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This is my piece on BELG for the Baker Street Babes podcast, written up since I couldn’t be there at the recording, and posted because the first part of it is a minority opinion—Taylor and I were outnumbered two to five on this one. It is rather long and I am afraid most of it is rather harsh.
(Also while on the subject of four-letter abbreviations, please note that BBC Sherlock’s 1x03 is GREA. GAME is the Laurie R. King novel.)
I think I’m going to talk first about the thing that I didn’t like and then once that’s out of the way I’ll do some flailing.
The ending. I have no idea what the Moff was thinking when he wrote that. I was very skeptical of how they would handle Irene, and I was pleased with the treatment of her and her relationship with Sherlock right up until the scene with her, Sherlock, and Mycroft in the plane. She had been ahead of Sherlock every step of the way, she was smart and had plans and backups all the way through, she had thoroughly discombobulated and outsmarted everyone and brought down a well-thought out government plan.
I refuse to believe that the same woman who booby-trapped her safe with a live gun, who had two passcodes for both that safe and her camera phone, who had safety nets and backups for every eventuality, would somehow, for no apparent reason, find herself in the Middle East, at gunpoint (or rather sword-edge point), in a situation where she depends on Sherlock Holmes of all people for her survival.
Irene in the Canon got away and eloped with Godfrey Norton (the man who she loved and married) because she was smarter and faster than Holmes. He didn’t “let her get away with it” because of any deliberate decision on his part—she got away because she anticipated his movements, took precautions, and was faster than him. He clearly had some manner of feelings for her, he respected her and was humbled by her existence, and while she admired his skills, her affections were clearly engaged elsewhere. That’s a far cry from the woman sending him a text with her dying breath while a single tear runs down her cheek.
The last ten minutes of the episode, therefore, didn’t ring true for me, both because it was a deviation from the Canon and because it was a character inconsistency within the universe itself.
I could appreciate the “sexification” of Irene and her being a gay dominatrix for what it was: an update of the scandalous American actress “of dubious and questionable memory”, and it was clear that she used her brain as well as her body to get the things she wanted. I liked the scenes with her and Sherlock figuring out the boomerang “case” and their battle of wits, I loved how she got the better of Sherlock when he figured out the code for her.
Where it started to go wrong was the scene in which Sherlock takes her pulse because it was meant to show that she reacted to him <i>physically</i> while he had no such reaction to her at all. Now, there is being sexually oblivious, there is being asexual and there is being a virgin, and then there is showing up the fact that he’s made of such pure intellect that he’s never had an erection in his life. I’m not sure how to feel about that.
It was clear that she had made an impression on him and that he was out of his comfort zone for most of the episode, but the fact that he then regained control because her body had betrayed her doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Especially if you contrast it with the earlier scene in which her naked body is her best disguise, a trick with which to fool Sherlock, and it works. And all I’m going to say about “Sherlocked” is that, when I went to the preview, I was seriously shaking my head, and the rewatch didn’t make it better. It was meant to be funny but in the context it just added to the “this makes no sense” feel of the ending.
I also thought the end had numerous plot holes. Apart from the fact that the whole Middle East situation doesn’t seem very plausible and smacked heavily of <i>deus ex machina</i>, the scene with John and Mycroft in the cafe bothered me as well. Mycroft knows what a bad liar John is and that it would take Sherlock exactly two seconds of looking at John to know that he’s lying, so I’m not sure why he would even tell John the official truth and ask him to lie for Sherlock’s benefit. And why exactly Sherlock Holmes would be the person that Irene sends a text to in her final moments will forever remain a mystery to me. If Sherlock and Irene had kept in touch after she brought down Bond Air, wouldn’t John have known? He was keeping tabs on Sherlock’s text messages after all.
As for the things I liked:
I liked the beginning with John bitch-slapping Sherlock and all the little domestic bits, from John writing his blog to the 221B Christmas party. Seeing that set again after a year and a half is just like coming home. I liked how the characters and relationships were developed, with Mycroft and John both looking out for Sherlock, and Mycroft and Sherlock’s brotherly moment in the morgue.
The scene with John and Irene in the warehouse may be my favourite moment of the episode. Martin Freeman’s acting in that was top notch, and watching the Mycroft vs. John scene from PINK now feels like the test drive for this.
I liked John’s string of girlfriends (Three-Continents-Watson ahoy) and how he got dumped because Sherlock was more important to him than the girlfriend. I think that’s a fairly realistic update. I like how John is shown as being emotionally clearly in over his head in caring about Sherlock, probably without even realising. (“We’re not a couple.” – “Yes, you are.”)
I generally liked the vibe of everyone being out of their comfort zone (even Mycroft) because they were dealing with a situation they had never encountered before and therefore had no template to work from. One more reason why I would have loved Irene to have had the upper hand overall. Sherlock Holmes in the Canon was humbled by her existence because it showed him that he was fallible. He was never quite the same after meeting her. I assume that the very last scene, with Sherlock reading her texts back and saying “the woman” was meant to reflect that in this universe, but it didn’t work for me.
Mrs. Hudson, on the other hand, was amazing and I loved how she subverted the stereotype of the crying old lady at gunpoint/damsel in distress.
I also liked the visual style, especially the way that the white on-screen text was used to fantastic effect in so many different ways. Once again, Series 1 feels like the test drive; now they know what they can do with that little toy and it’s spectacular every time. I also liked that we finally got a look at both Sherlock’s bedroom and Mrs. Hudson’s flat, and I liked the little in-jokes about the deerstalker and the height difference and such.
I liked the storytelling with the parallels between Irene and Sherlock, I just wish her girlfriend had actually been as much of a second-in-command as John is for Sherlock. I loved the scene with naked Irene, Sherlock, and John, because it was a great setup.
And I like that, for all that he denies it, Sherlock does care about people: he figured out the weak points of the thug who threatened Mrs. Hudson and threw him out of a window because he’d hurt someone Sherlock cared about; and in the scene in Irene’s house the person they threatened to shoot was John, which provoked an emotional reaction from Sherlock. I am interested to see where they take this concept for BASK.
Overall, my rating of the episode depends a lot on what my base mood is; I can either take it as a good episode with a rubbish ending that I refuse to accept or as an episode which could have been great but was ruined by the ending because it undid Irene’s character. I don’t usually go Angry Feminist very often, but I think what annoys me is that Arthur Conan Doyle created a strong independent female character in the 1890s and that not one but two high-profile modern adaptations of her ultimately failed in doing the samed—Ritchie with fridging her in AGOS, the BBC adaptation with a very Moffat twist ending that grazes the edge of Completely Missing The Point very, very sharply.
That said, the Holmesian in me still enjoyed most of the episode. I enjoyed a lot of the writing and character development, I enjoyed the nerdy little canon references and even references to things that aren’t strictly Canon but familiar to Holmesians, like the Vincent Starrett sonnet or John’s middle name. I hope more BBC fans pick up the original stories as well because if you’re not familiar with them, you’re seriously missing out on half the fun.