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Nobody is more surprised than me that I didn't like Scandal in Belgravia. In fact, it was a several hour-long process to determine that I didn't like the episode, since I landed in the U.S., promptly fell asleep for 12+ hours on a combination of exhaustion, fever, cold medicine, and general fuck-this-noise-ness, dragged through a groggy Jan. 1, and then woke up the following morning at 3:30 a.m. thinking, "I should really watch Sherlock now." So I did.

(1) Like the Bee Gees, I, too, am all about staying alive. I think we all knew that however they were going to wrap up that exquisitely torturous pool scene, it wouldn't be the way 8 billion of us wrote fanfic about. For me, I thought it was an elegant little solution, actually, sort of perfect in its absurdity, but also powerful in that it shows how — at this point, at least — Sherlock and John very much have no idea what they're up against or how to fight back against this guy. We can't know for sure what would have happened if Sherlock would have shot that jacket full of explosives, but I'm fairly confident it would have ended worse for our boys than Moriarity, if only because they're so newly engaged and Moriarity has been licking his palm and getting himself off on this bullshit for forever, probably.

(2) Talk about slick, slick. The opening sequences after the opening sequence and credits were awesome. I loved the montage of clients, and of John blogging away busily. I liked the touch about their internet notoriety, and although it was a bit cheesetastic, it was just the right type of cheesetastic, and a lovely nod to the old frog suit and deerstalker. Plus, I'm obviously super weak to the deliciously meta nature of the interwoven blogs and articles that get built into this universe. Also, the comic book characters case seemed pretty genuinely interesting (and was! it's written up on the Watson blog, if you haven't already read it, and concludes with John and Sherlock dressed as ninjas, so you know, if comic books alone wasn't enough incentive), and I particularly enjoyed Sherlock being magically Sherlock and declaring marvelous things like, "BORED," and "Leave, now," and telling small children that when their loved ones die, they don't go to heaven, they go to a room and are burned. Rapidly followed by John's particularly tart, "Sherlock." I was giggling like a moron the entire time, but never so much as at Sherlock, BAFFLED! And Sherlock telling John not to share his horrific shame.

(3) This week's "case" was a struggle to me. The beginning of the mystery solving in this episode was pretty clever and super engaging. It's only a 6! Sherlock won't leave the house for anything below a 7! Skype! Why is he naked? But I guess at least he's wearing a sheet. (I'm sensing this was some subject of discussion and negotiation between John and Sherlock in the past.) The car backfire/dead hiker thing was very smart and fun, and so was watching another detective attempt to work with Sherlock, not knowing how lucky he is not to have Sherlock physically at the scene. And then the helicopter to come pick John up, and that perfectly framed shot of John's What The Actual Fuck Is My Life face in said helicopter as it delivered him to Buckingham Palace. And Sherlock. Who had no pants on. It was a moment that was so pure in its farcical ridiculousness it deserved and got a giggle, and enter long-suffering Mycroft who pitches the case and we get our second tantalizing, stunning glimpse of Irene Adler — this time sans riding crop and tied-up royal. (Who do we think this was? Too young to be Camilla, who wouldn't be a HRH, anyway — for some reason, I feel like Irene would be particular about this — which leaves us with one of the princesses of the Duchess of Cambridge.) Everybody who knows the Scandal in Bohemia story knows what happens: Sherlock meets Irene, is fascinated by her intelligence, fakes a fire, figures out where her safe is, etc etc. In this universe, we get more or less the same song and dance, with the the addition of an absolutely awesome flatmates fight beforehand ("Remember, Sherlock, I was a soldier. I killed people." "You were a doctor!" "I HAD BAD DAYS.") and then Irene being a magical bitch, rooting through her closet and then coming out in battle dress uniform: nothing but swish. This is also about when the episode started going completely off the rails for me, but I didn't realize it yet.

(4) Everything I just talked about happened in the first like, 25 minutes of the episode and we still have an hour of insane shenanigans left to go, which was a major part of the problem. This episode, to me, felt spiritually like the slutty cousin of the first season's the Blind Banker: it was baroque, overly complex, and then tried to marry all the disparate threads of the story that had been seeded as separate entities from the beginning for no obvious reason other than to prove its own contrived cleverness. [personal profile] merelyn put it best when I was talking with her in that it felt like a series of character interactions with no through line of a mystery, which is ludicrous because there were like 14 different mysteries flying through the episode, we were all just too busy doing other…stuff? What? It didn't work for me, it felt eternally frustrating. I kept pausing the episode to go do things like get coffee or take a shower and check in on my father and I never felt any thread of tension about the storyline, like the natural anticipation that the first series was virtuoso at building had completely abandoned this episode. I have the patience of a six year old on crack, so this is hardly a sign of my media consumption habits moderating, either, as people who know me can attest. I tried, as I was working on this write-up, to do a quick rundown list of everything that happened in this episode in my head — everything that related to the "plot," at least, and this is what I came up with:

