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04 January 2012 @ 02:29 pm
[meta]: sexism in a scandal in belgravia  
After watching the new Sherlock BBC season 2 episode, A Scandal in Belgravia, which first aired in the UK on the 1st of January, I was pointed by some friends to some excellent critiques (such as this one by stavvers) explaining why their authors believed the new episode was sexist in its treatment of Irene Adler. I have thought about these critiques for some time, and rewatched the episode, and (for what it’s worth) felt that I might as well offer up my own two cents on the issue.

In my opinion, as of this current moment, I do not believe that A Scandal in Belgravia was sexist. There are multiple reasons I will give for this, but of course since I am not experienced in these debates it is very possible (in fact, likely) that some of my arguments may not be entirely correct, or well-expressed, or unbiased. I respect both sides of the argument. If, by laying down what I believe as of this moment, you see something which you do not agree with, then please feel free to let me know in the comments and we can discuss it in full. :)

Please note also that the following post contains spoilers for the new episode, and also I’ve paraphrased a lot of the quotes from the episode since I am currently not on my home computer and cannot watch it as I write. :)

The sexism issue surrounding the new BBC Sherlock episode appears to be mainly centred around the introduction of the character Irene Adler. Although technically, to be thorough on the issue, the characters of Molly Hooper and Mrs Hudson should also be considered, since there are prominent instances of male characters in the episode showing respect and concern for them in crucial moments (Molly: Sherlock’s sincere apology at Christmas; Mrs Hudson: Sherlock and John’s concern for her after the “burglary”), they will not be explored in depth here. I will however be very happy to discuss their characters further in the comments.

So, to the character of Irene Adler. In my limited exposure to the issue, I believe that the sexism concern regarding her is centred around two main points, which I will endeavor to explore below.

Number One: The character of Irene Adler shows that women are weak and “sentimental”, as her downfall is brought about by her falling in love with Sherlock.

This is quite a large point which has many different facets.

Firstly, let us consider the downfall itself. The downfall, in this case, is the fact that despite having everything she’s ever wanted in her grasp in the final moments, Irene throws it all away by setting the password to her crucial camera-phone as “I AM SHERLOCKED”. As Sherlock puts it, “if you had chosen any random number, you’d have walked away from here with everything you’ve ever worked for”. The camera-phone is Irene’s “heart”; since she is in love with Sherlock, she has decided to make a pun which reflects how she feels about him. Sherlock gives her a lecture on sentiment, forces her to beg for mercy, and by the end of the scene she presents a dejected picture of a woman not only spurned by her lover, but actively scorned.

This is certainly how it appears at face-value. However, one must remember a few important details. The first: the passcode to the camera-phone has been set as “I AM SHERLOCKED” from the very beginning. Remember that in the six months when Irene faked her death, the phone was with Sherlock the entire time; she could not have changed it. After her “resurrection”, the phone was also constantly in Sherlock’s possession. The passcode, then, could only have been set during two times: from the very start, before Irene had even physically met Sherlock; or after their first meeting, when she whips him to recover the phone and then disappears from her apartment through her bathroom window. If it is the latter, meaning that the passcode was originally another number and that, only after meeting Sherlock at her apartment, did Irene change it to “I AM SHERLOCKED” – then this does not match up entirely with chronology, since Irene only truly began to “fall in love” with Sherlock at least halfway through the episode. She could not have changed it at this early juncture out of sentiment. If it is the former, it is highly unlikely that she chose the passcode initially because she was in love with Sherlock. Rather, it is more likely that she chose it as an inside joke with herself, much in the same way that Moriarty, in S01E03, points out the irony of Janus Cars. The difference of course in this comparison is that Moriarty wanted to be caught; Irene didn’t, and so her inside joke became her “downfall”. This is not the image of a woman who, out of her own sentimentality and love for a male character, threw everything away. This is the image of a woman who believed herself more than a match for Sherlock; under-estimated his ability to understand human emotion; and, as a result of overconfidence, brought about the end of her own plans. This doesn’t really suggest to me any sexism, as multiple male characters also display the flaw of overconfidence – Sherlock not being the least of them.

Let us also look at the themes of the entire episode. A Scandal in Belgravia is about attraction, certainly; “sentiment” is the dominant theme throughout. Irene’s downfall, and Sherlock’s accusation that she is too “sentimental”, comes at the end of an episode in which Sherlock himself has made the exact same mistakes as Irene has. Sherlock, out of curiosity and attraction for Irene, out of the need to impress her, deciphers a code without giving any thought to the consequences. He, if anyone, is the true victim of sentiment. Mycroft scolds him as such on the plane: “one lonely, naïve man… and a woman clever enough to make him feel special”. With this in mind, it is hard to read Sherlock’s lecture at the end as a true condemnation of Irene’s “sentimentality”. It is actually most likely Sherlock putting into words the lesson he himself has learned – that he, too, can fall prey to sentiment, and that he has now realized that it belongs on the “losing side”. Him throwing this lesson into Irene’s face – into the face of the woman who made him pay for it – is not, in my opinion, a condemnation of Irene’s “womanly” predisposition to sentiment but rather Sherlock letting a rival know that he understands he has been used, and will not be used so again.

