Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia Review


The Woman And The Very Private Dick...

Sherlock.  Sherlock.  Sherlock.  Why, oh, why can't I love you?

Sherlock.  Sherlock.  Sherlock.  Why, oh, why can't I see what others do? 

I've been told that A Scandal in Belgravia, the premiere episode of Sherlock's second season, is one of the greatest moments in television history, up there with 'who shot J.R.?' or the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A Scandal in Belgravia, I have been led to believe, is the turning point in world programming, the standard to which all television will be judged on.  In short, history will be marked from B.B. to A.B. (Before Belgravia, After Belgravia). 

If you notice, yes, there is a distinctly sharp, sarcastic, and cynical tone to the opening, because I found A Scandal in Belgravia to be shockingly bad.  Not terrible, or irredeemable.  Merely bad and wildly overrated (especially the 'overrated' bit). Given all the critical love A Scandal in Belgravia has received (right down to 13 Emmy nominations for the program itself, its screenplay, and its two leads among others), I found it shockingly predictable: again, another 'brilliant' case that I had solved long before The Great Detective. 

Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) has grown more popular thanks to the blog maintained by his roommate/friend Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), much to Holmes' disdain.  With the growth in popularity (particularly with online 'fans'), he does get some cases thrown his way, but Holmes dismisses most of them save for a group of teens (dare I say, fanboys?) who tell him that they find that their comic books have been coming to life.  Thus, we get the case of The Geek Interpreter.  Another case, The Speckled Blonde, really irritates Holmes (the title that is).  The online adulation isn't his cup of tea either: the press clamor for "Hat-Man and Robin" or the "Net-Tec" eats at him.  However, in all this he does gain a fan of sorts, but more on that later.

However, we now get to our story.

No obsession w/nudity...

Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) has forcibly summoned Sherlock and Watson (the former from 221 B Baker Street, the latter in the country doing field work for Holmes who was watching via videochat) to Buckingham Palace for a more important case.  Despite the august location Sherlock saw no need to dress, literally, coming to the Palace in nothing other than his bedsheets, his clothes waiting for him on a table.  "Are we here to see the Queen?", Watson asks.  At this precise moment, Mycroft walks in.  "Apparently, yes," Sherlock replies, making both break out into giggles of laughter. 

The situation is no laughing matter to Mycroft, of course.  A certain illustrious client who shall remain nameless is asking for Sherlock's skills to recover a mobile phone containing photographs of a female member of the Royal Family in compromising positions with a professional dominatrix named Irene Adler (Lara Pulver).  Miss Adler, who advertises her special skills online (under the alias The Woman), has a tagline: Know When You Are Beaten.  It is up to Holmes, who really doesn't want to take this case because he dislikes anonymous clients, to retrieve the photographs.  He assures everyone he can do it within the afternoon. 

At this juncture, the fact that the photographs are of a female member of the House of Windsor, the fact that Irene Adler is probably bisexual to straight-up lesbian, and the "queen" joke (particularly interesting given Gatiss' openly gay life) makes me wonder whether the charges of both sexism and a fixation with homosexuality on the part of Steven Moffat might be true, but I digress.

With that, Holmes and Watson use a rouse to get into Adler's home/workshop, but for once it appears that Holmes is left stumped.  He is unable to read Irene Adler because she appears to him in her battle dress, namely, she enters the room completely naked (or as we say in my neck of the woods, 'nekkid'). 

...none whatsoever.
Here, there is a bit of the meeting of the minds, where Holmes and Adler (and an always bumbling Watson) duke it out to see who gives what first.  Adler can read Sherlock quite easily ("Damaged, delusional, and believe in a higher power...himself" is her diagnosis of The Great Detective), but Holmes can only come up with question marks.  However, he does manage to deduce where she keeps her most prized possession and is about to get at it when Americans come barging in (as is the case in real life too).  In the confusion Holmes and Watson do defeat them but not only does Irene manage to get away but also literally stun Sherlock with a serum...and helps him solve his previous case via dream/fantasy sequences.  More irritating to him is that she altered his phone to where every time he gets a text from her, a woman's moaning is heard.

However, he finds that Alder has been found dead, her mutilated body confirming the death of "The Woman".

