Sherlock – ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ or The Fall of Irene Adler

As a fan of the last series of Sherlock (although not that second Orientalist mess of an episode, never that) the news of the second series reaching us on New Year’s Day was obviously exciting news. However, as someone who no longer trusts Steven Moffat with a television script, I approached it with some trepidation. I’d heard before watching that this adaptation’s Irene Adler has been updated from an opera singer who had dalliances with sundry members of nobility to the society set’s favourite dominatrix. I’d also heard, through various interviews and reviews, that this Irene was queer. Reader, my heart positively jumped at the prospect. Having watched the episode some hours ago, I can wholeheartedly say I really ought to have stuck with my trepidation.

Oddly enough, and contrary to my low expectation, the sex worker aspect of the new Irene Adler was relatively well handled. There is no doubt that it was almost entirely played for the nudity factor and the double entendres it proffered but, there were few slurs (although a snarly description of her as a sex worker from Mycroft) and generally little aspersion cast. So far so good! In fact, for a good half an hour or so, this Irene was doing well out of her adaptor. The Woman, as she titles herself, is intelligent, self-reliant and canny. She is active within the narrative, making things happen, ordering proceedings. She’s allowed space to breathe.

But things soon start getting uncomfortable. Irene enters the narrative over her affair with a minor, female royal and spends a lot of time detailing her various clients – mainly men but with women peppered throughout. So initially, I think we’re probably supposed to read her as bisexual, although it isn’t really commented on. Later however, in a conversation with John Watson when he refutes that he and Sherlock are a couple and that in fact he isn’t gay, Irene replies, “But I am”, thus making her textually gay. The minute those words are uttered; we’re placed in an even stickier situation. In fact, as the episode continues, we see her devolve from being a woman with agency to being the damsel in distress. For a moment, when Irene has almost outwitted Sherlock we see it all as a role she was playing, all part and parcel of her mission to protect herself. Alas then, that Moffat decides to disregard the way she always been immortalised: as the woman who outwitted Sherlock Holmes. In the end, he has Irene brought to her knees for both having the daring to be self-preservationist and falling in love with Sherlock. Yes, in the end she was a weak woman who fell in love with this dazzling intellectual and made the first four letters of his name her BlackBerry* passcode. (*Corrected from my previous assumption of an iPhone)

Yes, you did read that right. It would be hilarious in its truly poor exposition if it weren’t also just blindingly terrible. Not to mention the final ending which involves not only her second fake death of the episode but also her rescue from the hands of terrorists (oh god I don’t even have the energy to go there tonight but good lord that was not a thing we needed to do at all) by the ever present, ever brilliant Sherlock Holmes.

Now, what really bothers me about this is that a show  built on (and alludes to) the homoerotic subtext between its male leads – despite the increasingly bizarre protestations about this from cast and creators – it has dealt with female sexuality, specifically queer female sexuality in the most offhand, tokenistic fashion. In making Irene textually gay but providing a plot that hinges on her sexual attraction to Sherlock, Moffat is only playing at being progressive. Sure, his male leads might not be gay but! Here’s a lesbian dominatrix for your pains – and don’t worry because she’s actually got a thing for our main man. Despite her one reference to being gay midway through the episode, Moffat has used her throughout the episode as a ‘titillating bisexual’ stereotype. Her relationships with women are only ever alluded to, and briefly at that, because what counts is this newfound attraction to Sherlock Holmes, not the fact that she identifies as gay.

Now, let it be said, if this were genuinely an exploration of the fluidity of sexuality I would be absolutely thrilled. As a queer person I think it’s important that those sorts of relationships are explored. However, I honestly don’t believe Moffat’s intention is to explore that. To him, it’s just a line, it never gets followed up on and in fact it gets practically ignored by John on account of how she flirts so much with Sherlock. It’s merely something he’s using in order to be a little risqué, to make a change to the source material in a way that marks him out from the rest.