Therefore, you can probably see how I currently view the issue: Sherlock is a man who, having finally met (and felt attraction for) his match, throws all caution to the wind and plays right into her trap; Irene is a woman who felt herself Sherlock’s equal, a “God amongst humans”, and so never dreamed that a small inside joke with herself would bring her plans crashing down about her ears. Whether she did or didn’t fall in love with him has, in the end, actually very little bearing on the situation. It is therefore difficult for me to believe that her portrayal in the episode was sexist in this regard.

Number Two: Irene Adler is the stereotypical “damsel in distress”; most of her plans were finally revealed to be the plans of a man, Jim Moriarty, instead of her own; and by the end of the episode she is utterly helpless and can only wait to be rescued by Sherlock.

Once again, this is a complicated point which I will explore bit by bit below.

The big issue here, as I see it, is the fact that Irene reveals during her last interaction with Sherlock that most of the plans were not her own. She claims that she had “all this stuff, and no idea what to do with it all”; Jim Moriarty, then, was the one who “gave her tips on how to play the Holmes boys”. It so follows that Irene was nothing more than a puppet for the entire duration of the episode. The brains lay with the men; Irene was just a pretty face, a way for Moriarty to play the game out.

I believe there are several problems with this interpretation. Firstly, let us recall the “going to battle” scene. Sherlock digs through his wardrobe looking for an outfit appropriate for his and Irene’s first confrontation; Irene does the same. She chooses a black evening dress initially, then changes her mind in favour of her “battle dress”. It’s a good choice, and not only calls Sherlock out on his I’ve-just-been-mugged bluff but gives him no clues whatsoever as to who Irene is. Moriarty has not had any influence in this decision of Irene’s. She knew, even before Sherlock had stepped up to her door, that she would need to strip him of his alias; that she would need to make him curious; that she would need to keep him entirely in the dark about her motives. She is, then, quite obviously very intelligent. She also manages to piece together the case of the boomerang and the backfiring car after Sherlock has given her a few hints – something which not even Lestrade, or John, in the first season could do. And throughout the episode, it is Irene who always knows what to say and when; even if Moriarty had been there in the background, it is still obvious that Irene is the one who ultimately knows how to twist Sherlock around her finger. I find it difficult to believe that Moriarty was leading her every step of the way, and find it more likely that she took her own cues during each of her interactions with Sherlock.

When Irene actually admits to having had significant help from Moriarty, I think it is quite important also to consider her tone. Believing she has just won the game, Irene decides to rub salt into the wound by bringing up Sherlock’s old nemesis, Moriarty. To me, her tone seemed very much like false modesty. Her real intention is to further humiliate Sherlock by not only revealing Moriarty’s involvement, but also his nickname for Sherlock – The Virgin. Given this, it is entirely possible that her role in the planning and execution of the game was much greater than just as a helpless woman who needed a man to tell her how to use the photographs/code she had obtained. We cannot conclude that she had a trivial role just from her words; we must also take into account her motives at the time she spoke them, and understand that, as a last barb to Sherlock’s pride, she could very well have been lying to him.

The last scene, then, in which Irene is kneeling within the clutches of a Karachi terrorist cell, waiting for her head to be cut off when Sherlock suddenly appears to save the day. I have watched this scene many times, and I agree that in some aspects it does really embody the “damsel in distress” scenario. However, I think that to dismiss this scene as simply a stereotypical re-enactment of woman-gets-out-of-her-depth, man-comes-in-to-rescue-her is unfair. I think indeed it may have been more sexist if Sherlock had not appeared and had simply let her die. In such a situation, not only has a woman gotten out of her depth, but her very death would have been brought about by her own weaknesses and the men, out of derision (as John says: “he had nothing but contempt for her in the end”) let her die. But this is not the case. Sherlock, in a gesture that can only really be described as sentimental, saves her life. What are his motives for doing so? We know already that Sherlock doesn’t give much of a damn for most people – it is not in his character to brazenly dash into the midst of an execution to rescue someone, woman or not. But he does so for Irene. In my opinion, this is not because he condescends to her, but rather because despite everything he still holds a special respect for her. As Mycroft points out, the fact he refers to her as The Woman is very likely a salute. What he does for her is what any friend might do – what John might do for him, in a similar situation. The fact she is a woman is irrelevant. That scene then in my opinion is Sherlock learning to care, developing as a character, and I believe thinking of it only as a “damsel in distress” scenario cheapens the meaning of the entire episode.

What we see, then, in this episode, is the development of two characters whom both initially believed themselves infallible but, by the end, were reminded of their vulnerability as human beings. Both made similar mistakes; both, by the end, held each other in higher regard and learned valuable lessons about themselves. One was a woman and one was a man. What I believe is that this final detail does not make the entire episode’s journey any more or any less than if Irene Adler had been a man.

After giving you all my opinions regarding the two points above, I recognize that there are many more issues surrounding this debate that I have not addressed. Sexism is a complicated accusation, and of course its definition varies from person to person. So, please do tell me your opinions regarding A Scandal in Belgravia; I am very willing to hear both sides of the debate. I’ve left my mind open to rational discussion on this issue and I hope that you all will do the same.

lathainalathaina on January 4th, 2012 04:51 am (UTC)
She also manages to piece together the case of the boomerang and the backfiring car after Sherlock has given her a few hints

Only those who are truly intelligent (ie. sherlock or mycroft) would have been able to figure this case out without the hints. He is patronising her by giving hints.

