“Sherlock: Season 2″ recap: “A Scandal in Belgravia” (SPOILERS)

Lara Pulver as Irene Adler. Credit: BBC

I have written and written on this episode, and I’ve hated everything I’ve written, leading me to start over again. It just wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t get my thoughts together. So, I think the best way (and, sadly, the most tedious way) to write my review and analysis of “A Scandal in Belgravia” is to take the show apart one piece at a time. So this review will have three parts, each part will be long enough for its own post. Before I go into how I’ll break this down, here’s a really important disclaimer:







Okay, now that I’ve given  you ample room, here’s how this will break down:

Post 1: The show itself

Post 2: Canon

Post 3: Fanon (how the show addresses the rabid fanbase)

Here we go with Post 1.


All right, so I’m one of the many in the U.S. who watched the season premiere of Sherlock online, and I have to say that it was AMAZING. It was so amazing, that I’m declaring it as the best television I’m bound to see for the entire year.

Where to start with this? Well, first, I’ll quickly get the synopsis out of the way–Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John (Martin Freeman) are charged with getting some incriminating pictures back from Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), a dominatrix who goes by the name of “The Woman.”

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s what I loved about it:


The cinematography, Paul McGuigan’s hyper-visualized directing (AMAZING), the script by Steven Moffat (who I thought was completely against the Sherlock/John thing, so the fact that he wrote this S/J-laden episode is pretty astounding to me), and, of course, the acting (which also included Louise Brealey as Molly, co-creator/writer Mark Gatiss as Mycroft, Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson and Rupert Graves as Lestrade) was top tier. Also, this is the only time I’ve ever loved Irene Adler. Generally, I hate her in screen adaptations, so big ups to the writing for making me like her as much as I like Sherlock Holmes. Everything about this episode was, as Victor from Project Runway would say, GLAMAZING.

Some of the best parts, though, come from when Sherlock realizes that he is a human and debilitating being a human can be. For instance, when Sherlock insults Molly at the Christmas party and, after realizing his carelessness, gives a heartfelt apology and kisses her on the cheek.  Also, when John tells Mycroft that he doesn’t think Sherlock is capable of feeling love, Mycroft intimates that this is not really the case. Later on, John can see that it’s not the case when Sherlock insists on keeping Irene’s camera phone. This whole case  has opened up John’s eyes to the fact that Sherlock, can, in fact, feel a lot more than he lets on. I think Sherlock is also reminded of how much he can feel; I think he must have forgotten he had the capacity to feel after so many years. Due to how much Irene has taught all of them–not just Sherlock–about the depth feelings can have is why she truly is The Woman. Even if there was the scene at the end (which will be discussed later), she still came out on top of Sherlock.

Of course, though, there are a couple of ticks people have with the episode. The three points of contention that seem to be tearing some people up inside:

1) Irene Adler is a lesbian who loves/lusts for Sherlock, a man

2) Irene Adler uses “Sherlocked” as her password.

3) Irene Adler is saved by Sherlock (or is she?)

I wrote a large Twitlonger post about no. 1 due to a quick temper after reading some tweets about Irene liking Sherlock being an impossiblity/pushing the “lesbian-must-be-straight-secretly” agenda. Even though I think what I wrote gets my point across, it was quickly written, and I like to have a while to think about what I just saw, especially if I’m not completely sure how I feel about something. Now, I’m taking my time to explain exactly why I didn’t have such a huge problem with the scene where Irene explains/confronts John about sexuality.

Thanks to livejournal user bizarremain, we have the transcript of what exactly was said during this scene:

Irene: “You jealous?”
John: “We’re not a couple.”
Irene: “Yes, you are.”
John: “Who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes? But, for the record, if anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay.”
Irene:”Well, I am. Look at the both of us.”

