A Scandal in Belgravia

Such a shame for Sherlock’s new outing…

So. Sherlock.

I was so excited about this. If you listen to the podcast you can hear me deafen the others when Sherlock is mentioned and I squeal loudly. Ever since the first series ended I’ve been looking forward to the second one and building up how brilliant it was going to be in my mind.

Maybe that’s why today I feel so…deflated.

It started excellently. A strange but okay conclusion to the cliffhanger of last series. Lots of in-jokes for fans of the original stories, lots of fun banter between Sherlock and Watson, lots of the visual tricks of the first series. The gimmick of having Sherlock’s thoughts and deductions scribble over the screen works extremely well and is used to good effect; I think the general stylishness of Sherlock is one of the reasons it’s so popular, and the text being on the screen in an augmented-reality is definitely a contributing factor to that.

So, a good first fifteen minutes or so. Then, we were introduced to Irene Adler. And it’s here that things seem to get a bit shaky. One of the things I’ve always admired about Sherlock is that it manages to stay fairly faithful to the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, even whilst modernising them. But Irene Adler?

They destroyed her.

Sure, there were some similarities. In both the original and Sherlock she is brought to Sherlock’s attention because of a photograph of her and a royal. In both she manages to outsmart Holmes and keep the photograph. In both she is beautiful and charming. But quite honestly, apart from that she is unrecognisable.

Irene Adler was originally an opera singer who had a relationship with a King and kept a photograph of them. Sherlock pretends he’s been beaten up in order to find the photograph, but she sees through this. She tends to his wounds and immediately leaves with her husband and the photograph, having no intention of causing the King any problems. Throughout she is brave, independent, caring and kind.

Quite how a modernised version of this character is a professional dominatrix who destroys marriages, takes naughty photographs of important members of society, consults master criminals for advice, blackmails the government, and fakes her own death (by presumably murdering another woman), I’m not sure.

They ruined one of my favourite characters, and for no real reason. They could have stretched the cat-and-mouse game out for 90 minutes without making Irene (let’s be frank here) a total cow.

Please don’t think that I’m annoyed that they made her into a professional and sexually aggressive dominatrix; that’s fine, and I can almost see how that would be a modernised version of the character. But I am hugely annoyed that they turned a very kind woman into a greedy, grasping bitch, from a woman that acted because of what she wanted into a woman that is essentially the pawn of a criminal and helpless in the hands of a detective.

It’s rare to find a character like Irene Adler — someone who manages to be kind as well as strong — and it is a real shame that they ruined her.

But I was aware that my upset could just be because I know and love the original character. So I tried to ignore the original Irene Adler and just focus on the one they presented in last night’s Sherlock. But still, there are problems.

For 80 minutes, Irene Adler is incredible. Well written, well acted…she’s a baddie, but she’s a pretty awesome baddie. She greets Sherlock naked so that he can’t get any clues about her from her clothes. She tricks him, plays with him, uses him, makes him (the sexless, emotionless robot-man) care for her and manipulates him to her best advantage. She’s sexy, cool-headed, strong. All she cares about is what she wants, and she’ll do anything she can to get it. I don’t like her but I think she is a fantastic and interesting character.

But then we get to the last 10 minutes. It’s revealed that she was acting on Moriaty’s advice — so, not as independent as we thought. Then it’s revealed that even though she previously admitted she was gay, she’s fallen in love with Sherlock and allowed all her careful, rational planning and scheming to be ruined by her emotions. This has left her friendless and alone and she is beheaded — except, of course, she’s not because Sherlock came and rescued her.

Ugh. Just, ugh. Why introduce a character, build her up to be so independent and intelligent and then do that to her? Why? Why make her gay and then have her fall in love with a man? Why have her seemingly act off her own back for 80 minutes and then reveal she was acting under Moriarty’s orders? Not with him but for him, declaring that she just had no idea what to do with her photos until she spoke with him. That’s even removing the intelligence they spent so long showing that she had with the boomerang/backfiring car case.

Even if they changed Irene Adler’s personality under the pretence of modernising her, this is just ridiculous. Irene Adler is famous for being the only woman who outsmarted him, the only woman he ever respected (not loved, respected), the radical-for-the-time independent woman. So why change that? What is the point of using Irene Adler if you’re not going to actually use her?

Maybe it was the fact I was descending into a cloud of rage, but as the episode went on I enjoyed it less and less. It got a bit ridiculous towards the end, really, and Twitter was filling up with people saying that they couldn’t understand it or that it was getting complicated. This just…wasn’t one of the best Sherlock episodes.

Which is a shame, because if I take Irene Adler and the ridiculous plot they put her in out of the equation I really enjoyed A Scandal in Belgravia. The bits that were almost sidelines to the main plot, such as John and Sherlock fighting, the Christmas scene and Sherlock’s treatment of the burglars, were pure gold. It’s such a pity that the main thrust of the episode was so ruined.

To watch A Scandal in Belgravia and make your own mind up, you can find it here on the iPlayer. To find out more about Sherlock in general, look on its BBC Page.

Amy Jones

Updated: Jan 02, 2012

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