Totally unrelated but still rather strange: there was this scene in which Sherlock asked John what he was doing on the computer. Shouldn't he be able to deduce it instead of getting John to tell him?
ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 4th, 2012 05:43 am (UTC)
I certainly do agree with you that Sherlock is patronizing Irene, to some extent, by giving her hints about the case; however, I do not see that as necessarily a patronization of women as a whole. Keep in mind that Sherlock patronizes everyone – he even patronizes Mycroft whenever he has the chance, and Mycroft certainly patronizes Sherlock during the speech he makes in the plane. I don’t really believe that just because Irene did not work out the case by herself, she is not “truly intelligent”. There are multiple instances during the episode when Irene proves herself much more intelligent than Sherlock in understanding human emotion and human nature.

As for the scene you are talking about – I’m not sure which you mean? I don’t have the episode on hand right now. Do you mean when Sherlock doesn’t know what John is typing on his laptop, when it is actually a case?
- lathaina on January 4th, 2012 07:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 4th, 2012 09:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
- lathaina on January 4th, 2012 12:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 5th, 2012 04:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
Molly: (SHERLOCK) the woman.antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 05:02 am (UTC)
These are certainly good points, but I think the main issue that people are having is that Irene Adler is (in the original stories) the only woman ever to beat Sherlock, one of a handful of people to do so, and in this episode, she never ultimately beats Sherlock. He wins, in the end, though of course she did compromise him. There's something upsetting about the fact that Sherlock, in the end, triumphs over her. Especially when she is the first woman on the show to get any real screen time or character development.

Re: the final scene. Yes, it would've been worse if Sherlock had left Irene to die. On the other hand, why couldn't we have not seen that scene -- why couldn't the final shot have merely been of Sherlock receiving a text from Irene, or otherwise cluing in to her actually being alive, without him necessarily being the one to save her. This would both provide the information that Irene was still alive, and show viewers that Sherlock does care for her, which is important.

(Moreover, from a logistic point of view, Sherlock leaving the country without Mycroft or John noticing is awfully hard to believe.)

All of that said, this treatment of Irene Adler was frankly one of the best I've ever seen. Guy Ritchie's Irene (portrayed by Rachel McAdams) was nowhere near as good, and the way the movies treated her was frustrating beyond belief (especially in A Game of Shadows).
lathainalathaina on January 4th, 2012 05:07 am (UTC)
totally agree with the "leaving the country" bit.
- epistolic on January 4th, 2012 06:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
- lathaina on January 4th, 2012 08:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 4th, 2012 09:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
- slanted_edges on January 4th, 2012 05:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
- jibrailis on January 4th, 2012 05:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
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- jibrailis on January 4th, 2012 05:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
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- miznarrator on January 4th, 2012 11:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 5th, 2012 04:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
- janonny on January 5th, 2012 02:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
- antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 05:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
- antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 05:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 4th, 2012 07:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
- antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 07:50 am (UTC) (Expand)
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- antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 05:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 4th, 2012 06:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
- antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 06:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
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- antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 06:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
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I once narrowed my eyes at a platypus.jibrailis on January 4th, 2012 05:08 am (UTC)
I have a lot of conflicted feelings about Irene Adler in this episode. I can't address every point you've made, or even most of them, but the one thing I can say, in regard to the last scene with the Karachi terrorist cell: I didn't want her to die, or for Sherlock to save her -- I wanted her to save herself. I wanted her to be brilliant and dangerous and to outfox the terrorists, because I feel like that's what Sherlock or Mycroft would have done in that situation -- and for me, the character of Irene Adler is on the same level as Sherlock or Mycroft in terms of brilliance and ingenuity. I felt this sort of... incredible disappointment that Sherlock had to save her, just as he had to solve the cipher for her as well.

Especially when, in the short story the episode is based on, Irene totally outfoxes Holmes. She wins -- she wipes the floor with him. I can understand her not winning in the TV version, because Sherlock is the hero and narrative-wise, we don't want to see our heroes lose. But I feel like, to make up for not letting Irene win, the writers had to make her extra brilliant and cunning to convince us that she is Sherlock's equal, to convince us that he respects her in this way -- and I don't feel like the writers did that.