Some women have taken this to think that the scene was enforcing a tired stereotype of lesbians needing to have the right man come along and “change” them. Sure, an argument can be made for that, I really do think so. If you look at it on the surface, you might not want to have Irene say that she’s attracted to Sherlock after showing her be happily  intimate with women. But I think the argument would be much stronger if the scene was written in an entirely different way. For that argument to work in my eyes, Irene would have had to say something like, “I always thought I liked females until Sherlock. Now I’m turned onto men forever!” She didn’t say that at all. She is merely pointing out something that, I thought, was made in a crystal clear fashion.

What she’s saying is that she and John are both two people who aren’t attracted to men. Yet, here they are, attracted to one man, not because he’s a man, because he’s this amazing being. What Irene was getting at is that it doesn’t matter what Sherlock is, it’s that he is who he is what’s so attractive and magnetic. It’s not so much that he’s the magical male that can change Irene into a heterosexual–the episode never says she’s changed to a heterosexual woman; it’s that she’s attracted to him, no matter what he is, and that’s what makes the whole thing interesting. If Sherlock was a woman, she’d be just as attracted, I think. And let’s not forget that there are a lot of lesbian women who do report having feelings for the opposite sex, even though they predominately prefer the same sex.  This is in real life, so it would only be fair to portray it in fiction. To me, the whole scene is a lesson in sexual fluidity. Sometimes, labels don’t really account into who you like.

By alluding to this, Irene is also saying that John is in the same boat as she is. John being put into the mix is another area where the lesbian stereotype argument falls apart for me. If John was nowhere in this story, then the argument could be made with force. But, here he is. Irene is saying to John that he needs to analyze what is going on with him and Sherlock and realize that even though he’s attracted to women (just like she is), he’s just as attracted to Sherlock. In fact, Irene is also intimating that Sherlock might be the one for John. Never once does she say that she’d actually like to have a relationship with Sherlock. She’s mostly just got a mixture of intrigue and lust when it comes to him. To me, Irene summed up John’s relationship with Sherlock in just a few words.

Irene during the “Look at the both of us” scene. Screencap credit: fprintmoon/gallicka

To piggy-back off that, John is getting a lot of hints from the universe that he is meant to be with Sherlock, whether as friends or as more-than-friends. Sherlock is naked in a sheet–John takes a look before even asking Sherlock if he’s naked under it. John’s new girlfriend breaks up with him–the umpteenth girlfriend to do so. She says to his face that he’s a better boyfriend to Sherlock than he is to her. The whole Irene scene I just blabbed on about. And, frankly, I think Irene herself is a big clue to John that there’s more to his relationship with Sherlock than he even realizes yet. By Irene constantly asking him if he’s jealous of her and telling him that he’s in a relationship with Sherlock, coupled with his string of bad relationships due to his dependence on Sherlock, John slowly seems to be mulling over how his relationship with his friend is perceived, which is interesting. Livejournal user writer_klmeri hit the idea of John’s dependence right on the head when they wrote that once John realizes he is dependent on Sherlock is when he can finally have a stable relationship with someone. To quote writer_klmeri:

It’s more than best friends solving mysteries together—which is essentially what every girl John dates points out to him. Until John can actually see himself living a life separate of Sherlock and the inherent madness therein, he hasn’t even taken the first step toward independence. But I have my own theory about this… mainly that Sherlock is what John needs after he comes back from Afghanistan, and John is—obviously—the reminder that the rest of humanity matters, a fact which Sherlock likes to so easily forget.

And, hopefully I wasn’t reading too much into this due to swimming in the fandom waters for too long, but it seems like not only did Moffat play with the idea of Irene/Sherock, but they played with the idea of John being jealous just a little. I say this because in some scenes, he seems to act a little strange when it comes to mentioning Irene, like when he says, annoyed, that they should use his middle name if they’re picking out baby names. He’s not saying this in a joking blokey tone. Shouldn’t he be happy to see Sherlock with someone? Why is he so annoyed about it?  (however, some of his strange tone throughout the whole episode might be because she’s a threatening type of dangerous woman). I’ll get more into a lot of this John/Sherlock relationship stuff in the fanon post. But I will say that after all of the posturing Moffat did in interviews about John and Sherlock’s relationship in Series 1, I’m surprised how much he pushed the J/S angle.