I’d also like to note that I’m not saying that gay people cannot be attracted to members of the opposite sex – as I’ve said above sexual fluidity exists. But it becomes frustrating that this is the most common narrative we see outside of the bullied and abused gay stereotype. It becomes frustrating for me as woman to see yet another fiercely intelligent, independent woman who becomes a pawn in the games of men, instead of being allowed to move the pieces. It becomes frustrating that once again, I have to see a character I can relate to be consigned to someone who is weak and requires saving. He uses this woman’s sexuality and profession to provide nudges and winks to the audience, to titillate safely whilst allowing him to be seen as somehow progressive for discussing Irene’s sexuality in the first place. Which I think upsets me most of all. Because a gay woman’s sexuality isn’t something you should throw away to make a plot work and neither is her narrative agency.

This was so nearly a plot of my dreams: a queer female sex worker outwits one of our greatest minds, remains calm and collected throughout with a hit of exploring the performativity of sex work?

But then Steven Moffat wrote it.

57 thoughts on “Sherlock – ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ or The Fall of Irene Adler

    • Thank you so much! I was talking to my best friend the whole way through about how sick we are with this sort of progressive pandering that doesn’t really go the distance.

  1. OH YOUR BRAIN.

    Like, I do believe that there are stories to be told about queer people falling for members of the opposite sex (I always cite the R&J subplot of Slings & Arrows S2, because I thought it would be horrible and it turned out to be beautiful, but I guess we blame Shakespeare for that? HE WILL FLIP YOU EVERY WHICH WAY), but everything about the denouement of this disappointed me. Because it wasn’t a story about fluidity, it was a story about Sherlock being amazing (and the whole point of Irene Adler is that she beats him! WHY). And Mycroft was gross about sex work, and the stinging deployment of ‘virgin’ got on my nerves, and and and. Ugh, Moffat. I’m so tired of the way the entire production wants to have its cake and eat it with this dance they do around queerness.

    (And it’s such a shame that it played out the way it did, because while I was watching it I genuinely really liked the “I’m not actually gay” “Well I am” exchange – because then they’re both drawn to him but they’re not attracted to him, and the two people whose weirdness might actually complement Sherlock’s own can’t go there (because genitals), which I find both deeply sad and deeply hilarious, because who would actually want to date that guy, anyway? Except Molly. Oh, Molly.)

    (REMEMBERING TO TRACK COMMENTS THIS TIME, because I did not know that was a thing you could do before.)

    • SOPHIE I so wanted to run this by you first but it was also really late and yeah. But honestly this episode disappointed me so much because for a second I thought I might just get something out of this. And like you said there is a space and a necessity for those stories (Slings and Arrows I love you forever) but this wasn’t that. It was so mishandled, it was so offhand and ill-thought through and it just resulted in another: Sherlock was right about everything, which entirely misses the point of The Woman in the first place. (Oh god the way ‘virgin’ was used and the seemingly complete misapprehension of what being asexual might entail made my blood boil). “I’m so tired of the way the entire production wants to have its cake and eat it with this dance they do around queerness.” I LOVE YOU, that is exactly what I wanted to say.

      (Precisely! I really loved this scene before everything that came after it because it felt like something new and different and accepting? But then. But then. And poor, poor sidelined Molly.)

      • I didn’t see the episode until late anyway; I assumed it started at 9, whoops.

        It’s so, so frustrating, like at this point I would rather Moffat just left queer ish out of it entirely, or at least left it to other people, because the way he pokes at it is maddening in its complete and utter lack of sensitivity. And now that they’re aware of the fan reaction it’s like there’s this veneer of self-consciousness on top of it which I’m finding obnoxious, augh.

        (OH MOLLY. That Christmas scene was almost unbearably painful to watch; I was glad she got to tell him he was being cruel, but I had to pause and collect myself a bit. Louise Brealey is so good.)

      • That’s exactly it. Julia and I were furiously emailing each other the whole way through – I was about 10 minutes behind because we started late – so I was prepared for when it all went entirely awful. But we both said at this point, if you’re going to throw her over, the least you could do for us is not bring queer ish into it. As a whole, the way Moffat treats queer identity is just vile – it’s fine when we can make allusions to it offscreen and not really have to deal with it; we can have a homosexual charade of relationship between these two men but make it violently clear that they’re just not like that. And the way they’ve deal with the fan response is just awful because they’ve amped up the homoerotic subtext but make it really clear in all their promotional stuff that they’re just straight mates.