I did like Irene's character. I thought she was confident and full of persona. She dominated the scenes she was in. But I just don't feel like she was intellectually brilliant or resourceful enough, compared to what she could have been. She played second fiddle to Sherlock, and I wish she didn't.
Lurrelchibi_lurrel on January 4th, 2012 06:07 am (UTC)
I did feel ultimately disappointed that it was Sherlock who saves her in the end, but also thought that maybe that was her plan to start with -- she may have lost her phone, but she still had that protection she had ultimately worked for and won.
- jibrailis on January 4th, 2012 06:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
Barging in and changing the topic - false_alexis on January 4th, 2012 07:06 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Barging in and changing the topic - jibrailis on January 4th, 2012 07:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Barging in and changing the topic - false_alexis on January 4th, 2012 07:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Barging in and changing the topic - sirona_gs on January 4th, 2012 11:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 4th, 2012 07:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
- jibrailis on January 4th, 2012 07:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
- janonny on January 4th, 2012 08:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
- jibrailis on January 4th, 2012 04:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
- janonny on January 5th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Pepperpeperima on January 4th, 2012 06:10 am (UTC)
I agree with you! I definitely think irene's sexuality is emphasized, but I don't think that's necessarily an example of sexism in this case... in fact I think Irene almost plays on sherlock's sexism/view toward women to get what she wants. ummmm tbh I'm no good with these kind of discussions. glad to see you're watching though!! did you like the episode?
ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 4th, 2012 08:53 am (UTC)
That is certainly very interesting! In fact, I think you’re correct. The entire episode is Irene playing to sexist archetypes – the lone woman with countless secrets on her phone, unprotected from all the villains out to get her for that information, quite literally as Mycroft puts it, “the damsel in distress” albeit cleverer than the usual of that description – but by the end of the episode she has successfully subverted this. The archetype she was playing to was ultimately false. She is by far not the damsel in distress, but it is that aspect, sexist as it is, which has drawn Sherlock to her cause; Irene knows how Sherlock thinks, and her decision to play to that is not sentimental at all, but a very intelligent and clear-sighted move. If anything, that aspect of the episode attempts to counter the stereotype of “damsel in distress” and so, in my opinion, is not really sexist at all.

Haha I’m not very good with this kind of discussion either, but I stayed up until 5am last night thinking about the issue, and working up an opinion, so I figured I might as well put it out there. I do admit I didn’t like the episode upon my first viewing, but a second and third viewing changed my mind. :) What about you?
Ev / Letha: andrew_stareatavistique on January 4th, 2012 06:37 am (UTC)
I agree with Mel that ASIB is not sexist and also with a lot of points she made above. This is my interpretation of the episode, if I may sully the message boards with my opinion.

IMO What the show is trying to say, is that sexuality does not fit into these little boxes society tries to apply on all of us; falling in love, especially, depends largely on meeting the right person. It is not about a lesbian falling in love with a man, or even a woman falling in love with a man. It is about their mental/cognitive capacities matching up and moving in sync, such that it appears at times even Sherlock has no idea about the game she's playing.

Sherlock, the eternally dispassionate, the deducing machine, the condescending and rude and sometimes misogynistic man, is duped by another person whom he was fully ready to dismiss as insignificant, and that other person just happens to be female (things would've been exactly the same if Irene happened to be an Ivan instead). That Sherlock is not the center of the universe, nor is he unique in his gifts, or infallible in his self-perceived detached state, is the lesson he had to learn. And of course, like the childish git he is, he gets his revenge for the bitter disillusionment/beat-down by openly revealing Irene's regard for him and leaving her flat when she finally puts aside her pride.

In the end, Sherlock saving Irene is not a hero saving a damsel in distress; it is him redeeming himself from a fault he is coming to acknowledge and trying to change, like his apology to Molly and his concern for Mrs Hudson. The writers of the show are not deliberately trying to convey a representation of women as weak and helpless. It is only an unfortunate by-product of Sherlock's character development, like Irene being in Moriarty's web of crime. It's just a way to thicken the plot.
Molly: (SHERLOCK) elementary.antinous_wild on January 4th, 2012 06:47 am (UTC)
The problem is that writing doesn't just happen. It is a series of choices. And the writers of this episode CHOSE to plot the episode in such a way that those "unfortunate byproducts" existed. Yes, those plot points served their purpose, but could intelligent, witty, sometimes even brilliant writers really not come up with an alternative which both satisfied the emotional demands of the episode and rejected stereotypical representations? I think they could have, if that had been something they were particularly concerned about.
- epistolic on January 4th, 2012 08:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
- atavistique on January 4th, 2012 10:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
- sirona_gs on January 4th, 2012 11:49 am (UTC) (Expand)
janonnyjanonny on January 4th, 2012 09:10 am (UTC)
I don't believe that the episode was entirely sexist or that the writers were deliberately sexist either (perhaps subconsciously, out of habit?), but I do think the execution was certainly poor.

Point One - I don't feel that Irene falling in love with Sherlock is a sign of sexism, but I do think her using Sher-locked as the password (this still makes me laugh... A PUN! A PUN IS THE KEY!) is more than just an inside joke. At the very start, the person who stayed Moriarty's hand when he was going to kill Sherlock and John was Irene. Before she met Sherlock, someone (Moriarty I suspect) sent her random photos of him saying something like 'here's a treat'. When she met Sherlock, it's obvious that she had been following Sherlock's cases closely. I think Irene had been interested in him for awhile, and from her behavior, I would say it was definitely sexual. Even before they met, at the very least, she was aroused by his intelligence. At the most extreme, she might have been obsessed. It's no surprised she picked that password, as an inside joke but also a sign of where her thoughts had been turned towards for awhile.

Point Two - I don't think the choice should have been: Sherlock lets her die and therefore is merciless, or Sherlock saves her life and has therefore grown as a character. There were other ways they could have ended it, where Irene could save herself while still showing Sherlock's character development. But the writers chose drama over logic and good storytelling. I think the execution of the ending was weak, even in terms of believability.

