A Scandal in Belgravia: Review

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.

A Scandal in Bohemia

On May 6th, PBS Masterpiece unleashed Steven Moffat’s stylish update of A Scandal in Bohemia on the United States. I had seen the episode previously, but I watched again and live tweeted with fans, an interesting mix of those who were seeing it for the first time and those who were repeating the experience.

Almost immediately, I was struck by two things: 1) I still intensely dislike the direction Steven Moffat chose to take Irene’s character, and 2) The episode is so beautifully and cleverly written that I love it in spite of that.

When I decided to write a novel (The Detective and The Woman) about Sherlock Holmes, one of my primary desires, one I believe I fulfilled, was to write about Irene Adler as an intelligent human being rather than primarily a sexual object. Moffat’s Irene, played brilliantly by Lara Pulver, is doubtlessly intelligent, but by making her a “professional scolder” as Mycroft Holmes would politely put it, he definitely brought sex to the forefront, which disappointed me. Irene uses sexuality as a weapon throughout the episode, a dynamic of which I am not at all fond.

However, and it’s an extremely large however, the the episode is clever, funny, beautiful, and all-around brilliant. Irene keeps Sherlock on his toes, just as she does in the Holmes canon, and one aspect that I like a great deal is that Sherlock also has a distinct effect on her. He displays a great deal of respect for her by relating to her on a cerebral, intelligent level, refusing to see her as just a body, no matter how fervently she throws herself at him.

In the end, both Sherlock and Irene affect each other deeply, but in a way that goes far beyond the physical. As in the Doylean story, Holmes is confronted with a formidable woman and does not escape unaltered by the encounter. The end of the episode is fascinating because it suggests that both Sherlock and Irene win in different ways, depending on the viewer’s way of looking at it.

Other delights include Mrs. Hudson being far tougher than anyone realized, Mycroft and Sherlock having a heart-to-heart conversation, Sherlock finally playing the violin seriously, and Watson showing how deeply he has come to care for his flatmate.

Overall, Belgravia is my least favorite of the series 2 episodes when it comes to plot, but in spite of that, the cleverness of the writing and performances and the beauty of the cinematography and musical score make it one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

How did you like the episode? For those of you who had already seen it, what was it like watching again? Let me know in the comments

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7 thoughts on “A Scandal in Belgravia: Review

  1. I think I disagree with your take on Irene. There was definitely a sexual element to her character. She was having an affair with the King of Bohemia, who loved and admired her as much as he could a commoner. Remember, she was described as an “adventuress”, and Watson described her as being “of dubious and questionable memory”. This was all fairly scandalous at the time, though seems mild by today’s standards. Moffat and company wanted her to be equally “scandalous” by 21st century standards, which, of course, meant going a good deal further. But he also wanted to make her brilliant and likeable, so an outright prostitute was too ordinary and unattractive, so he made her someone who acts the sadist for the sexual masochist. She was brilliant enough to stay ahead of Sherlock, as the original managed to do, making her an effective 21st century equivalent.

    • I don’t at all mean that sex wasn’t a factor in the original. What I mean is that there’s more to her than that, which is what I wanted to emphasize. She’s an intelligent human being with a sexual component, but I think that too often she’s portrayed as being all sex.

  2. I can see what you’re getting at, but I don’t feel that this episode made her all about sex. They definitely portrayed her as an intelligent, capable human being who just happened to “know what men like,” as she would put it. The entire dominatrix angle was very subtle, and only hinted at and teased about to the audience. With how she carries herself, one could almost forget what her profession is and believe that she’s a very attractive, professional businesswoman or some such.

    Okay, it’s four am. I need sleep. I think I’ll come back to this later, cuz my mind’s going fuzzy on what to say, but I know there’s more…

  3. She used sex, but she was more clever than that. When she appeared nude for Sherlock, it wasn’t about sex as much as it was defeating his ability to deduce anything about her. I think the Irene of the TV show was a great 21st century extrapolation of the original character, and that you do her an injustice when you say she was portrayed as “all sex”.

    • I’m glad it struck you differently than it did me 😉 The nude scene stretched my credibility just a little bit, in the fact that I don’t think Sherlock Holmes would have had question marks there. I think he’d have deduced a host of things from grooming, physical fitness level, etc.

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