John looking shellshocked after “Look at the both of us” scene. Screencap credit: fprintmoon/gallicka

I need to go back and address nos. 1 and 2. Irene setting her password to “Sherlocked” is probably too much for some people to bear. When you think about it, it’s probably the second-to-worst part of the episode. The idea that Irene is so smitten with Sherlock that she’d use his name as her password is a bit ridonkulous. However, I do think that perhaps Moffat was trying to do a subtle call-forward to when Sherlock keeps Irene’s phone. I think the password is Irene’s way of keeping something of Sherlock’s. In her case, she’s keeping his name; in his, he’s keeping her phone. Irene thought she was going to get away with her scheme, and even though she’d have a lot of outward prizes in the form of protection, money, etc., her private prize would be keeping Sherlock close to her in the form of having his name as her password. She also probably thought no one would get to it since she had so many encryptions on it. One could still get a false sense of security and give themselves a joke password only they know.

But I think the main point isn’t so much the fact that she used his name–the point people get mad about is that “love” is what did her in. It’s almost like in the Star Wars prequels in which love is the true villain. I get why people are irked by this. Part of the reason some folks are irked is because Moffat has gotten a reputation of being sexist, as pointed out by i09, which talks about something he said in an interview with The Scotsman, saying something about women being needy and wanting husbands:

“There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married – we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.”

It’s a crazy quote, but supposedly, Moffat said that the quote was actually supposed to be referencing a character from Coupling said, according to TVTropes user Anathema:

As others have mentioned an article in The Scotsman as evidence of Moffat’s misogyny, I thought I ought to note that someone brought that article up to Moffat on twitter fairly recently. A fan asked Moffat if he had really said what The Scotsman claimed, Moffat responded: “No. Ages ago but I think I was talking about Patrick in Coupling and was selectively quoted to make it about me. Was furious.” Of course, you could argue that Moffat is simply backtracking when called out on saying something stupid. But it only seemed fair that someone point out that Moffat has essentially claimed that he was quote-mined in that article, especially since the statements that The Scotsman attributes to Moffat seem pretty damning.

Bad press sticks around, I suppose, because if it’s true that he didn’t really say this from his own thoughts, then he still hasn’t lived it down yet.

To put Moffat-gate aside, however, I think the show is still playing fair since the script does get at that it’s not only Irene that got struck by thinking with the heart. Almost everyone in this episode gets struck by thinking with their heart. John is always thinking of Sherlock’s safety and well-being to the point of not having a life or a steady relationship; Mrs. Hudson helped Sherlock out because she cares for him; Molly gave Sherlock a gift only to get verbally slapped in the face and  kissed for it; Irene got stuck on trying to figure out and one-up Sherlock while being simultaneously turned on by him. Sherlock, of course, gets struck by the power of the heart when he fails to realize one of the biggest security events was right under his nose until he louses it up. So, in short, everyone fails to think clearly. No one is safe.

The only reason Sherlock outright states that love is a horrible weakness isn’t because she’s a woman; it’s because he fell for the same feelings too and he knows how it can make you lose your head. Did he not just lose his head and not realize that his brother was trying to create a corpse plane plot? Mycroft is right in saying it’s something Sherlock should’ve seen coming, but he didn’t because he was too focused on whatever mojo Irene was pulling on him. I’d actually posit that Sherlock is always struggling with love in every episode because he’s trying to deal with his love (friendship or however you want to read it) for John and deal with his love for his work. He can’t balance the two, and throwing Irene into the mix just throws the little balance he had left completely off. So in short, when he states that love is terrible, he’s berating himself as well as her, because he always feels he should have known better than to be a human being.