        (That was absolutely horrific to watch, especially because it was just this horrible monologue, which yes Sherlock vaguely apologises for and Molly got to tell him he was cruel, but it’s put in the mouth of a man we’re supposed to root for, even find heroic, in the end. And the fact that we get no follow through on what it must’ve been like for her to find out about Moriarty, and then she’s pulled into work with Sherlock after her was so cruel to her and we get nothing to indicate how she feels about it? I just can’t sometimes. But Louise Brealey was brilliant.)

      • Through the episode, I was actually creeped out the way one is creeped out by those stories where a ‘virgin’ is taken to a bar to lose his virginity. It just feels so wrong and uncomfortable.

  2. I think there is enough exploration of sexuality in the fact that she was a gay dominatrix with both male and female clients. I have heard of gay sex workers who get paid to have sex with people of the opposite sex(and that this does not make them bisexual or less gay) so I thought THAT was interesting.
    I was also looking forward to the relationship Sherlock & Irene would’ve developed(IN A WELL SCRIPTED EP)…The [asexual? queer?] Virgin & The Lesbian Dominatrix. Would’ve worked to give Sherlock a female character whom he respected as an equal and a person of high intellect yet their sexualities would make for a way more interesting relationship than a cut & dry “hetero romance”, or worse, a “woman fails for falling in love with male lead”(which is what happened in the end, sadly).

    I liked a lot of the episode and while I was screaming at my TV that Irene COULDNT BE DEAD(DONT KILL “THE WOMAN”!!!), the fact that Sherlock “saves her” in the end(from a racist terrorist set-up) still left a bitter taste in my mouth.

    Nice review.

    • No I think you’re right and I hope it didn’t come across as me suggesting that if you’re a gay sex worker but sleep with members of the opposite sex during the course of it makes you any less than what you identify because, that’s not what I believe at all. And it really could have been interesting, it could have been well handled but, alas this wasn’t the case.

      I would have loved to see a relationship of equals between Irene and Sherlock that’s all about the way they view and interpret the world, the ways in which the complement and run up against each other all reigned by their mutual fascination – that would have been absolutely fantastic! As you said it would make for a much more interesting relationship to see and certainly more refreshing than what we got.

      As much as I’m glad Adler’s not been killed off (a la Guy Richie: Part 2), the whole denoument just made me feel so uncomfortable. From the awful racist set up to the damsel-in-distress it was just, I sat there reeling and not in a positive way.

      Thanks so much for reading!

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      • it is not a blackberry either, it’s a vertu, wasn’t going to comment but the correction you were sent was a little rude imo, so I’m correcting it. The metalic V at the top is their signature and its too long and too thin to be a blackberry.
        Actually it’s the perfect phone for her, kind of a reflection of her personality, they’re the world’s most expensive phones, very exclusive (why most people won’t ave recognised it) and where most other manufactures have a select button they have speed-dial to their own concierge service (a far better deal than unlimited texts i think)
        Urgh this sounds like an advert I swear its not, I’m just slightly obbsessed with them, a vertu would be the first thing I’d buy if I won the lottery.
        Like I said, kind of a niche market, not many people are interested in phones with $100,000 yearly contracts so they don’t advertise much and aren’t that famous, and iphone was a decent guess from what we saw of it.
        Also I completely agree, I was so pleased she was gay, I thought we were going to get a parting of equals and then we had an ending so bad I cried for all of woman-kind

      • Ah thank you so much I’ll add that correction in (and yeah I thought the other comment was essentially just baiting me and I can’t hold with that). But that’s a really interesting detail – something I love about the props department is the level of care and detail they’ve gone into, it’s the little details like this tht can round out a show.

        For a while I really thought I would get something positive, that it would turn itself around and then “SHERlocked”. Reader, I wept.

    • Actually, it’s a Vertu phone. Looks like a Blackberry (sort of), but retails for tens of thousands of dollars depending on the customisation.

      • According to http://bbc-sherlock.wikia.com/wiki/Irene_Adler's_Phone:

        “Irene’s phone refers to the phone belonging to Irene Adler which plays a big part of the plot of ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’.

        “It is a Vertu Constellation Quest smart phone, with a price tag of £17,300. Due to the amount of politically sensitive data on the phone, Irene has had miniature explosives fitted throughtout that will destroy it if anyone attempts to remove the hard drive.”