It is now Christmas, which I understand is six months from their first encounter.  Holmes finds Adler has given him a present of sorts...her phone, with a particular code that he needs to break to unlock.  He does try (in between being downright horrid to everyone around him: John, John's newest girlfriend, Lestrade (Rupert Graves), and Molly (Louise Brealey).  Actually, I should say ESPECIALLY Molly.  In shockingly mocking tones he deduces that a particular gift she has brought is for someone she is in love with, given the care with which it was wrapped and its prominent placement in her gift bag.  He finds that his deductions are right, but he also finds that the gift note reads "From Molly to Sherlock".   

We then go to Battersea Power Station, where Watson, thinking Mycroft has brought him, is shocked to find that Adler is still alive (having faked her death).  After John helpfully tells us he isn't gay (yes, I thought it odd too), he pressures her to send Holmes a text informing his friend of such.  She does, inviting him to dinner like she used to (and which Holmes never replied to).  Curiously, when the text message is sent, a moan could be heard at the power station. 

Adler, still being pursued by powerful enemies, needs Sherlock Holmes to crack a code she has from one of her clients, a high Ministry of Defence (MOD) official.  The CIA are still after the phone too, but Holmes manages to defeat them (won't say how...spoilers, sweetie).  Holmes cracks the code, which Adler promptly sends secretly to her overlord, one Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), who then reports this to Mycroft (the Ice Man as he calls him, versus Moriarty's nickname for Sherlock, "The Virgin").

The code involved a "Coventry" operation, where the British allowed commercial passenger airlines to be blown up so as to not alert the terrorist that they knew their code already.  However, Mycroft has been filling the planes with dead people, thus providing the casualties without actually killing anyone (clever, but a bit illogical I think, but more on that later).  She now wants protection and a whole list of demands in exchange for her unlocking her phone, which now has one last chance to be opened before the "I Am _ _ _ _ Locked" is permanently sealed.  Sherlock however, realizes that Irene does have something for him (if not actual erotic attraction, then something) and is able to solve this vexing mystery. 

The code is "I Am S-H-E-R Locked".  In a denouement, we learn that Adler is dead...again, beheaded in Pakistan.  Watson, too kind to tell Sherlock the truth, tells him that she has entered the American Witness Protection Program, and Sherlock's one request is to keep her phone.  Here, we learn the truth...that rather than actually be beheaded (which she was about to be), Sherlock himself appeared as her 'executioner', obviously saving her from going the way of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard...

I am shocked...SHOCKED...
that this was the code!

THIS little detail is what irks me most about A Scandal in Belgravia.  THIS...this code.  I am absolutely astonished that Steven Moffat can be declared a 'genius' with a story like A Scandal in Belgravia because this 'twist' was so patently obvious I thought they would NEVER come up with something as simple and obvious as S-H-E-R.  At the very least, I wouldn't have objected (too much) with the code being 7-4-3-7 (the corresponding numbers on a phone to S-H-E-R). 

I'm going to lay my cards on the table: only an idiot wouldn't have thought those four letters weren't the code.  Given how egocentric Sher-lock is, I am surprised he never thought to type those four letters or their numbers out.  Then again, if Sherlock thought like I did, the episode would have been finished at Christmas, and we had to stretch it out. 

I wrote in my notes when presented with this puzzle, "PLEASE don't let it be "Sherlocked".  When we got this 'big reveal', I put in my notes, "I Am SHER locked...I figured that out AGES ago!" I told myself early on that it couldn't be as simple as all that.  It would be too obvious, too easy, to go that route.  However, Moffat went down the path of least resistance, and we get a twist ending that isn't all that big of a twist.

That is only one of the many problems I had with A Scandal in Belgravia.  Right from the get-go we get a remarkably easy way out of the dilemma we left off in The Great Game.  This big Mexican standoff is resolved by a ringtone (of all things, The BeeGees Stayin' Alive, as dumb a double entendre as imaginable).  With cuckoo Moriarty waving goodbye, our boys are now safe. 