Sherlocked. Screencap credit: fprintmoon/gallicka

Lastly, the bit at the end when Irene is saved by Sherlock. At first, I was confused; I actually didn’t think this really happened. To me, it seemed like a bit of narrative that was going on in his head. But I guess it did  happen, since he’s not supposed to know that she was killed in Pakistan. And even if it did happen, I’d imagine that he would try to save her; she is THE WOMAN, after all. In terms of similar thinking patterns, she is the first true equal he’s faced aside from Moriarty (John is an equal, too, but in a much different way). I don’t even think he’d kill Moriarty if he didn’t have to simply because he gives him the same thing Irene does–the thrill of the chase and the chance to prove that he is the smartest person alive. So, following this reasoning, of course he’d save her; he’d want her to come back and challenge him again because he lives for the challenge. (Will she be back? I don’t know. Moriarty has been woven through this series, so she might be, too. I seriously doubt it, though.)

I do want to stress again that I do think that even though Irene didn’t best Sherlock in the obvious sense of beating Sherlock in the very last battle of wits, she does best him in the overall game, just as she does in the written story. In this version, she didn’t get the last word despite besting him in all other challenges, but she still got the last word in a figurative sense, and how she wins has much more of an impact than if she had actually beaten him at a puzzle. She reminded Sherlock in a very powerful way how he is still susceptible to allure, lust, love, hurt, and all of the messy feelings that come with being alive. I don’t think the show is saying that Sherlock is straight–I think the allure with Irene was just as confusing for Sherlock just like Sherlock’s allure was confusing for Irene. But I do think this version shows just how powerful of a force Irene was for Sherlock in terms of teaching him about himself. I think her presence is setting us up for something major in the final episode of Series 2. For teaching Sherlock about the messy side of life, she truly is The Woman.

Sherlock grinning when thinking about The Woman. Screencap credit: fprintmoon/gallicka

So, with all of that said, I think this episode is the best episode I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the best single piece of television I’ve seen in ages. I get that there are some things that, on the surface, can get under the skin, but I also think the surface things are way more complex than some might give them credit for. Or maybe I’m thinking too much. But, for me, what’s beneath the surface problems is the lesson that everyone–including demi-gods like Sherlock and Irene–have hearts and sometimes they let their feelings get the best of them.

Part two coming up!

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14 comments for ““Sherlock: Season 2″ recap: “A Scandal in Belgravia” (SPOILERS)

  1. Beth
    January 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    A wonderful review, I agree with almost everything you’ve said here.

    I also thought the final scene was a hallucination on Irene’s part – still can’t work out if that’s the case or not, although Mycroft did say he had been “very thorough” when John asked him if he was sure. I expect it was Moffat trying to appease everyone. I’m not a big Adler fan myself – sometimes I feel like she has been thrown in for the sake of giving Sherlock a love interest, or for the Guy Ritchie films, so there is an attractive/strong female lead to appeal to a wider audience.

    I would absolutely love it if Moffat and Gatiss did choose to take the Sherlock/John route though – in fact, I think they would have missed a great opportunity if it doesn’t go down that road later on in the series. I wouldn’t go as far to say that they’re promoting homophobia by denying it all so forcefully (people jumped on the “Moffat is sexist” bandwagon soon enough), but it does lead me to ask ‘why not?’

    Wonderful blog, by the way. I’ve been lurking for a while, haha.

  2. moniquej
    January 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks, Beth! I’m glad you liked the review (more of it is coming later today in which I’ll address some canon and fanon stuff). I’m glad to hear I’m on common ground with other “Sherlock” fans–generally, I feel like an outcast in the world of the “Sherlock” fandom. I’m not really sure why I do, though.