        I know you’ve been told this, but I’d just like to add that I think it is an interesting name because of the pun on Irene’s “virtue” (whatever one may think about it) and also that Moffat’s wife is producer Sue Vertue.

  4. I actually just wanted to comment here how much I liked this post. (I do! I do!)
    But then it got a little long winded so I started to write my own blogpost.
    AND THEN, while I was typing away, Steven Moffat wrote me a ridiculously immature @reply o twitter. And then he deleted it.

    I made some screenshots first though ;) –> http://bit.ly/v4F3ar

    • Oh thank you so much! I saw you linked it on twitter, that’s absolutely marvellous of you.
      Also, wow that is some unbelievably unprofessional and gross behaviour on Steven’s part. That’s really something.

  5. Yes! These are my thoughts exactly, only expressed better and more clearly than I could ever hope to. Thank you ever so!

    Another thing that bothered me was Irene’s regression to the somewhat pathetic half of this unrequited passion thing. I would have adored her character had she not then fallen to her knees at Sherlock’s displays of intelligence. Sexy, independent, supposedly-lesbian dominatrix Irene Adler keeping up a one-sided flirtation for months on end? Really, Moffat?

    I’m not just saying this as a queer feminist, I’m saying this because it would also give the narrative more edge, to have at least one person treat Sherlock’s mental prowess casually – not disdainfully or with spite (because Irene certainly understands the extent of Sherlock’s capability and appreciates it) but not in an awestruck way either.

    Because I don’t think the only problem is Moffat’s painfully bad handling of queer characters/subplot; I think he’s fallen a bit too much in love with the character of Sherlock. Yes, the show is meant to revolve around him and his overall amazingness, but sometimes it is taken too far.

    Case in point: John can’t have meaningful relationships with anyone because Sherlock takes up all his time and attention, while Sherlock pushes away not one but two over-eager women in the space of one episode. Moffat has everyone, especially the few female characters, fawning around Sherlock like teenagers. (Oh Molly.) Of course his idiosyncratic and difficult persona is the core of the show, but I feel it’s just going a bit too far.

    Oops, digressed a bit. It just makes me so angry to see a show that, during its best moments, is better than anything else on TV, go so wrong on such a fundamental and bizarre level. At this point, I’d rather have them all be cissexual heteros than see Moffat stumble around the issue like a show-offy todler. (“Look at us, we’re so diverse!” Really, you aren’t.)

    • I’m saying this because it would also give the narrative more edge, to have at least one person treat Sherlock’s mental prowess casually – not disdainfully or with spite
      Precisely, like I think that would honestly be a more interesting reading. But I can understand that the fascination is built into the original text (or such is my understanding, I’ve not read it in years) but, you can afford to deviate.

      Your point about Moffat being somewhat in love with his own creation is a great one because I really felt it. And I especially felt it more in Moffat’s episode than say Gatiss’ last Sunday. There’s just this exaltation of him in Moffat’s episodes that could do with a little editing for my taste. (Oh Molly I can’t even begin to talk about the way they use her it’s just, augh). It’s just so frustrating that when it’s great, it’s such a stunning piece of television (I could talk about the director’s they’ve had in for days because augh, some of the best choices have been made aesthetically) but it just stumbles in the most offensive way.

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  7. The way I interpreted Irene Adler’s, “but I am” comment was more of a statement used to prove a point about John and whether or not he’s gay, and not specifically define Irene’s sexuality. I definitely agree that the “I am SHERlocked” was a bit much, and the ending, etc. etc.

    • I mean, I also interpreted the line that way, but it’s a fact that just gets flat out ignored by the rest of the text and so it just makes me feel uncomfortable.

      Oh god that “SHERlocked”, I could not believe my eyes.

  8. Moffat did the lesbian-compelled-by-male-lead’s-irresistibility in “Jekyll” before, too There it was just a couple of lines (“if Miranda and I notice he’s sexy, he really must be pushing the envelope”) than a main plot point, but still an instance worth noting on a graph of his writing patterns.

  9. Oh, I don’t know. Why doesn’t anyone give Moffat the benefit of the doubt? You said so yourself you’d be thrilled if if this were genuinely an exploration of the fluidity of sexuality, so why are you going to assume that it is plainly not?