I can ignore the part where Irene gave credit to Moriarty for the plan because I can buy that she was involved in some of the planning, and her execution of the plan was brilliant. She was still a clever and strong character at that stage. But I thought it was entirely unbelievable that the moment Sherlock cracked the password on that phone, she lost everything. She had no back up plans, she had no other means to save herself. Her life was dependent on one phone (the hardware and software on that thing has to be pretty magnificently dependable for her to trust it that much), and she had none of the previously shown craftiness to get out of the situation (not one drugged needle left on her? not one henchman waiting in the wings?). If she was just putting on a show (crying) to get Mycroft to go soft on her, I can buy that. But that she was entirely helpless after that...I was taken aback.

The ending could have been simpler and much more believable. But they wanted Sherlock standing in Karachi, and his phone to beep out that sigh of pleasure, for the dramatic ending. And I felt it did wound up cheapening her character. I don't think it makes her an entirely weak character, but I think it did take away somewhat from her role at the end.

I'm a Sherlock fan through and through and I was cheering for him all the way. When Irene pulled one over him, I was all 'NOOOO' and was waiting for some final genius step, which he did perform (though...what odd timing). But The Woman who had so many people by the balls and lived a dangerous life for so long, becoming entirely without any means to save herself after just one blow? I found it hard to swallow and was still waiting for her to pull out a final card right up to the end.
ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 4th, 2012 01:10 pm (UTC)
Your first statement pretty much sums up how I feel about this episode, only before you’d said it I couldn’t work out an eloquent way to say it, so thank-you. :)

In regard to Point One: I do agree with you for most of this. Actually, when I was writing my original meta post and trying to address my belief Moriarty did not entirely run the show, one of my first sections of analysis was the pool scene. Originally I felt obliged to point out that Irene’s call came at such a crucial moment, it seemed impossible to me that she did not already have Sherlock on her mind; her saving him, then, is perhaps partly due to interest – but of course Moriarty would never have accepted this as an adequate reason for leaving Sherlock alive – but also perhaps partly due to her recognizing even at such an early point that Sherlock would come in very useful later. If this is true (remember that Moriarty yells, “Say that again,” just before deciding to let Sherlock go) and that Irene did in fact persuade Moriarty, against his will, to leave Sherlock alone on the grounds that he’d be useful later, then certainly it proves that more than half the plan was Irene’s own instead of Moriarty’s. The argument that Irene, as a woman, is intellectually inferior to a man like Moriarty is therefore invalid.

However, the reason why I did not include the above in my post was because there was really no way for Irene to know precisely the importance of her call to Moriarty. For instance, she makes the call while with a client – her Royal Highness – indicating that, most likely, she made the call because she recognized the opportunity to take compromising photographs and engage in blackmail, instead of out of any desire to “save” Sherlock. If she had somehow worked out beforehand that Moriarty was planning to kill Sherlock that night, then it does not make sense to me that she would take a client on such an important and crucial night. Therefore, I can’t entirely agree with you that Irene may have stayed Moriarty’s hand out of interest in Sherlock. In my opinion, it was a coincidence; a very slim coincidence, one not entirely plausible, but a coincidence all the same.

I do agree, however, that she takes an interest in him prior to meeting him. The scene with the newspaper cutting suggests this. However, I am not entirely sure the interest was sexual; Irene herself states she is a lesbian, so I am inclined to think her interest was intellectual to a certain degree. The text Moriarty sends her (“here’s a treat”) is not, in my opinion, an allusion to his belief that she is in any way infatuated with Sherlock, but merely to let her know that the bait has been taken; Sherlock is being escorted to Buckingham Palace; the game is starting. As soon as she receives the text Irene goes about choosing her “battle clothes”. I believe that Moriarty was simply letting Irene know that, very soon, Sherlock would be turning up on her door.

In any case, everything I’ve said above doesn’t really pertain to the debate whether Irene’s portrayal was/wasn’t sexist, since on this point the two of us actually agree. It’s simply that your analysis of Irene’s character got me thinking, and I couldn’t help blurting all my thoughts out.
Re: [1/2] - janonny on January 4th, 2012 02:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: [1/2] - epistolic on January 6th, 2012 12:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: [1/2] - janonny on January 6th, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: [1/2] - janonny on January 7th, 2012 08:59 am (UTC) (Expand)
[2/2] - epistolic on January 4th, 2012 01:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: [2/2] - janonny on January 4th, 2012 03:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Shoedog/Kimshoedog on January 4th, 2012 10:47 am (UTC)
Hi! Stranger to your lj here, looking for credence for my theory that the last scene of Irene being rescued by Sherlock from the Karachi terrorist cell was a fantasy on his part. It seemed so out of the blue and I believe he did chuckle sheepishly as he put the phone in the drawer.

As atavistique put it, "the more I think about it, the less likely it seems that Sherlock would've kung-fu'd his way out of the terrorist cell while Irene ran away like a dutiful little wife - they had a machine gun and a military jeep for chrissakes, not to mention outnumbering the duo by at least 2:1 - and I think S&I's final adventure would've involved them somehow colluding their magnificent minds.

The idea of him infiltrating a cell and saving hrt w/a simple, "RUN!" seems ridiculous, even for the Thin, White Duke, Holmes.

I took it as a comforting fantasy, possible on both sides. Sherlock and Irene's. Am I the only one?

