered the planned bombing of Coventry, but allowed it to go ahead, since to do otherwise would have alerted the Germans to the breaking of the code.
Irene’s rather more interested in whether Sherlock’s ever had sex. She moves close to him and he places his hand on her wrist. Just when something—anything—might happen, the Palace flunkie reappears. Sherlock’s pissed off—until he’s handed a plane ticket. Heathrow—Baltimore, Flight 007. The game’s afoot.
The US and UK governments are apparently allowing a BA passenger jet to be bombed, rather than expose a crucial intelligence source. Sherlock’s contemptuous, either because he’s developing a moral conscience or because it’s Mycroft’s plan and so automatically STUPID.
Driven to Heathrow, Sherlock’s welcomed on-board a darkened plane. Dark but not empty. Because it’s full of corpses. Every seat is full of corpse. Grey-faced, whey-lipped, Supporting Artist corpse.
As even Sherlock is finding this A Bit Weird, Not To Say Appalling, Mycroft Holmes looms camply out of the darkness. He is not dead. Instead, he is here to explain that this game of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Stiffs is in fact A Cunning Plan to re-solve “the Coventry conundrum.” To protect the anti-terrorist intelligence, the designated plane must crash, but the hundreds who’ll die are already dead. Mycroft’s still pleased with the plan. Not least because he thinks Sherlock’s been really, really thick.
(Did you solve it? Those rejected clients at the beginning? Disappeared dead Grandpa and Not Human Ash Aunty? All part of the plan to stock the jet. And the body in the Southwark boot, who should have been blown up over Dusseldorf? Second verse same as the first.)
Only problem is, Irene told the relevant terror cells, so Mycroft’s hard work has all been wasted. His entirely non-subtle parable about Lonely Naïve Men who Show Off To Girls and end up Ruining their brothers’ lives Important Military Strategies is interrupted by Surprise!Adler, who appears at the back of the plane (unlikely; she’s Business Class at least), wearing some sort of lace cocktail thing. She’s going to ruin Mycroft’s life (and possibly world security) with the contents of that cameraphone.
Back at Chateau Despair, Irene and her cheekbones explain. The phone can’t be hacked, because Sherlock’s tried and failed. The passcode can’t be extracted via torture, because there’s a second code which will fry the whole phone irrevocably. Also, Irene would like to put Sherlock on a collar and leash.
…with a face that says ANYWAY in big, traumatized letters, Mycroft’s forced to read Irene’s list of demands for payment and protection, should she agree to give the cameraphone’s data (item 1: a lifetime’s supply of riding crops).
Just when he’s about to capitulate, Sherlock (whom Moriarty nicknames “The Virgin,” disturbing fact fans) leaps from Mycroft’s appalling, baronial armchair and announces that Irene’s made a mistake. Her heart has ruled her head. Lust for Sherlock’s impeded her judgment. Basically, the sex(ual tension) has made her stupid.
Irene is incredulous—what could she want with a chinless sociopathic sulkpot virgin in a deerstalker? But Sherlock’s on firm ground. Remember the wrist-gripping fireside cuddle? Sherlock was taking Irene’s pulse. He used brachycardia to diagnose her attraction to him, which is both incredibly creepy and oddly sad (for both of them, really).
And the four-character passcode? Irene could have chosen any random combination and kept her insurance forever. Instead, her phone has been (wait for it, and try not to kill yourself) S-H-E-R Locked.
…when I saw this episode on BBC1, there were no ad breaks. Regardless, I’d like to insert one here:
Would anybody with Irene’s wardrobe, that brain, and that access to a four-corners-bound Kate Middleton fall for Sherlock? I know that affection for British chinless, finicky aristocrats is what gave us the Empire and painted the globe pink (no coincidence) but surely that era is gone. But no, Irene’s been SHERlocked. I wish she had been Cherlocked. I wish for a musical episode in which Sherlock duets with David Bowie, who subsequently identifies in him a resemblance to the babe. Never mind.
Sherlock: I’ve always assumed that love was a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof.
…poor old John. And Molly. And, in the episode’s nastiest moment, Irene, who suddenly looks a lot less like a Mata Hari fantasy, and a lot more like a vulnerable woman sent to her death by two misogynists. Try and cling on to the fact that she was in league with Moriarty and the terrorists. Mean Girl indeed.
Time for the epilogue: Some Time Later, John Watson encounters Mycroft outside Speedy’s. Mycroft, with unexpected kindness and more than a touch of ginger hairline, tells John he’s going to tell Sherlock that despite everything, Irene’s still alive, living under Witness Protection in America. John‘s equable, until Mycroft explains this is only what he’s telling his baby brother: really, Irene Adler’s dead. Beheaded by a terrorist cell in Karachi.
Understandably, given the events of the episode, John demands clarification. Mycroft’s sure; he was thorough, this time, and—in a remark not so much pointed as surrounded by huge pointy arrows of afterplot—“it would take Sherlock Holmes to fool me.”
John tells Sherlock the America story. He Obviously Doesn’t Care, but he will—he will take the cameraphone. Martin Freeman’s Everyman Face is deeply uncertain (it’s government property, after all) but when Sherlock actually says “please,” he decides it’s worth the risk of ending up on another deadplane of deadness.