    • Why don’t I give him the benefit of the doubt? Because frankly, I’ve done it too many times before. Moffat has a worrying and frankly upsetting trend of using women, especially queer women this way. He’s not interested in fluidity, he’s not interested in being anything other than tokenistic when it comes to queer representation. He’s made that categorically clear in the press for this recent series of Sherlock alone. So whilst I appreciate that perhaps the episode didn’t hit you this way, but it felt very clear to me that this was just another display of tokenism on his part.

  10. Hardly surprising from the man who gave us A Good Man Goes To War with its two problematic queer couples: the males don’t get names apart from The Thin One and The Fat One before one of them is brutally mutilated and his husband given a barely half-a-second reaction shot, while the lesbian couple — who, along with the emasculated sontarran are the only interesting characters in the story — are there more or less purely for an oral sex joke.

  11. “It becomes frustrating for me as woman to see yet another fiercely intelligent, independent woman who becomes a pawn in the games of men, instead of being allowed to move the pieces. It becomes frustrating that once again, I have to see a character I can relate to be consigned to someone who is weak and requires saving.”

    This kind of thing sounds good, until you think about it, and then realise there’s not really much substance to it. Sherlock Holmes saves everyone, including Irene. And she did outsmart him, he fucked up hugely, it was a big deal.

    Women being pawns “in the games of men” is a problem with film and television generally, I won’t deny that. But Sherlock is about the relationship between Sherlock and John.

    • Well as much as I appreciate that comment about a lack of substance, we will just have to agree to disagree. The thing is just because something’s a problem with film and television generally, or that a show is about the relationship between two men, it’s no excuse to shaft a woman so categorically. And it did it to someone as interesting and complex as Irene Adler.

      Yes she did outsmart him, that was a huge deal. But the fact is where in the original material, he was left outwitted; yet Moffat decides to have her one-upped, have her on bended knee, begging before Sherlock, pleading for her life essentially. How exactly I’m supposed to be thrilled about that, I honestly don’t know.

  12. Thank you for writing this. I wanted to like this episode and plot-wise it wasn’t horrible, but I couldn’t overlook the gross misogyny in Moffat’s writing. My frustration at his treatment of Irene Adler was made that much greater given that I had just seen the latest Sherlock Holmes film only a few days beforehand. I know he had nothing to do with that, but I’m getting pretty damn sick of watching female characters being decimated left, right, and center.

    Moffat’s writing and handling of female characters on Doctor Who really should have prepared me for this.

    • We should all have been prepared and yet, somehow, we weren’t.

      But oh god between this and the Guy Ritchie movie, I just sat there texting with rage “Is this just the “Let’s Kill Irene” contingent of Sherlock enthusiasts?”

  13. Perfect summarization of my feelings! I found the ending with the terrorists to be so completely bizarre–”the man saves the day!” Please….I would have been so much more satisfied if they stopped with the scent in the cafe with John and Mycroft.

    • As much as I would’ve hated her being killed off (ugh fridging) but at least I would’ve been spared that bizarre terrorism angle at the end. (Not over the scimitar oh god.)

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  15. Hear, hear! While I loved the episode as (mostly) brilliant tv fluff, the treatment of Adler’s character really left me with mixed feelings. But then, I’d say the episode pretty much continued the same quality of writing we saw in Series one: incredibly clever and exhilarating with a few grand-scale blunders that make you moan with embarrasment and wonder what the hell happened. This just happened to be the big sexist blunder and it naturally sparked more irritation than, say, the Chinese smuggler gang or the way Moriarty is behind every crime in this series etc.

    As for the bit of Scimitar silliness at the very end of ASIB, I’d like to promote the (strangely rare) view that it was just Sherlock’s fantasy: what in fact happens in the last five minutes is that Sherlock overhears Mycroft & John’s conversation in the cafe and, true to the spirit of his boyish pirate dreams and the challenge Mycroft put to him, saying it would’ve taken Sherlock to fool him about Irene’s death, he creates this comforting fantasy of how he might have saved her (were he inclined to turn into a continent-hopping hero and stupid enough to leave his mobile on during such a perilous attempt).