• Irene Adler asks Unknown HRH if she's been very naughty after she bails Sherlock and John out of trouble. Did she bail them out on purpose? Or was that just a masterstroke of timing? I couldn't tell, since Adler didn't seem to see Sherlock the first time until afterward, right? Presumably with photographs from Moriarity.
• John and Sherlock see about a bajillion cases. All of which eventually end up tied to like, Plot F Subsection C part 3.b Lines 45-89 in the Folgers edition.
• John goes to see some dude in the countryside about a car backfire and a dead hiker.
• Helicopter!
• Buckingham Palace! Nudity! Jokes about the Holmes's sex lives! Or lack thereof! (We'll come back to that later.)
• They meet Irene Adler, who has a collection of stunningly beautiful lingerie. I want to know where that fucking green thing she was wearing when she busted open her closet is from and if I can buy it in London.
• They take Adler's phone — briefly. And then while John is busy probably administering medical aid to Adler's associate, Adler stabs Sherlock with some sort of drug and whips him into submission with a riding crop to take the phone, and swing out of the room just as John swoops back in. A lot of people salivated over that riding crop scene as being hot on some level, most mostly to me it brought only the association of Sherlock beating the living fuck out of a corpse in the opening scenes of the pilot or a smirk at how inelegant and scrappy a desperation fight it was: she didn't want to get close enough so he could grab onto something — namely, his own greatcoat — but she needed that phone. The scene after where Irene is caressing Sherlock's face stroke the camera with the crop and glorying in being the woman who outsmarted Sherlock Holmes was, to me, pretty undeserved: you didn't outsmart him, you drugged him and strapped him. But I mean, love yourself, I guess.
• Sherlock is stoned off his face. It is pretty boss. Benedict Cumberbach's physicality in this scene basically make me choke laughing. He made himself seem so tall and sticklike that when he tipped over he went down like so many geometric toys I had as a kid. Awesome stuff.
• Time passes. Stuff presumably happens. We see that Mr. Cumberbach apparently took some violin lessons. There are text messages that Sherlock never responds to, announced by Irene's coital sigh.
• There's a Christmas party at 221B which is cute as the dickens, and where Sherlock is an absolute asshole to Molly, Lestrade finds out his wife and him haven't sorted anything because apparently she's fucking a PE teacher, and we get our first explicit, in-canon gay lantern-hanging of the episode by John's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend. (Was I the only one who wasn't fully enamored of all the people who were like, "You and John are totally a couple! You and Sherlock are so married!" I couldn't tell if it felt too much, or like an appeasement to certain fans in the context of an episode with a highly sexually charged storyline involving Sherlock and someone else, that necessarily relegates — to some extent anyway — the emotional relationship between Sherlock and John.) Sherlock gets the gift of Adler's phone.
• Also Christmas, Mycroft breaks the news that Irene is dead, and Sherlock goes to the morgue to ID her from her measurements. Well played everybody in the sense that I never ever through the episode got the impression that the chemistry between them was sexual in nature — or at least not mutually sexual in nature. I think Irene probably admires beauty and feels her pulse quicken and pupils dilate when she sees it and feels arousal, but for Sherlock, at least to me, it's obviously all facts and figures swaddled around the mystery of a person. Anyway, Adler is dead, Sherlock is crushed, the Holmes bros share a cigarette in the morgue hallway and talk about how feelings are useless while John and Mrs. Hudson toss the apartment looking for drugs. Future reference John: check coat linings.
• Then Sherlock is sad? For a long time? Until Irene comes back? And has an emotionally charged whatever with John, and then some stuff happens, and then she's on the run until she is not on the run because she is passed out in Sherlock's bedroom. And then she gets Sherlock to solve the mystery, tells Moriarity, and this is the point where I was actively aware I hated this whole stupid plot and had to stop.

