SHERLOCK 2.01 ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’

The Great Detective matches wits with Irene Adler amidst a royal scandal and a larger conspiracy.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "A Scandal in Belgravia"

Writer: Steven Moffat

Director: Paul McGuigan

After far too much time, the second season of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' brilliant modern day Sherlock Holmes series, "Sherlock" is back in America on PBS. "Sherlock" fans in the UK got to see these episodes months ago, but they are definitely worth the wait for those of us in this country.

"A Scandal in Belgravia" picks up seconds after the first season finale, "The Great Game;" which left Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) in a deadly situation with the criminal mastermind, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott). The resolution to that cliffhanger comes in the form of a phone call from Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) aka "The Woman," re-imagined here as a dominatrix who collects secrets from the rich and powerful.  

Loosely based upon Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Scandal In Bohemia," this episode successful updates and even subverts the original story at times. The main element in common is Irene Adler herself, a woman whose intellect and guile may even surpass Sherlock's. One of the innovations of "Sherlock" is the way that Moffat and company depict how Sherlock sees the world around him. Every little detail tells Sherlock a story, which is shown to the audience as written cliffnotes.

But for Irene, Sherlock sees only question marks. She may be the first person he couldn't instantly figure out from a quick glance. Granted, Irene's state of undress at the time may have distracted him and her lack of clothing could account for the complete absence of any hints about who she really is. But I believe that if any other person stood naked before Sherlock than even that wouldn't stop him.

Irene is far from ordinary, much like Sherlock himself. And they both appear to be aroused by the other's intellect. At times they even seem to communicate in messages that would only make sense to someone as smart and as sharp as they are. Just to prove their acumen to each other, Sherlock demonstrates how he remotely solved an apparent murder from his room in London while Irene forces Sherlock figure out the unique way that she told him the combination of her safe.

From the opening moments, it becomes clear that Irene is targeting Sherlock for an unknown purpose while he is soon put onto her trail by his estranged brother, Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss). Apparently, Irene seduced a female member of the royal family and took pictures… which she gleefully admits to high ranking government officials without making any ransom demands. Holmes and Watson find the location of the pictures in a way very similar to their actions in "A Scandal In Bohemia." But for the purposes of this update, all of Irene's secrets are safely kept in a modified smart phone. 

When American assassins show up looking for the phone, it becomes clear that there is more at stake than simply another royal scandal. And make no mistake, Irene gets the better of Holmes in their first encounter… a fact which seems to haunt him. Not because Sherlock is humiliated by the loss, but because Irene intrigues him like no other woman. Sherlock is sometimes described as asexual because he doesn't seem to have much romantic interest in women… or men. Once again, Dr. Watson has to deny that he's gay and/or in love with Sherlock; which seems like a recurring theme on this series.

But Irene not only readily identifies her sexuality as gay, she tosses that fact in Holmes' face as a taunt to illustrate that she could never be as taken with him as he is with her. And when Irene mocks Sherlock for his lack experience in sexual relationships… she's probably not wrong.

Part of Sherlock's problem is that he either can't recognize when someone is sexually interested in him or he can't reciprocate those feelings. In the case of the long suffering medical examiner, Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey); Sherlock is quick to deduce everything that she's done to attract the man that she's interested in long before he realizes that he is that man…. and he's already said some horribly rude things to her.

To be fair, Sherlock shows a few glimpses of humanity in his apology to Molly (which is hilariously undercut by Irene) and in some brief scenes with his landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs). One of Sherlock's enemies dares to threaten and hurt Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock's ultimate response to that is dramatic, to say the least. Sherlock won't even let his brother, Mycroft insult Mrs. Hudson by telling her to "shut up." Apparently, only Sherlock can say that to her.

One of the more impressive aspects of this episode is that hints about what's really at stake are scattered throughout the story before coming back together at the end. A few scenes that initially appeared to be filler turn out to be clues and even foreshadowing for a later reveal. "A Scandal in Belgravia" also furthers the Moriarty subplot from the first season by once again illustrating how far his reach extends. There's also a very amusing sight gag that finds Sherlock donning the iconic deerstalker hat of his literary predecessor.

"A Scandal in Belgravia" also introduces the idea that Sherlock and Watson have become an internet celebrities thanks to Watson's blog about their cases together. It's an intriguing update to the idea that Watson was Holmes' biographer. My lone criticism of the episode is that it seems to start and stop several times, almost as if it was three or four shorter episodes slapped together. But when the overall experience is so enjoyable, it's easy to overlook that."Sherlock" is also remarkably funny. There are so many great lines and unexpected humor that a mere listing of them couldn't do the writing justice.

As I'm sure many of you have heard, CBS appears to be close to greenlighting "Elementary;" another modern day Sherlock Holmes update set in New York City with Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. While it isn't fair to completely dismiss "Elementary" sight unseen, it's hard to imagine that it could be even half as good as "Sherlock" is.

So allow me to quote Irene's moto for CBS: "Know when you are beaten."