Ev / Letha: andrew_stareatavistique on January 4th, 2012 11:29 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. I never thought of it like that, but now that you mention it - that would make for some really disturbing and revealing insight to Sherlock's mind. And that he's sharing the fantasy with Irene... that's just chilling. Donnie Darko chilling. As much as I'm intrigued by this suggestion though, I don't know, it doesn't seem to fit much with Moffat or Gatiss' styles. I hope it's true, because that would make this episode so much more awesome...
- mortmere on January 4th, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 5th, 2012 12:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
- mortmere on January 5th, 2012 08:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
- epistolic on January 5th, 2012 12:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
constantly attacked by killer plot bunniessirona_gs on January 4th, 2012 11:56 am (UTC)
Oh, Mel. You are fantastic.

Personally, like I said in another comment (to Nance), I choose to see the characters as merely two people, not a man and a woman, but two people whose story we are seeing unfold. Perhaps I am arrogant or privileged or plain blind to the issues, but this is just the way I saw this episode, as an impartial viewer who hasn't read the books in almost two decades, and who wasn't looking for issues, merely watching the plot unfold. But yes, I agree with all the points you're making -- although I also agree with many of the ones made in the comments. And I don't think any of us are plain wrong -- we just see different things, and our perception is coloured by our backgrounds and experiences.

I made a similar post in my LJ, although I chose to focus on the gender bias and sexuality part ot the debate, as I don't consider myself qualified enough to enter into the more controversial themes.
ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 5th, 2012 12:06 pm (UTC)
I think I viewed the episode in a similar way. I went in not really thinking of Sherlock and Irene as man and woman respectively; more as just two rivals, each a little fascinated with the other, and so the fact that Sherlock won and Irene lost did not, to me, suggest any sort of triumph of man over woman. It was simply the triumph of one genius over another. But of course, like you said, these things differ with interpretation and individual experience, so I am actually really happy with all the discussion that has happened over this issue. It’s all so relevant and intellectually stimulating, and everyone has made such valid points. ♥

I don’t think I have seen that post yet! I will definitely head over as soon as I can.
lathainalathaina on January 4th, 2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
Trailer for next week's episode!
karadin on January 4th, 2012 02:09 pm (UTC)
I am of the opinion that Irene is Moriarty's dupe, because (going by dialogue) Irene is not aware of the larger scheme between Sherlock and Moriarty, (or she simply doesn't care, she's all about the score)

Moriarty could care less if Irene succeeds in her blackmail or not, he's got what he wanted by getting to Sherlock through the people he loves in this whole mess, so Irene may fool Sherlock, and fool Mycroft, but not Moriarty.

Irene at the end, can only plead for mercy, she's got no fallbacks, so the ending of the episode is all about Sherlock's capacity to forgive, in fact, his telling her to 'run' mimics John at the pool, it's about Sherlock's evolution - on one hand, having the capacity to love, but locking it away. Sherlock Holmes in canon often forgave those he thought were redeemable - the issue I see her is that Irene never wants redemption, Sherlock allowing her to lead her life is all about his sentiment. (but it's a show about SHERLOCK, not Irene, so that makes sense)

Edited at 2012-01-04 02:10 pm (UTC)
ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 5th, 2012 12:06 pm (UTC)
You definitely make a lot of very good points. I’m not quite sure if I can actually view Irene as Moriarty’s “dupe” – I understand why you say this, because Irene is (to Moriarty) really just a pawn – but as I view it, they worked together on equal grounds for Irene’s interests. I think Irene actually knew about Moriarty’s scheme against Sherlock. She does, after all, bring up Moriarty in the scene when she reveals having received his help; she refers to him as the “consulting criminal”, Sherlock’s title for him from the pool scene, and obviously knows that Sherlock will be affected by Moriarty’s nickname for him (The Virgin) because they are rivals. So really I think that from the beginning Irene was aware of Moriarty’s feelings toward Sherlock, and to some extent, used them to fuel her own plans.

I do agree with you regarding the final scene and Sherlock learning how to forgive. The more I think about it, the more this makes sense. Irene has, by the end of episode, made a complete fool out of him by tricking him into deciphering the code, but he puts aside his pride (in the same way Irene puts aside her pride in “begging” Sherlock) to rescue her. I think what that really suggests to me is two geniuses who have wounded each other, but in doing so, develop respect for each other as well.
l.m.: sherlock; londonincandescent on January 4th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)

I read the post that you cited in the beginning of the episode, and then the post that that blog cited, and found myself very weary of the discussion of sexism already. I do not think that all sexual tropes are bad, and the fact that so many people get up in arms (and well, a bit huffy) about the matter exhausts me.

So this post is a very pleasant thing to read. I am so impressed by your analysis of these issues - you have been flawlessly logical and proved yourself quite thorough by analyzing not only the lines spoken but the circumstances that those words were spoken in. I agree with everything that you've said here. It all makes sense and makes me feel wonderful about this episode. I adore your thoughts here. ♥

My only difference of opinion with this, and other posts, is the idea that Irene was 'in love' with Sherlock. Near the end, when Sherlock points out this fact to her, I don't believe he mentioned love at all. Instead he said that she was attracted to him (and I think he took the time to analyze that to prove to himself that she was genuine, and that he himself was not imagining things). Yes, the facts pointed to physical attraction. This doesn't mean love.

