Monday, 2 January 2012

Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

“You don’t trust your own secret service?”

“Naturally not. They spy on people for money.”

Well, what a very cheeky resolution to the cliffhanger that was. It was an anti-climax of sorts, but in such a knowing way that you’re too busy admiring the chutzpah to mind. I love the ringtone. In fact, although I wasn’t sure before, I think the silently mouthed “sorry” may have entirely won me over to Andrew Scott’s Moriarty.

This is as good as television gets. Let’s just take the superlatives and the gushing as read so we can talk about it, shall we? I’d just like to emphasise that, although the performances are uniformly great here (Mark Gatiss’ arch performance as Mycroft has also won me over at this point, and Steven Moffat’s script is extraordinary even for him, Paul McGuigan has to be singled out for special praise. He must surely be the finest director working in British TV. There are so many little tricks that take my brat away here, from the parade of clients at the start, the flashback to the mystery of the hiker with Sherlock discoursing to Irene, on her sofa, in the middle of the field (Douglas Adams, anyone?); to Sherlock’s subsequent change of location from the field to his bed, in one shot; to all those little tricks with text on the screen that we’ve come to know so well- I love the question marks! This is all shot as wittily as it is written.

There are so many threads to this intricate story from the very beginning, as we’re immediately bombarded with multiple problems, not all of which are red herrings. But the intricacy of the storyline doesn’t mean that character is at all neglected; in fact there’s loads of character development here. Sarah is long gone; John has since had a string of girlfriends, all of whom have dumped him because his most important relationship is clearly with Sherlock. Sherlock is shown to be much closer to Mrs Hudson than we’ve seen before. There are heavy hints, after Irene “dies”, that Sherlock may have a recurring habit of turning to some rather dodgy substances when emotionally low. John and Mycroft are clearly much better acquainted by now. But we can’t go any further without talking about Irene Adler.

Ah yes, “The Woman”. I’m not sure that such a vague “brand” name would be much good for a dominatrix advertising her services, but perhaps she doesn’t need to, and that’s the point. She’s such a brilliant and multi-faceted character, played to perfection by Lara Pulver. She’s Sherlock’s match, and literally, er, beats him at one point, but she isn’t quite his mirror image. She isn’t exactly a repressed “high-functioning psychopath” like Sherlock; she’s very self-controlled but emotionally relates to other people in a very normal way. It isn’t about the intellectual challenge for her; it’s about playing power games. And there’s a very sharp distinction between her and Moriarty, too. Moriarty is a disturbed psychopath, whereas Irene’s power games are obviously all about the fun, and even more obviously sexual in nature. She’s not interested in power for its own sake, but only in fun, and the slightly more mundane matter of personal protection through the possession of secrets. And she’s so, so sexy. I hope she’d be gentle with me, but I so would.

The “other woman” (and one we’ll be seeing a lot more of in future episodes, I expect) is Molly. And we seem to get an explicit contrast between her and Irene. She’s jealous, obviously (Sherlock “recognises Irene’s “body” through “not her face”), but her reaction to Sherlock’s faux pas at the Christmas party is very revealing; she seems to actively enjoy being on the receiving end of Sherlock’s unintended verbal humiliation. It’s hard not to see this as an obviously intentional binary opposition between her and Irene.

Oh, and his infatuation with “The Woman” leads to much dialogue speculating on Sherlock’s sexuality. It seems most likely to me that he’s asexual, and that his attraction to Irene is genuine but has nothing to do with squishy body parts and nothing to do with her gender. He’s capable of bonding with others to an extent (I love the conspiratorial naughtiness between him and John in the palace) but he seems to have no sexual urges at all. She obviously likes him, though, even though she never refers to him as anything other than “Mr Holmes”.

We have some wonderfully metatextual fun here, as always; the parade of cases at the start are blogged about by John under such titles as “The Speckled Blonde” and “The Geek Interpreter”. This is cool, although it also carries the worrying implication that Moffat believes there probably won’t be another series so he might as well use up the titles. Of similar coolness is the fact that Sherlock is always being mistakenly assumed to always wear a deerstalker, based on a single photograph! Even better is his very individual method of calling the police.

There’s a lot of delightfully cheeky lèse-majesté here, too. I love Sherlock’s quip about his illustrious client (there goes another title…) being “someone with a navy”, and the fun with the ashtray and God Save the Queen on the violin. I bet Brenda watched this, too! It would also be fun to speculate on which young, female royal Moffat had in mind, but I’m not touching that one with a bargepole.

The final fifteen minutes are pretty much orgasmic. The bang bang bang of inspired revelations is just exquisite, but not quite as cool as Mycroft’s observation that Sherlock chooses to use his intellect not to be a scientist or a philosopher, but a detective, and once wanted to be a pirate. He may be asexual, but he certainly has a romantic side. And this is the final thing we see, as swords flash in Karachi and rumours of Irene’s death are about to be exaggerated. This might be a little implausible, if we were to nit-pick, but it’s so, so cool, and the moment has so been earned. As I said, this is as good as television gets.


  1. I agree almost completely with your praise, though -- for whatever reason, neither episode this year has struck me as being as perfect as 'A Study In Pink,' though I think a lot of that is because last year's opner was such a surprise. We were pretty much burdened with expectations this year and -- even though my expectations were met -- it wasn't as exhilerating as last year.

    Still, as you say, superlative TV.

  2. Perhaps we've come to expect excellence by now, especially coming into an episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Paul McGuigan. That combination gives you certain expectations...!

  3. Nice review of the episode.

    For a different look at this episode, check out my review .