    You brought up a good point about the hallucination being Irene’s hallucination because I envisioned it as Sherlock’s daydream even though he might not have known exactly where Irene was. But you’re absolutely right–it would be like a callback to Sherlock’s hallucination with Irene solving the case in the field. The more and more I think about it, the more it makes sense that it’s a hallucination of Irene’s, because how could Sherlock have gotten to the Middle East and back without anyone noticing? She was having one final fling with Sherlock in her head, almost like a Near Death Experience.

    If this is true, Moffat needs to say so so he can get people off his back about being “sexist”! :)

  3. Nicola
    January 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

    First of all, I liked your review a lot! I thought the final scene was Irene’s hallucination or something, but most people think that really happened so I have to admit that Sherlock saved her. Now I wonder if she’ll be back.
    Sorry for the random comment, I just wanted to say your post is really great :)

  4. moniquej
    January 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked it!

  5. natalie
    January 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm


    This is a week late, but I found my way into your blog entry. I was mainly unclear about that scene where she tells Watson she is gay, and a search run for “transcript” led me here lol. I agree with your points about Irene and the argument about her lesbianism vs her attraction towards Sherlock. He is asexual for the most part, but she stirs in him the same lustful attraction which he stirs in her, because they are intellectually equal to each other. I didn’t think it was a case of “lesbians like men underneath it all”. As for the last part, I am inclined to think it really happened. If it was Irene’s hallucination, I think it was oddly juxtaposed. O.o

    There was something I wanted to mention. Karachi is in Pakistan, which is in South Asia, not the Middle East.

  6. moniquej
    January 10, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Thanks, Natalie, for pointing out the “Middle East” mistake. I’ll go correct that.
    Also, I’m glad you liked the recap!

  7. February 7, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Hi, I’m almost afraid to post this BUT am I really the only person in the world who did not care for this episode at all? I’ve loved all the others and even on his worst day Moffat can out-write almost any of his contemporaries but for me, this ep was definitely a brave experiment which fell short of its goal. It just didn’t flow properly and, to be honest, merely reinforced the fact that Holmes & Watson work best as a team; separate them & you have two misfits, put them together and you have dynamite! I couldn’t honestly say why this one ep didn’t work but for me it just didn’t.
    Just an opinion,

  8. moniquej
    February 7, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Don’t be afraid! :) I can see why the episode wouldn’t work for some people.

  9. JKM
    April 16, 2012 at 8:43 am

    I was imppressed by your opinion. I wonder one thing.
    Why did Sherlock chase after John when John was abducted by Irene?
    I really wonder it.

  10. mejon
    May 7, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    how could people like this show! the ending is so stupid! some say it’s irene’s
    hallucination, others say sherlock saved her by going to pakistan.

  11. ami
    July 15, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Right. Lesson of sexual fluidity. Guess what, it happens to different people, not only lesbians (and studies on that matter show that actually those women who were always only into women, are not prone to this “fluidity”). Coincidentally, it is practically ONLY showed on lesbians, so you can’t really pull that argument when 95% of lesbian portrayal in mainstream TV and movies include their feelings/sex with men, because it is merely an excuse for including that storyline.

    At least before people were honest when they were constantly making lesbian characters falling for guys. Now they pretend that’s because it would be closed minded to think that lesbian would never fall in love with a guy…

  12. moniquej
    July 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for your opinion. As for my personal experience, I actually haven’t seen the storyline of “the lesbian falling in love with a man” that much–the only prominent portrayal I’ve seen of that is “Gigli” and perhaps some old “Women’s Prison” movies, which have skewed perspectives, anyway. In any case, I’m not saying that all lesbian storylines are about sexual fluidity; I’m just providing an argument as to why this particular character might fall for Sherlock. Personally, I didn’t see the episode as “we must change Irene’s lesbianism!” I felt it was more about showing how enigmatic Sherlock is. I felt it was more about Irene acting as a foil to John–both of them were people who shouldn’t like Sherlock based on their sexual preferences, but do. That’s all. To me, she’s still all about being a lesbian; she herself said she didn’t know exactly why she was in love with Sherlock. I could have made the argument about Moffat’s supposed misogyny, but I really don’t know that much about him to write that. In fact, to me, it seemed like Moffat made more of a “John as sexual fluidity” argument in this episode rather than a “Irene is lesbian who’s been changed straight” argument. He practically made John/Sherlock canon in this episode. I can see your side of the argument, though, so I understand.