By the way, what exactly WAS Moriarty's role in all this?  Would the story have worked as well or even better without Scott's camp portrayal of the 'consulting criminal'?  I say a firm 'yes, it would have worked better without him'.   While this early scene may be comedic (and pleasing to Sherlockians), I think it does two things wrong.  First, it allows Holmes and Watson a remarkably easy way out of a seemingly impossible dilemma.  Second, it again shows Moriarty to be less a Master Criminal/Equal to Sherlock Holmes and more the Clown Prince of Crime, someone too goofy to take all that seriously as a threat of any kind.  It diminishes Moriarty as a credible threat, and I can't find myself worrying that Sherlock Holmes will be defeated or even fear this big-time imbecile. 

There were other things, major and minor, that bothered me about A Scandal in Belgravia to no end.  Yes, Sherlock by his own definition is a 'high-functioning sociopath', but is a sociopath, even one as high-functioning like Sherlock Holmes, so irrational or stubborn that he would go anywhere (let alone Buckingham Palace) wearing nothing but a bedsheet?  My reading of Sherlock Holmes here is that he is either stupid or just clinically insane.  He does force the sheet back on when Mycroft steps on it and nearly has him walking around naked at the Palace, so why couldn't the guards do the same, or literally force him into a shirt and trousers?  I could see Holmes' displeasure of being summoned somewhere by Mycroft, but I doubt ANY incarnation pre-Sherlock would have decided, 'Oh, I don't like this, so I'll go somewhere totally nude save for this sheet.'   

I don't think I will be convinced that these are the actions of a rational man, let alone someone as 'genius' as Sherlock Holmes. 

Also, why is Adler so hard for Holmes to read?  Yes, she is naked (Moffat does have an obsession with nudity, apparently), but surely he could read something just from that, or her nails, her hair, the fact that she placed her arms and legs strategically, even just her eyes.  He can't be that good if clothes are the only indication of what a person is like.

Oddly, the whole 'recover the photographs of the Randy Princess' storyline just disappeared after Holmes and Watson gain entry into Adler's home.  Did we ever get mention of those compromising pictures after that?  Instead, we went to the "Coventry" storyline, which also seems a bit nutty.  I'm figuring the terrorists weren't conducting suicide missions, because even Ahmed the Dead Terrorist would know he was aboard a plane filled with dead people (and are these planes flown by remote control?  They must, because dead pilots can't fly planes). 

Finally, the way Sherlock Holmes treats people is never answered.  If I had been Molly, I wouldn't have just whimpered about how bad he can be.  I would have slapped him (and perhaps acknowledged that my feelings for him were not going to be reciprocated).  However, even after this verbal assault Molly goes right back to being the proverbial 'droopy, dippy fangirl who is totally in love with Sherlock', with not one hint of bitterness or hurt or resentment.

It's as if Christmas never happened.  Holmes isn't good to anyone at Christmas, but apparently he is so brilliant everyone kind of shrugs it all off with 'oh, that's just Sherlock Holmes.  Even if he IS a bastard we'll let him insult us because we know he's a genius that can't be criticized or told off in any way lest HIS feelings (if any) get hurt or he cut us off from his life (which apparently would be a good thing). 

Still, I have to acknowledge the things I think did work.  The secondary crime (that of the dead man in the field) was not only clever but also visually splendid (the resolution being I thought logical and the mixing of dream/fantasy with reality showing some really good camera work).  Some scenes do work well.  Of particular note is when Adler's body is identified (which again leads me to wonder about the logic of it all: how Holmes couldn't tell a fake set of boobs from Adler's ample assets which gave him the combination).  The Holmes boys wonder if they will ever feel the grief of loss like all those they observe who cry upon learning of the deaths of loved ones.  We do get good revelation of how they see people: as something separate from themselves, things to observe not as individuals worthy of emotions. 

Another positive was that A Scandal in Belgravia stayed close to the original A Scandal in Bohemia in many aspects and did work its own story from that (even if I thought the story didn't hold up well in the end). 

Some performances were also quite excellent.  Cumberbatch still continues his strong turn as Sherlock Holmes, the cold exterior if not breaking at least showing tiny cracks that he would not admit to.  He is so good he makes the whole "running around naked at the Palace" seem plausible (though not rational).  I also thought well of Pulver as Adler: she does appear to be able to match both Sherlock and Cumberbatch in terms of intelligence and acting prowess (and enjoyed how she solved the secondary crime in his fantasy sequence, as trippy a scene as any I have seen). 