(5) And before you all say it, no, I'm not disliking it because I "didn't get it" or "didn't get Irene Adler." I got her just fine. I'm sure there's already a lot of discussion out there about whether or not there's a feminist issue or a female portrayal issue engendered (hah!) in this episode or specifically by Irene Adler or by Sherlock (the character) or Sherlock (the show)'s relationships with women, full stop, but my issue with Irene isn't about that. It isn't about sex, either, since I'm not entirely convinced she's a sex worker in the classical sense. Most dominatrixes don't fuck their clientele, which may or may not exclude her from a sex worker classification but ultimately I don't really care because that was hardly the reason that Adler in this episode was disingenuous, dull, and common. After I finished watching the episode I already knew I wasn't wild about it, not the way I was giddy about a Study in Pink or the Great Game, and I kept trying to figure out why I wasn't nuts about the whole thing. It also kept circling back to, "…what was the fucking point?" I mean, why the hell did Adler do any of it? Was she bored, too? Because if she was a crushingly bored genius, then she never once showed her her hand that she was. Mostly she showed that she liked doing grossly irresponsible things, didn't give two fucks about the consequences for other people, wanted to blackmail Mycroft into saving her ass and extorting the government for presumably a fortune so she could keep doing it. She's like the worst, most toxically dangerous version of those unbearable teenagers on my Super Sweet 16, or whatever agonizing MTV show it is that has spoiled teenage girls throwing tantrums because they can't be assholes and still have everything they want. I had a conversation with [personal profile] leupagus about this, actually, since she loved Irene and loved the this episode where the first season had left her just a touch cold I seem to remember, and I asked her didn't it bother her? That Irene was like this? Hellaciously irresponsible, and such a vector for disaster — not even a vector that's being oriented by good people like Sherlock is by John or Lestrade or Mycroft? She said it didn't, that she loved Irene and thought she was clever. And then we were yelling on Skype so we had to agree to disagree and talk about something else because the more I think about her the more I hate her — The Woman. Let's suppose she is a villain, then, a thief in the classic sense like she's portrayed in the RDJ/Jude Law Holmes movies, even then Rachel McAdam's Adler is interesting: she's ferocious and resourceful. Irene mostly vamped around being confusing and trying to steal Sherlock's now-possibly-canonical virginity and oh, right, helping dismantle a plan Mycroft and Co. had put in place over the course of years to take down terrorist cells. I'm glad you got your jollies that way. In this sense, if we view Irene not as a moral gray zone that Sherlock finds curious and as a purely fascinating villain instead, then yay, wow, what a brilliantly evil villain! EXCEPT SHE'S NOT. EXCEPT SHE HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THAT LOVELY BLACKMAIL MATERIAL SHE HAD UNTIL SHE GOT IN TOUCH WITH MORIARITY. She's not even creatively bad! She's a fucking sheep! Why the hell was she saving all of that? So she could keep doing stupid shit and getting away with it? You know what would be a nice reason for her to be doing that? If somehow Sherlock was a giant crossover with Inception, and Adler is actually the world's most terrifying pointwoman and this is how she maintains her list of contacts: in her phone, for jobs. I don't care if she's evil; I don't care if she's good; I don't care if she's hypersexualized or is gay or straight or just gay for Sherlock or pins him to a desk and makes him beg for mercy, twice, while John waxes horrified about what to name their children — please, not Hamish — but Jesus Christ don't make her dishwater and common. Anybody can be a blackmailing dominatrix with a patron who gives her terrible evil ideas, which is what she's reduced to by the end of this episode, furthermore needing Sherlock's assistance to make her last great escape, which was so profoundly, unbelievably stupid I actually yelled, "ARGH" at my screen when I saw Sherlock's face as they panned up from the sword. I can't keep thinking about this. The more I think about it the more annoyed I am.

(6) Sex. Or the lack thereof. I thought it was interesting that they decided to make explicit this element. I've always believed that BBC Sherlock's Sherlock was asexual, but always considered that in the past, at least for some period of time, Sherlock's insane need for experimental data had driven him to fucking anything that would stand still long enough and then keeping some sort of serial killer logbook about it. Now, either this is untrue, or Mycroft is just making fun of Sherlock about it. If he is, that always puts on an interesting dimension, because it means that Sherlcok's not so undesiring of sex and closeness — you can't really mock somebody for something they either aren't ashamed of or don't care about. For example, "Pru, you care too much about the Republican primaries." To that I say, "Give me TPM Livewire or give me death." Sherlock, what would you know about sex? There was that moment, that tiny flicker of something in Sherlock's eyes at that. Is he a little embarrassed? Is it something else? It feels like simple fear of intimacy would be…too human for him, but at the heart he's human, and although it's easy to forget that, it's easy to remember when he's playing Christmas carols to please Mrs. Hudson and stealing mince pies out of her fridge or being screamingly vain about whether not people like him wearing the cap in all the papers. Interesting thought exercise either way, cleverly leaving room for people on either side of the divide to make camp, as far as I'm concerned.

(6.a) Love, or shall I say, the physiological indicators thereof. Both [personal profile] leupagus and I caught this when we were watching it and found it equally interesting, how at the beckoned moment when Irene is about to win everything she wants — while cruelly referring to Mycroft and Sherlock as the Ice Man and the Virgin, which, déclassé — Sherlock has a fit of memory. He points out that he'd felt Irene's pulse, that her heart had sped and her pupils had dilated, physical indicators of love, and that's how he realizes her password is fucking I AM SHERLOCKED as if she is a 14 year old girl on tumblr who communicates primarily through the medium of gif or some bullshit but whatever! The point is that Gus and I were both like, "Wait, back that train up — those are physiological indicators of arousal, or baseline, excitement. Not of love." So either that was a deliberate choice, which would betray that Sherlock, in his surveys of the human heart, hasn't figured out to differentiate between the two yet, or a slip up. The former gives a lot more territory to plumb so I shall ascribe to it versus the latter.