Left alone, the Otterbatch scrolls through Irene’s texts to him, and then stands morosely by the window, where Some Pathetic Fallacy cries the multiple perfect raintears which Sherlock would shed if he weren’t cold/dead/gay.
Goodbye Mr. Holmes.
Fade to black. Lights up again on Some Blurred Jihadist Footage; Irene Adler, in the most ill-advised burka since Sex and the City 2, is about to be beheaded by pyjama-clad ninjas. Bear with me, folks. Discard the improbability of said ninjas allowing her a last text (see above). Suspend your disbelief in her continually perfect eyebrows. Restrain your discomfort at the BBC’s decision to parody an execution video.
The knife swings. Fade to black.
Cue, THE WORLD’S MOST ANNOYING TEXT ALERT SEX NOISE.
Our heroine’s not dead. She looks up. The ninja with the sword has the eyes of a Persian kitten.
Sherlockbatch: When I say run, run.
And there you have it. From Russia With Love (And Dubious Lesboticism), saved by Sherlock while garbed as a samurai T. E. Lawrence. Back in Baker Street, remembering this, Sherlock lols, and continues to stare at the sky. Which is now crying on behalf of continuity, and timescales, and all linear narratives everywhere.
Sherlock: The Woman. [pause, for the benefit of fandom] The Woman.
And they all lived horrifically ever after.
Recapping the hairpin plot turns makes it very difficult to pick out the moments I loved most in A Scandal in Belgravia.
I think there’s a lot to love, from John telling the drugged Sherlock that “Lestrade filmed you on his phone,” to Mycroft’s revelation that his baby brother once wanted to be a pirate. I also adored Sherlock throwing the CIA killer out of the window.
As for the show’s depiction of Irene Adler—how and whether she was ultimately “saved” by “her man,” a bone of contention in accounts more erudite than this—I have to say, I don’t have too many problems with it. She’s a baddie, and clearly established as such; she also gets saved by Sherlock because Sherlock is the only one who ever saves anything. Moreover, all Sherlock’s insights and rescues are ultimately based on forensic deduction, and—with very rare exceptions—in the mystery genre, it’s only the detective who gets to detect.
Conan Doyle’s original Irene was an opera singer and courtesan; Moffat’s is a dominatrix in league with terrorists. This obviously isn’t a like-for-like translation, but it does fit with the general sexing-up of the source material. We never see the fin-de-siècle Irene nude: then again, Conan Doyle never interrogated Sherlock’s sexuality, whereas in A Scandal In Belgravia, every other remark made is speculation re: access to Sherlock’s bedroom.
The show could do better on its treatment of gender, but it’s Molly and John’s girlfriends who need rewriting. Irene is a blackmailing co-terrorist who drugs her friends for fun. Refusing to let her be the victor is not a blow in the face for feminism.
Rewatching this episode, I also changed my mind about the way Irene’s sexuality is handled. Because high-cheekboned lesbians with retro lingerie are a long-term philosophical preoccupation of mine, I was initially boo-hiss about the decision to send her head over Loubotins for Cumberbot’s Sherlock. I felt it came too close to reiterating the tired old cliché that it really is just a question of meeting the right man.
I’m also not convinced that Sherlock would be the right man, but, then again, the entire contents of Tumblr proves me wrong (moreover, I’m recapping this, while slightly biting my hand every time Sherlock Does Hauteur, proving my own lack of immunity to his little face). The key fact here is how Irene’s defection amatory segue is presented: in parallel with John’s.
Whether Irene does get to bend Sherlock over the desk, and whether or not John thinks he’s Sherlock’s boyfriend is unimportant. The feelings Sherlock provokes in them—desire, in Irene’s case, and obvious, irrational, inconvenient love in John’s—disrupt everything they’ve ever thought about themselves, and demonstrate how two people very certain of themselves can find their romantic identities far more fluid than expected.
I’m not saying that the message of A Scandal In Belgravia is that everyone’s a secret bisexual, but I do think it’s unusual and exciting to see a mainstream show exploring—and queering—human archetypes and identities in a (relatively) nuanced way. I also think that if Sherlock went to bed with anyone, that kind of exploration would become one-sided and impossible. Right, that’s Gender Studies 101 over.
In other news, Mycroft: I want more forever. I want him to sit in Chateau Despair and have more gratuitous feelings in his impeccably-tailored face. I want Lestrade’s wife to leave him for the PE teacher, thus freeing him to whisk Molly away to a desert island and Better Things (did you SEE his face when she showed off her Christmas frock?). I want Mrs. Hudson to kick more CIA arse. I want a spinoff about the Holmes’ brothers childhood, surely a cross between Brideshead Revisited and Rosemary’s Baby. I want Martin Freeman to find new ways to slay me with his 4,000 variations on dejected/disbelieving/appalled/astonished/Sherlock-take-that-severed-head-out-of-our-biscuit-tin sadface. I want to know what happened to Irene’s redhead.
I want Sherlock to solve a mystery with otters.
Tune in next time for The Hounds of Baskerville, now with added Russell Tovey (of History Boys fame), in which Sherlock and John enjoy a delightful weekend in the country….
What were your thoughts on the episode? Liked it? Loathed it? Anxious to contribute to the Holmes Family Counselling Fund? Deeply confused as to the contents of the cameraphone? Just christened your baby Una Stubbs? I want you. Here, in the comments section. Twice.