    I’m not attacking you when I ask this, I’m just very curious–what are the 95% of lesbian portrayals you speak of? Because in the mainstream, I’ve found that there aren’t as many as gay men portrayals. And like I said, most of the ones I’ve seen didn’t involve lesbians “getting changed.”

    In any case, I want to state that this site isn’t about promoting bad ideas about lesbianism, or saying that it’s “close-minded” to think that lesbians could never fall in love with men (if I felt a show had that as its prominent theme, I’d certainly write about it). If anything, I’m just attempting to add something new to the conversation.

  13. ami
    July 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Problem with this portrayal is a fact that most of the time it could look like it perfectly makes sense when it comes to each particular plotline. Only when you look at bigger picture, how such portrayal of lesbians is omnipresent, you would see the issue. I would make a comparison to the way black people were portrayed not so long time ago. Mainly as thugs or not too bright servants. There are people like that IRL too, so it could be argued that it makes perfect sense for each individual storyline. But not when it’s almost the only representation.
    And BTW, when it comes to Adler, it was indicated that she’s sexually attracted to Sherlock. And again, when you would read into sexual fluidity theory, which is defined scientific concept created by Lisa Diamond, actually only women who are or ever were to any degree sexually attracted to both are prone to this “fluidity”, so in fact they simply de-gayed her by this. Huge part of this theory is also evidence that romantic attraction is run by different brain circuit than sexual attraction, and the former is apparently potentially gender blind, unlike sexual attraction (so even if you’re slightly into both, it potentially may work), but that’s subject for different discussion.

    And speaking of examples in TV shows and movies of the cliche of lesbian falling for a guy or having sex with him, here it is:

    Skins UK, Skins US (those were completely different lesbian characters and it happened to all of them BTW), The Kids Are All Right, Chasing Amy, Nip/Tuck, She Hate Me, Queer As Folk, Flash Forward, Gigli (Ben Affleck apparently has a talent for turning lesbians), Los hombres de Paco, My Idiot Brother, Your Sister’s Sister, All My Children, Las Aparicio, The Monkey’s Mask, Hospital Central, Satisfaction, Goldfish Memory. And Sherlock.

    Those are just titles I recall at the moment. And of course quite recent movies and shows, not mentioning such portrayals as “Pussy Galore” from Bond, who was turned straight by his magic penis.
    Basically the only kind of shows or movies that have lesbians who don’t fall for men or want to have sex with them are lesbian ghetto shows and movies – by lesbians and for lesbians.

    Lately one of the only positive portrayals of lesbians in mainstream TV, Emily in Pretty Little Liars, who’s out and proud lesbian, is rumored to fall for a guy – as executive producer said, the guy “is so sweet and sexy that Emily can’t help herself but develop feelings for him”. A fact that she’s consistently portrayed as lesbian who doesn’t feel anything to men apparently means nothing here, this producer didn’t even move that, it’s apparently normal that lesbians are into men. As overwhelming majority of media representation shows.

    Media create visibility. It especially affects minority groups. And we live in a world where “corrective rapes” to turn lesbians straight are still real and huge problem.

  14. moniquej
    July 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Well, you’ve got a point there. Now that you mention it, I do remember seeing the US Skins episode where that girl (I forget her name)fell in love with a guy, and I did have a problem with that episode since it seemed like it was supposed to be more about her accepting herself; that part where she kisses the guy didn’t even need to be in the show.

    I’ll have to write a blog post on this in the future. Thanks for the information and your opinion on this episode of Sherlock.

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