As for everyone else, I just don't see it, and fear I may never see it.  Freeman is good as the perpetually befuddled Watson (so I'll give him that).  It isn't to my liking that Watson is so dense, but there it is.  I am similarly convinced that Gatiss isn't acting, merely playing himself (snooty, haughty, only able to raise his eyebrows as he looks down on everyone else).  I am growing to detest Scott's madcap Moriarty, more buffoon than brilliant. 

Oh, believe me, I would LOVE to LOVE both Sherlock and A Scandal in Belgravia as much as the next guy.  I went into this hoping that all the acclaim, the wild passion, the fervent fanbase, would turn me into a Sherlockian.  If it weren't for that damn "I Am Sherlocked" business, Holmes' horrible way with people, two brilliant minds running around naked for the flimsiest of reasons, Adler ending up a 'damsel-in-distress', and a story that spun itself in wild directions, perhaps I could have concurred with the general opinion.

Sadly, as hard as I tried, I couldn't get past all those (and a few I probably forgot to mention) and I suspect I will find Sherlock a hard pill to endure.

Finally, in regards to its 13 Emmy nominations, I note that A Scandal in Belgravia lost all 13 categories.    

Naked IS The Best Disguise...


Next Episode: The Hounds of Baskerville


  1. I agree with you about "A Scandal in Belgravia". I personally think it is the weakest episode of the BBC show. Even "The Empty Hearse" comes off better than this, despite the fan service and all the meta references.

    As much as the unwarranted nudity bothers me, there is something else that is even more jarring and constitutes a big disservice to Arthur Conan Doyle.

    In A Scandal in Bohemia (published in 1891), ACD had Holmes outwitted by a woman. Now in the 21st century, Moffat has given a distinct anti-feminist touch to an iconic character. Very regrettable and totally undeserving of all the award nominations and critical acclaim.


    1. Thanks, Buddy2Blogger. You are right: A Scandal in Bohemia (and Adler in particular) are brilliant BECAUSE it was a woman who defeated him, which makes her fascinating to Sherlock. Many modern adaptations and spin-offs have it as an erotic fascination, but I think that her intellect is what fascinates Holmes.

      Given how much praise ASIB has received, I am not only puzzled by how something so obvious as "SHER-locked" can be seen as brilliant but highly worried that I can never be a Sherlockian.

  2. A Scandal in Belgravia is my least favorite of the Sherlock series for sure. The fact that Adler is a "dominatrix," the "Sherlocked" code, and all of the nudity are my main reasons for disliking it.

    Too bad you did not watch the series before the fanbase started. You probably would have enjoyed, at least slightly more.


    1. As is the case in life, sometimes one metaphorically kills the things one loves. In this case, the intense Sherlockians have if not actually killed my chance to embrace the show at least made me a little wary of it.

      I saw it and didn't get how it could be considered the best Sherlock episode of all time, and I've heard Hounds of Baskerville isn't liked by many fans, so now I'm doubly worried. Still, I hope for the best.

  3. Ah, Sherlock. I can't say I love it, I can't say I really like Benedict Cumberbatch or his followers, nor that I think the show lives up to the hype as the greatest thing on television...until the final episode of each series/season. Of each season, I've found the final to consistently be the best episode (though never without fault), the second episode to be completely disposable and the first one is...there to resolve the shock ending of the previous series.

    Scandal is a bit of a mess, and I fell asleep whilst watching it for the first time. For some reason I ended up watching it again later, and found I'd even forgotten about the SHERlocked, etc. Maybe there's hope for you too!

    then again, there's that bloody ending.

    1. Well, I haven't heard anything good about Hounds of Baskerville, but who knows: I may be surprised.

      I'm open about how for me, Jeremy Brett IS Sherlock Holmes (though both Rathbone and Livanov are worthy of respect). After a season and a third, the obsession Sherlock creates among its fans is still a puzzle. Despite my best effort, I don't think I'll ever be either a Sherlockian or a Cumberbitch...

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