    Evidence? First, there’s the camera angle from behind a window/door at the back of the cafe that suggests the presence of a third party during John & Mycrofts conversation (someone I talked about this with noticed a similar trough-the-window angle was used in the Battersea scene where Sherlock indeed was eavesdropping Irene and John). Secondly, there’s the way the camera work in the Karachi scene changes after the shaky realistic footage, which is kind of the first idea that comes to mind when you think of a terrorist base, and becomes quite smooth and dreamlike, as if taken on another level in Sherlock’s imagination. Thirdly, had Sherlock really saved Irene and knew she’s safe somewhere, that final image of him looking out through the window (with rain as symbolic tears running down his face) would feel rather out of place. That it could be a fantasy is not made very obvious, but I haven’t so far spotted anything that would go against this interpretation either.

    Well, it’s not much better than the “it really happened” option, but it diminishes my disappointment with this episode a bit – hope it helps you, too!

    • I don’t know, the Chinese smuggler gang was the most horrendously Orientalist bullshit I’ve seen in a long while, that raised my hackles a fair bit. It’s so disappointing because generally the team behind it (aka Gatiss and the crew) are so talented and care so much but then this kind of storyline occurs and I’m just back to feeling incredibly frustrated and disheartened.

      I hadn’t actually thought to the fact that it could be a fantasy – which does work better for me. It does however still have it’s own gross connotations (I just, there is a scimitar, that whole scenario is just, why was that a thing you decided to do?) and it also diminishes Adler to an extent that is just horrifying. Instead of having her outwit him and escape, continuing her life disinterested in a long game with Sherlock, she dies.

      Thanks so much for going int the thoery in so much detail though, it’s definitely given me something else to think about!

  16. I think you over-thinking this. Irene -in my opinion- was either bisexual or lesbian (with both male and female clients) but she did fall for Sherlock, which is a questioning to her sexuality. Everyone doubts at some point their sexuality, so did Irene with Sherlock and maybe John as well.
    Don’t forget that Irene DID beat Sherlock. She got from a him a very important information which ruins Mycroft’s plan. It’s not an unimportant thing.
    I also have to mention that Irene succumbed to her feelings for Sherlock, which is the end of her. I think this happens in the book as well (not sure-haven’t read it yet).
    And even if you don’t like how Moffat handled Irene’s sexuality and her relationship with Sherlock, you shouldn’t forget that the episode was really good and had a great photography and music. Just saying.

    • I have no issue with her questioning her sexuality, I welcome it as I said in the post, but it becomes incredibly frustrating that the story so often told of queer women is that of “queer lady experiments with feelings for man!” Especially because that is what the story boiled down to because any hint of her being fluid was completely lost in the second half.

      She did beat Sherlock, that’s not important. As I said to another commenter, the problem is that where in the original text Adler both outwitted and escaped him, leaving Sherlock with grudging Victorian respect; Moffat has Adler torn down at the last second, pleading for her life that is on edge because she was “weak” and succumbed to her feelings for the ultimately more intelligent Sherlock.

      As for your last point, I don’t disagree that the direction was beautiful but if I wanted to write a post about that, I would have done. I chose not to speak about those parts because ultimately, I didn’t come away from that episode thinking about that. I came away utterly infuriated and upset with the utter disservice they did to Irene Adler’s character. The fantastic technical aspects do not outweigh for me the poor, sexist handling of Adler’s character.

  17. This notion that the character was somehow undermined by Moffat in this show misses the point of the ending. It was Irene Adler’s hold over Sherlock because she “knew what he liked” that allowed her to live at the end of the episode. It might have looked like he was the swashbuckling hero but it can easily be viewed from the smile on Irene’s face that she was manipulating him for her own survival. I appreciate that may not be an attractive quality in a human being but it is certainly not a weakness of the character or her gender or indeed her sexuality…

    Incidentally, on the last point, the way she delivered the line “Well I… AM…” when referring to John’s comment about not being gay, did not sound like a confession from the heart but more like her desire to shock John and throw him off the scent of anything Sherlock could have gleaned that would lead to the reveal of the code, although we learn later in the episode that Sherlock learned of it another way.