Irene had previously stated very plainly that she was gay, which I firmly believe. How, then, did she 'fall for' Sherlock? I agree with you that the password was an inside joke given away by her feeling in the end. But those feeling were not, I think, love. Irene was intrigued by Sherlock, increasingly fascinated by his intelligence and determination. He is unlike any other man she had met previously - as he could not read her, she could not read him, figure out 'what he likes'. Though Irene played the game well, I think that she was just as clueless about Sherlock as he was of her, making him her own problem to solve.

In the end, I think that Sherlock certainly felt attraction and admiration for Irene. He had discovered her secrets, and yet she still did not bore him. Irene's emotions border more on obsession, I feel. She thought that she had Sherlock figured out in the end, but she did not, as he turned the tables on her and proved her assumptions about her power over him wrong. Irene never loved Sherlock, she was obsessed with figuring him out. She wasn't turned on by Sherlock physically, though her reaction manifested that way. She was turned on by everything that he is, including his mind.

Wow, that is a lot of words. (Over what, I think, is not a very big issue after all. *shrug* Anyway, that's what I think.) Also, I have another comment of your that I have to reply to! I will write a note to myself to do that. ♥
the only blowup doll bobblehead on the internetimpertinence on January 4th, 2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
She wasn't turned on by Sherlock physically, though her reaction manifested that way. She was turned on by everything that he is, including his mind.

Even if the catalyst for her attraction was intellectual, she was still physically and mentally attracted to him, which means Moffat fell into the tired old trope of a lesbian who just hasn't met the right man yet.
- incandescent on January 5th, 2012 04:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
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Bonaparteskyvehicle on January 4th, 2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
I feel like at this point in time, calling something out as sexist is sexist. If Irene was less sentimantal, women would be outraged about how inhuman she was, "why couldn't you just portray her as a real person? nobody would just do that!" If she was impervious to character development at all, people would call foul.

After that first scene with Irene (well, halfway through it, because my computer was very slow going) I was like "ew, I hate Irene. Like, I really dislike her." The battle dress thing was infuriating. I didn't think it was sexist - I just thought it was so fucking tedious of ANYONE to be so obnoxious, flaunting their perfect body while I'm sitting here in my baggy sweater. It had nothing to do with gender, and she did redeem herself later on with how she gets her phone back from Sherock (that was hot).

I agree with all of this.
ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 6th, 2012 11:05 am (UTC)
You are definitely right – I was thinking this too, but was too afraid to say it, because it’s difficult to really prove. But I was talking with a friend today and her reaction was exactly this. With so many viewers, from so many backgrounds, all interpreting each scene in a different way, it’s impossible to find the perfect middle-ground to please everyone. Not that this gives writers and directors an excuse to be careless – but to me, I suppose it means I think people should cut writers, etc. a certain amount of slack, and perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt.

I liked Irene’s puckishness. Actually, I really liked that “battle dress” scene, because for me it seemed to highlight several things regarding Irene. I can naturally understand why some might call it sexist – a woman has to resort to distracting a man with her body – but to me, Irene doing so is very important. Firstly, she realizes she has sexual power. It is a weapon which she has, and Sherlock does not. What is wrong, then, with her employing it? It’s a weapon which is also not entirely sexual – if she’d simply taken her clothes off to distract Sherlock momentarily into revealing his alias, then that’s blatant shock factor, and I’d say perhaps yes, a little sexist. But she doesn’t do it simply for that reason. She does so to leave Sherlock no clues. He can deduce nothing from her. The weapon is both intellectual – a very logical sort of weapon – as well as sexual, which is why I can understand perfectly why Irene chose to use it, and why it actually increases my admiration for her.

Sorry, that’s a lot of analysis to answer your comment; I hope you don’t mind /o\
the only blowup doll bobblehead on the internetimpertinence on January 4th, 2012 07:05 pm (UTC)
Hmm, wow, I don't agree at all. I think this post is interesting, but you largely arrive at your conclusion based on conjecture that I think ignores some key points of Sherlock as a TV show.

it's entirely possible that Irene changed the passcode prior to meeting Sherlock; she admitted she'd been stalking him. That indicates an obsession with him, or just a love of jokes. But I'm not sure how you could get out of that scene thinking that Irene's not supposed to be in love with Sherlock. Moffat writes Sherlock as someone who's always right. The consequences of him always being right are sometimes unanticipated by Sherlock himself, but he's always right. Irene herself more or less admitted to being in love with Sherlock by the end of that reveal scene.

As to Moriarty giving Irene tips: even if she brought it up to hurt him, she still received tips from Moriarty and there's no narrative indication that we should believe she was lying and outsmarted the Holmeses herself.

At the end of the day, we have an Irene who needed to rely on Moriarty for help, and was outsmarted by Sherlock in the end. You can split hairs and say she had a lot of agency, etc., and that's all true, but I think the foundation of the episode was still a presentation of Irene that was much less strong and respectful of her as a character than the original presentation of her as a strong match for Sherlock.

And her being a lesbian whose sexuality was overcome by Sherlock's sheer intellect was, I think, one of the more offensive parts of the episode.
ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 6th, 2012 11:06 am (UTC)
Thank-you so much for reading my post and for giving me such a valid, interesting reply! I’ve thought about your points for a while and I feel I must debate a few of them, though of course, like you say, everything at this point is conjecture on both sides of the argument.