(7) Best part of this episode: found families. For all that the central plot of this episode really irritated the fuck out of me, there were endless little moments that were compensations. I can't remember which of the cast/crew it was that said that the the mysteries in the wilds of London are forever intruding on the domestic perfection of their little home at 221B, but it's accurate, really. There's the curious little family unit of John and Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson, with her nattering and British reserves of strength and store of vile English Christmas pastry (in case you are not acquainted with mince pies: they are emasculated fruit soaked in booze, mixed with beef fat, and baked and to be serve at room temperature; they are one of the many good reasons I believe the American Revolution to have been just and necessary). That moment where John and Sherlock both yell at Mycroft for telling Mrs. Hudson to shut up was pretty much my favorite moment in the entire episode, and then there was that lovely, sepia and orange-toned Christmas party in the flat, with Sherlock playing for for the crowd and the fire crackling, lights strung up. There wasn't any chaos and terribleness, and while I think Sherlock likes danger, gets off on puzzles, it's clearly not the only thing that sustains or makes him happy, if how well he seemed at the party is any indication. Also John's Christmas jumper was so shockingly ugly the only explanation is that Sherlock bought it for him to torture everybody else, or Mrs. Hudson bought it for him as a present and now John is wearing it to torture everybody else.

Overall, this episode had real high points and annoyingly low ones. I'm sure an enormous swath of you disagree, and maybe a few of you were even nodding along at points. No matter what, Sherlock is still, surely, one of the best things I've seen on television of late (hi, Good Wife), hugely ambitious, and masterfully acted, directed, and filmed. It's gorgeous to watch and, at times, infuriatingly addictive despite its flaws. I'll still be glued ass first to the couch for the next episode and the next, and howsoever many they choose to give us after.

Date: 2012-01-03 08:53 pm (UTC)
risha: Illustration for "Naptime" by Martha Wilson (Default)
From: [personal profile] risha
I understand where you're coming from with your interpretation of Irene/Sherlock, but the relationship worked for me (aside from that awful, awful, cringeworthy last scene).

Canonically, Mycroft is both smarter than Sherlock and better with people (though based on this episode, I'd say that both of them are crippled emotionally to some degree. I really want to meet Mummy). And he knows Sherlock very well. As he said, Irene ultimately learned what Moriarty needed to know by tricking a lonely man by showing an interest in him.

Even if we accept that Sherlock is actually asexual, that doesn't necessarily preclude a desire to make a connection with someone. He does have connections, of course, and they are explicitly spelled out throughout the episode, but all of those people also have other categories that they slot into, in ways that could be construed as needing him for other than friendship - assistant/blogger/flatmate, work colleagues, landlady/former client who owes him. There's no reason that those can't coexist, of course, but Sherlock is bad at emotional distinctions. But now there is a person, interesting and different and smart (not a genius, but very few people are ever going to be his intellectual equal), who is actively trying to make herself a mystery to him, the surest method of catching and maintaining his interest, using the method most likely to specifically baffle Sherlock himself, due to lack of experience/interest - sex and romance.

In a way, this was an episode of interesting contrasting messages - Sherlock's humanity is both celebrated and derided in equal measure. We're shown scene after scene of Sherlock being his normal unbearable self, and yet making connections in ways we've not necessarily seen him do before - the Christmas party, his apology to Molly, his fury at the abuse of Mrs. Hudson and reassuring her. These are presented unqualified positives. But in the end those cracks are used against him, which is presented as an unqualified disaster. Are we truly surprised that Sherlock is unable to distinguish between arousal and love, especially when that crack has just revealed itself as betraying him both emotionally and intellectually and he feels like a fool? There are a half dozen more likely reasons for the "SHERlocked" password than a crush, especially since that password would have been set very early on in their acquaintance - as a joke being the most likely. Is he thinking about those at that moment when his vanity has taken a blow this large? Unlikely.

One interesting question: how many of Irene's actions were planned by herself versus fed to her from Moriarty. I think that ultimately she was presented as childish and selfish - with grand but childish goals. Who actually demands enough money to cripple the British government? And expect to get it, no matter how many people will get killed? It's like something out of Austin Powers. Perhaps she's meant to display a major but not at first obvious personality disorder to contrast with Sherlock's own issues - possibly histrionic personality disorder? (Disclaimer: really, really not at all qualified to say anything about psychiatric disorders - I'm working off of Wikipedia here.)

*looks at wall of text* Apparently I have Feelings about this episode and didn't realize it.

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