    It would have been more damaging to feminism for her manipulative character to have been beheaded and forgotten about by the ‘hero’ of the story. It was thanks to her POWER as a WOMAN that he saved her life… :)

  18. I know this is a million years after you wrote this but I feel the need to reply simply because I interpreted this episode completely differently and I thought you might be interested/might consider it/what have you. (For the record: I’m a lesbian).

    I honestly thought the fact that she’s a lesbian qualified the whole episode. to me that meant “Oh! She’s not interested in him sexually! She’s interested in him the same way Moriarty is!” In other words, she’s interested in him mentally. Like Moriarty and Holmes, she feels so alone because of her incredible intellect. But she does use sex to manipulate people, hence what she does occupationally (usage of sex to control), and she did use this to try and manipulate Holmes. Him being a virgin was also interesting to me, again because of her M.O., it was the quintessential “immovable object meets unstoppable force”.

    The final scene, when I watched the episode I saw “Oh, she made him come to her.” Because much of the episode was about her seeing if she could get him to surrender to her. Like Moriarty, the “beating him” thing is what interests her. She wants to see if she can do it, it’s a challenge that excites her mentally and her being a lesbian meant it was only a mental excitement. I cannot believe for one instant that she could have ever been caught and put into such a ludicrous situation, she’s been depicted as being so amazingly clever, it doesn’t make sense in the least.

    What is Sherlock’s weakness? His friends. He actually does care for people. That rage at the treatment of his landlady (I totally cried)! That incredible drive to save Watson. But he’s also shown again and again that he does want to save people. He resisted and resisted her baiting until he thought she was dead and then again when he knew she was in trouble. Unlike Moriarty she didn’t endanger his friends so much as she endangered herself (fakely). She endeared herself to him, not out of sexual attraction but because of the desire for someone else that understood. That “contracting of her pupils” the “racing heart”, I saw that as desire, but a mental desire because….she’s a lesbian. And I think the idea of the overpowering desire, the incredible love because of empathy and understanding (rather than sex) is an overarching theme in the show.

    But when I watched the final episode, I thought this changed the ending of the Adler episode a bit (skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen the episode yet). The threat of suicide due to loneliness and the feeling of being too strange loomed over this season. And like Moriarty and Sherlock, I think she has these feelings too. So this made me wonder “is she committing suicide out of that same pain?” But I think it being the ultimate lure for Sherlock was what it really was….but I can’t be 100% sure anymore. At the funeral Watson says “I was so alone”, and I think Moriarty intimated the same feeling on the roof before his suicide. They all felt so, so, alone and gravitated towards each other desperately. This made me see much more pain in her. (hahah, just typing this made me cry).

    She, Moriarty, and Sherlock make such an interesting triangle of people sharing this same complex, but dealing with it all differently. I appreciated that her situation was interpreted differently. She is a woman and therefore has to deal with sexism, with a loss of power. But also with a perpetual looming danger to herself that men don’t have. She reminds us frequently that she wants control because she needs it for insurance, she needs to protect herself whereas Sherlock and Moriarty are free to play their games. I saw that as a wonderful acknowledgement of a very real difference that women, and queer women, have to negotiate.

    I do understand how you interpreted this the way you did, but I saw it very differently and I think there’s room for both.

  19. Pingback: TV in Review: Sherlock, “A Scandal in Belgravia” « polentical

  20. This. So much. Loved Irene until she decided Sherlock was her man. Ugh. It’s like straight men are under the impression lesbians can be “fixed” once they meet the “right guy.” All of my female straight friends were supportive and kind. All my guy straight friends were always joking in rude ways and asking me if I’d really never date a guy. Irene was an extreme disappointment.

  21. I want to thank you for this post. It gave me a lot to think about and I created a college essay that actually argues that this is progressive and keeps with the character of Irene Adler in the original short story. Thank you so much for the stimulating ideas!

  22. Steve Moffat got back on track with the next two so it’s best just to try and pretend this episode never happened, for the sake of sanity!

  23. The thing that Im curious about is what happens with Sherlock and Irene after that episode. I mean, he saved her and it seems like they really liked each other. Even though it was pretty different from the original story of how she eloped and ran away with her husband while keeping the picture, thus defeating Sherlock, I still want to know how the writers are going to keep the story. In the original, theres no more of her because they ran away, but now in this show she’s alive and Sherlock knows it. are they going to sneak away together or just stay away from each other?

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