I think you have misunderstood my argument regarding the passcode. What I meant in my post was: yes, it is entirely possible Irene changed the passcode before meeting Sherlock, either out of obsession, or just as an inside joke. But obsession does not equal love. Obsession is not the “sentiment” that Sherlock is referring to in the scene in which he cracks her passcode; Moriarty can be said to be obsessed with Sherlock but Moriarty is most certainly not in love with him. They are two different things. It is difficult to believe that prior to meeting Sherlock, Irene was actually, genuinely “in love” with him, therefore I don’t believe the passcode reflects this “love” – if she ever fell in love with him, as the scene in which Sherlock deduces her passcode suggests, then it was at least halfway through the episode when she could not have changed the passcode anyway.

In reference to “Sherlock is always right” – this in my opinion is an oversimplification. Sherlock is not always right. Take, for example, the taxi chase scene in A Study in Pink - Sherlock stops the cab, thinking the passenger is the murderer, when in fact this is not the case at all. For me, the purpose of A Scandal in Belgravia was to show Sherlock’s humanity; he’s not all-seeing, he’s not always one step ahead of everyone else, he can be as mistaken as much as any other human.

In regard to Moriarty giving Irene tips – recall, in The Great Game, how Mycroft asked for Sherlock’s help solving the MoD missile plans case. Does this fact mean that Mycroft is less intelligent than Sherlock? Does it mean that Mycroft “needed to rely” on Sherlock? In my opinion, it does not. Mycroft could easily have investigated the case himself. Sherlock, however, was better placed and had the time and resources to investigate, so Mycroft sought Sherlock’s help. Recall now how well-timed Irene’s call to Moriarty was during the pool scene. Right at the crucial moment, she phoned in and stayed Moriarty’s hand; as you pointed out in your comment, it’s obvious she was “obsessed” with Sherlock before their meeting; it then follows that she stopped Moriarty out of interest in Sherlock. But Moriarty is not the kind of person to postpone the killing of someone just because someone else is “interested” – recall how furious he was when Irene suggested this (“Say that again! Say that again”). What follows, then, is that Irene must have convinced him to keep Sherlock alive. Irene must have foreseen Sherlock’s usefulness; considering that using Sherlock to decode the MoD code re: Coventry was an extremely neat trick in that it gave Mycroft no choice but to back down (“or admit that Britain’s greatest security leak is your own little brother”), it’s obvious then that Irene had already thought a great deal down the track. She is clever and certainly isn’t sitting on the sidelines, waiting for Moriarty to dole out orders. In my opinion, it was her who outsmarted the Holmeses, while Moriarty provided back-up and the necessary resources.

In regard to Irene “being a lesbian whose sexuality was overcome by Sherlock’s sheer intellect” – unfortunately, I think that is more to do with sexuality than sexism. I might make a post later in the week about what I took away from the episode in regard to sexuality, and its portrayal, so I’m not going to discuss that here. :)
melodic_wintermelodic_winter on January 5th, 2012 01:35 am (UTC)
You know I was stalking the SHkinkmeme and by chance found your entry. Is nice to meet you, very nice because I agree wholeheartedly with you in this matter; I was conflicted initially, I was torn but yeah in the end after re-watching precisely two times and way too many the last scenes, I reached the same conclusion you did.

I have seen many reactions of unhappy people because Irene didn’t win, I respect them –but man, she wiped the floor with Sherlock almost all the chapter and on top of that went and rubbed it in his face. Mycroft was at a receiving end also, and that shows the extent of the damage she caused- I am one of the few, who were glad she didn’t won in the end, given she was from Moriarty, she was a villain and “In the end are you really so obvious” “One naïve man, a woman clever enough to make him feel special, the promise of love, the pain of loss, give him a puzzle, WATCH HIM DANCE”

I understand that in the books she outsmarted him but she wasn’t a villain there and she kinda deseved what she go it in here.

ABC, her eyelids say.epistolic on January 6th, 2012 12:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, you found my entry on the kink meme? How strange! I didn’t post anything there, but I’m glad you found my entry all the same! ♥

I definitely agree with you, it was also something I noticed. Irene was not linked with Moriarty in the book canon; as I said in a comment above to someone else, her triumph in the books was an independent triumph and did not have any implications on the Sherlock/Moriarty dynamic. If Irene had won in the BBC series, Moriarty would also have won, and obviously that is unacceptable. The fact Irene lost was not, in my opinion, a sexist decision; it was simply a logical follow-through of the fact that she had joined the wrong side.
Cassaela: sherlock2cassaela on January 6th, 2012 08:04 pm (UTC)
I found this post and all its comments intriguing, logical, well-written, and delightfully thought-provoking. I wish I could dissect something so deep as Sherlock with such depth as you people have. I hope that as I get older I'll see (or observe!) more and more.

If the Karachi beheading scene was indeed, as suggested in previous comments, a fantasy (a theory that feels more likely the more I think about it), who knows what really happened? Adler could have fabricated the story or escaped herself; fooling Mycroft, John and Sherlock would be her final victory. She could then finally disappear, secretly triumphant, strong, in control, cunning, redeemed. Hmm.